What EXACTLY is a Product Manager?

Product Management

If you’re here, I have a sneaky suspicion that you’re asking the very same question that I asked above – what is a Product Manager? Maybe you’re a company that’s expanding their workforce and need someone to manage a product. Or maybe you’re an engineer or developer who’s looking for the next logical step in your career path.

Funny enough, I asked that same question in my own journey. I’d been a developer and web engineer for nearly a decade-and-a-half. As much as I loved writing code, I wondered what the next step on my path would be. I’d just been laid off from a fantastic position, and knew that I wanted to use the layoff as an opportunity. It was time to see what’s next.

And, as it turns out, I’d already been a Product Manager all along, without knowing it. I just didn’t have the the official title.

Product Manager – The Definition

Product Manager Venn Diagram

A Product Manager is the lifeline between technology, business, and strategy. It’s their job to cast the vision, bring together and inspire the team, and assign the overall workload for a specific product. If the Project Manager is the micro-, then the Product Manager is the macro-, big-picture person.

If the Fellowship of the Ring was a product, Gandalf would be its Product Manager. He’s there to set the party’s direction, talk with them and keep them motivated, and to help them out when they inevitably hit a roadblock. And while it may not be his direct action that crosses the finish line, you know that they wouldn’t be there without his help.

Typical Responsibilities

A product manager typically has several responsibilities:

  • Setting the Strategy. A Product Manager is responsible for creating the overall strategy for the product. From concept to execution and launch, their job is to map out the entire journey.
  • Release Scheduling. The Product Manager sets the timeline for each release, whether it’s an iterative release or a longer waterfall roadmap. They set the schedule and figure out the methodologies for deployment (with the help of the engineers). They also make sure marketing, sales, and any other teams that need to know are aware of progress and launch dates.
  • The Hard Decisions. Do you punt the release, or leave out a feature and release on time? Which features will make the most impact to the users, but still help out stakeholders? These decisions, and many like them, are part of the day-to-day discourse for Product Managers.
  • Product Research. The Product Manager is responsible for getting new ideas for the product – usually from the users. They identify pain points, distill down requests, and turn those into backlog for the engineers to work on for later releases.
  • Reporting. A Product Manager needs to know how take all of the information received and break down the data into actionable reports. Being able to report on the progress of the product allows them to report to shareholders and see where pain points lie to prioritize fixes and requests.

If you want more information, there are several great resources that you can turn to online to learn more: