What Does A Product Manager Do? [Incl. Day-to-Day, Skills And How To Become One in 3 Steps]

Illustration for Unkover blog post entitled What Does A Product Manager Do? [Incl. Day-to-Day, Skills And How To Become One in 3 Steps]

TL;DR

Ever wondered what does a product manager do? 🤔

A product manager wears many hats, from market research to customer journey mapping and understanding user needs to shape product visions.

Product managers dive deep into competitive analysis, collaborate with multiple teams, and prioritize features that add the most value. They are the glue that holds the development process together, ensuring everything runs smoothly from ideation to launch (and beyond).

Let’s explore the key responsibilities and skills that make a successful product manager who shapes the future of products! 🚀💼

When asked why they love their job as a product manager on Quora, many mention that:

  • No two days look alike: yes, many responsibilities may seem overwhelming, but you get to see something new (almost) every day, and a lot happens in a short amount of time, making progress visible and technology improvements tangible.
  • You basically speak with every department: the marketing and sales teams, the engineering team, you name it. Whether you’re a people person or love technology and user experience, there’s something there for you.
  • You see the impact your work is having: you actually help build stuff. That’s exciting in tech, where it’s sometimes challenging to see it, and you (hopefully) get to see many people using that very thing you help shape and build. How gratifying is that?
  • It’s a great leadership role: it requires a multitude of skills, from hard skills (tech, design, analytics, to name a few) to soft skills (communication, leadership, presentation, and people skills), and allows you to grow as a professional and as a person.

Well, that’s a good start 🙂

In this article, we’ll answer the question, “What does a product manager do?” and discuss the path to becoming a great product manager.

Let’s get started!

What is product management for?

As far as definitions go, product management focuses on developing, launching, and improving the product. The primary goal is to ensure that the product meets the market’s needs and aligns with the company’s business objectives.

This can be anything from understanding customer requirements and market trends to collaborating with engineering, design, and marketing teams to deliver a product that provides value to users and drives business growth.

That, as a product manager, you have many responsibilities is definitely an understatement.

Just look at this list:

What does a product manager do? Table describing the main responsibilities of a product manager by Unkover

A lot to digest, right? But to many who choose this career path, that’s the beauty of it. That’s because, as a product manager, you’ll face (and solve) different problems and greatly impact the product.

Usually, in big companies, there is a bit of differentiation between angles of this role, but if you’re in a start-up or small company, a product manager normally takes on at least product owner and business analyst roles as well.

In the next section, let’s see what those differences (and overlaps) are.

What is the difference between a product manager and a product owner?

Ask 10 developers, marketers, or sales reps what does a product manager do and they’ll all tell you something different (most of which is probably true.)

If you go on and ask what is the difference between a PM and a PO, they’ll probably tell you there are none, or that the definition is so blurry, they don’t think it’s that important.

I beg to differ.

It’s true that, in start-ups or small companies, these roles are probably done by the same person (I see and appreciate you, multitaskers!), but as a company grows, inevitably, there are different professionals focusing on specific tasks (even if PM, PO, and business analyst roles do overlap.)

If you ask me, this is even more reason to know who’s actually doing what–and say thank you to your 1-member team of PM, PO, and business analyst.

Let’s see it graphically:

What does a product manager do? Table describing the main differences between  Product manager vs project manager vs product marketing manager vs business analyst by Unkover
Product manager vs project manager vs product marketing manager vs business analyst: What is the difference?

5 Key responsibilities of a product manager (and day-to-day)

So far, so good. We have the theory of a product manager’s role, but what does a day in the life of a product manager look like?

Here are five activities a product manager is likely to do on a daily basis:

1. Conduct constant market research and competitive analysis

It’s no secret that conducting market research and competitive analysis is fundamental to a product manager’s role. Understanding the market landscape helps identify opportunities and threats, enabling product managers to make informed decisions on all the business cases they are working on.

