Product manager job descriptions
In most businesses, there are a number of different roles that are involved in product management. A product manager job description will depend on the responsibilities a role has and the activities it does.
The different product roles
Product management is done differently from one business to the next. It depends on the size of a company, if the products are software, physical products or services and if the company is selling to businesses or consumers. It makes a single product manager description very difficult.
To add to the confusion, there are lots of different job titles that focus on different product-related activities. Three of the most common – Product Manager, Product Owner, and Product Marketing Manager are shown in the diagram below.
As you can see from the diagram, these product roles often overlap. And what makes it even more confusing is that these roles are set up differently from one company to the next.
These short videos explain the key differences between a Product Manager and a Product Owner – and a Product Manager and a Product Marketing Manager.
- A Product Manager leads the strategy, planning, delivery, marketing and in-life optimization of a product
- A Product Owner is a role defined in Scrum (the most popular Agile approach) with a focus on writing and prioritizing requirements
- To be successful both roles need to understand their customers
- However, many Product Owner roles expand to cover other product activities, and many Product Managers are also Product Owners. See our blog on why a Product Owner is not a Product Manager.
- A Product Manager leads the strategy, planning, delivery and in-life optimization of a product
- A Product Marketing Manager creates the programs and collateral to effectively market and sell a product
- To be successful both roles need to have great insights into customers and the market
If you’d like to understand how product people spend their time, their big issues, salaries and much more take a look at our annual product management industry survey.
The next section gives a short job description of each product role.
Product Manager job description
A Product Manager is responsible for the business management of a product and its commercial success.
Key responsibilities are to:
- Translate business strategy into product strategy
- Own the product roadmap
- Execute product strategy
- Drive action throughout the organization to get products to market
- Plan and carry out product launches
- Manage product profitability and commercial success – own the business case
- Provide insight to stakeholders on the product and market
- Provide product marketing with insights on key differentiators and messages
- Write high-level requirements
- Support the Product Owner and Product Marketer with any questions they may have
- Manage all aspects of in-life products, including customer feedback, requirements, and issues
Product Owner job description (Agile)
This Product Owner description is for the common understanding of the role in Agile Scrum. However, often the role expands to cover other product management activities as well.
A Product Owner is responsible for providing the product development team with a product vision and prioritized list of features (the backlog).
Key responsibilities are to:
- Represent the customer (be a proxy) within the development process
- Articulate the product vision
- Write requirements – typically as user stories and epics
- Maintain and prioritize the product backlog
- Track releases
- Participate in daily scrum meetings, planning, reviews and retrospectives
- Support the development team with any questions they may have
Product Marketing Manager job description
A Product Marketing Manager is responsible for delivering the knowledge, tools, collateral, and programs that enable effective marketing and selling of a product.
Key responsibilities are to:
- Develop positioning and messaging to differentiate products in the market
- Communicate the proposition to Sales (i.e. why customers should buy)
- Create and manage programs to generate demand for the product
- Develop the collateral and sales tools that support the selling process
- Be an expert on the market including who the buyers are, how they buy and why
There are many other product roles and job titles that exist. For example, Propositions Manager, Portfolio Manager, Technical Product Manager, Product Specialist, Associate/Junior Product Manager, Senior Product Manager, Product Development Manager, User eXperience (UX) / Design Manager. Collectively these are known as “product people”.
Product Management Activities
One way of splitting up what each product role does is to look at all the activities that need to take place in any company with products.
Our Product Activities Framework identifies all the activities that should be in place and splits them into three key areas.
Strategic Product Activities are about working out what the right product is for the business. Inbound activities mean working within the business to help deliver the product and Outbound Activities are helping the business to sell the product.
Our experience is that ownership of these activities is often not clear in an organization.
We find many companies use this tool to understand how the activities are split between the different product roles in a company. Each job description uses the language of the Product Activities Framework to describe what each product role owns.
The product manager job changes from industry to industry
Another factor that has a big impact on a product role is the industry a company is in.
At one end of the spectrum, there are digital online companies. Products are usually Software as a Service (SaaS), i.e. web-based products developed using Agile approaches. The role is often called a Digital Product Manager.
Key skills include data analytics, design expertise, customer insight skills, User eXperience (UX) knowledge, lean development with Minimum Viable Products (MVPs) and social media marketing. Many of the strategic product management activities take place at a more senior level in the business.
At the other end of the spectrum is Business to Business (B2B) companies serving a small number of large customers. It may take many years to develop a product, and every customer may want and get something slightly different.
The product manager skills needed can be very different. Each product is more like its own little business, so product managers need stronger and wider commercial skills. Product managers also typically get involved in face-to-face selling and so need to have a deep understanding of the market domain and be good in front of customers. And the political skills of being able to manage the often-conflicting demands of customers, development, sales and senior management are key.
But as digital online start-ups scale into multi-national companies with products in multiple markets and software becomes part of most technology-based products we find the whole range of skills are needed in many companies.
The product manager job description changes as companies grow
What a product manager does in your company will to some extent depend on how big your company is. When a company is small then the founders or senior management do all the product activities as the company has (and is) just one product.
As companies grow senior management become busy running the business, hiring new people and dealing with investors. They don’t have time for some of the more detailed time-consuming product activities like writing requirements. That’s usually when the first product manager starts. In our experience, someone within the business is usually chosen because they already understand the product. And their focus is on tactical things like fixing issues, supporting sales and managing the requirements backlog. See our blog on being the first product manager.
Once a company has multiple products then prioritizing becomes a more pressing issue. There is always a bottleneck that holds things back – whether that’s development resource, management time or marketing spend. With a bigger more complex company to run senior management become even less close to the details of the products. They need someone to manage the product day-to-day, help them prioritize and think about future product plans. A little more process is needed and product managers start working on business cases, product reporting, and roadmaps.
As companies get bigger they get more customers and start selling in multiple markets with multiple products and propositions. Senior management concerns themselves with the big picture and doesn’t have time to deal with the details of each product. This is where product managers need to take on a leadership role. They need to bring a balanced ‘product focus’ to senior management to help them understand the opportunities, issues, and options. And they need to drive the product forward in support of the company strategy.
As companies mature they often create specialist functions in areas such as pricing, channel management, and proposition development. It makes sense to focus expertise and experience in one place. However, it means the product activities become more fragmented across different parts of the business. At this stage, Product Managers have a vital leadership and coordination role to keep a balanced product focus for the business.
Product Manager Job Template
If you need a generic template for a job description you may be able to adapt the example below.
General format for a job description and candidate profile
|Role Title:||Reporting to:|
|What resources will be directly managed by the role |
e.g., staff or budget
|Duties, responsibilities and deliverables:|
The duties and responsibilities highlighted in this Job Description are indicative and may vary over time. You will be expected to undertake other duties and responsibilities relevant to the nature, level and extent of the role and the grade has been established on this basis.
|Knowledge and Qualifications|
|Skills and competencies|
|The job purpose|
|The Product Manager is responsible for product planning, delivery and marketing throughout the product lifecycle.|
They will develop a vision and roadmap for the product based on input from internal stakeholders, customers, market research and their own industry insight.
They will work closely with Development/Engineering and other teams to deliver products that align with this vision, meet market needs and are delivered to a consistently high-quality standard.
They will develop a forecast for the product based on input from marketing, sales, market analysts and their own experience and manage its delivery.
They will identify the key benefits and value of products. This will be used to create and maintain marketing plans and collateral (including web updates, product training materials and sales training).