What does a Product Manager *Really* Do?
So you think you want to be a Product Manager?
It’s one of the most desired—and least understood—roles in modern business.
What does a Product Manager do?
Product Managers guide the development of a company’s product or feature, and serve as liaison between business, technology, and design teams. They lead cross-functional initiatives and manage tasks, tools, relationships in every phase of development, from product planning through launch and beyond.
“They research which products to make!”
“They make sure products get built!”
“They coordinate teams of people!”
“They oversee feature development!”
“They shepherd products to launch!”
“They run product analytics!
So, what does a product manager actually do?
All of the above. And more!
There’s an old saying: “A jack of all trades is a master of none...but oftentimes better than a master of one.”
This means a generalist with multiple skill sets can be more valuable than a specialist who only does one thing well. Although this saying dates back to William Shakepseare, it might well be describing the modern product manager. PMs need to be generalists and have a broad understanding of many subjects. The majority of PMs have more than one skill—a third of them have three or more. So if you’re curious about many different aspects of a business, a PM role may be for you.
Why is the role different from most careers?
The scope of this job is quite broad compared to more specialized roles such as marketing, sales, and engineering. A PM leads initiatives that cross over all of those departments, with responsibilities that are strategic as well as tactical. At any given time, you may have to be a collaboration wrangler, consensus builder, C-suite-soother, engineer-whisperer, politician, babysitter, and cop. There’s never a dull day.
What are core product manager responsibilities?
PMs are busy beavers! They have their hands in the entire product development lifecycle—before, during, and post-launch. Product managers operate at the convergence of business, technology, and user experience, focusing on business outcomes and helping keep engineering, marketing, sales, and support teams on point. CTA: Learn more with our Future of Product Management ebook
What does the day-to-day for a product manager look like?
They see the big picture up front
In the early phases, PMs help develop the strategy, vision, and product roadmap by pinpointing the right problem (or problems) to solve for specific groups of users. They understand and anticipate users’ needs, and are always on hand to provide empathetic communication with teams.
They get their hands dirty in development
Product managers are deeply involved in guiding the teams responsible for improving the product and its features. They help drive design goals and business objectives, represent the business case for product initiatives, and balance the priorities of design quality with technological and resource limitations. They hold teams to deadlines and provide reality checks on what’s possible within budgets and timeframes. And they mitigate conflicts among stakeholders.
They keep up the momentum after launch
A good PM seeks continuous improvement by helping identify opportunities and priorities for product iterations. They seek out user feedback that can be used to improve the product and develop new features. They are continually focused on implementing solutions that improve the customer experience.
What are Key Product Manager Skills & Competencies?
To succeed as a Project Manager, you need a mix of hard skills and soft skills.
Hard skills include:
Data Analysis: Using tools like Heap to diagnose problems, reduce churn, personalize user interaction, and correlate user behaviors with long-term value. (Learn more in our guide to analytics.)
A/B Testing: Split testing everything—site design, marketing offers, ad headlines, product descriptions—to see what’s most likely to make people click and convert. (Learn how to do A/B testing right in our guide.)
Conversion Rate Optimization: Raising conversion rates by ensuring the product is targeting the right audience, working efficiently, and creating an experience of clear value to each user. (Interested in CRO? Learn all about it in our complete guide!)
UX Design: Understanding the principles of good UX design and how they mesh with business objectives, and how time or technology constraints affect the product.
Market research: Testing product and feature viability by communicating with users and collecting their feedback.
Roadmap planning and prioritization: Streamlining the product by analyzing data, ranking initiatives according to highest value, and getting stakeholder consensus.
Agile product development: Building the product using sprint dev cycles, iterating on the released product and using customers feedback to make improvements.
Artificial Intelligence: This is one to grow on—AI is considered one of the most important hard skills for PMs to learn in the next decade.
The soft skills a great Product Manager brings to the table are interpersonal communication, storytelling abilities, creative thinking, and empathy. And perhaps most important, the ability to influence cooperation without the authority to enforce it. PMs are sometimes called “CEO of the product,” but they do have to answer to key stakeholders— including the actual CEO.
