Product Management

What’s all the fuss about Product Management?

For #BacktoSkills month, we’re spotlighting a series of skills that supercharge careers. This week, we’re looking at a role that’s often talked about but not often understood: Product Management.

The importance of Product Management cannot be overstated given how fast paced, data driven, and user-centric today’s tech world has become. As McKinsey & Co. notes, “The role of the product manager is expanding due to the growing importance of data in decision-making, an increased customer and design focus, and the evolution of software-development methodologies.”

Glassdoor recently ranked product management as No. 10 in their 50 Best Jobs in America list, with Product Managers (“PM”) in the US making an average of $125,000+ a year.

But what exactly is Product Management? It’s not something covered by your traditional educational institutions, and even folks within tech companies offer differing opinions on what the roles entails. In this post, we’ll get to the bottom of what Product Management is really all about.

What exactly is Product Management?

Product Management is the function that drives the success of a company’s products–whether the products are a service, software, or physical items. The PM is responsible for organizing all relevant stakeholders in service of the creation, maintenance, and evolution of the product, and for representing the needs of the end users for whom the product was made. Beyond the highly collaborative nature of the role, it’s common for PMs to work closely with a specific engineering team, synthesizing feature requests into requirements, curating the product roadmap, and overseeing product launches and releases.

You’re essentially the product’s CEO, in charge of bringing it to life from concept to delivery to end-of-life.  In all circumstances, however, the primary role as a Product Manager is to understand the problem your product is solving. No matter the market, customer, or industry, a product seldom succeeds if it doesn’t address a real need. As a Product Manager, you must clearly and completely understand what problem your product is supposed to solve, and how it will solve it uniquely from your competitors. 

A day in the Life of a Product Manager

If you ask a Product Manager what a day in their life looks like, it wouldn’t be uncommon to hear, “it depends”, but generally speaking you can expect your days to include some combination of the following:

  • Gathering requirements and use cases to identify and understand the problems your team should focus on solving
  • Conducting user research by talking to real people to vet and validate your approach to the solution
  • Reviewing designs and making decisions that balance the needs of users with the realities of engineering capabilities
  • Triaging support tickets so that the team appropriately prioritizes bug fixes and optimizations alongside new feature development
  • Analyzing key metrics (secondary and tertiary metrics) to inform product optimization
  • Prioritizing tasks for the team and ensure designers and engineers are keeping focused on the right things
  • Meeting with stakeholders across departments regularly to unblock decisions, incorporate their roadmap requests, and get buy-in
  • Communicating updates, vision, and direction not just to your team but to a range of cross-functional and executive stakeholders

What Skills You’d Need

Given the variety of work a PM may take on, it can be hard to understand exactly what skill set is required to succeed. Do you need to know how to code? Be creative and innovative? Do you need experience being ‘client-facing’? While it’s rarely a bad thing to have “all of the above”, it’s definitely not required. The best PMs combine a healthy blend of hard skills with a high degree of organization, curiosity, and communication.

It’s a common misconception to think that a great Product Manager requires fluency in technical skills. You don’t necessarily need to code; it’s only helpful to the extent that it would enable you to be more effective at communicating with relevant teams to achieve technical tasks. Being data driven, however, is critical. PMs need to inform their product recommendations and prioritization based on relevant data, which may come from all manner of sources. Many PMs run robust experimentation programs, leveraging methodical a/b tests to validate hypotheses and ensure they’re always operating with an eye towards optimization.

Product Managers don’t necessarily need to have a background in the field in which they work, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to understand the market, the competitive landscape, and the nuances of the operating environment. For example, having a background in the automotive industry greatly improves your ability to understand your automotive user’s pain points and behaviors, more creatively build a product that addresses it end-to-end, and speak a similar language with your colleagues. The deeper the connection to the industry, the better, but it is certainly not a prerequisite to qualify for the job–sometimes, a fresh perspective can be just as valuable.

Your Path to Product Management

It’s never been easier to learn how to become a Product Manager. For those just starting down this path, our Product Manager Nanodegree program covers the essentials, and no prerequisite skills are required. If you’re already in the field but looking to further specialize, we have programs that focus on Product Management in Data, AI, and Growth, supplemented by opportunities to learn Agile Software Development and UX Design. You can discover our full suite of Product Management courses here.

Muzoon Matar
Muzoon Matar
Senior Manager, Careers @ Udacity