What is Product Management, exactly?

Nick Coster

what is product management?

According to The Product Management Body of Knowledge, Product Management is:

“A discipline that provides managerial focus to products that in turn will generate measurable business benefits.”

Product Managers are often described as “the CEO of the product”. Marty Cagan says the role of the Product Manager is “to discover a product that is valuable, usable and feasible”. Martin Eriksson puts Product Managers at the intersection of UX, Tech and Business.

There are many ways to describe Product Management, but what each description has in common is that Product Management is:

  1. A broad function and discipline
  2. Responsible for delivering value to the market
  3. The gravitational force for all product related knowledge
  4. About imparting information across different types of teams in an organisation
  5. Performed over time, not occasionally.

We define Product Management as the engine of an organisation that creates value for customers. But – here’s the challenge – Product Managers must create customer value that also delivers measurable business value.

Unlike other functions in an organisation, Product Managers are tasked to look after customer value as well as the organisation’s needs.

(Wondering about moving into a new career in Product Management?)

Responsibilities of Product Management

As a function, Product Management is broadly responsible for:

  • Conceiving and appraising new ideas
  • Planning the design and development of new products or features
  • Working with teams to develop new products or features
  • Accepting new products or features
  • Launching new products and features in market
  • Managing and optimising existing products
  • Withdrawing existing products from market

Every company wields its set of Product Management activities slightly differently, making it difficult to define the function with exact clarity.

But across every company, Product Management has to make decisions and achieve its objectives within four competing forces.

These are:

  1. Managing long term plans and objectives
  2. Working through short term tactical and operational issues
  3. Contending with external market information, market changes and third party relationships
  4. Managing internal expectations and relationships

Welcome to the best role in the company

Product Management is hard. The balancing act between short- and long-term, internal and external expectations can feel as though you’re constantly pulled in different directions.

But the challenges you may experience pale in comparison to what you get to be in return. In fact, Martin Eriksson says that being a Product Manager is “just about the most fun you can have with your clothes on – certainly the most fun you’re going to get paid to do”.

Having the best role in the company means that:

  • You play witness in your customer’s life. You observe, interrogate and solve their problems. Your day-to-day product decisions have an impact.
  • Your effort directly contributes to the growth of your company.
  • You are multilingual. You speak finance, technical and customer, connecting the dots for all three.
  • You occupy two worlds. You plan for the future and participate in the details of product design and development.
  • You are a storyteller. You create meaning out of chaos and present information in a consumable, engaging way to a broad audience.
  • You are a stateswoman or statesman, bringing stakeholders to a logical conclusion.

It is all of the above plus more. The environments you work in are fast, changing and frantic. You play in a sandpit with technology and other talented professionals. You get to make cool stuff and know that you have changed someone’s life.

Product Manager career options

Product Management is growing up. It is no longer an ‘accidental profession’. People are choosing to be Product Managers.

And demand for qualified Product Managers is growing. Opportunities range from an Associate Product Manager all the way to Chief Product Officer (CPO). Specialisations within Product Management are also starting to emerge.

In Australia, the national average salary for a Product Manager is $100,450, and $145,236 in Sydney. (See Parity Consulting’s 2018 Product Management Salary Survey.)

In the US, the national average base salary for product management roles is $114,000 and can grow past $1 million for a CPO!

Common Product Management titles and role descriptions

Chief Product Officer or Vice President of Product Management

The Chief Product Officer (CPO) or Vice President of Product Management (VP of Product) roles are more common in larger organisations, and usually report directly to the CEO. They are responsible for all product activities within an organisation, creating the overall product strategy to achieve the corporate vision and goals set by the CEO and board members. Sometimes, the CPO or VP of Product also plays the role of CTO, overseeing Engineering, in addition to product and design.

Head of Product or Product Director

The Head of Product or Product Director usually reports to the CPO in a larger organisation or to the CEO in a smaller startup or scaleup. This is a senior role which requires the Head of Product to articulate a clear vision for the future of the product, communicate with customers, and work to prioritise and define features that will achieve the most business value for their organisation. The Head of Product or Product Director usually leads a product team that is responsible for a specific group of products.

Product Manager

A Product Manager’s responsibilities are diverse. Product Managers (PM) are responsible for the strategy, roadmap, and feature definition of a product or product line. The daily responsibilities of a Product Manager include customer research, interpreting data and working closely with design, engineering, marketing and even legal. Product Managers must understand both customers and the business deeply, to ensure their products maximise both customer and business value.

Associate or Junior Product Manager

Associate Product Manager (APM) is an entry-level position, usually reporting to a more senior Product Manager. This is often a mentorship position and the start of a product manager’s career. Associate PMs may be transitioning from another career or part of a graduate program, straight out of university.

An Associate PM has the opportunity to learn from senior product leadership and form a strong foundation on product management. They will gain an understanding of design and development of new products. The responsibilities of an Associate Product Manager include defining new ideas and features, analysing data, understanding customers and constantly looking for new ways to improve the product.

Product Owner

More and more, we are seeing that Product Managers are frequently tasked with Product Owner responsibilities in the same role. The “Product Owner” is a term which comes from Scrum Methodology and has the primary responsibility for managing the product backlog. This includes prioritising the backlog, writing user stories and ensuring that the product development team understands the priorities, scope and strategic intent of all items within the backlog.

Emerging specialisations

Internal Product Manager

As the value of Product Management has become more and more recognised, some organisations have created Internal Product Manager roles which are responsible for the software tools and systems used within the organisation itself. Internal Product Managers do not have customers in the traditional sense, but must understand the needs of their users and business to deliver value through internal systems.

Product Manager – Acquisition and Growth

Although all Product Managers should be responsible for growth, there is an emerging trend to hire dedicated Growth Product Managers that optimise for customer awareness and acquisition. The primary responsibility of a Growth Product Manager is conversion. Daily activities are more likely to include fast experimentation, A/B testing and other methods for optimisation with less of a focus on product development.

Certifications

As demand for Product Managers has increased, training programs and Product Manager certifications have developed to support Product Managers looking to master the craft as well as those looking to move into becoming a Product Manager.

It’s common for Product Managers to fall into their roles and learn on the job, which is also why professional training courses and Product Manager certifications are important.

Find out more about Brainmates’ Product Management training courses, workplace training, workplace consulting, and Product Manager certification here.

Nick Coster

Nick Coster | Author

Passionate about building products and services that delight the user and customer. Ask Nick about changing Product Manager behaviour.