Product Manager: The role and best practices for beginners (2023)

First, a confession: Ten years ago, when I was invited to apply for a product manager position at Atlassian, I didn’t know what product management was. This wasn’t unusual. While product management has existed in one form or another for a number of decades, the “product manager” title only started picking up steam less than 20 years ago. And still, I encounter talks at conferences called “What Does a Product Manager Do?” (Actually, I sort of gaveone of these talks.)

What is a product manager?

A product manager is the person who identifies the customer need and the larger business objectives that a product or feature will fulfill, articulates what success looks like for a product, and rallies a team to turn that vision into a reality.After 10 years of studying the craft of product management, I’ve developed a deep understanding of what it means to be a product manager.

The confusion about what a product manager is likely stems from the recency of the role. Where practitioners of more established crafts, like design and engineering, have been able to segment themselves by their specialization, product managers are still defining what the role should be.

Martin Eriksson, product leader extraordinaire and founder of ProductTank, initially summed up product management in a simple Venn diagram that sits the product manager at the intersection of business, technology, and user experience. Fifteen years ago, Ben Horowitz, CEO of Opsware, called the product manager the “CEO of the product.”

I agree with both Eriksson and Horowitz, but not always with how their definitions are interpreted. People see Eriksson’s diagram and think that product managers manage the product between all three disciplines (UX, technology, and business). Really, though, he's saying product managers need to balance all three needs and make hard decisions and trade-offs. People hear Horowitz’s analogy and think product managers have some kind of special authority. They don’t. But, like a CEO, product managers set the goals, define success, help motivate teams, and are responsible for the outcome.

Product Manager: The role and best practices for beginners (2)

Product manager responsibilities

Specific responsibilities vary depending on the size of the organization. In larger organizations, for instance, product managers are embedded within teams of specialists. Researchers, analysts, and marketers help gather input, while developers and designers manage the day-to-day execution, draw up designs, test prototypes, and find bugs. These product managers have more help, but they also spend more time aligning these stakeholders behind a specific vision.

On the flip side, product managers at smaller organizations spend less time getting everyone to agree, but more time doing the hands-on work that comes with defining a vision and seeing it through.

Broadly speaking, though, a good product manager will spend his or her time on a handful of tasks.

Product manager vs. product owner

Whether or not a team is adhering to a certain agile practice (and which one), can further muddy the waters when it comes to what a product manager does. For instance, if a team is practicing scrum, then they also need to have a product owner.

Product Manager: The role and best practices for beginners (3)

While a product manager defines the direction of the product through research, vision-setting, alignment, and prioritization, the product owner should work more closely with the development team to execute against the goals that the product manager helps to define.

Here’s how that tends to break out:

Involved in day-to-day activities

Product Manager Product Owner

Works with outside stakeholders

Works with internal stakeholders

Helps to define the product vision

Helps teams execute on a shared vision

Outlines what success looks like

Outlines the plan for achieving success

Owns vision, marketing, ROI

Owns team backlog and fulfillment work

Works at a conceptual level

Involved in day-to-day activities

But responsibilities can shift a bit when team makeups and practices shift. For instance, if the team isn’t doing Scrum (say, they’re doing kanban or something else), the product manager might end up doing the prioritization for the development team and play a larger role in making sure everyone is on the same page. On the other hand, if the team is doing Scrum, but doesn’t have a product manager, then the product owner often ends up taking on some of the product manager’s responsibilities.

All of this can get really murky really quickly, which is why teams have to be careful to clearly define responsibilities, or they can risk falling into the old ways of building software, where one group writes the requirements and throws it over the fence for another group to build. When this happens expectations get misaligned, time gets wasted, and teams run the risk of creating products or features that don’t satisfy customer needs.

Best practices and tips for being a great product manager

Just as there isn’t only one kind of team, one of the most exciting aspects of the product manager role is that there isn’t only one way to do it. During the last two decades, the craft has exploded both in popularity and approach. Unlike designers who have successfully segmented themselves into interaction designers, graphic designers, motion designers, and so on, product managers, as a whole, are still wrestling with how to label their different strengths.

(Video) Product Management: An Overview - Key Responsibilities

To complicate matters, people are only beginning to pursue product management as their intended discipline. Where older generations “fell into product management” from engineering, design, finance, or marketing, younger generations are starting their careers with product management in mind.

