What Product Managers Do
Product managers in the tech sector are sometimes considered the “CEO” of an individual product. Their goal is to make sure that a given product is as successful and profitable as possible. They are responsible for seeing a product through, starting at the conception of an idea all the way through its production and release. They have numerous responsibilities, which include ensuring the product meets consumer needs by determining “what” is built through user research, monitoring time and budget constraints and coordinating a team of engineers, marketers and designers during the development and post-launch phases of the product.
Unlike a project manager, who oversees a single component of a product and focuses on getting tasks done internally, the product manager is responsible for the overall outcome, and perhaps the work of several teams. A product manager may be responsible for software, hardware, services, or a physical item consumers need, in its entirety.
There is not a direct career path in product management, as every organization will have a different structure and unique expectations for a product manager. With smaller startups, product managers may also hold other roles such as project manager, and there may be no corporate ladder to climb. However, larger, more established tech firms, such as Amazon, Google, and the like, tend to have a path carved out for their product managers.
Who would enjoy a career in Product Management?
Highly organized people with strong leadership skills do best in the position. Because the career requires a deep understanding of numerous aspects of business and technology, successful product managers often come from a tech, computer science or engineering background, and are detail-oriented as well as strategic thinkers.
Who mightn't like the career?
Because many people often have a vested interest in a product’s success or failure, from the team to upper management through company owners, and they are all likely to try to provide input or steer direction some point which can oftentimes be outside their decision-making control, so the position can be emotionally draining on those who lack confidence and fortitude to consistently push their ideas.
There are many potential paths to becoming a product manager. For example, if a healthcare tech company is putting together a software program to help doctors better manage their patient databases, someone coming in from a medical profession could be a good product manager, provided their other skills were up to par.
Equally, someone with a marketing background, experience as an exec, or an IT background may be able to fulfill the role. However, most people do come into product management with a tech background, particularly those with additional business and leadership training. In internet and software companies, a product role can be very prized and a typical background of a successful PM candidate might consist of an undergraduate degree in computer science and an MBA. It’s important to note that different products require varying degrees of technical skillset, so the requirements for one role might be more marketing or user-experience focused as opposed to mandating heavy technical experience.
When preparing for interviews, it’s important for a candidate to demonstrate that he not only has the experience to lead and drive the profitability of the product, but also has a deep understanding of the product, itself, costs involved, and consumer needs.
One of the best ways to position oneself for a product role is to go and build a product, to demonstrate an ability to see a problem, ideate a solution, organize a team to build a product, launch it and finally measure the success of it during the post-launch and iteration phase.
Moving into Product Management from another career
Product managers transition in from a variety of backgrounds, but many common backgrounds include software engineering, business operations and strategy, management consulting, growth marketing and user experience or user interface design.
Associate Product Manager
Role: A beginning product manager assesses the product and ensures its initial plans include the features consumers need and want. Product managers will work with engineers to ensure the specs and designs are ideal, map out a timeline and budget, and oversee it through its release.
Senior Product Manager
Role: Senior product managers have already proven that they can release a stellar product, on time and within the established budget. In addition to continuing to perform at a high level, they also develop strategies for improvement and growth. Depending on the company, a senior product manager may be responsible for the training and development of junior product managers too.
Product Management Director / Group Product Manager / Vice President of Product Management
Role: After demonstrating the ability to successfully manage product creation, development, and release, as well as leading teams of product managers, some senior product managers often called PM Director, Group PM or VP of Product Management, will be given a portfolio of products to oversee.
For example, a company that offers numerous entertainment apps may have bingo, solitaire, and word search, with each app having a different product manager. The product management director would hold overall responsibility for all the apps and the output of the product managers. In these cases, his goal is mostly to drive innovation and profit, while ensuring the managers meet requirements. In some top internet companies that are “product-driven”, these roles can be highly influential and sit closely to the CEO who may also be closely involved in product decisions that drive the direction of the company’s product offerings.
The skills and degrees of those on the product management career track transfer readily, which makes it possible to work anywhere in the world. Travel for the job, itself, is generally minimal, though many attend conferences, lectures, and niche-specific events to stay abreast of events and trends, as well as to hone in their skills.
Product managers that are building products for international markets may be required to travel to those markets to understand consumer trends and behaviors which will shape the ultimate direction and roadmap of the products developed.
Product Manager: According to PayScale, the average salary of a product manager is about USD$82,000 in America, CAD$71,000 in Canada, £36,000 in the UK, AU$83,000 in Australia.
Senior Product Manager: USD$127,000, CAD$96,000, ₤57,000, AU$120,000
Product Management Director: USD$136,000, CAD$120,000, ₤80,000, AU$181,000
Profit sharing and bonuses are often included in the pay product managers receive, but the amount varies greatly depending on the size of the organization. It’s not uncommon for product managers to receive an additional 5-10% of their salaries between bonuses and profit sharing. Top-performing directors of larger organizations sometimes have salaries that approach USD$200,000 including the added pay.
Why Product Managers move on
Most people love their careers in product management and don’t leave once they’ve found their niche. However, the challenges associated with launching startups means that even the best product managers may find themselves out of work due to a failed company.
Others struggle with the inability to implement their own ideas due to the pressure and expectations of execs and company owners and leave to create their own startups. Because the skills that bring people into product management are so diverse, there is a wealth of education/ skill-specific options for those leaving the career.
It’s common for successful PMs to start their own companies and become entrepreneurs, go into venture capital to finance new product ideas and teams or progress within a technology company’s management team should they believe in the company culture and strategic direction of the product roadmap.