What is the average salary for a product manager?
Maybe you jumped ahead to read this line first ;) Like any job, salaries depend on location and years of experience. The average product manager salary in the United States is $108,992. Demand for PMs has been steadily rising over the past few years. As of this writing, Glassdoor has 17,574 active job listings for product managers in the USA, with a salary range of $65,000 to $175,000! Compared to many other jobs, in and out of tech, product management is a well-paid career path with potential for a very bright future.
What kind of perks do PMs enjoy?
While not every PM works for a trendy Silicon Valley company, the benefits are usually pretty good. There are PM roles in just about every field, from healthcare to agriculture to traditional consumer goods companies. In a recent survey, two-thirds of PMs polled enjoy flexibility around their location or hours. Nearly half of PMs reported having wellness initiatives. And more than a third get an education stipend. (In reality, this number may be much higher. Many companies have discretionary funds allocated for employee training.) Most of the PMs who reported having educational funding at their company had less than four years in a PM role, making training more available to those with less PM experience.
Want to learn about Product-Market Fit? Read our complete guide!
What different types of product managers are there?
Technical product manager
Works with internal teams on complex products. Usually a former developer, engineer, DevOps, or data scientist. Sometimes partnered with a PM who focuses on external efforts like PR and marketing.
API product manager
Usually likes working with developer communities, as well as marketing and sales teams.
UX product manager
A natural choice for a UX designer who wants to get into product management.
Hardware product manager
A good fit for someone who has experience with partnerships and relationships with vendors.
AI product manager
A great role for a data science engineer curious about solving customer problems with artificial intelligence.
Growth product manager
Experiments with funnel metrics and UX along with the sales and marketing teams. (Learn more about Product-Led Growth in our complete guides/product-led-growth!)
Startup product manager
Handles everything in the company, which can be exciting, but may have to create their own support network to learn and grow.
Enterprise product manager
Manages smaller part of a large product. Has less independence than a startup PM, but with a less hectic pace, and sees their product impact on a grand scale.
What Makes A Great Product Manager?
Are you a strategic listener? Can you brainstorm solutions to an issue before presenting it to your teams? Do you play well with all kinds of other personalities? If you can approach multifaceted problems with creativity, strategy, empathy and good communication, you have the makings of a Product Manager.
How Do You Get Started Becoming a Product Manager?
Something that’s true about most jobs, but especially product management, is that companies want to see experience. So if you have no experience yet, what can you do? If you’re already working at a company, start there. Talk to your company’s PMs and offer to help out. Ask about challenges they are facing, and volunteer to work on experiments and solutions. Take on an extracurricular project that you can own, and run tests and take notes. If you can document your initiative, leadership, and participation in a project, you’ve got something great to talk about in a PM interview.
Outside of work, you can enroll in a product management certification course. Our friends at Hubspot have compiled a useful list of programs available to budding PMs from leading schools and organizations. You can also look into Associate Product Management (APM) programs, which are roles offered to new and junior-level product managers. Somewhere between a job and an internship, these are temporary roles but can lead to full time employment. Many of the top enterprise and FAANG companies offer APM roles.
And once you’re ready for the job market, nearly 40% of PMs hire through job portals like LinkedIn and AngelList, which are popular and user-friendly. Online job boards are a go-to for many people searching for their next step. Another way PMs hire is through their personal network, which makes networking a very valuable activity—you never know which doors might open for you. Product Management is global, and there will certainly be events near you. In the U.S. and Europe, you also have #ProductCon, the quarterly Product conference.
If you liked this article, make sure you read our forecast on the future of product management, and good luck with your new career as a Product Manager!
Why is Heap a necessity for Product Managers?
Once you become a Product Manager, you’ll need a great suite of analytics tools at your fingertips. Heap helps product managers understand in detail what their users do, how they use your product, where they experience friction, and what features deliver the most value. Insights generated by Heap allow PMs to make data-driven decisions, measure and run experiments, increase activation, conversion, and retention, and craft captivating digital experiences.
Getting started is easy
Interested in a demo of Heap’s Product Analytics platform? We’d love to chat with you!