Product Teams

What Does a Product Manager Do All Day?

Published Jan 8, 2016

Role of Product Manager

What’s the role of a product manager these days? There have been so many changes to the industry and technology over the last few years that it helps to take a step back and evaluate the actual duties assigned to that role. Is the product manager still the “mini-CEO of a product” or has that concept become outdated? Are product managers still the chief promoters of a product? Do they continue to engage customers in regular conversations about their products or rely on tools? Are they coordinating the tasks for an engineering team? Do they have budgets? Do they have a team or are they still going it solo? Based on watching our own product managers, it seems like the role of the Product Manager is expanding Big Bang style. There is more to do than ever before.

We explored this topic in our October webinar but now Pendo is reaching out to product managers in our 2016 Product Management and Measurement survey. We’ll analyze and publish those results in February. The role of the product manager can be very domain specific, and we hope the results can tell us why and where certain product managers are finding more success than others. More importantly, we want to pass those successful practices along to you. So, subscribe to our blog and read along as we share some insights next month. And until we can share those nuggets of wisdom, here are a few thoughts about the different roles and tasks product managers tackle every day.

The Glue (or The Coach?)

The PM has a “glue” role … a connective role. They connect non-technical people with technical people, and non-product-minded people with product-minded people. In that sense, they are multi-lingual and speak many languages. They fill a void. A good product manager can bring a team of disparate views and personalities together to focus on one goal. They’re able to maintain optimism tempered with reality, so that when engineering has doomsday predictions about hitting a deadline, or UX wants sweeping UI changes, the team can pull together, not apart, and still hit goals.

The Consigliere

In many cases the PM has “influence but not authority”. As in The Godfather, they are in a role of advisory power where they communicate between the teams and the client. They may “own” the product backlog, but that might not give them the final say. It is a role of persuasion, often functioning with limited resources and working with the tools that are available. There are definite soft-skills that can work wonders in this role, and a host of tools that can help you out.

The Data Scientist

The project manager is responsible for capturing as much data as possible and delivering it to the team in a really unbiased way. They’re basically presenting the problem for the team to solve. Product managers gather data in a number of ways, including analytics tracking, customer conversations, industry trends, and market reports. The pitfall for some product managers is that frequent reliance on loose data collection practices doesn’t always translate into product or customer success. Read the case study on FreeWheel and see how they leveraged data collection to improve their success rates.

A One Man Band or Orchestra Conductor

The level of detail the product manager brings to these conversations can depend on the structure of the company. They can orchestrate a team. The business analyst may provide user and feature details and requirements. A UX designer might provide sketches or detailed prototypes. The QA team might provide all the usability testing. And a product marketing team would handle the promotional aspects of a new feature or product. Or they may play every instrument themselves. In smaller organizations or startups, all of these roles, including customer success, could be the product manager.

So, what do they do all day?

An average day for a product manager might include:

  • Talking to and meeting with stakeholders, customers, team members
  • Learning about the competition, ecosystem trends, industry trends
  • Coordinating product / feature launches and releases
  • Prioritizing work to meet business objectives, and learning objectives
  • Maintaining and promoting the high level vision, roadmap and the backlog
  • Communicating to non-engineers about releases, roadmaps, etc.
  • Discovery around new features: understand the real problem
  • Breaking down requirements and analyzing data to inform product decisions
  • Answering questions: “can we do X?”, “what does product do to Y?”
  • Being the “voice” of the product in meetings, conferences
  • Writing some copy for a marketing effort

Why do they do it?

Being a product manager is a little like managing a three-ring circus. It’s the most wonderful show on earth – except for when the elephants break loose, the tent catches on fire and clowns are spraying everyone with seltzer. Great product managers truly care about both their team and their users. It’s a balancing act that can really frustrate the best negotiators. You have to be open to being wrong, making changes and listening to different opinions. But, you also need to know when to hold fast to your decisions. Tell us your frustrations or successes with product management, how you feel the role of the product manager is changing, and we’ll share your stories within the product community. In an upcoming post, we’ll discuss how you can measure the success of this role. Subscribe now so you don’t miss it!