This articles describes the most important aspects and features of a career as a product manager. We will detail what product managers do, where they work, typical duties, how to enter the field, common career paths, salaries, and more.
What We Do
A product manager is a management professional who may work in many industries, from pharmaceuticals, to technology, to manufacturing. A product manager bears similarities to brand managers.
The product manager is often thought of as the ‘CEO’ of the particular product. He or she is responsible for the road map, strategy and features for a particular product or product line. In many cases, the product manager role can including many roles, such as forecasting, profit and loss and marketing.
Product managers often perform market and competitive analysis and lay out a vision for the product. The manager produces a vision that is highly specific and differentiated, delivering a unique value that is based upon the demands and preferences of the consumer.
The product manager role can include many activities that vary from tactical to strategic. Those who perform their job well often will serve as an effective cross functional leader of the product. He or she will be able to bridge wide gaps between teams with very different functions in a company.
For example, the engineering team for a product nearly always has a vastly different perspective about the product than do the sales and marketing team. It is the role of a product manager to hear the concerns, challenges and input from these different teams and to produce a quality product.
Becoming a product manager is a process at most companies that occurs over time as you gain more experience and are promoted through the ranks. Some product managers come from a more liberal arts background, and others have more technical expertise. Product managers who have mastered both ‘soft’ communication and writing skills, as well as engineering and computer science skills, will find themselves in especially high demand.
The core job duties of product manager can vary depending upon the company and type of product. Nevertheless, the following are the core aspects of many product manager roles:
- Strategy: Responsible for establishing the vision and strategy for the product. Their role is to very clearly describe to product stakeholders in the company so that they understand what the purpose of the product is. They take ownership of the strategy underlying the product, and also its road map. The manager must work with engineering to build a product that reflects this carefully refined strategy.
- Releases: Must plan for what teams are going to deliver and when. This is the case no matter the type of development methodologies that are used. The manager owns the release aspects of the particular product.
- Ideation: All companies want better ideas, but managing them and prioritizing them is what is difficult. A product manager handles ideation: the process of coming up with, developing and curating various new ideas. They decide which ideas need to be actual features of the product.
- Go to market: The product manager makes the decisions about when the product is ready to go to market and how that will happen. The PM needs to provide support to the entities and organizations that will bring the product to market. This will involve working closely with marketing and sales staff.
Where We Work
Product managers often work in technology-related companies, as well as pharmaceutical and medical device companies. As of 2017, the cities with the most job openings for product managers are:
- San Francisco
- New York City
- San Jose
How to Become
Many product managers have a bachelor’s degree in marketing or business, as well as an MBA in general business or marketing. Others have a background in computer science, economics or business, or a combination. Having a good mix of technical and liberal arts skills is often very important.
Many business professionals want to become product managers. But it is important to understand that one generally does not become a product manager as soon as you graduate from college. Being a product manager at a large company is a very important position that requires a good deal of work and experience to achieve. Most product managers have several years of experience in their industry and/or that specific company.
Current product managers say that you can become a product manager by following these tips:
- Become extremely knowledgeable in the industry, product and company.
- Practice your listening skills. You need to be able to listen carefully to client needs and also be empathetic with them.
- Learn how to write computer code. Technical product managers are especially in high demand in tech companies.
- Learn how to prioritize: Product managers have demands coming at them from all sides with different stakes in the product.
- Develop end user understanding and experience.
- Must be able to exercise leadership and handle a team of professionals from many different disciplines.
- Think about how you would improve a product at your company and really be able to flesh it out.
Having the above skills will increase the odds that you can move into a product management role over time.
Glassdoor.com reports that the median national salary for all product managers in 2016 was $103,000. Payscale.com reports that the median salary for senior product managers is $118,900.
Glassdoor also reports that product managers at different companies make different salaries: For example, product managers at these companies make the following average salaries:
- Cisco Systems: $141,000
- Google: $148,000
- Microsoft: $116,000
- Amazon: $115,000
- IBM: $114,000
- eBay: $112,000
- Target: $99,400
- Motorola Mobility: $129,000
Product management career paths tend to follow two different paths, and in some companies and industries, these paths could merge.
- Technical: Some product managers have more of a technical background with a degree in engineering or computer science, sometimes combined with a marketing and sales background. They may start out as a junior engineer and eventually earn a master’s in technical field, then become a regular engineer, product engineer, and eventually be promoted into product management.
- Sales and Marketing: Product managers with a sales and marketing background often have a bachelor’s and/or MBA in marketing, advertising, economics and other liberal arts fields, and possibly with some computer technical expertise as well. They may rise in their career from customer service to administration and to marketing management. After several years in the field or company on this path, they may be promoted to product manager.
Some of the related positions to product manager at some companies include those listed below:
- Chief product officer
- VP of product management
- Senior VP of product management
- Director of product management
- Group product manager
- Associate product manager
In some companies, you may progress from junior or associate product manager roles to senior product management or eventually a VP or chief product officer position.
The type of education successful product managers have will vary depending upon the company and industry. Typical areas of study in college for product managers are marketing, economics, business, PR, statistics, advertising and management. If you are working for a technical company, having technical experience and classes in IT and computer science are also useful. Being able to truly relate well with engineers and IT personnel on the product management team can really pay dividends.
Training and Certifications
Some of the product management certifications that can enhance your career include these that are offered in part by the Association of International Product Marketing and Management (AIPMM), in conjunction with the 280 Group:
- Certified Product Manager or CPM: Understand functions needed to champion new products throughout the lifecycle.
- Certified Product Marketing Manager or CPMM: Shows a complete understanding of functions to champion product through the entire back end of the product life cycle.
- Agile Certified Product Manage and Product Owner or ACPMPO: Gain a complete understanding of Agile development techniques and methodologies, and how to apply them in the product life cycle.
The company Pragmatic Marketing also offers six levels of certification in product management and marketing. It has educated more than 100,000 product management professionals since 1993.
The 280 Group also is a leading product management and training company that offers certifications in product management.
General Assembly is another company that offers intensive produce management training and certifications.
- Product Manager Overview. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.glassdoor.com/Career/Overview/Product-Manager.htm
- What Is the Role of a Product Manager? (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.aha.io/roadmapping/guide/product-management/what-is-the-role-of-a-product-manager
- Wigmore, Todd. How to Get a Product Manager Job in the Life Sciences Industry. (2017, March 15). Retrieved from http://blog.proclinical.com/how-to-get-a-product-manager-job
- Bradford, Laurence. 8 Tips for Landing Your First Product Management Role. (2017, Jan. 30). Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/laurencebradford/2017/01/30/8-tips-for-landing-your-first-product-manager-role/2/#1c7f32b95546
- Senior Product Manager Salary. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Senior_Product_Manager/Salary