What is product management?

Product management is the job of looking after a specific product within a business. A product manager is responsible for the success of their product which is usually linked to its financial performance.

There are two parts to the job – bringing new products to market and managing those that are already launched and ‘in-life’.

For new products, the product manager starts by talking to customers and doing research to identify the best opportunities in the market. They then assess the different options; select the one they believe can make most money for the business and define the product to be built. Finally they work with the development team or suppliers to bring the product to market. Once launched the challenge is to maximise the opportunity and make as much money as possible.

The full product management role is often split across different people. There’s a lot to do and different skills are needed. Some product managers work with the development team and others focus on how the product is marketed and sold. Job titles vary and no two companies are set up in exactly the same way.

It’s a role at the very heart of a business that needs to balance the need to make money with what’s technically possible, the demands of customers and the impact on different parts of the organisation.

To the development team, product management provides direction, gives insights into what the market wants and validates that what they’re creating is needed. If the development team lose focus and start building stuff that’s not wanted by the market it’s down to product management to bring them back on track.

To the sales team, product management can be the saviours who deliver shiny new products that are different to, and better than, the competition. But sales teams are heavily motivated by what their latest prospects are telling them and often it’s not what the current product does. Sales then push for new features to be added to the product roadmap. Product managers have to assess if these represent the needs of the whole market and not just the ad-hoc demands of individual customers.

To senior management, product managers give a view of what’s going on in their business from a product perspective. Ideally they also view product managers as the people with their finger on the pulse of the market and who can help decide on the best strategy for the company.

Product managers tend to be people who can get things done. They motivate and direct teams around the business to make sure the company delivers products that customers want. Although they drive activity in many areas of the business they rarely have direct control over other departments so need to be good at communicating, influencing and leading virtual teams.

Product management is an increasingly professional role. Whatever level of experience a product manager has, continued training and development is essential to perform well and there are good training courses, journals and blogs that can build skills and knowledge.

Ian Lunn
Director, Product Focus

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