That said, there are a handful of skills and practices that any good product manager will need to develop.

Prioritize ruthlessly

A colleague recently likened product management to being a politician. It’s not far off. The product manager and the politician both get an allotted amount of resources. Each role requires the practitioner to make the best use of those resources to achieve a larger goal, knowing that he or she will never be able to satisfy everyone’s needs.

At any one time, the product manager might have to decide between a feature that might make one big customer happy but upset 100 smaller customers; maintaining a product’s status quo or steering it in a new direction to expand its reach and align with larger business goals; or whether to focus on the bright and shiny or the boring and important.

Clearly understanding the costs and benefits of each choice guides the product manager toward the right decision.

Product Manager: The role and best practices for beginners (4)

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Know the lay of the land

Product managers need to know the lay of the land better than anyone else. They very rarely start with a clean slate. More than likely, product managers are dropped into something that already has momentum. If they start executing without taking the time to get their bearings, they’ll make bad decisions.

Good product managers pump the brakes and start by asking questions. If you’re just starting a product management job, take the first couple of months to talk to as many customers as you can. Talk to as many internal stakeholders as you can. Understand the business model. Understand the history. Understand how different people are influenced. Understand how decisions are made. Only then, can you start making a few decisions of your own.

(Video) What It Takes To Become A Great Product Manager

Empower your team to make their own decisions

Product managers can’t make every decision. Believe me. I’ve tried. At the end of the day, I nearly always have unread messages. I’m often double and triple booked. And I could spend all day answering questions and never finish.

But touching every decision isn’t the product manager's job—at least it shouldn’t be. One of the keys to great product management is empowering your team to make their own decisions by creating a shared brain—or a way of making decisions and a set of criteria for escalating them. When someone asks a product manager a question about a decision they could have made themselves, nine times out of 10 it’s because that person doesn’t have enough context to make the decision themselves. Great product managers build that context.

Learn to influence without authority

I know a junior product manager that is nearly universally respected by her team even though initially many of its members would have traded her in for a more seasoned leader given the choice. How did she change their minds? She took each person on the 30-person team out for coffee and listened to them.

Influence comes in many forms. Listening to people and understanding how they’re influenced is the first part. Figuring out how to get them on board with your point of view is the second. Becoming a great storyteller—even when you don’t have any data to back up your point—will take you a long way. Some people won’t be convinced until they see you do the work. Understanding which levers to pull with which person is the key to leading without any direct authority.

Develop a thick skin

Making tradeoffs will inevitably make people unhappy. The trick is to first make the right tradeoffs, and then be able to explain why you made the decision you did. If you’re good at explaining your decision, someone can still not like it, but more often than not, they’ll respect the way you made it. And even if they don’t, great product managers figure out a way to deal with it.

Great product managers

For me, the really great product managers are one in a million. They’re the people who can do all of the above and set incredible product visions. It’s the rare breed that’s forward-thinking, highly influential, and can walk people through the rationale behind a decision and convince them—even without data. People like Steve Jobs and Elon Musk come to mind.

We idolize these people, in part, because it’s satisfying to put a face and a name on a big accomplishment. But 99 percent of the time, great products aren’t made by a single great thinker. They’re made by teams of good people doing really good work. The job of the product manager is to develop his or her unique way of guiding that work.

Product Manager: The role and best practices for beginners (5)

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(Video) What do I do as a Product Manager?

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Product Manager: The role and best practices for beginners (6)

Sherif Mansour

(Video) What do product managers do? - Agile Coach

Sherif Mansour has been in software development for over 20 years. He is currently a Distinguished Product Manager for Atlassian. As a long-tenured Atlassian, he has responsible for Confluence, trying to solve problems across all of Atlassian’s cloud products and establishing a new product incubator inside Atlassian. Sherif also played a key role in developing new products at Atlassian such as Stride, Team Calendars and Confluence Questions. Today, he leads product strategy for Atlassian’s newest product, Team Central. Sherif thinks building simple products is hard and so is writing a simple, short bio.


What are the best practices of an effective product manager? ›

Product managers usually have to:
  • conduct market and customer research.
  • identify user needs and assess solutions.
  • develop product vision and strategy.
  • set meaningful goals.
  • develop product roadmaps and prioritize features.
  • predict future development timelines.
  • define technical requirements.
Oct 21, 2022

What is product manager roles and responsibilities? ›

A product manager's job description involves planning and executing the product's lifecycle. It also includes curating and prioritizing the requirements of products and customers. Product managers work closely with the sales, marketing, and engineering teams for various aspects.

