We’re surrounded by products. From the desks we work at, to the cars we drive, to the phones in our hands, even to the apps on the screens, products fill our world — yet many of us likely don’t consider how they were created, designed, and produced.
A product manager does. They oversee the production of a product from first idea to launch, and think strategically and creatively about ways that product can solve a customer’s problems. It’s a position that takes strategic thinking, creativity, leadership, and empathy, and will continue to be in demand as more companies turn towards product-centric growth strategies.
Becoming a product manager is a great opportunity to create something new that can impact customers’ lives. If you’re simply interested in learning more about what a product manager does, or are ready to embark upon a career in product management, these insights can help guide you forward.
What Does a Product Manager Do?
Product management is the process that brings a product to life and to the market. Products start as ideas, but must fit a need or solve a problem to provide value to the customers who buy it. That product then goes through the process of being designed, tested, built, priced, marketed, and distributed.
The product manager oversees the product management process, and leads the team that brings the product to life and to the market. They manage the product roadmap, ensure that products are being built to certain requirements, and keep their team focused on the end customer.
Some of the main tasks and duties of a product manager include:
Overseeing the Product Lifecycle
First and foremost, a product manager oversees the entire lifecycle of a product: brainstorming, customer research, strategic planning, guiding the team, ensuring that the product is created according to plan, testing, iterations and updates, making sure the product is compliant, working with sales on pricing and distribution, working with marketing to get the product’s message correct, and overseeing its launch. A product manager may also stay with a product until it’s discontinued or deactivated.
Ultimately, the product manager sees the vision of the product and is the champion of the product through each step of its development.
Conducting Customer Research
Companies want to spend time, money, and energy on building something that will bring value to their customers. Part of a product manager’s job is to find out what customers actually need, and how their product team can create something new that fills that gap.
During this phase, a product manager conducts market research to look at trends in their industry to identify customer interests and needs. They also conduct focus groups of potential customers to learn more about their pain points, and may go out into the community to talk to individuals about what products they would like and which features they want to see. At this stage, the product team may do some early prototyping and testing to get more feedback on their design.
Building Product Roadmaps
A product manager is also responsible for creating and executing a product roadmap, a document that breaks down how to get the product from idea to launch into individual tasks, as well as who will do those tasks, and when. This document is often a single source that product managers not only share with their team, but with marketing, sales, leadership, and other stakeholders so that everyone is on the same page of the product creation process.
Leading a Team and Collaborating with Other Teams
A product manager also leads the product development team, encouraging and guiding them with the end user in mind. Depending on the product that is being created, a product team may consist of designers, developers, engineers, marketers, analysts, and whoever else may have the skills needed to bring the product to life.
In addition to working with their own team, a product manager collaborates with other teams in their organization that will be involved in the creation, promotion, and distribution of the product. This may include teams in engineering, finance, legal, marketing, sales, customer support, and design. A product manager also works with senior leadership to articulate the business value of the product, and to demonstrate how it impacts the bottom line.
6 Skills Great Product Managers Must Possess
As seen above, the job duties of a product manager are many, and each day they will need to utilize both hard and soft skills, like some of the following:
Strategic thinking: Product managers are responsible for the big picture of product creation and development, and also the small tasks that it will take the team to get there. As such, product managers think strategically about the long-term goals and impacts of the products they’re overseeing, and create plans and processes to meet those goals.
Problem solving: Product managers need to be strong problem solvers as well — starting with finding good solutions to customer challenges and pain points. Product managers need to be decisive with issues that arise with the processes as well, and problem solve the day-to-day roadblocks that may arise with their team.
Communication: A product manager must also be a great communicator. Not only do they communicate the vision and objectives of the product to the team to keep everyone working in the same direction, they communicate with senior leadership and other stakeholders about the process, objectives, and end goals. They also need to be good storytellers and cast the vision of the product in order to get buy-in and backing.
