“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.
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).
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.
As you can see, product management is a discipline that is wide in scope, and that requires lots of context-switching. 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.
. . .
What did you think about the 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 the tasks listed above? Where do you see overlap and how do your days differ?
We hope we helped you better understand the day-to-day responsibilities of the complex, varied, and increasingly popular product manager role.