“What does a product manager do anyway?”

Ah, the age-old question. In the simplest possible terms, product managers decide what features to build next. However, that simple answer barely begins to scratch at all the different things product managers do all day.

Deciding what features to build next can take so many twists and turns that it seems like product managers pretty rarely have a standard day. For this reason, product management is the perfect field for those who do not want to do the same work day in and day out. Being comfortable with change is the name of the game.

But we want to try and provide some structure around what can seem like chaos, and that’s why we’re here today.

What does a product manager do
A day in the life of product managers, according to stock photos.

In this post, we break down the day-to-day responsibilities of the complex, varied, and increasingly popular product manager role. Then, we provide an inside look into a day in the life of a productboard product manager (we challenge you to say that five times fast).

Let’s go back to our burning question:

What does a product manager do all day, anyway?

To satiate your curiosity, we’ve outlined some typical tasks that a product manager might encounter on a day-to-day basis. These are organized under five categories:

  • Discover what users need
  • Prioritize what to build
  • Rally the team around the roadmap
  • Deliver the feature
  • Champion the team

Keep in mind that the role product managers play can shift depending on the stage of discovery and delivery, product type, company size, job level, and even company culture.

Discover what the user needs

Product discovery is the process of identifying what your users really need. This knowledge is used to strategically develop features that are valuable, usable, and feasible. Tasks for a product manager during discovery can include, but are not limited to:

  • Read and process incoming feedback that’s streaming in (from customers, cross-functional teams, the big boss, prospects, and more).
  • Identify trends in feedback and discuss with another PM or a colleague on sales or customer success.
  • Coordinate user research on a specific feature that’s currently “in discovery.”
  • Brainstorm with the dev team to determine what solutions address the user needs.
  • Prototype solution ideas to validate if they really address user needs.
  • Use what is known about the user to fine-tune a product brief (a document outlining a product’s goals and attributes).
what does a product manager do — work with teams
The productboard team discovering their user need of dark clothing.

Prioritize what to build

The most effective product organizations prioritize what to build next based on a clear understanding of user needs and their organization’s clear objectives. This way, big product decisions aren’t made impulsively or via intuition. PMs might do some of the following to prioritize what to build:

  • Read the news to gather intelligence about competitors, look for actionable insights from the market, and stay up-to-date on any technological updates that impact workflows within the company.
  • Meet with the engineering team to get effort estimates on those features.
  • Prioritize the most strategically valuable features against their level of complexity.
  • Finalize a backlog of features to send into delivery.

Rally everyone around the roadmap

Product managers hold the fate of a product in their hands; their decisions impact not only themselves, but everyone in the company. That’s why great PMs ensure that everyone across the organization is invested in a common vision on where the product is headed, and why. To get everyone on the same page, product managers may:

  • Share the product roadmap at a company all-hands meeting.
  • Conduct a session with the sales/customer success team to brief them on functionality that will soon be released. Explain the implications and possible limitations that could lead to support questions.
  • Present the product vision in a 1:1 with the VP of Product (or the CEO!).
  • Conduct a roadmap call with a major customer who is trying to decide whether to renew their contract for the next year.
  • Host a customer advisory board meeting where top customers fly in and give feedback on the product roadmap in-person.

Deliver the feature

Once something is deemed worth building and properly prioritized, it goes into delivery. Delivery is all about building and releasing valuable new products and features that both function and delight. Delivery-focused tasks include the following:

  • Hold a kickoff meeting with the dev team to ensure that everyone understands the user needs being addressed, the business goals, and the requirements.
  • Meet with a designer to review open questions that have arisen during development related to various edge-cases.
  • Meet with product marketing to prepare a go-to-market strategy for an upcoming launch.
  • Sit down with technical writers to discuss the documentation for an upcoming feature.
  • Meet with the legal team to ensure your upcoming feature passes muster.
  • Monitor KPIs (key performance indicators): Analyze how users are using products and features; track performance of features that recently went live.

Champion the team

Sometimes, PMs are called mini-CEO’s. That may mean a variety of things, but something we think about is making sure the morale of the whole team is strong. Given how many moving parts it takes to release a feature, a great PM chips in where possible. Some of these things might include:

  • Jump on a sales call to support an account executive about to close a major deal.
  • Work with support to resolve a customer issue related to a feature.
  • Clear a hurdle for developers by speaking with the CTO about a technical issue that’s slowing them down.
  • Buy ☕️and 🍩 for everyone! They’ve been working really hard lately.
What does a product manager do
When the PM champions, according to stock photos.

