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The Anatomy of a Product Manager

The Anatomy of a Product Manager

A great product manager has the brain of an engineer, the heart of a designer, and the speech of a diplomat.” – Deep Nishar, Vice President of Product at LinkedIn

With the digital transformation of companies worldwide, there is an ever-increasing demand for Product Managers. Product management has witnessed tremendous growth in recent years, topping job reports of LinkedIn and CNN Moneywatch. The world of product management lies at the intersection of key business functions such as design, strategy, marketing and, of course, technology. In fact, part of this field’s appeal lies in the richness of the diverse functional areas that it fundamentally engulfs along with the professional opportunities it affords those pursuing this career.

As Steve Jobs said, “You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work back toward the technology – not the other way around”. Understanding the business’s end users, building solutions through innovative products and delivering excellent product interactions, are facets of a Product Manager’s job that put the customer sharply at the center.

The following sections entail key components that make the anatomy of a Product Manager.

Soft Skills

A distinct group of soft skills becomes crucial for successfully conducting product management. Efficient communication skills, both written as well as verbal are absolutely vital to facilitate productive collaboration on activities such as gathering product ideas, discussing strategy alternatives etc. At any point of time, Product Managers are expected to engage with product developers and designers. Especially if you’re a mid-level product manager, you would be the go-to resource for the team and hold responsibility for the entire product management lifecycle. According to a Wall Street Journal report, the average salary of a Product Manager is reported to be $133,000. Individuals with proven product management success have the ability to think independently, analyse complex data and develop a sense of accountability on product decisions. Demonstration of decision-making abilities along with the conviction in decisions is a desired trait for leadership roles, like ‘Senior Product Manager’ and ‘Director of Product’. The average pay of a ‘Senior Product Manager’ as per Glassdoor has been recorded as $138,388.

A successful Product Manager will always carve out time to talk to customers. In order for this communication to be impactful, you must be an empathetic individual to build a deep understanding of customer needs. Asking questions like ‘What about this product resonates with you?’, ‘How has this product made a difference?’ and ‘What other problems would you like it to solve for you?’ will help you probe into the precise requirements and preferences of users, and make informed decisions. You should be skilled at persuading the Engineering, Design, Marketing and Operations teams, to align with your product roadmap to successfully exploit market opportunities and drive profitability.

One inculcates such soft skills with experience and keen observation. However, you can be mindful of representing certain qualities as part of your interview preparation for product management roles. For example, you can indicate qualities like critical thinking and curiosity by asking genuine questions, perhaps related to the existing process in the company, the challenges experienced by the Product team, or the type of metrics tracked at different operational stages.

Functional Skills 

Soft skills, as vital as they are, cannot substitute the necessity of technical ability and expertise. When contributing to product plans, product managers need to account for customer needs by formulating a cohesive business plan. This calls for awareness on existing products and product design. Popular efficiency-management tools like Roadmunk, Trello, Feature Upvote, Airfocus, GridRank etc. and data management tools like Airtable, Salesforce and Mixpanel can prove immensely useful while delivering on multiple, time-bound goals. It is essential that you are adept at understanding data pertaining to user-interactions and product plans. In fact, in the Information Technology industry, the ability to understand technology metrics and product management analytics is especially desired, as it is required to track product interactions and user activity. Therefore, a background in computer science or software engineering is generally demanded of Product Managers in the tech industry. If you possess design sensibility, you can interview as a Designer and work your way up the career ladder by honing product management skills like product lifecycle utilization, release management, strategy development etc., as most companies offer designers the opportunity to transition to a Product Manager role. Gaining product management internship experience at companies like Microsoft will position you as a strong candidate in the Tech industry.

A Product Manager must be skilled at conducting market research to study the prevalent competition and identify opportunities to develop products that sell.

In fact, in the finance industry, research and design development form a major chunk of the job when facilitating product modification or enhancement. The industry has seen a tremendous rise in demand for product managers with the increasing popularity of new technologies such as blockchain which reinforce decentralization and transparency while ensuring reduced investments. Morgan Stanley and Citi are some of the leading global financial services firms hiring product managers.

Apart from this, in the healthcare sector, a Product Manager delves deeply into market research to bring new solutions in a medical product line. Scientific knowledge is important when dealing with prescription products. Moreover, knowledge on the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Health Level-7 (HL7) is a requirement that may also be cited on a product management job description in healthcare, so as to ensure alignment of regulatory standards with local guidelines. Some of the employers in this field include companies like Zelis and Aetna. You can also exploit virtual opportunities offered by organisations like the Red Cross.

Across sectors, certain skills are essential for achieving deliverables like formulating product roadmaps, in turn, forwarded to cross-functional teams. They also conduct continuous analytics and experimentation to measure the success of product decisions through pre-determined KPIs like revenue, customer acquisition, market share etc. Throughout the product management process, customer feedback plays a vital role in addressing product issues through direct insights and suggestions.

Product Management Training and Networking

Some of the most prestigious institutions that offer specialised product management courses include Stern School of Business, Tepper School of Business, UC Berkeley and Harvard Business School. In fact, HBS reported that their Product Management 101 course has been receiving two-three times the number of applicants than seats available. In case you want to pursue an online product management certification, programs offered by Boston University, University of Virginia etc can be useful. Apart from these, several companies like GoogleFacebookUber offer product management programs. Undertaking these programs will not only help you imbibe the desired skills but also expand your network and connect you with top employers, some of them being Apple, AmazonMicrosoft and Spotify. You can also enhance your job search by attending events like the Product Management FestivalProduct Leader Summits and conferences that bring together product managers, leaders, innovators, and marketers from across industries and provide terrific networking opportunities. Product Management jobs are highly concentrated at major tech hubs like California, Massachusetts, Washington and New York.

Interview Tips 

When interviewing for a product management position, the hiring manager will ask questions that cover a broad range of topics including your technical knowledge, business sense, and decision-making abilities. You should be able to discuss common product management topics, such as setting strategy, creating product roadmaps, managing releases, gathering ideas, and defining product features. Take a look at the guidance offered by Udemy and Amazon on product management interview questions.

Regardless of industry, great product managers are assessing and addressing customers’ problems, determining the scale of an issue, resolving the same and ultimately taking firm decisions that meet the interests of the business and its stakeholders.

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