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What Does a Product Manager Do?

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Product managers are in great demand - especially due to the strong increase in digital products, these all-rounders are more in demand than ever. However, their tasks vary greatly - depending on company, industry and product. In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about product management in 2020, how you can improve in your role and what salary you should expect.

Responsibilities: What Does a Product Manager Do?

Nowadays, product management (PM) is often equated with digital product management.

Without question, the digital version of the profession has clearly gained in relevance over the last 15 years.

In practice, however, the field of activity often differs all the more from more traditional PM roles, which manage physical retail products, for example.

Nevertheless, we see a strong trend towards digital products.

After all, almost every larger company now has digital components. This change has created an increased need for coordination between different areas involved in development.

From a deep understanding of the user, to derivations for design, business management aspects and the coordination of development through to marketing, responsibility has been concentrated in one corporate division.

The role of the Digital Product Manager was born.

What a product manager does: The role of modern Product Management is often an intersection between business, design and programming
The role of the Product Manager as an interface between Business, Design & Tech

In a globalized world with ever-increasing competition, product managers ensure that products are developed close to the customer to solve his problems and thus offer him as much quality and value as possible.

The product manager's range of tasks thus begins one step earlier - with user research, i.e. the exact understanding of (potential) customers in order to create a product based on this.

So what does a product manager do? 

This question is not easy to answer uniformly.

As an interface between IT, business, marketing and design, they develop product concepts and then implement them in cooperation with the respective teams from the initial stage to marketing.

Now different companies interpret the tasks of PMs somewhat differently. In larger companies, for example, user research is subject to an independent team.

In other cases, PMs rather manage existing products in a mixture of operations and marketing management - for example, in retail. Product managers also take on different roles in the company hierarchy - from decision-makers across all areas to purely executive project managers.

Different Areas of Responsibility of Product Managers

The areas of responsibility of product managers are often divided into strategic and technical PM, as well as go-to-market. However, the following subdivision is somewhat more precise:

  • Customer orientation (e.g. user research, UI/UX design)
  • Market orientation (e.g. competition analysis, trend analysis, ...)
  • Strategy and business (go-to-market, pricing, KPIs, marketing, ...)
  • Technical skills (SQL, HTML/CSS, IT architecture, databases, ...)
  • Project management (SCRUM/agile methods, sprint planning, team management, roadmap, prioritization, ...)
  • Soft skills (especially communication, presentation, negotiation)

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Customer orientation

Based on a comprehensive understanding of the user and his/her problem, a modern product manager goes deeper into user interface and user experience design (UX design).

Based on interviews, focus groups or interactive prototypes, he steers profound product decisions along the user journey. Based on the potential user, the PM adapts the product prototype and addresses possible improvements.

A background in psychological knowledge is often helpful. Due to the close proximity of content, user research is also part of the UX design field.

The role of a product manager often entails segments of ux design. Important aspects of UX design include user research, design, usability, and navigation.
The Components of UX Design

Market Orientation

This includes a deep understanding of the market, the competitive environment and emerging trends in the field.

This begins with the identification of potentially interesting market segments. 

Based on that, the product manager derives possible concepts that also take into account technological trends and opportunities.

While certainly every market and segment is different, there are some techniques for better competitive analysis and market research. In addition to the application of qualitative (focus groups, in-depth interviews) and quantitative (surveys, social media data) methods, these include, for example, competitive analyses using Porter's Five Forces or similar tools.

Strategy and Business

One of the main elements of the PM mix is the business aspect, often referred to as strategic product management. As the person responsible for a product, it is up to the product manager to develop the right go-to-market strategy, to keep an eye on the profitability of the product and to help develop marketing factors such as pricing and communication strategy.

Especially in the area of go-to-market strategy, marketing and PM work closely together to jointly define the optimal channels and content for the product user. A basic understanding of modern marketing strategy is therefore helpful.

Approaches to the business model, such as the Business Model Canvas or product roadmaps, are also helpful tools in the earlier product phases. The same applies to advanced data analysis in order to always have an overview of user numbers and behavior.

