A product manager communicates product vision from the highest levels of executive leadership to development and implementation teams. The product manager investigates, selects, and drives the development of products for an organization, performing the activities of product management.
A product manager considers numerous factors such as intended demographic, the products offered by the competition, and how well the product fits with the company's business model. Generally, a product manager manages one or more tangible products. However, the term may be used to describe a person who manages intangible products, such as music, information, and services.
A product manager's role in tangible goods industries is similar to a program director's role in service industries.
Diverse interpretations regarding the role of the product manager are the norm. The product manager title is often used in many ways to describe drastically different duties and responsibilities. Even within the high-tech industry where product management is better defined, the product manager's job description varies widely among companies. This is due to tradition and intuitive interpretations by different individuals.
In the financial services industry (banking, insurance etc.), product managers manage products (for example, credit card portfolios), their profit and loss, and also determine the business development strategy.
In some companies, the product manager also acts as a:
- Product marketing manager: may perform all outbound marketing activities in the older sense of the term
- Project manager: may perform all activities related to schedule and resource management
- Program manager: may perform activities related to schedule, resource, and cross-functional execution
- Product owner: a popular role in Agile development methodology, may perform all activities related to a self-encapsulated feature or feature set plan, development and releases.
- Technical product manager: similar to product owner, but may perform all activities from technology perspective.
- Product designer: closer to UX designer but more focus on entire function flows.
Product management in software development
The role of the product manager was originally created to manage the complexity of the product lines of a business, as well as to ensure that those products were profitable. Product managers can come from many different backgrounds, because their primary skills involve working well with customers and understanding the problems the product is intended to solve.
A product manager is responsible for orchestrating the various activities associated with ensuring that a product is delivered that meets users' needs. A software product manager's role varies as the software moves through its lifecycle; earlier in the development process the product manager meets the intended audience of the product to engage in requirements elicitation, whereas later in the lifecycle the product manager's primary focus may be in acceptance testing of the product. Throughout all the stages of the product development process, the product manager represents the needs of end-users, evaluates market trends and competition, and uses this information to determine what features to build. For example, a product manager may decide a feature is needed because users are asking for it, or because the feature is needed to stay competitive. In order to facilitate this decision making process the product manager may set out a vision for the product or a general framework for making product decisions. The product manager also ensures an atmosphere of cohesiveness and focused collaboration between all the members of the team, all in the interest of driving the product forward. Product managers are often thought of as sitting at the intersection of business, design, and technology.
Within an agile software development environment day-to-day responsibilities of a product manager include creating and prioritizing the product backlog, which is a list of things to be done by the development team. The product backlog is often made up of user stories, "a placeholder for a conversation between the product manager... and the development team." These are brief narrative descriptions of what a feature should do, including a checklist of items that are required to be in place in order for the feature to be considered done, called the acceptance criteria. The details of how the feature is developed are worked out by developers and designers. At the end of the development sprint, the product manager is responsible for verifying that the acceptance criteria have been met; only then is the work on the feature officially done.
Notable individuals who have held the role of product manager in a software development company include Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google) Marissa Mayer (CEO of Yahoo!), Premal Shah (president of Kiva.org), Reid Hoffman (founder of LinkedIn), and Kevin Systrom (founder of Instagram).
The need for a separate product manager role depends on the size of an organization; in smaller organizations, the CEO may take on the responsibilities of product manager.