We might be a bit biased, but there’s no single aspect of product management as pivotal as a product roadmap. It’s the culmination of countless hours of research, negotiations, strategizing, and consensus-building.
What Is Product Management?
Put simply, product management is a way to organize the planning, production, marketing and other tasks related to the creation and distribution of a product. It involves the coordination of teams, data, processes, business systems and more.
In reality, product management can be a complicated matter. There are a lot of moving parts in the creation of any product, regardless of its size. Without a methodology and proper tools to manage the many elements that must be tracked throughout the life cycle of the product, the risk of failure is greatly increased.
Understanding product management and its challenges require a deeper dive than a two-sentence definition. There are, for example, complementary disciplines that can be part of product management, such as product development and product marketing. Their objective is to maximize sales revenues, market share and profit margins.
What Is the Objective of Product Management?
The main objective of product management is the development of a new product or product. This product should be better than what is currently available, or at least be able to differentiate itself as unique, in order to be of value for the customer.
What determines whether the product is profitable and successful is the customer’s reaction. While product management can vary in its function and the roles related to it, according to the size of the company, there is always a product manager to make certain that the objectives of the product are met. This can be a person or a group of people in the organization.
Product management doesn’t only add to meet the objectives of the product and organization; it can also choose to remove something from the process, which is called an elimination decision. This includes a detailed report on the impact that this elimination will have on the whole business.
What is the Product Management Process?
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 traction or staying power.
Quantifying the opportunity
Researching potential solutions
With a target in mind, product management can now thoroughly 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 somehow.
However, this does not mean that product managers should start drafting requirements and engaging the product development team. 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.
Skipping this step and jumping right into building something can be a fatal flaw or cause severe delays. While there are no guarantees, getting confirmation from potential customers that the idea is something they’ll want, use, and pay for is a critical gate in the overall process and achieving product-market fit .
Building an MVP
After validating a particular solution’s appeal and viability, it’s now time to engage the product development team in earnest. First, the bare minimum set of functionality should be defined, and then the team can build a working version of the product that can be field-tested with actual users.
Many bells and whistles will intentionally be excluded from the Minimum Viable Product , as the goal is to ensure the core functionality meets the market’s needs. Nice-to-haves can wait for a later stage in the product lifecycle since there’s little point in expending additional resources on an unproven product.
MVPs can test how the product works and the overall messaging and positioning of the value proposition in conjunction with product marketing. The key is finding out whether this nascent product is something the market wants and if it adequately meets its core requirements.
Creating a feedback loop
While customer feedback is essential throughout a product’s life, there’s no time more critical than during the MVP introduction. This is where the product management team can learn what customers think, need, and dislike since they’re reacting to an actual product experience and not just theoretical ideas tossed out in a conversation.
Product management must make it easy for customers to provide feedback and create frequent prompts soliciting it. But, just as importantly, they must process, synthesize, and react to this feedback, turning this input into actionable ideas that make their way into the product roadmap or backlog.
And, not to be forgotten, product management must also establish a method for closing the loop with customers so they know their complaints and suggestions were heard and, when applicable, have been addressed.
Setting the strategy
Assuming the MVP is well received, it’s time to invest in a product strategy . The team now knows they’re onto something that can get some traction, so goals and objectives must be established to improve the product, bring it to market, expand its reach, and align with the overall company strategy and desired outcomes.
The strategy should be based on reasonable, incremental progress toward achievable goals, with key performance indicators and other metrics defined to evaluate success. These measurables should track with the organization’s general objectives and complement what the company already does well (assuming it’s not a startup still in its infancy).
Envisioning the future of product management
Product management is a multidisciplinary pursuit that is as elusive as it is dead simple. Product managers gain empathy for the customer, and communicate their needs to the broader organization. They work most closely with development teams, but also need to get buy in from marketing, design, and management. Their special sauce is the ability to understand and communicate with a wide variety of people who speak different languages.
My hope for the future of product management is to have fewer product managers who are better at their jobs. As soon as agile product management became en vogue all of a sudden every product needed a PM, and every PM needed a PO who needed a PMM who were all managed by a CPO. This proliferation has created mushy, overlapping roles and added more process than they have progress.
As a self-proclaimed “chaos muppet” I look to agile practices and lean principles to bring order to my everyday. It’s a joy of mine to share these lessons with others through the many articles, talks, and videos I make for Atlassian
Most importantly, product managers define what success is for each product, outline the product strategy, and illustrate how it will impact both the customer and the goals of the company they work for. Without this voice of a product owner, teams would have difficulty navigating the varied interests that exist across both large and small organizations.
What Is Product Management? A Beginner’s Guide
So what is product management, and what makes a product manager great? In this article, you’ll learn how to get started in a product management role, how a PM fits into different types of teams, and tips on how to determine if a career in product management is right for you.
