The Top 6 Roles to Describe a Product Manager
The role of a product manager could never fit into a box. It’s difficult to define. There’s no set or standard job description. So what exactly does a product manager do? And why should companies care about investing in them?
The best product managers think strategically and make difficult trade-offs quickly. They use unconventional ways to spread the vision and have the ability to keep cool under pressure with tight deadlines. They prioritize conflicts and manage revenue targets, resource constraints, and market demands. You would almost think product managers have super powers if they can juggle all of these tasks at once while remaining confident under pressure.
There are many more ways we could describe the all-encompassing role of a product manager.
1. Defining the ‘why’ behind your roadmap
Product management is a discipline responsible for defining the ‘why’ behind your roadmap. But to get to this point, product managers must use a combination of skills from other specialties such as engineering, design, marketing, sales, business development, and so on. They understand that relationship management and working well with others, while also being unafraid to challenge key stakeholders, are the only ways to work toward a shared goal.
Product managers are there to empower key stakeholders to understand the product or feature as a whole, which includes customer challenges, the business case, product competition, and changing markets. This is how they work toward defining the purpose, the ‘why’.
2. A product manager is the CRO (chief repeating officer)
One of the main responsibilities as a product manager is the never-ending and difficult task of building a shared understanding of the product strategy through listening, influencing, and repetition. Their time should be split between working on the creation and management of the product strategy, and they should devote their time and ability to repeating the strategy to team members and the CEO.
Repetition promotes alignment and clarifies priorities. It’s a sounding board for adjustments. This is how the product will benefit the organization. Product managers are meant to socialize what should go in a product and how to market and sell it any chance they get.
3. Helping an organization make the right decisions
Great product managers know how to say ‘no’ to make the right decisions. The key is using the right decision-making framework. Research is at the centre of product management, they become an expert in all details relating to the medium, industry, market, and audience of the product to provide direction for creating monetizable customer value.
Having a deep understanding of the market, internal resources and competitive landscape are all factors that affect the decision to include or not include a feature. It’s all about aligning features with the fundamental company objective and how those features will deliver ROI.
4. Doing the research and identifying the market
Product opportunity is all about timing. Product managers have to put themselves into the right critical mindset, do customer research, think through their market and validate if there’s a product opportunity. In a great market, your product doesn’t need to be the best; it just needs to work. In a terrible market, you can have the best product in the world and it won’t matter . If there’s no customer need, everything else falls apart . The market always wins.
Great product leaders ask the critical questions to understand the customer pain points and the ‘why’ behind a product. This is fundamental for meeting market expectations.
5. Controlling the roadmap
A product manager’s job is to determine what’s important and valuable in the roadmap and then break the news of what’s useless - add, improve or kill. If products sit in the product wishlist for too long, they aren’t deserving of any attention and aren’t important enough to be executed. It’s about maintaining and managing the roadmap effectively, culling the herd of impractical features that will never be built.
Product managers involve key stakeholders in the decision-making process of what stays or goes. They verify if the feature will be a monetizable market opportunity:
- Does it fit the vision?
- Does it grow the business?
- Will it help acquire customers?
- Will it generate meaningful engagement?
- Will it still matter in 5 years?
6. Help the CEO define a clear vision
The CEO is supposed to define why their company exists and set a vision. Product managers need a mission statement to clarify the product roadmap and strategy. The CEO should provide guidance so the product manager can define the direction of the product. Without a vision statement, it’s impossible to commit to long-term roadmaps. Product managers have to engage in conversation with the CEO and talk constructively about a direction and where to go next.
A product manager has to break down a company’s vision statement into strategies. Those strategies should cover different areas of the product. And by breaking them into goals, the correct steps are taken towards the product's growth.
Bain Public: Demystifying the role of the product manager
How do we know so much about what product managers do and why companies invest in them? Bain Public has helped many startups by removing friction from processes to boost roadmap sell-through and keep the focus on building great products. With services ranging from product leadership to product strategy, management, development, user experience and marketing, we focus exclusively on helping define and refine product organisations. Can’t sleep until you find out more about the magical world of product management? Contact us here, for your personal digital e-book.
Resources for further reading
Thanks to Paul Ortchanian and Alexis Levy for reading drafts of this article and overseeing aspects of its publication. The photo can be found on the free stock photo site Unsplash. Also, if you have any feedback or criticism about this article then shoot us an email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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