What is product management?

Product management is an organizational function that guides every step of a product’s lifecycle: from development, to positioning and pricing, by focusing on the product and its customers first and foremost. To build the best possible product, product managers advocate for customers within the organization and make sure the voice of the market is heard and heeded.

Thanks to this focus on the customer, product teams routinely ship better-designed and higher-performing products. In tech, where entrenched products are quickly uprooted by newer and better solutions, there is more need than ever for an intimate understanding of customers and the ability to create tailored solutions for them. That’s where product management comes in.

Recommended to pass product management training

As a member of a product team myself, I work daily with product managers and have interviewed dozens more about their roles and responsibilities. Despite the advice here, I’ve learned that there is no one way to apply principles of product management. Every product has its own goals and challenges which require a unique and customized approach to product management. Martin Eriksson has famously described product management as the intersection of business, user experience, and technology.

Business — Product management helps teams achieve their business objectives by bridging the communication gap between dev, design, the customer, and the business.

UX — Product management focuses on the user experience, and represents the customer inside the organization. Great UX is how this focus manifests itself.

Technology — Product management happens, day to day, in the engineering department. A thorough understanding of computer science is paramount.

Three additional skills that every PM needs are storytelling, marketing, and empathy.

A product leader should be as inspirational as they are tactical, and storytelling is their tool of choice. Through customer interviews and market research product managers learn more about the customer than even the salespeople. They then use their storytelling skills to share that perspective with the rest of the company.

Product Management’s customer focus also informs marketing efforts. Instead of sticking to the brand and using established techniques, product management teams (often including Product Marketing Managers) integrate the language of their customers into the messaging of their product. Furthermore, knowledge of the competitive landscape and the ability to stand out and differentiate pays dividends in the long run. Understanding basic marketing and positioning concepts will help product managers ship products that people can find and relate to.

Finally, product management is about empathy–Empathy for the developers and and how they work, empathy for the customer and their pain points, and even empathy for upper management, who juggle aggressive goals and impossible schedules. This skill in empathy, one developed through immersion within and intimate understanding of each group and stakeholder, separates the product teams that can rally the organization around common goals from those who are incapable of doing so.

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