What does a product manager do? A close look at the role & responsibilities
“What do product managers do, anyway?”
Ah, the age-old question. And it makes sense that people are asking. Just a few years ago, product management was a function that did not have a clear definition. These days, digital product management is one of the hottest and fastest-growing roles in business, and there is growing interest in the product manager role and its responsibilities.
In the simplest possible terms, product managers decide what features to build next. But product management responsibilities don’t end there. This 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 product managers 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 do product managers do? A day in the life
To satiate your curiosity, we’ve outlined some typical product management responsibilities that a PM 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.
Product management responsibility #1: 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).
Product management responsibility #2: 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:
- Follow the news to gather intelligence about competitors, look for actionable insights from the market, and stay up-to-date on technological trends relevant to the market/solution space.
- Work with product leadership and company leadership to set product objectives aligned with high-level strategy.
- Prioritize the most strategically valuable feature ideas.
- Meet with sales, marketing, legal, and leadership to evaluate the viability of feature ideas.
- Meet with the engineering team to get effort estimates on feature ideas to consider feasibility.
- Finalize a backlog of features to send into delivery.
Product management responsibility #3: Rally everyone around the roadmap
Product managers hold the fate of a product in their hands; their decisions impact not only the delivery team, but everyone in the company, whose success relies on the product’s success. 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 do the following:
- Share the product roadmap at a company all-hands meeting or sales rally, communicating how what’s planned will help reach the overarching product vision.
- Conduct a session with the sales, support, or customer success teams to brief them on functionality that will soon be released, explaining current limitations and what’s coming next.
- 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 give feedback on the product roadmap.
Product management responsibility #4: 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 are valuable, usable, viable, and feasible. Delivery-focused tasks include the following:
- Author a formal or informal specification outlining the problem a feature will solve, the proposed solution, and other requirements for development.
- Work with designers and the discovery team to complete a prototype that shows how the new feature will work.
- Hold a kickoff meeting with the dev team to ensure that everyone understands the user needs being addressed, the business goals, and 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 that recently went live.
Product management responsibility #5: Champion the team
Sometimes, product managers are called mini-CEOs. That may mean a variety of things, but one key piece is ensuring the entire team feels supported, empowered to do their best work, and that morale remains 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.
- Adjust the scope of a feature as designers and developers hit roadblocks during delivery.
- 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.
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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.