What are the top 3 qualities you have that would make you a good product manager? ›

9 Qualities of a Great Product Manager
  • Strategic Thinker. A product manager is a mini-CEO of sorts. ...
  • Passion for products. Product managers should love products. ...
  • Empathizes with the customer.
  • Interviews customers. ...
  • Aspires to build great user experiences. ...
  • Keeps Score. ...
  • Ability to Prioritize. ...
  • Collaborative leader.
Apr 10, 2014

What are the four 4 critical skills of a product managers? ›

The four most critical skills of a Product Manager are empathy, communication, listening, and organization. Definitely, there are other skills involved in order to do the job well but the four mentioned are non-negotiable or the minimum skills that a PM should have.

What should a first time product manager do? ›

Product manager responsibilities
  • Understanding and representing user needs.
  • Monitoring the market and developing competitive analyses.
  • Defining a vision for a product.
  • Aligning stakeholders around the vision for the product.
  • Prioritizing product features and capabilities.

What should a product manager do in the first 30 days? ›

Get to Know Your Team and Process
  • Meet everyone. Product management is about relationships. ...
  • Learn the process. ...
  • Reserve judgment. ...
  • Take notes!
  • Download a Day in a Product Manager's Life➜ ...
  • Take advantage of your fresh eyes. ...
  • Audit customer calls. ...
  • Talk to the customer yourself!

How do I become a product manager with no experience? ›

5 Steps to Becoming a Product Manager (Even Without Experience)
  1. Understanding Key Skills. In order to find success in the field, aspiring product managers must first understand the key skills that consistently define success in the role. ...
  2. Obtain an Education. ...
  3. Test Your Skills. ...
  4. Gain Certification. ...
  5. Seek Employment.

What are the three key skills required to be a good manager explain? ›

Robert Katz identifies three types of skills that are essential for a successful management process: Technical skills. Conceptual skills. Human or interpersonal management skills.

What are the three key skills required to be a good manager? ›

6 Essential Skills for Managers
  • Good communication. Having good communication skills is probably the most important skill of all for managers to have. ...
  • Good Organisation. ...
  • Team Building. ...
  • Leadership. ...
  • Ability to Deal with Changes Effectively. ...
  • Domain Knowledge.

Why should we hire you as a product manager? ›

Example Answer:

“I decided to apply for a product manager role with this organization because I'm attracted to the company culture. After looking into the company for a bit, I came to the understanding that you value putting quality products on the market, and you're looking for someone who also values the customer.

What are the 5 phases of the product management process? ›

The main stages of the product management process include: identifying the customer problem, formulating a hypothesis to solve the problem, developing a roadmap, prioritizing features, delivering to respective teams, and analyzing data—all in a loop.

What are 3 characteristics of a high performing product management team? ›

Ten Traits of Good Product Managers
  • Team spirit. Good Product Managers are team players, who understand that flying solo is a limiting and isolating choice. ...
  • Trust. The only way to be a good team player is to really trust your team. ...
  • Communication. ...
  • Leadership. ...
  • Prioritisation. ...
  • Process building. ...
  • Problem solving. ...
  • Curiosity.

What would you do in first 90 days as a product manager? ›

Within Your First 90 Days as a Product Manager

Choose a product feature that can be prioritized by your team; Begin shaping necessary product development processes with all relevant stakeholders; Ship your first feature or product function; Begin work on your next product development priority.

What should a new product manager do in the first 90 days? ›

At this phase, you should be continuing to do many of the things you started in your first and second month on the new job—including researching your market, becoming familiar with your products, their success metrics, and having productive conversations with stakeholders.