As you can see, product management is a discipline that is wide in scope. In a typical day, a product manager might go from a meeting about high-level strategic planning straight to a chat with a developer about a granular issue, then hop on a call with a major customer immediately after. Thus, context-switching is one of the most important skills for product managers to learn and master.

Let’s meet one who does this quite well.

What does a productboard product manager do? A day in the life

Meet Geda, product manager extraordinaire based out of our Prague office. We sat down with Geda to chat about what a day as a productboard product manager looks like, and to see the tasks outlined above in action IRL (in real life).

9:00AM – 10:00AM Wake up and commute to work. I like to listen to podcasts on my way to work. Some of my favorites include This is Product Management from Alpha, Inside Intercom, and my ultimate favorite, 99% Invisible.

10:00AM – 11:30AM Work block. We don’t start our mornings very early at the productboard office in Prague because we stay late to bridge the time difference with the US team. When I get into the office, I like to get up-to-date on communications coming in from different channels. I respond to all my emails, answer all inquiries from productboard’s US team, and catch up on my Slack messages. My various inboxes usually include questions and requests on features that are in the delivery process.

Today I collaborated with Winston (productboard’s product marketing whiz) to update documentation for some features we are building. I reviewed some features that are being built and provided feedback on progress. I also made sure that my tasks are up-to-date in productboard, where I track all my feature-specific tasks.

11:30AM – 12PM Daily team sync. Each morning, my team — which includes me, a handful of developers, QA, and a designer — gets together to discuss delivery-focused tasks for the features that we are building or features currently in the pipeline. These include updating release plans, adding new insights to our productboard, and making sure that there are no blockers preventing someone from getting their work done.

To make our day as efficient as possible, we sync up on what we worked on the day before, what we will focus on today, and resolve any blockers that may be preventing someone from getting work done.

12:00PM – 1:00PM Lunch. I don’t do much work during lunch, but I try to use the time to sync up with people I don’t usually talk to so I can learn about what they are working on. Occasionally we’ll do a big team lunch. The Prague office started providing catered lunches this week — free food, yay!

1:00PM – 3:00PM Meetings. My time after lunch is usually dedicated to meetings. On Mondays, we have a product team meeting. Some days I have one-on-ones with my manager and other teammates. These meetings are a great time to align cross-functional teams and learn about anything new that popped up.

Today was a little different because I onboarded Mateus, our new Growth Product Manager.

3:00PM – 5:00PM Deep focus time. I usually spend this two hour “deep focus” block on discovery-related tasks, though this shifts from time-to-time. Right now, I am focused on the early stages of discovery for a feature, which means we are identifying problems we can potentially solve, analyzing the problem, and researching solutions.

Tasks at this stage revolve around mapping opportunities, reviewing insights, monitoring competitors, conceptually building how features will work, and identifying any gaps. We are hosting a workshop this week with product marketing, sales, customer success, and support to collectively identify the biggest gaps and pain points that we can improve.

During later stages of discovery, I work closely with our designers and developers to prototype solutions, validate solutions with our users, and prepare features for delivery.

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM US team wakes up — more meetings! Depending on the day, I attend company-wide product meetings, all-hands meetings, or strategy meetings that the product team must participate in. For newly-released features, I’ll do a demo for the sales, customer success, and support teams.

7:00 PM I prepare tasks for the next day and log takeaways from the meetings I’ve attended throughout the day. I try to spend 20 minutes processing insights at the end of each day. I log into productboard’s productboard (things get a little meta here) and search for different keywords that are relevant to what I’m currently working on. I’m keeping my eye out for any feedback or piece of information that helps me stay on top of everything pertaining to my work.

After work: I debate whether I want to go to gym or not. The productboard team is awesome so we hang out together quite a bit. Other than that, I use the time for personal activities like cooking, spending time with my boyfriend, reading, watching movies, or meeting friends.

.     .     .

We’d love to hear what you think about this post. Was it helpful to you aspiring product managers out there looking to gain a better understanding of the field? For seasoned product managers, were you able to relate to Geda’s day or the tasks listed above? Where do you see overlap and how do your days differ?

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Dottie Schrock Jun 11, 2019