Here’s the thing. Competitive intelligence is either a task for a dedicated team or yet another task product managers have to juggle.

As a product manager, you may not have the time to set up a complex CI program, but you need the information nonetheless. Ah, the conundrum of trade-offs!

Yes, you can use several competitive intelligence tools to solve that problem. If you’re a busy product manager, though, there’s just one that will give you a deep understanding of your competitors, it’s super easy to set up, filters out the noise and focuses only on relevant signals, such as competitor activities, market shifts, and emerging trends.

Yes, it was a sales pitch; yes, the tool is called Unkover 😉

Unkover - Competitive Intelligence Tool for SaaS companies

And here comes the CTA: Stay ahead of the curve, adapt to changes swiftly, and strategically position your products in the market. Learn more about how Unkover can help you focus your product manager responsibilities while being aware of what your competitors are doing–start now for free!

Now, back to business.

2. Map the customer journey and understand user needs

As it’s always said, knowledge is power–the more you know about how users interact with your product at each touchpoint, the more you’ll be able to understand and represent users’ needs and develop a product that resonates with your target audience.

This involves gathering qualitative and quantitative data through user interviews, surveys, and analytics tools (more on this later).

When you understand user pain points, motivations, and behaviors, you can prioritize features and improvements that enhance user satisfaction and loyalty.

3. Develop and implement a vision for the product

Creating a vision for the product is so important.

What that really means is that through the deep understanding and analysis of the market research and customer needs you have gathered in points 1 and 2, as a product manager, you now have to put things together and build the business case that is the foundation of what your product will actually look like.

How do you do it, you ask?

First, set long-term goals. They often include targets related to market share, user growth, revenue, or other key performance indicators (KPIs).

Then, focus on your unique value proposition, which should address specific customer pain points and highlight the product’s benefits. Different teams in your company will use it for marketing and sales efforts to help communicate the product’s value to potential users and stakeholders.

Next: the roadmap. Once you have the vision for a product, it’s now time to turn it into reality. This involves creating detailed roadmaps that outline the product’s key milestones, deliverables, and timelines.

Unkover roadmap
Image Source.

It also means breaking down the long-term objectives into smaller, actionable steps that can be achieved incrementally. This planning phase also includes resource allocation, budget management, and risk assessment to ensure the project stays on track.

Finally, communication. You must get buy-in from all stakeholders involved, including development teams, designers, marketers, and sales personnel. You must ensure everyone understands the vision and their role in achieving it. This communication often takes place through regular meetings, presentations, and documentation.

4. Coordinate with different teams

Remember how we said product managers are people persons (or people people, as the AI suggests?)–here is the part where your interpersonal skills will be put to the test.

As a product manager, you must effectively work closely and coordinate with various departments, including engineering, design, marketing, and sales. This collaboration ensures that cross-functional teams are aligned and working towards a unified goal and product strategy.

On a daily basis, product managers facilitate meetings, resolve conflicts, and ensure that there are no roadblocks slowing progress. This coordination helps maintain momentum, fosters innovation, and ensures that the product is developed efficiently and to the highest standards.

5. Prioritize product features and capabilities

One of the most challenging aspects of a product manager’s job is prioritizing features and capabilities. You are dealing with limited resources and time, so you must make tough decisions about what to build and when.

Product managers assess the potential impact and feasibility of different features by utilizing frameworks like the MoSCoW method (Must have, Should have, Could have, and Won’t have) or other prioritization matrices. This helps create a balanced product roadmap that systematically delivers maximum value to users and meets business objectives.

Your toolset to be a great PM

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably not at all overwhelmed by the amount of work it takes to become a product manager, you’re rather intrigued.

Fair enough.

But what are the tools that form the essential toolset for a great product manager? That’s what this section is all about 🙂

1. Strong communication skills

People people people. We said that before: Communication is the cornerstone of effective product management.