What should a product manager do first month? ›

  • 7 Tips for Product Managers to Optimise Their First 30 days at a New Job. ...
  • Understand the organization. ...
  • Understand what you are there to accomplish. ...
  • Learn what has been done. ...
  • Learn what is being done. ...
  • Get to know everyone. ...
  • Understand your Tech Stack. ...
  • Don't change anything (yet)

What is the biggest challenge for a product manager? ›

The 12 toughest product management challenges
  • Organizational comms. Why it's a challenge. ...
  • Deadlines. Why it's a challenge. ...
  • Team alignment. Why it's a challenge. ...
  • Balancing responsibilities. Why it's a challenge. ...
  • Product team ops. Why it's a challenge. ...
  • Creativity and being unique. Why it's a challenge. ...
  • Keeping up with tech. ...
  • Research.
Aug 18, 2022

What should a product manager do every day? ›

Part of a product manager's responsibilities is to search out, gather, handle, and prioritize customer needs and wants. Knowing the market requirements is key to a successful product. They need to understand why customers buy products as well as what the competition is doing.

How do you structure your day as a product manager? ›

How Effective Product Managers Create Structure In Their Day
  1. Start Your Day with Planning Tasks.
  2. Move into Research and Documentation Tasks Next.
  3. Schedule Communication Tasks Throughout Your Day.
  4. Minimize Context Switching to Boost Productivity.
  5. Product Managers Are an Anchor for Their Team.
Apr 26, 2021

What is the core of product management? ›

Product management is a process that focuses on bringing a new product to market or developing an existing one. It starts with an idea of a product that a customer will interact with and ends with the evaluation of the product's success. Product management unites business, product development, marketing, and sales.

What is product management in simple words? ›

Product management is an organizational function that guides every step of a product's lifecycle — from development to positioning and pricing — by focusing on the product and its customers first and foremost.

Do product managers need scrum? ›

The product manager can be part of the daily scrum meeting if they want to, but only the scrum master is required. The product manager's primary role involves product vision, strategy, roadmap planning, and product backlog management.

Can a shy person be a product manager? ›

Can introverts be successful as product managers? No matter what you may have heard, we believe the answer to this question is a resounding “yes!” If you're an introvert, or simply have several introverted tendencies (who needs labels anyway?), this one's for you.

How do product managers say no? ›

Say No by Saying Yes

Sometimes the easiest way to say no is by pointing customers to the evidence. For instance, if a feature is too complicated, product managers can simply show the customer how long it would take to build and how much it would cost. “Honesty is really your key to freedom,” Maliyil said.

What is the minimum salary of a product manager? ›

Product Manager salary in India with less than 2 year of experience to 13 years ranges from ₹ 5 Lakhs to ₹ 35 Lakhs with an average annual salary of ₹ 16.3 Lakhs based on 26.2k latest salaries.

What are the 5 most important things a manager needs to do? ›

Here are five things new managers should keep in mind:
  • Make it your priority to build and cultivate relationships. ...
  • Get aligned with your team on what success looks like. ...
  • Invest in developing your team. ...
  • Guide more, and do less. ...
  • Own your authority.
Oct 21, 2021

What is the most important skill for a first level manager? ›

Communication Skills

Skilled first-line managers can listen, speak, and write clearly and consistently, communicating for maximum impact with people at all levels in the organization, including team members, superiors, peers, and others. It's especially important to effectively communicate goals and expectations.

What are the five best qualities for a manager to have? ›

Top 10 Qualities of a Good Manager
  • Leadership Skills. In order to be an effective manager, you need to be able to lead your employees in an efficient manner. ...
  • Professional Experience. ...
  • Good Communication Skills. ...
  • Knowledge. ...
  • Organization. ...
  • Time Management Skills. ...
  • Delegation. ...
  • Confidence.

What are manager's 3 main responsibilities? ›

Most of the job responsibilities of a manager fit into one of three categories: planning, controlling, or evaluating.

What five qualities do you think will best help managers succeed in their job? ›

5 Must-Have Qualities of a Good Manager
  • Good managers know how to communicate. ...
  • Good managers know how to listen. ...
  • Good managers lead with confidence. ...
  • Good managers care about and take care of their teams. ...
  • Good managers are authentic. ...
  • 7 Top Strategies for Managing Employee Performance.
Aug 9, 2021

What do you think is the best quality of a manager? ›

The right qualities of a manager can make all the difference. To be able to listen, not hear, and communicate, not order, is what any employee would find valuable in a leader. If a manager is able to establish trust with his or her team, employee retention, productivity, and engagement can increase as a result.

