What Does a Product Manager Do?

I am professionally involved with enterprise IT service management for more than ten years now, and one of the matters that are difficult to address is the difference between a service and a product and what a product manager does.

Based on my personal experience, mixed with the knowledge I got during a course for Software Product Management by the University of Alberta, I wanted to structure and share some information on this subject with you.

Like with all explainer articles around professional activities, roles and responsibilities, this article as well is not to be considered as a golden rule. Every organization handles their business differently, and there is never a one-size-for-all solution.

However, please feel free to learn from this information and base your work on it if you want to. This article tries to support your activity, but you will still need to work things out in your work environment. It is unlikely that you can implement everything as written here 1:1 but hopefully it will help.

Activities of Product Management

On some angles product management looks similar to application management, but it can be applied to almost any kind of product if you abstract the practices enough. Also, do yourself a favor and don’t oversize and “over-admin” activities. If there is no requirement for you to complete particular steps, then perhaps you can just leave them out.

The set of activities of product management is not exactly repetitive. It is cyclic but certainly not boring. With every time you walk through this lifecycle, you will be able to do better and provide a better product. You could even consider applying Design Thinking if you strive to solve a defined problem. Here are the steps:

Strategy and Design
  • Investigation and research
  • Prototyping and testing
  • Build out (or update) the roadmap
Prepare and Build
  • Development
  • Change management
  • Migration (or upgrade)
Operations

Moreover, then, you start over with a new iteration of your product. Better, faster, stronger, and more. Listen to your customers and deliver a better product. This leads us directly to the goals of product management.

Goals of Product Management

All these activities are not just for fun. The product manager does this to work towards particular goals, which all aim to improve the product or the overall solution delivered to the customer. Product management is done to:

  • Reduce costs (TCO)
  • Reduce complexity (UX)
  • Increase adoption (drive sales)
  • Make product better, faster, stronger, etc.
  • Increase net promoter score (NPS)

It is not uncommon to have one particular goal as a target set up for a year to focus on. If there are no KPIs to work against, there will usually be projects defined to address particular goals.

Product life-cycle stages

In technology-related industries products usually, have a restricted lifetime and eventually become obsolete. Maybe your favorite cola will always be around, but mostly products come and go. Here is how theses product life-cycle stages differentiate from each other:

Identifying
features
Stages
Introduction Growth Maturity Decline
Sales Low High High Low
Investment cost Very high High (lower than intro stage) Low Low
Competition Low or no competition High Very high Very High
Profit Low High High Low

Malakooti, B. (2013). Operations and Production Systems with Multiple Objectives. John Wiley & Sons.

Roles involved in product management

Managing the business operations and development of a whole company is usually not up to a single product manager or a single operations team. Here are some of the roles that you are likely to work with if you are a product manager. Depending on the size of your organization, some roles might be merged into one, or some tasks might be split to different people.

Product Manager
  • Gets feedback from customers and structures that data
  • Works on marketing strategy
  • Gives input on product/service portfolios
  • Manages product through its lifecycle stages
  • Keeps track of feature requests and plans investments
  • Provides feedback to vendor and sourcing strategy
  • Works on P&L statement of the product
  • Documentation of all product aspects including the strategic product roadmap
  • Manages improvement initiatives
Engineer
  • Works on implementing new features
  • Works on fixing known errors
  • Documents technical aspects of the product and changes to same
  • Trains operational support teams
  • Prepares knowledge base for support teams
  • Works with support teams if they cannot solve an issue
  • Research and analysis of new technologies and solutions

Solutions Architect
  • Coordinates product managers and engineers when multiple products or services are in scope of a change
  • In-depth knowledge in the technology setup of the organization
  • Product manager might ask for counsel on decisions
Operations
  • Helpdesk activity based on active SLA
  • Prepares reports on how the product is doing
  • Supports the testing of new products/versions
  • Product manager might ask for advice when planning new features
Service Manager
  • Oversees the operational teams and is responsible for the products to be available
  • Product manager might ask for input when dealing with financials or sourcing questions

Further reading

Photo credit: Daniel M VieroSebastiaan ter BurgJames Emery

Christopher Isak

Christopher Isak

Managing Editor at TechAcute
Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris. I write about tech news, management subjects. Reach out via Twitter or comments, if you like. I'd love to hear from you!
Christopher Isak

@ChristopherIsak

Hell-bent for truth and progress ✖ Founder of @TechAcuteCom ✖ Journalist for Tech News and Innovation ✖ Gamer with a heart ✖ Influencer of nobody ✖
Christopher Isak

Christopher Isak

Hi there and thanks for reading my article! I'm Chris. I write about tech news, management subjects. Reach out via Twitter or comments, if you like. I'd love to hear from you!