Interpersonal and leadership skills: A product manager must possess leadership skills and a desire to influence and inspire their team members as well. They also must also be able to articulate the vision of the product to their team, manage workflow so that the product is built correctly and on time, and develop their employees so that they can do their best work. A product manager can also use those interpersonal skills while working with customers to draw out problems that need solutions.
Understanding of the product lifecycle: Since a product manager oversees the entire product lifecycle, they need to have a comprehensive knowledge of what goes into that process, and how to manage that process to completion. A product manager must be a multi-tasker, too, able to oversee a number of moving parts of product development at a time.
Industry expertise: Finally, a product manager must have expertise in the industry they work in in order to ensure products are being made correctly. If it’s a physical product, this means knowing about manufacturing, raw materials sourcing, and any regulatory standards that need to be followed. If it’s a digital product, this means knowing about software development, data privacy and security, and even a coding language or two.
Product Manager Career Outlook
As long as there is customer demand and problems to solve, product management professionals will be in demand, especially as more digital products come to market. Product manager was named one of LinkedIn’s Jobs on the Rise for 2022, placing at spot #11, and 62% of companies around the globe plan to hire one to five product managers in the coming year. Additionally, more companies are creating products to fuel their growth as well, with 34% of SaaS companies saying they’re turning more to product-led growth models than before — and they’ll need product managers to guide that development.
According to Glassdoor, the average base salary of a product manager as of 2023 is $102,223 per year, and the pay ranges between $77,000 and $218,000. Reflecting the rise in the need for digital product managers, Glassdoor also shows that the top companies looking for product managers are Meta, AWS, Google, and other digital companies.
The Path to Becoming a Product Manager
If you’re thinking about pursuing a career in product management, especially if you’re changing careers, know that there isn’t one specific path to take, nor do you need a specialized degree to move into a career in product management. In fact, more than 50% of product managers have a background in non-product roles. What is required is leadership, creativity, and a willingness to learn.
Here are four ways to get started on a new career in product management.
Build your product management knowledge
Begin by learning more about the process of product management; there are many articles to read and videos to watch online about the process. However, to truly understand what product management is and how it works, it’s best to jump in and actually build a product. Look for courses that allow you to get hands on, where you can bring your product ideas to life in a low-stakes, educational setting.
Harvard DCE Professional & Executive Development course “Product Management: From Design to Launch” is a great introduction to the principles of product management that will also get you involved in building your own product.
Develop your soft skills
A product manager is a leadership role that manages both processes and people. While a comprehensive knowledge of how a product is built is crucial, there are a number of soft skills that successful product managers need to acquire as well, like communication skills, interpersonal skills, leadership skills, listening, problem solving, strategic thinking, and more. There are plenty of courses available to help you grow and develop these skills, and your current workplace may offer professional development opportunities so you can work on these skills as well.
Build Your Portfolio
Start to build a product management portfolio to showcase what you’ve worked on to future employers. Even if you’re new to the industry and may not have overseen the development of a product yet, include any products you work on during your courses or certificate programs. Also consider adding any products or events you’ve managed in your career to your portfolio as well.
Product managers are in demand across a variety of industries. However, if you’re new to the field, you may not parachute in as a product manager for your first role. Look for entry or mid-level roles on product teams, where you can help build part of the product or assist the product manager in overseeing the process.
To learn more, network with your colleagues or on LinkedIn to connect with product managers who can tell you more about what they do. If you’re currently employed, you may also be able to talk to product managers in your own company, shadow them, and possibly start your career by transferring into their department.
Taking the Next Step Toward Becoming a Product Manager
If you’re inspired to further explore the world of product management, “Product Management: From Design to Launch” can give you a comprehensive introduction to the role. This four-week course will help aspiring product managers learn the foundations of product management, from how to uncover customer pain points, to building a product roadmap, to developing skills that can help you work across teams. Enroll today to take the first step towards bringing your product ideas to market.