What is the key question of a product manager? ›

How do you determine what customers want and need? Customer research is essential to the job. Asking this question will give you insight into how the candidate connects with real, live users to gather feedback and their customer-centric approach.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years as a product manager? ›

Or you could offer a response that runs along these lines: “I've enjoyed managing a direct report in my current role. So in the next few years, I see myself enhancing my leadership and management skills, developing as a mentor and supervisor, and putting myself in a position where I can lead a growing team.”

How do you ace a PM interview? ›

5 Kinds of Questions Every Product Manager Candidate Should Ask During an Interview
  1. Ask questions about the product team's relationship with other departments. ...
  2. Ask questions about the product team itself. ...
  3. Ask questions about product strategy and KPIs. ...
  4. Ask questions about the product development process.

What is the 7 step product planning process? ›

Although the product development process differs by industry, it can essentially be broken down into seven stages: ideation, research, planning, prototyping, sourcing, costing, and commercialization. Use the following development framework to bring your own product idea to market.

What is the lifecycle of a product manager? ›

Product managers are responsible throughout the product's lifecycle. Product management life cycle in seven main stages: Idea generation and management, research and analytics, planning, prototyping, validation, delivery, and finally, launch.

What are the 5 P's of product management? ›

The 5 areas you need to make decisions about are: PRODUCT, PRICE, PROMOTION, PLACE AND PEOPLE. Although the 5 Ps are somewhat controllable, they are always subject to your internal and external marketing environments.

What is an effective product manager? ›

Highly effective product managers focus on outcomes, not outputs. This habit flows naturally from the first. Because effective product managers know their role is to solve problems for their users—and not just to release products—they do a better job of measuring the right things.

What are the best practices in product development? ›

  • Four Product Development Best Practices. ...
  • #1: Understand the target user. ...
  • #2: Take a design for manufacturing approach (DFM) ...
  • #3: Gain stakeholder buy-in with a detailed proposal. ...
  • #4: Gauge current competitors and potential market risks. ...
  • Choosing a Comprehensive Product Development Partner.
Apr 9, 2020

What are the 4 P's of production? ›

The four Ps are product, price, place, and promotion. The concept of the four Ps has been around since the 1950s. As the marketing industry has evolved, other Ps have been identified: people, process, and physical evidence.

What are the 4 stages of product management? ›

The four are introduction, growth, maturity, and then decline. Products and companies progress through these stages of development and the way that you know which stage they're in is how much revenue they're making over time.

What are the 5 M's of production? ›

Lean is an all-encompassing philosophy that takes the 5 M's (Man, Material, Machines, Methods, and Money) and harmonizes or helps orchestrate them together for the best possible outcome in your manufacturing operations.

What is the most important skills for product manager? ›

For taking up this role, it is very important to have the required product manager skills such as – communication, oratory, and negotiation skills.

What is most important for product manager? ›

The key focus of product management is to create new products or develop an existing one and then present it to the target market. It simply starts with coming up with creative ideas and then executing them to market the perfect product that you envisioned for your business.

What are 6 keys of product success? ›

6 Keys to a Successful Product Launch
  • Make Sure You Have a Product Fit. The first steps of preparing for a successful product launch begin at the genesis of product development. ...
  • Know Your Metrics. ...
  • Conduct User Research & Market Evaluations. ...
  • Develop Your Messaging. ...
  • Build an Early Customer Base. ...
  • Collect & Implement Feedback.

What are examples of best practices? ›

An everyday example of this type of best practice is to look both ways before crossing the street. It isn't a law to look, and people may find some success if they don't do it. But this often-repeated piece of advice produces the best results in the long run if followed.

What are the types of best practices? ›

When it comes to management best practices, we can identify five distinct areas where the best practices can be applied.
  • 1 - Communication. ...
  • 2 - Leading by Example. ...
  • 3 - Setting and Demanding Realistic Goals. ...
  • 4 - Open Management Style. ...
  • 5 - Strategic Planning. ...
  • Benchmarking. ...
  • Forecasting. ...
  • Performance Monitoring.

What is best practice techniques? ›

A best practice is a method or technique that has been generally accepted as superior to other known alternatives because it often produces results that are superior to those achieved by other means or because it has become a standard way of doing things, e.g., a standard way of complying with legal or ethical ...

What is the hardest part of product management? ›

What's the hardest part of product management? Our research shows that the hardest parts of the job for many product managers are organizational comms, managing deadlines, team alignment, and balancing different responsibilities.


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