Product management, though a critical role in product development teams, has not been a formalized position in digital companies for long, and has adapted with the growth of agile product development methodologies over time. Today, product management is defined as a role within a product development team that focuses on successfully executing the product lifecycle.
This is a key differentiator between product management and project management, the latter of which is more focused on the actual organization and resourcing for each initiative rather than setting the entire product vision.
One great description of a product manager role is that the PM is like the executive chef of their product. They don’t own the restaurant, just like they are not the CEO of the company they work for (that’s more like a product owner).
Types Of Product Management Roles
Growth Product Manager
A growth product manager is primarily focused on furthering a specific metric their company has set to measure the growth of their business. Typically, growth PMs work closely with product marketing and traditional marketing teams in order to ensure their initiatives are expanding their product reach.
Most growth product managers run frequent short-term experiments to measure the success of their new feature or project, and pivot to new initiatives quickly in order to meet the demands of the business. Everything from copy to pricing is on the table for testing, and they may help in defining go-to-market strategies.
Technical Product Manager
A background in engineering or development is almost always required for technical product management roles, as this type of PM works hand in hand with engineering teams to improve things like a product’s core functionality or a company’s tech stack, security, or other parts of their digital infrastructure.
Data Product Manager
If you love working with numbers or were a math wiz in school, then a data product management role could be a great fit. Working with business analytics teams and data scientists, data PMs create use cases that organizations use to measure success for their new product and feature releases.
Often they are responsible for ensuring that customer interactions are tracked properly across the product interface, so that other PMs or stakeholders can gain valuable insights into how users are navigating the product.
Product manager vs. product owner
Whether or not a team is adhering to a certain agile practice (and which one), can further muddy the waters when it comes to what a product manager does. For instance, if a team is practicing scrum, then they also need to have a product owner.
While a product manager defines the direction of the product through research, vision-setting, alignment, and prioritization, the product owner should work more closely with the development team to execute against the goals that the product manager helps to define.
But responsibilities can shift a bit when team makeups and practices shift. For instance, if the team isn’t doing Scrum (say, they’re doing kanban or something else), the product manager might end up doing the prioritization for the development team and play a larger role in making sure everyone is on the same page. On the other hand, if the team is doing Scrum, but doesn’t have a product manager, then the product owner often ends up taking on some of the product manager’s responsibilities.
All of this can get really murky really quickly, which is why teams have to be careful to clearly define responsibilities, or they can risk falling into the old ways of building software, where one group writes the requirements and throws it over the fence for another group to build. When this happens expectations get misaligned, time gets wasted, and teams run the risk of creating products or features that don’t satisfy customer needs.
Best practices and tips for being a great product manager
Just as there isn’t only one kind of team, one of the most exciting aspects of the product manager role is that there isn’t only one way to do it. During the last two decades, the craft has exploded both in popularity and approach. Unlike designers who have successfully segmented themselves into interaction designers, graphic designers, motion designers, and so on, product managers, as a whole, are still wrestling with how to label their different strengths.
To complicate matters, people are only beginning to pursue product management as their intended discipline. Where older generations “fell into product management” from engineering, design, finance, or marketing, younger generations are starting their careers with product management in mind.
A colleague recently likened product management to being a politician. It’s not far off. The product manager and the politician both get an allotted amount of resources. Each role requires the practitioner to make the best use of those resources to achieve a larger goal, knowing that he or she will never be able to satisfy everyone’s needs.
At any one time, the product manager might have to decide between a feature that might make one big customer happy but upset 100 smaller customers; maintaining a product’s status quo or steering it in a new direction to expand its reach and align with larger business goals; or whether to focus on the bright and shiny or the boring and important.
Know the lay of the land
Product managers need to know the lay of the land better than anyone else. They very rarely start with a clean slate. More than likely, product managers are dropped into something that already has momentum. If they start executing without taking the time to get their bearings, they’ll make bad decisions.
Good product managers pump the brakes and start by asking questions. If you’re just starting a product management job, take the first couple of months to talk to as many customers as you can. Talk to as many internal stakeholders as you can. Understand the business model. Understand the history. Understand how different people are influenced. Understand how decisions are made. Only then, can you start making a few decisions of your own.
Empower your team to make their own decisions
Product managers can’t make every decision. Believe me. I’ve tried. At the end of the day, I nearly always have unread messages. I’m often double and triple booked. And I could spend all day answering questions and never finish.
But touching every decision isn’t the product manager’s job—at least it shouldn’t be. One of the keys to great product management is empowering your team to make their own decisions by creating a shared brain—or a way of making decisions and a set of criteria for escalating them. When someone asks a product manager a question about a decision they could have made themselves, nine times out of 10 it’s because that person doesn’t have enough context to make the decision themselves. Great product managers build that context.