A product manager must be able to convey ideas clearly and persuasively to various stakeholders, including engineers, designers, marketers, and executives. You must have:

  • Creative thinking: aka think outside the box and come up with innovative solutions to problems.
  • The ability to speak to different departments: aka different languages. Product managers tailor their communication style to suit different audiences, whether providing technical details to developers or explaining market trends to the sales team.
  • The ability to influence without authority: aka persuade team members and stakeholders to buy into their vision without having direct authority over them. This requires strong interpersonal skills and the ability to build trust.
  • Empathy: aka understanding the perspectives and needs of users and team members is crucial. Empathy helps create products that truly meet user needs and encourages a collaborative team environment.

2. A great analytical mind

Don’t take numbers away from product managers. They (product managers, not numbers) are adept at interpreting data and using it to inform strategy.

In this sense, analytical skills are critical for making data-driven decisions and optimizing product performance.

  • Data analysis: aka identify trends, measure performance, and make informed decisions based on data.
  • A/B testing: aka run experiments to compare different versions of a product or feature to determine which performs better.
  • Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO): aka optimize your product so with the goal of increasing the percentage of users who take a desired action on a product, such as making a purchase or signing up for a newsletter.
  • User Experience (UX) design: aka understand (and use) the principles of good UX design to ensure the product is intuitive and enjoyable to use.
  • Customer feedback: aka listen to user feedback and incorporate it into the product to continuously improve and meet user needs.

3. The ultimate problem solvers

A product manager’s job is inherently problem-solving. They must anticipate challenges and roadblocks and develop plans to address them efficiently.

  • Planning: aka develop detailed plans that include timelines, resources, milestones (and plan B-C-D) to ensure the product development process runs smoothly.
  • Prioritizing: aka decide which features and tasks are most important and should be tackled first. This often almost always involves trade-offs and tough decisions.
  • Adjusting: aka be flexible and willing to pivot the product strategy when necessary based on new information or changing circumstances.

4. The rockstar of the tools

Leveraging the right tools can significantly enhance a product manager’s efficiency and effectiveness. Here are some of the must-have tools:

  • Agile: aka Agile product management. Methodologies such as Scrum or Kanban help product teams work more collaboratively and flexibly, enabling continuous improvement and responsiveness to change.
  • AI: aka Artificial intelligence tools. They provide insights through data analysis, automate repetitive tasks, and enhance decision-making processes.
  • Unkover for Competitive Intelligence: Unkover simplifies competitive intelligence by focusing on relevant signals and filtering out noise. This tool helps product managers stay informed about competitor activities, market shifts, and emerging trends, allowing them to make strategic decisions.

How to become a successful product manager in 3 steps

After reading the last section, you probably think you’d need several years even to consider applying for a junior product manager role.

Well, not really.

Of course, you should start by familiarizing yourself with the core concepts (and tools!), but that doesn’t mean you need a bachelor’s degree in product management. You can start with a LinkedIn certification or a free Coursera course that will give you a structured learning path that you can follow at your own pace.

You’re probably covered for the hard skills, such as design thinking, understanding and representing user needs, product planning, and so on. But how can you exercise and improve strategic thinking? What about interpersonal skills, negotiation, and juggling between different projects?

When I was at Hootsuite, I took part in their Stretch program twice. It was such an insightful experience; it allowed me to learn a lot about different roles and parts of the company on which I didn’t have visibility. I ended up landing another job entirely, but this is a great example of how you can take a look at what a different role looks like and open up real opportunities to pivot your career.

If your company doesn’t have such a structured program, you can always ask your manager if you can devote a percentage of your time to a side project in a product management role (in Hootsuite, it’s 20% over a three-month period, but you can negotiate it).

There is no unique way to become a product manager, as it entails multiple skills and abilities. Your best bet is to be curious about everything product-related: the market, the sales funnel, customer feedback, and product metrics.

Networking with other product managers and attending industry events can also provide valuable insights and connections. It’s important to continuously educate yourself on product management principles and techniques through books, online courses, and workshops.

