As a product manager, you need to be good at a lot of things. You need to be able to work under deadlines, speak the language of engineering and business, and be the voice of the customer. A Product managers job is inherently cross functional because product touches every aspect of the business. The name “product manager” seems to suggest a single relationship: between you and the product. To some extent, there is truth that product management is about the product, but it’s more about the relationships between the product and the other entities involved.
As a product manager, you need to be thinking about three key relationships.
- The relationship between your users and the product
- The relationship between the product and the business
- The relationship between the team and the product
First, there are the relationships that users have with a product. Whether the product is any good really depends on whether it’s solving a problem better than the next best alternative for the user. It means understanding what job the user is trying to accomplish with your product.
The more intimate of an understanding you can have of the user, their needs, and their data, the better decisions you can make about what they want and what they need. This includes understanding the basic things that a user expects for any minimally viable product, the features that satisfy them, and the features that will drive excitement. A product manager needs to know what the key drivers of satisfaction or dissatisfaction for a user are.
You also need to know who your users are. You can’t have an intentional, good relationship with someone without knowing about them. This means developing high quality relevant personas and iterating on them. It means keeping a relationship of communication and data collection with your users.
Second, you must understand the relationship the product has with the business. The business provides the environment in which the product is being built. The business decides on how many resources to invest in a product. This means that as a product manager part of your job is to understand the why of the business and key business objectives. Understanding the key performance indicators and thinking strategically about how the company relates to the product are equally important.
The product exists because the company has goals, whether that’s revenue growth, increasing users, efficiency, or to drive customer satisfaction to the current userbase. The products success or failure from the company’s perspective is how it relates to these key company goals and objectives.
This is why it’s important to maintain a good roadmap. Roadmaps from a business standpoint help understand what is being built, what will be built, and roughly how much effort is going to go into building a feature. Business objectives and deadlines as they relate to the product roadmap help inform whether a product is on track. For example, if you as a product manager know that there is a big deadline at the end of the quarter, you should be able to consult your product roadmap and work with the product owners and engineers to determine which features must be prioritized and which ones must be backlogged.
Third, you must understand how the team relates to the product. Product managers sit in the middle of several key domains: product design, product development, and product marketing. Unlike CEO’s product managers aren’t typically bosses. They fit into the anatomy of a product team working with product owners, engineers, designers, and marketers. Part of being a good product manager is understanding the roles appropriately and understanding what you are doing to help push the product forward.
Because product management is fundamentally collaborative, you must use subtle influence and help develop a sense of urgency without making orders. With having a diverse team, in terms of roles that are contributing to the product, it requires that you speak the languages of each role. Your job as a product manager is to help communicate between these various entities. Your team takes your input as the voice of the customer on which features need to be built. Part of that includes removing bias and trying to develop a rational justification for building features. Project managers manage the product schedule. Engineers build. Designers design. Marketers market. A product manager essentially holds all these together.
No product ought to be created in complete isolation. Nor should you think about your role as a product manager as just managing the product. Creating a great product requires thinking about the relationship it bears to the users, how the product relates to the team, and how the product relates to the business.