Project Management

Methods play an important role in project management.

Agile, SCRUM, Waterfall and DevOps are different approaches that can be used to structure the product development process. The most traditional of these approaches is certainly the Waterfall methodology. This follows a rather rigid pattern, where one phase of product development follows the next. Possible short-term changes are not considered.

However, the possibility of documentation is one of the greatest strengths of this approach.

The Waterfall Model in Product Development

The agile approach, on the other hand, allows faster iterations and thus allows more short-term changes in the process.

The SCRUM methodology follows these principles, but concretizes them. This is a fixed pattern in which regular "sprints" (development rounds) are carried out.

A final framework that is on everyone's lips is the so-called Kanban methodology. This is also based on agile principles and is therefore not entirely dissimilar to SCRUM. A simple introduction to both principles and their differences is given in this video:

Project management also includes the creation and following of roadmaps.

Technical Skills

An additional aspect is often referred to as Technical Product Management.

Strongly dependent on the respective product area, it relates to the requirements for the technical skills of product managers.

The importance of product-related knowledge is certainly undisputed. Anyone responsible for a product area such as turbines, for example, should of course also be familiar with how the product works and other details, but hardly any programming knowledge is required.

Far more helpful here, however, are more basic IT topics. The following should be mentioned here in particular:

  • Understanding of the various technologies that are used (the so-called "stack")
  • The basic structure in which the individual technologies work together, the so-called IT system architecture
  • Data model and APIs - i.e. the interaction of the processed data
  • Basic knowledge of HTML/CSS for short-term adjustments to the frontend

Soft skills

In the area of soft skills, some skills are more important than others.

First and foremost, there is the ability to deal with feedback and to obtain it efficiently. Likewise, the correct handling of conflicts that may arise between the different departments is often decisive in wars.

Regular team retrospectives are a common practice to counteract possible conflicts at an early stage and to promote harmony within the team. Due to the close interaction with other teams it is also important to understand their vocabulary. Conflicts will always emerge. The question is how you solve these problems.

Especially among developers technical terms are often used. However, a certain basic vocabulary is also considered essential in the field of design. Communication is simplified many times over when all parties speak the same language.

Such small things can have a big effect and ensure smooth cooperation. Last but not least, we recommend product managers to have strong presentation skills, as they will regularly present their products from concept to release to update. A recommendation of the 5 most important soft skills for product managers can be found here.

Data Analysis

As with so many roles, a clear trend towards analytical skills can be observed among product managers.

Not least because of the ever-increasing possibilities for data insight, PMs can draw on a wide range of digital user data. In the spirit of user research, the perfect understanding for the end customer, countless derivations for further product development can be derived from the behavior within the product environment.

ToolsGoogle Analytics and Tag Manager, Google Optimize for A/B testing, SQL queries.

Depending on the company, the specific tools can of course vary - nevertheless, they are similar in their functionality and an understanding of the above mentioned tools is very helpful in the long run.

Training: How to Become a Product Manager?

There are many ways to become a product manager.

In fact, there are probably only a few roles where people are so different.

At tech giants such as Amazon, Google, etc., PMs often have a technical background, such as computer science or IT.

Some product managers also come from the UX or UI design or user research area with the aim of taking on more strategic tasks.

A background in all these areas can be helpful to become a product manager.

Besides practical experience we recommend our track for product managers.

Here you can complete your skillset as a product manager, stay up-to-date and thus achieve more in your work as a PM.

The role of a PM is in demand: The number of product management jobs has increased massively within 2 years.
Source: Neil Iyer, Medium, 2019

As you can see in the picture, the demand for product management jobs (in the USA) increased by 32% within 2 years until June 2019.

As the demand is currently hardly covered and product managers have a lot of responsibility, their salary is relatively high

For junior product managers, i.e. young professionals, the salary starts at an average of around €3,400 in Germany and naturally varies according to industry and experience. For the latter, factors such as international experience, personnel responsibility and specialisation also play a role.

Master Product Management

You want to become a better product manager? We will help you to complete your skillset and become better at work - tailored to you and your needs.
Test your personalized plan now