What is a Product Manager?

The Product Manager is a critically important role in all modern technology companies, from up and coming startups, to household names like Google or Facebook. Every product or service these companies offer has an associated Product Manager who, more than any other, is responsible for the success of that product.

Any digital product you use, be it your favourite gadget, an app on your phone, or a website you use to order pizza is the creation of a Product team. This is the group of people, including Designers, Engineers, and Technical Writers who work together to build and improve the product. Central to a Product team, is a Product Manager, who has the job of ensuring that the product that the team builds is right for users and has the best possible chance of being a success.

To do this, the Product Manager must first understand the motivations and needs of users that the product serves, how the product generates value for the business, and the competitive landscape in which the product exists. Based on this context, and drawing on suggestions and feedback from users and peers, the Product Manager works with designers and engineers to define a proposal for what the product should offer (if it's a new product) or how it should evolve.

This proposal is validated and refined through testing with real users before being developed into a product that can be launched. At smaller companies it's not unusual for the Product Manager to also handle project management, ensuring that development of the product release proceeds at a healthy pace and that problems that could cause delays are avoided.

Despite having "Manager" in their title, Product Managers do not normally manage the engineers and designers they work with to deliver products. They have responsibility for the product, but not authority over the people developing it. As a result they must earn the trust and respect of the people they work with, and build strong cases for their proposals backed up by relevant data and research.

In addition to their work with the Product team, Product Managers collaborate with a wide variety of other roles to address any other concerns that might affect the success of the product. For example, one day they might be working with company lawyers to ensure that the product respects the privacy of users, while the next they are working with marketing specialists to determine how the product should be presented and promoted.

Because a Product Manager must demonstrate leadership, build strong relationships, and is exposed to many aspects of running a business, the role tends to attract and nurture entrepreneurial people. As a result, the founders and CEOs of many of the most successful technology companies started out as Product Managers, including the current CEOs of both Google and Yahoo!

Is the Product Manager role right for you?