What Does a Great Product Manager Look Like?

by Jasmin Iordanidis, Product Marketing Manager

22 Dec 2020

There's a lot in common between a Product Manager and the executive president of a professional sports club. Don't buy it? Well, you should 😋, and here's why.

  • Both are experts in their businesses.
  • They both know what it takes to win. 🏆
  • They're great leaders of their teams.

Stay tuned because this article will give you a grasp of how unique the product management role is. You'll learn what their responsibilities are and more.

And if you landed a job opportunity as Product Manager, we'll give you a hand with mastering your craft. 🥇

But first things first: defining the role. And once you know this, we’ll move on to exploring their tasks, unique characteristics, and the challenges they face.

What's a product manager?

For context, let's start with product management’s role in PI (Product Increment) Planning.

According to our Guide to PI Planning, the Product Manager must understand the customer needs and validate solutions against those needs. That’s the starting point and foundation for their role. But that's still generic. 🤔

The Product Manager is THE product expert. That makes them the best-equipped team member to make strategic decisions about the product. These decisions affect the work of a lot of people in a company.

The Product Manager is a product visionary and strategist. They monitor and analyze the market competition. That's how they define a unique product vision and product strategy. Their ultimate goal is to add unique value to the market based on customer needs.

The Product Manager decides what products or product features to build and in what order. This means they prioritize new products or new features in an existing product. Defining a product vision and a product strategy is intimately related to prioritization. They must do their best effort to maximize both customer value and business value. Not an easy challenge!

The Product Manager leads the teams responsible for developing a new product or improving an existing one. They usually work across cross-functional teams, so leading them demands a great deal of organization from the Product Manager. Plus, they need the ability to bridge, communicate with, and supervise engineering, marketing, sales, and customer support staff.

The Product Manager participates in all stages of product development, from planning and conception to launch or release. But what tasks do they do?

The product manager's tasks

SpongeBob Squarepants doing multiple home tasks at once

You already know some of the product management tasks. But here's a comprehensive list of product management tasks:

  • Understand, identify, and, if necessary, represent customer pain points and business challenges.
  • Manage the process of generating new ideas for products or features, and decide which ideas to move forward with.
  • Describe a product vision, and align all teams with that vision, especially in large companies.
  • Create and maintain the product roadmap.
  • Design a strategy for product development.
  • Limit the project scope.
  • Rank features against the product strategy, business goals, customer value, and customer or user feedback.
  • Specify the requirements for each feature.
  • Define the launch or release process, which comprises phases and milestones.
  • Manage dependencies within and between phases.
  • Identify the deliverables and corresponding due dates for the cross-functional teams.
  • Coordinate the activities of each team from product development until launching the product into the market.
  • Validate product design and implementation.
  • Ensure the successful launch or release of the product.

Now, are you working with Scrum? If so, you might be wondering about the differences between the Product Manager and the Product Owner.

Product managers vs. product owners

Although they may interchange tasks, they're distinct roles. In short, the latter works towards realizing the product vision and the product strategy that the first defines.

The Product Owner works more closely with the software development team. On the other hand, the Product Manager interfaces directly with customers, users, and partners.

Sometimes, when there's no Product Manager, the Product Owner steps into this role. However, in that case, there's little time to coordinate the work of all teams around the same product vision.

But regardless of whether there’s an existing Product Owner, there are key ingredients that make good and great Product Managers. Let's discuss that next.

What makes a great product manager?

Product manager: Businessman slamming the door to a car and shouting

The characteristics of a great Product Manager consist of technical skills and personality traits. So, besides technical skills, they should have a high EQ (emotional coefficient). This means:

  • Showing customers and users empathy during any communication with them
  • Developing trustworthy relationships with internal teams and external stakeholders
  • Inspiring and motivating team members
  • Discretely persuading people to take the necessary steps to achieve a common goal, which starts with listening to them
  • Avoiding bias in the preference for solutions by being user-centric and ensuring that solutions answer user needs
  • Managing stress and performing well under pressure
  • Demonstrating the urgency of task completion without causing panic
  • Knowing how to ask the best questions to the right people at the right time
  • Delegating the power of decision-making by giving teams a methodology and criteria for escalating if needed
  • Daring to confidently make strong statements about priorities, advocating for any of their decisions
  • Having the courage to choose whom to favor with a decision, whether it’s engineering, marketing, or sales
  • Not being afraid of changes such as defining a new product strategy for business growth
  • Reading the emotions of customers, users, and internal team members, and capturing their concerns

If they tick all or most of the above, the Product Manager is on the way to being emotionally intelligent.

