In theory, the Product Manager’s job is a one person job. But in practice, overseeing the development of a larger, complex product is a shared effort. The role of each product manager varies according to many dynamics. The type of company, the size of the company, the type of product, the stage the product is in, and the culture of the company all dictate the role and influence of the product manager. A PM’s daily work activities transform depending on what stage of the product development lifecycle he or she is in. Typically a PM finds himself in one of these 3 phases: Discovery, Planning or Execution.
The Discovery Phase
As a Product Manager, your task initially is to identify the most critical problems and to define which of them should be solved. Often, a PM finds primarily, two handy sources during the discovery phase: data and customers. Data gives you clues as to where the next product opportunities will be, especially when you already have a product and are looking to build out new features or capabilities. Good Product Managers know how to employ the right analytics tools to access relevant data and how to enlist the support of analytics teams or data scientists for deeper data dives. Often, data we retrieve is too muddy or small and doesn’t help us draw product conclusions. This is why it is imperative to supplement quantitative insights with feedback from users. A great way to gain qualitative feedback is through customer interviews with current or prospective users. Many experienced Product Managers understand this and during the discovery phase of the product lifecycle, make sure they spend a significant amount of time with customers.
The Planning Phase
During this phase, once the PM is done pouring through data and spending time with customers, he spends the next couple of days prioritizing which products or features are worth pursuing. It is essential that PM’s define the right priorities for the company to pursue. The larger the company you operates in, the more involved the planning phase will be. You’ll find yourself juggling a lot during the planning phase since there are so many moving pieces, it won’t be as straightforward as picking the most data or customer-backed projects to pursue. Organizations will have to factor in other technical requirements, internal projects, time of year, budgets, risk factors, etc. Due to the importance of the planning stage, you will most probably find yourself in numerous meetings with upper management and other relevant stakeholders. During these meetings, you will present your findings and suggestions for the roadmap, while working towards gaining approval from leadership. More often than not, these meetings will take place while the rest of your team continues to execute on the current initiatives.
The Execution Phase
Outside of discovery and planning, you will find yourself spending the majority of your time in the execution phase. Starting with the build section, as a PM, you’ll be expected to work closely with the development and design functions. You could be spending your day working with designers to craft mockups, defining requirements for developers, tracking development processes, or running usability tests with customers. Since teams are constantly seeking to improve their products, the build cycle should never really end for a product.
Your job isn’t done once a product is built. It is important that you work with marketing and design to ensure the product gets the right exposure in the marketplace. As a Product Manager, you are important to this phase as you understand what aspects of the product need to be emphasized to excite potential users. Lastly, you must be in close contact with Operations and Support to ensure the product is functioning well at all times. Service outages, crashes, and bugs are all issues which inevitably arise with any software product. A PM must ensure they do not get in the way of a great user experience by closely tracking these issues.
As a Product Manager, you’ll soon come to realize that as a good PM you need to learn to manage the Product, not the Team. Your job is to provide guidance on the product, including its market, value proposition, business goals, and key features while building a good rapport with your team. Your product is likely to suffer if your relationship with the team is poor. Respect their technology and UX/UI decisions and their right to figure out how much work can be done. It requires more than technical knowledge to develop a successful digital product. Further, understand the importance of the big picture. It’s quite impossible to build the right solution without understanding the product context, including who the customers and users are going to be, what value the product brings in for them, what makes your product stand out, and how it benefits the business. You should therefore help the team acquire the relevant market and domain knowledge and ensure that they are aware of the product strategy and product roadmap as well as the business goals and KPIs.
Young companies generally start off by building one product, so it isn't uncommon to see the CEO of the company act as the interim product manager and after a while will let the chief engineer or CTO take on the role of leading and navigating the product’s roadmap. But lately, the importance of having a good product manager and looking at Product Management as a career option and not something you "grow into" is on the rise as people see the value a good PM brings in.