What does a Product Manager do?

I'm Vivek Shivaswamy and I do Product @ HireRight | Building HeyPM | Ex-Samsung & Microsoft | IIMB | NITK

The Product Manager Role has been one of the most talked-about roles lately. According to LinkedIn, interest in product management has doubled in the past five years, with more than 30,000 product openings globally at any time of the year.

But what exactly does a product manager do & how does the career path look like?

The book definition of product manager goes something like this “Product management is an interdisciplinary role that combines strategy, design, leadership, and marketing to launch a successful product”. But in reality, “Product management is about empathizing with users, identifying opportunities, collaborating with others, and getting things done!”

Some of the core skillsets a product manager should be good at include:-

⦁ Strategic thinking
⦁ Business mind-set
⦁ Clear communication
⦁ Collaboration
⦁ Active Listening
⦁ Project management
⦁ UX background
⦁ Technical proficiency

Different organizations have different growth paths depending on whether it’s a start-up or MNC, B2C or B2B, etc. Some organizations have associate and senior product managers. Some others have only a single role with diversified levels of responsibility. And in few others, Titles like the delivery manager, program manager, or project manager are used instead of the product manager. Now, let’s look at a typical career ladder of a product manager (A representative list):-

Product Manager Career Path

Associate/Assistant Product Manager (Entry-level)

⦁ Reports to product manager
⦁ Typically works on smaller tasks
⦁ Less ownership, smaller scale
⦁ Collaboration is extremely important
⦁ Key responsibilities: market/data analysis, defining & recommending features

Product Manager (Mid-level)

⦁ Reports to senior/group product manager
⦁ Both strategic and tactical
⦁ Working with cross-functional teams is key
⦁ Key responsibilities: drive roadmap, features, and delivery timelines of a product

Senior Product Manager (Mid-level)

⦁ Lead junior PM’s
⦁ Manage higher value products
⦁ Key responsibilities: act as the liaison between the product management team and the business leaders, build business cases

Product Manager Responsibilities. Image Source: Klarna

Group Product Manager/Principal Product Manager (Senior level)

⦁ Voice/Advocate of the product team
⦁ A critical source of advice for other product managers
⦁ Key responsibilities: execute product strategy, sell the vision to leadership

Director of Product Management (Senior level)

⦁ From product management to Leadership
⦁ Owns the entire product roadmap
⦁ Engage with customers and partners to deliver roadmap updates
⦁ Key responsibilities: ensure no roadblocks exist for teams, improve processes

VP of Product Management (Executive level)

⦁ More focus on Business impact & strategic alignment
⦁ Build a cohesive team, grow P&L
⦁ Less hands-on product development
⦁ Key responsibilities: budgeting, communicating & getting leadership buy-in

Chief Product Officer (Executive level)

⦁ Reports to the CEO
⦁ Oversees all product activities in the Org
⦁ Key responsibilities: define product strategy & set long term goals

Almost every startup (especially in Germany) is looking for Product Managers across all levels as well especially for Mid & Senior levels.

Finally, a few closing thoughts: For all the aspiring product managers or product managers who are just starting, focus on picking up & polishing your hard skills early on in the career (can be technical, analytical, product sense, or UX knowledge) and use that to create an impact. As you grow in your career, shift your focus towards soft skills: leadership, communication, conflict management. Learn to lead without authority, communicate effectively, and be the liaison between your team and those not directly in your circle. If done right, it will give you a holistic growth approach and help you move up the ladder at an optimum pace.

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