Typical results from an outstanding product manager

If the Product Manager has a high EQ, they'll be the best at:

  • Growing teams to become high-performing
  • Negotiating with customers, users, partners, and people from different departments
  • Resolving conflicts that might get in the way of cross-functional teams that make successful products
  • Getting more funds, top talent, and other kinds of support or resources
  • Prioritizing according to customer pain points
  • Making sure the development team knows users actually need the changes they're implementing
  • Obtaining the best trade-offs between the different individuals and teams involved and interested in a product's development

Ultimately, customers will trust the Product Manager to fix problems with the product. Plus, engineers will accept going the extra mile to incorporate a microfeature on short notice. And if the Product Manager is always calm and cool, management will trust their work.

At this point, you know how personality matters to the success of the product management role. Next, discover how the type of product and its users also affect their work.

The right measure of technicality

The more complex a technical product is, the more experience the Product Manager should have with building similar products.

On the other hand, for a less complex technical product, experience with launching products and supporting customers is enough.

Summing up, the Product Manager knows how to talk with the users of a product and the customer. Additionally, they have at least a basic technical understanding of the product.

But wait! That's not all. Product Managers also do some magic when interacting with engineers and top management.

Connecting with engineers and top management is key

Family waving from a motorcycle

The Product Manager should establish, maintain, and manage a relationship with the engineering team and top management.

Relating to the engineers

The relationship between the Product Manager and the engineering team depends on the company's view of the product development process. And it can be done in three different ways:

  1. The Product Manager hands the product requirements to the engineering team, which transforms them into technical requirements.
  2. Engineers develop the product, which the Product Manager validates and sometimes monetizes.
  3. The Product Manager and the engineering team collaborate closely to develop the product.

❌ The first approach is not that agile or quick. In fact, it resembles a waterfall approach to product development that takes ages to get to a viable product. Also, engineers focus on coding and might lose focus on UX (user experience).

❌ The second alternative might innovate by creating new customer and user needs. Nevertheless, user feedback might come in too late to align the product with user needs without costing more.

✔️ Last, in the third option, the Product Manager and the engineering team gather requirements and make decisions together. The first doesn't tell the latter how to code, and the latter doesn't tell the first how to prioritize. The result is better UX, faster product development, and better product quality. And everyone's happy! 🎉

Relating to top management

The Product Manager should work closely not only with the engineering team but also with top management. The involvement of top management in the product development process is crucial to product success and the success of the product management role.

The more top management is involved in product development, the more the Product Manager is in a support role. And that's truer for young companies.

In a startup environment, the Product Manager often doesn’t lead the idea generation process. Another downside of young companies for those professionals is that they have less influence on the product vision.

It's time to consider how a company’s maturity impacts the product management role.

How company maturity influences the product manager

The company's maturity influences the Product Manager's performance and success. In a startup, this role should be more versatile. On the other hand, the role is narrower and has clearer boundaries in a mature company.

So, in a startup, the Product Manager might be responsible for market research, pricing, and customer support. That's because startups are growing companies that often have a tight staffing budget.

But despite being highly dynamic environments, young companies represent a land of opportunities for Product Managers. They might influence the business strategy more as the company grows. And they might also have a say when it comes to using or assigning company resources.

Finally, what the Product Manager lacks in a startup, they have in abundance in a mature company. An established customer portfolio is an example of that.

Product managers are the product’s backbone

The product management role is an essential element of any technology company. Perhaps their major responsibility is to define the product strategy and play a key role in Sprint Planning or PI Planning. But they also prioritize the planned features for the increment beforehand. And they coordinate the work of teams from different departments.

At a higher level, the Product Manager must communicate with those teams. The goal is to make sure everyone is on the same page. And ultimately, they're strong leaders who trigger the development of useful and profitable products.

If you're a Product Manager looking for more tools to help manage your product, check out Easy Agile's tools. Our roadmapping tool for Jira might help you sequence features for delivery to your customers. And Easy Agile's PI Planning solution for Jira might help you visualize program dependencies and milestones, plus do cross-team planning.

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