The question, “What is product management?” comes up pretty often, even from experienced business people. One reason is that product management training encompasses a wide-ranging area of responsibilities. Indeed, the role itself means very different things in different organizations.
Here is the most concise response we’ve come up with for the “What is product management?” question: Product management is the practice of strategically driving the development, market launch, and continual support and improvement of a company’s products.
Of course, that is an abstract explanation of the role. So what is product management? What does the job entail?
What is Product Management?
The day-to-day tasks include a wide variety of strategic and tactical duties. Most product managers or product owners do not take on all these responsibilities. In most companies, at least some of them are owned by other teams or departments.
But most product professionals spend the majority of their time focused on the following:
- Conducting Research: Researching to gain expertise about the company’s market, user personas, and competitors.
- Developing Strategy: Shaping the industry knowledge they’ve learned into a high-level strategic plan for their product—including goals and objectives, a broad-strokes overview of the product itself, and maybe a rough timeline.
- Communicating Plans: Developing a working strategic plan using a product roadmap and presenting it to key stakeholders across their organization: executives, investors, development teams, etc. Ongoing communication across their cross-functional teams throughout the development process and beyond.
- Coordinating Development: Assuming they have received a green light to move forward with their product’s strategic plan, coordinating with the relevant teams—product marketing, development, etc.—to begin executing the plan.
- Acting on Feedback and Data Analysis: Finally, after building, testing, and introducing the product to the marketplace, learning via data analysis and soliciting direct feedback from users, what works, what doesn’t, and what to add. Working with the relevant teams to incorporate this feedback into future iterations of the product.
What isn’t Product Management?
Product managers owning the day-to-day details of a product’s development is a common misconception.
Product management’s strategic function
Product management is a strategic function. Tasking product managers with determining a product’s overall reason for being—the product’s “Why?”
They’re also responsible for communicating product objectives and plans for the rest of the company. They must ensure everyone is working toward a shared organizational goal.
Product management encompasses a broad set of ongoing strategic responsibilities. They shouldn’t be responsible for the ground-level details of the development process.
Smart organizations separate this function and assign tactical elements to project managers, such as scheduling and managing workloads. This distinct division leaves the product manager free to focus on the higher-level strategy.
What is the Product Management Process?
There is no single “right” way to manage a product. Processes will evolve and adapt to the organization, the product lifecycle stage, and product team members’ and executives’ personal preferences.
But the discipline has developed some consensus regarding best practices. So while rigid adherence isn’t required and there isn’t the same level of zealotry as one might find when discussing Agile, the basic tenets are widely accepted.
Defining the problem
It all begins with identifying a high-value customer pain point. After that, people or organizations are trying to do something, and they can’t. Or, if they can, it’s expensive or time-consuming or resource-intensive or inefficient or just unpleasant.
Whether it’s moving a person or thing from Point A to Point B, finding the perfect gift, reaching the right audience, keeping people entertained, or some other objective, what’s currently available isn’t quite cutting it. People want something better or something they don’t have at all.
Product management turns these abstract complaints, wants, and wishes into a problem statement looking for a solution. Solving that problem and easing that pain is the spark and motivation for everything that comes next. Without a clearly articulated goal that directly impacts that pain point, there’s not much hope that the product will gain any real traction or staying power.
Quantifying the opportunity
There are many problems and pain points out there, but not all are worth solving. This is when product managers swap their customer-centric hats for a business one.
To justify investment in building a new product or solution, product management must answer the following questions and be able to build a business case based on the answers they find:
- What is the total addressable market?
- Is the problem or pain severe enough people will actually consider alternative solutions?
- Are they willing to pay for an alternative solution (or is there another way to monetize the solution)?
Once product management has evaluated the potential market, they can then set about trying to address it if there’s a large enough opportunity.
Researching potential solutions
With a target in mind, product management can now fully investigate how they might solve customer problems and pain points. They should cast a large net of possible solutions and not rule anything out too quickly. For example, suppose the organization already has some proprietary technology or IP or a particular area of expertise to give the company an advantage. In that case, those potential solutions will likely leverage that in some way.
However, this does not mean that product managers should start drafting requirements and engaging the product development team just yet. They’ll first want to validate those candidates with the target market, although it is prudent to bounce some of these ideas off the technical team to ensure they’re at least feasible. Product management will often develop personas to see whether there’s actual interest among those cohorts using any of the table’s ideas.