Learn to influence without authority
I know a junior product manager that is nearly universally respected by her team even though initially many of its members would have traded her in for a more seasoned leader given the choice. How did she change their minds? She took each person on the 30-person team out for coffee and listened to them.
Influence comes in many forms. Listening to people and understanding how they’re influenced is the first part. Figuring out how to get them on board with your point of view is the second. Becoming a great storyteller—even when you don’t have any data to back up your point—will take you a long way. Some people won’t be convinced until they see you do the work. Understanding which levers to pull with which person is the key to leading without any direct authority.
Develop a thick skin
Making tradeoffs will inevitably make people unhappy. The trick is to first make the right tradeoffs, and then be able to explain why you made the decision you did. If you’re good at explaining your decision, someone can still not like it, but more often than not, they’ll respect the way you made it. And even if they don’t, great product managers figure out a way to deal with it.
Product Management’s Participation in Solution Trains
- Collaborate with Solution Management – Solution Management focuses on capabilities, and product managers focus on features. Because refining and splitting capabilities into features, managing Nonfunctional Requirements (NFRs), and creating the Architectural Runway are collaborative activities, they must be done as a group.
- Participate in Pre- and Post-PI Planning – Product Management also participates in the Pre-PI planning event, working with the Solution Train stakeholders to define the inputs, milestones, and high-level objectives for the upcoming PI planning session. In the Post-PI planning session, Product Management helps summarize findings into an agreed-to set of solution PI objectives.
- Participate in the Solution Demo – Product Management participates in the solution demo, often demonstrating the capabilities that their ART has contributed and reviewing the contributions of the other ARTs, always with a systems view and always with an eye toward fitness of purpose.
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More often than not, these professionals adopt a hands-on approach to promote and improve collaboration among many other roles. The product manager role is often interdisciplinary and focused on bridging the gap and coordinating many different roles, such as development, design, marketing, customer success, etc.
What Does a Product Manager Do?
The product manager is responsible for managing the product life cycle that oversees the delivery of the product. They’re also in charge of determining the defining feature of the product, often working with the project manager, sales team and customer success team.
Think of the product manager as an organizational role. Beyond the responsibilities laid out above, the product manager also leads the marketing efforts for the product which involves forecasting and profit analysis. To do this, product managers use product management software and task management software to stay organized and productive.
Product managers have a lot on their plate. ProjectManager is work and project management software that helps product managers organize and execute project tasks. Our task list is more than a to-do list; it’s a robust tool that connects with every other feature in the tool to organize your work, assign tasks and monitor progress. Product managers can also use our task list for their own work to stay on top of deadlines. Get started with ProjectManager today for free.
Establishes a Vision
The product manager comes up with a product vision and follows up with a strategy. The idea is, again, to create benefits and value for a customer. To establish the vision, the product manager analyzes the market and competitive conditions to strike a clear path toward the business value of the product.
Creates a Plan for the Product Team
The product manager also defines what the product team delivers and creates a project timeline and schedule for implementation. That means making a release plan, which features actionable feedback and ideas, as well as prioritizing product features.
The leadership of a product manager is cross-functional. They work with nearly everyone, including engineering, sales, marketing and support teams. Therefore, a product manager must have the communication skills to listen and articulate to a wide spectrum of individuals in different disciplines. The product roadmap is a key tool for this purpose and keeps teams aware of updates throughout the product life cycle.
Overviews Of The 10 Best Product Management Tools
1. monday.com – Best for scalability
monday.com is an online product management platform that enables teams of all sizes to plan, track, and manage their daily work. From large scope product roadmaps to weekly iterations, monday.com helps teams define clear ownership, analyze and track their work, manage sprints, and collaborate together. monday.com’s easy-to-use agile platform makes it simple for teams to work together from anywhere.
monday.com’s Work OS is built from visual and flexible features that come together to create any agile workflow your team needs. It supports milestones, Gantt and Kanban views, task dependencies, and project analysis.
monday.com has a simple and intuitive UI, and onboarding is quick and efficient. Teams in any department can easily find the features they need to customize their account to fit their needs. monday.com also offers 24/7 support, recorded webinars and tutorials, and thorough Knowledge Base articles to ensure teams always have answers to their questions.
monday.com has customizable templates for any team or stage of product management. Use the template as is, or customize by adding column types (such as numbers for calculations, deadline, rating, and more) or switching between views (such as Kanban, Gantt, calendar, and more). monday.com’s flexible scrum platform provides value to managers and can support teams with anywhere from 5 to 5,000 members.
monday.com has integrations with 40+ tools which allow a 2-way sync of data. Within monday.com, sales teams can import their lead data from Salesforce, marketing teams can update campaign information in Hubspot, and R&D teams can manage anything through GitHub.
