This is a question that gets asked a lot, because the definition of a product manager varies from one company to the next. A survey of over 100 product managers conducted by Alpha UX demonstrates that the primary roles and responsibilities of product managers range from design to interacting with customers to organizational management and strategy.

The study asked product managers what tasks they perform on a daily basis. It turns out that product managers spend most of their time in meetings, i.e. communicating with various teams. After meetings, the most time is spent in technical, execution-oriented work, closely followed by strategic work. Product managers also reported spending significant amounts of time working with consultants and vendors, talking to customers, communicating with senior management and managing others.

Josh Elman of Greylock Partners describes product managers as mini-CEOs. They are the ones who ensure that a product matches customer expectations as well as the overall company strategy. They need to know what customers want and how marketing and sales can work to target the right audience. They must understand the market, including knowing what the competition is up to, and be able to listen to customer feedback. To top it all off, product managers are in charge of making sure that the various teams are on track for getting the product ready for the market on time for the scheduled launch date.

Product management is not an easy job. What kind of characteristics are necessary to be a successful product manager? At a product manager meetup in October 2013, panelists listed these critical characteristics:

  • Design-based thinking
  • Leadership abilities
  • Holistic problem-solving
  • Vision and inspiration
  • Analytic skills
  • Excellent interpersonal skills
  • Instinct

Product managers have to be extremely flexible as well, since their role is evolving along with innovation and the changing customer mindset. Product management is at the intersection between many key elements of company strategy, such as user feedback, development team management and market awareness. Because product managers do so much, it’s often hard to pinpoint exactly what they do, which is why surveys such as the one conducted by Alpha UX are so important. They emphasize the fact that most products would not be launched if not for the unsung heroes behind them – the product managers.

Patrick Sirois

At Triode, we specialize in developing new products and services for complex industries like medical devices and transportation. We work with you closely to help define product strategy, with an emphasis on reducing the risks associated with innovating in these sophisticated and often regulated consumer-oriented environments.