Wrapping up: Become the type of product manager that influences a product’s success

And that’s a wrap! We covered a lot, and, in all honesty, it was a great ride.

Hopefully, this blog answered your question about what a product manager does with more questions and curiosity about the role.

Creating a product vision, building a company’s business goals, product strategy, and product roadmap, as well as delivering successful products, make product managers the unsung hero (ehm) so impactful that if you choose this career, you’ll be literally shaping the future of a company.

But to become a truly successful product manager, you need more than technical skills. You also need strong communication and leadership abilities, as well as an innate curiosity to continuously learn and adapt.

Ready to take your product management game to the next level? Start with competitive intelligence and Unkover. Grab your free trial today and unkover the insights that will make your product a resounding success!

Deep Dive: how a product’s lifecycle phase shapes the role of a product manager

A product manager’s responsibilities evolve significantly throughout the different phases of a product’s lifecycle. Each stage presents unique challenges and requires specific skill sets and focus areas. Below, we explore how the role of a product manager shifts from ideation to decline.

Ideation

During the ideation phase, the product manager’s primary role is to conceptualize new product ideas and identify opportunities in the market. This phase involves:

  • Market research: Conducting thorough market research to understand market needs, trends, and gaps.
  • Brainstorming: Facilitating brainstorming sessions with cross-functional teams to generate innovative ideas.
  • Feasibility analysis: Assessing the technical feasibility and business viability of potential ideas.
  • Initial prototyping: Collaborating with designers and engineers to create initial prototypes or mockups.

Development

As the product moves into the development phase, the product manager focuses on turning the concept into a tangible product. Key responsibilities include:

  • Detailed planning: Developing a detailed project plan that includes timelines, resources, and milestones.
  • Cross-functional coordination: Working closely with engineering, design, and QA teams to ensure alignment and progress.
  • User testing: Conducting user testing to gather feedback and refine features.
  • Iterative development: Implementing an agile process to iteratively develop and improve the product based on feedback and testing results.

Launch

The launch phase is critical as it involves introducing the product to the market. The role of the product manager is to ensure a successful launch by:

  • Marketing strategy: Collaborating with the marketing team to develop a comprehensive go-to-market strategy.
  • Sales enablement: Providing the sales team with the necessary training and materials to effectively sell the product.
  • Launch coordination: Coordinating the launch activities across various departments to ensure a smooth rollout.
  • Metrics tracking: Setting up KPIs and analytics to monitor the product’s performance post-launch.

Growth

In the growth phase, the focus shifts to scaling the product and expanding its market presence. Product managers work on:

  • Feature enhancements: Continuously adding new features and improvements based on user feedback and competitive analysis.
  • Market expansion: Identifying and entering new markets or segments to drive growth.
  • Performance optimization: Analyzing user data to optimize performance, enhance user experience, and increase retention.
  • Partnerships: Exploring strategic partnerships to enhance the product offering and reach new customers.

Maturity

During the maturity phase, the product has a stable user base, and the focus is on maintaining market position and maximizing profitability. Key responsibilities include:

  • Cost management: Implementing cost optimization strategies to maintain profitability.
  • Customer retention: Focusing on customer retention and loyalty programs to keep existing users engaged.
  • Incremental improvements: Making incremental improvements and minor updates to keep the product relevant.
  • Exploring adjacent opportunities: Looking for adjacent opportunities to leverage the product’s success into new areas or features.

Decline

In the decline phase, the role of the product manager is to manage the product’s end-of-life while maximizing remaining value. Responsibilities include:

  • Product sunsetting: Planning and executing a product sunsetting strategy, including communication with customers and stakeholders.
  • Migration plans: Offering migration plans to transition users to other products or new versions.
  • Resource reallocation: Reallocating resources to new projects or products that are in earlier stages of the lifecycle.
  • Data archiving: Ensuring that all important data and learnings are archived for future reference and use.

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