2. Craft.io – Best product feature prioritization engine
Craft.io is a product management platform that comes with features for feedback capturing, workflow planning, and roadmapping. On the platform, you can define product specs, prioritize and share key decisions, and manage workload capacity.
Through integration and collection of fragmented product data, Craft.io is your complete product system of record. It tracks all product information from stakeholder and team member feedback to strategy documentation of OKRs, personas, and themes.
Craft.io integrates with Pivotal Tracker, Azure DevOps, Jira, GitLab, Github, Targetprocess, Intercom, Dropbox, Okta, Google Workspace, Active Directory, SAML, Google Drive, and Ping Identity. More integrations are available via a paid plan through Zapier.
3. airfocus – Best modular product management software
airfocus is the market’s first and only modular product management platform, specifically tailored for product teams to manage market-facing products, internal products, IT portfolios, and more. The flexible platform helps product teams manage strategy, understand user needs, prioritize, and align their teams around clear roadmaps.
airfocus stands out in its ability to rate and rank each initiative and feature of your product based on customizable scoring criteria that users can input themselves. This capability will uniquely service product management teams who struggle with stable priority rankings.
4. QA Wolf – Best for all sizes of companies where web-applications are their main product
QA Wolf helps get teams to 80% automated test coverage in about 3 months. Conversely, traditional QA teams/tools either take years to get to 80% test coverage or simply never get there. To add to that, QA Wolf demands low effort. They create test matrices for clients and think critically on their behalf. QA Wolf proactively creates new tests and ensure they’re always at the 80% coverage benchmark.
QA Wolf also analyzes data and synthesizes findings so product managers immediately know what went wrong instead of having to investigate themselves while other tools/services require you to be prescriptive and closely manage testing. QAWolf is also affordable. They only charge for coverage and not for hours worked, making it so that using QA Wolf is only half the price of a QA Engineer.
5. Dragonboat – Best for connecting product development to OKRs
Dragonboat is a comprehensive, user-friendly product portfolio management platform for outcome-focused teams. Connecting OKRs, customer feedback, and roadmaps, Dragonboat offers integrated product planning, resource forecasting, automated tracking, and dynamic stakeholder reporting.
Product Management best practices and tips
There are actions that every product manager must do and most are developed through experience, good role models, and mentoring. To become a successful Product Manager and excel in the field of Product Management, here are some tips and best practices to consider:
Learn to separate people from the problem
Product managers have to collaborate with a team of professionals from different fields who may possess different temperaments. During negotiations, emotions can run high with each colleague feeling their interests are most important.
Miscommunication and perception problems also throw a spanner in the works leading to issues getting clouded and, ultimately, negotiations can fall apart. Being kind to people and tough on the issues makes it possible for the team to be more cooperative and willing to persevere toward the outcome.
A principled negotiation workshop teaches productive conversational skills that allow colleagues to listen to and understand the other side of a viewpoint without blaming or judging. Listening validates the other team member’s problems or aspirations and demonstrates that you are invested in coming up with a satisfactory solution.
Listen to your team
As a Product Manager, p rioritizing feedback from members of your team is important. Not only will more junior members feel heard, but this culture of listening also helps makes the team less resistant to solutions. That’s because it makes it clear that good ideas can come from everyone, no matter their seniority.
Learn to negotiate
A negotiation training course helps a product manager understand the importance of exploring solutions. Often, one side will have a critical option that is not as significant to the other. For instance, a designer might want more time to work on the product’s aesthetics while the engineer prefers to start working on the product immediately. Ultimately, the whole team is affected.
However, by taking some time to brainstorm and come up with creative options for each side, both teams can settle on the best outcome that is favorable to everyone on the team. Focus broadly on generating ideas rather than judging them during the brainstorming phase.
Product managers also negotiate quarterly roadmaps, annual strategies, and other product management contracts. Principled negotiation training helps many product managers master the complexities of negotiations, which should result in faster, more cohesive, and lower conflict collaborations.A product manager who has mastered principled negotiation is likely to be more successful as a result of a deeper understanding of behavioral fundamentals that are the basis of most negotiations. Principled negotiation helps product managers meet both sides’ interests and achieve outcomes in a civil process.
Focus on the details, but remember the end goal
A product manager can help the team by scheduling morning sessions when everyone is fresh. Find out the position each side has taken and the interests driving the position and break down the solutions into smaller, reasonable, and easily achievable components. With the end goal in mind, you’ve now created a plan that is more manageable and achievable.
Objective diplomacy is in the job description
It’s essential to have both sides agree on the ideal outcome. A product manager who has gone through a negotiation course can use objective criteria to choose a starting position that is fair to both sides. Robust, accurate specifications can reduce opposition by presenting valid information that the team can agree to do. A product manager can use objective criteria by ensuring the goals are clear, and results are published. Remember to be flexible and open to changing goals as new developments emerge, and further information is presented.