There is ambiguity around what a product manager brings to the table. So what is it that they are an expert of really?
After talking to leaders of different expertise from multiple startups and being in a product role myself for over four years, I discovered that there is still ambiguity around what a product manager brings to the table.
Although, a good part of my understanding of the role has been shaped by what I have read and the problems that I worked on, some of it has also come from the conversations I’ve had with product leaders, investors, and founders from the Indian startup ecosystem.
Here’s what I have learned about being a Product Manager; the expertise we bring to the table, the skills required for the role and the outcomes we deliver.
If an engineer is an expert in actually creating (with code) a product for the user…
If a designer is an expert in creating a remarkable experience for a user when she uses the product…
If a marketer is an expert in communicating how the product is beneficial for the user…
If a data analyst is an expert in figuring out the ways in which the product is working for the user or not…
What is it that a product manager is an expert in?
A product manager is an expert who figures out what (product) gets built for the user.
And deciding what gets built needs a certain set of skills.
Here’s a list of skills that a product manager should have, segregated under core expertise (what a product manager brings to the table), and the must-haves:
How does a product manager leverage the above-mentioned skills at work?
(The following can also be read as an elaborate role description for a product manager)
Empathy for the user
Yes, having empathy is a skill and one that takes a lot of hard work to be acquired. Putting herself in the users’ shoes helps a product manager understand them better.
This, in turn, helps them derive user insights and figure out the problems (when solved)/ opportunities that can give value to the users.
A product manager tries to validate various discoveries via qualitative and quantitative methods. Setting up low-cost experiments to quickly validate user insights and delivery of user value is a key skill for the role.
Problem-solving with UX, tech, and business expertise
Working with UX and engineering and having the requisite business expertise puts a product manager in a uniquely favourable position to come up with creative product ideas by combining tech, UX and business expertise to bring value to the users and deriving business value from it.
Planning for scale
A product manager does not create user value and business value only for today. A product manager does not have a myopic view when creating value for the user.
Her meticulous planning skills and a vision for long term value are much needed to create a short and long term plan (roadmap) on how a product can reach its maximum potential impact.
Strong analytical ability
From measuring the impact of a shipped product to analysing product usage data and deriving insights & inferences from it, a product manager’s analytical skills are put to use every single day.
Team play and hustling
A product manager speaks to people from different expertise- engineering, design, data, marketing, operations, etc. and tries to make sure the execution is being done according to the plan. This requires her to be an awesome team player who loves to get stuff done.
Being aware of what’s happening in the market around the problems/ opportunities being pursued enables a product manager to learn from the wins/ failures of the world outside. It also helps her make use of current trends to her advantage. E.g. video, gamification, vernacular, etc.
Strong verbal and written communication
One of the challenging aspects of the role is that a product manager needs to align different stakeholders on her vision of the product.
That’s where her communication ability is put to the test; to create a shared understanding of the problem/ opportunity along with the solution and its potential, across the organisation.
Adaptability and Agility
A product manager gets bombarded with new tools, data, and propositions. The ability to quickly get acquainted with the unfamiliar and the agility to switch context and course of action on the basis of new learnings helps boost a product manager’s growth by an order of magnitude.
How do you know that a product manager is good at her job? What are the outcomes a product manager delivers?
MYTH: The product manager’s job is to deliver the product features that are on the roadmap. And to ship new products as per the requirements raised by the stakeholders.
FACT: A product manager is responsible for delivering user value that will, in turn, bring more business value, AT SCALE.
User value if delivered will lead to increased customer satisfaction, which can be measured by indicators like NPS, retention, etc.
Business value if increased will lead to an increase in business metrics like more active/transacting users, better conversion, better engagement, increased efficiency, etc. all leading to increased revenue/ profits.
Scale is the most important part of any outcome, a product manager delivers. Whatever user value or business value comes out of a product, a product manager scales that value with her expertise.
And that’s the job.
Gagan Mahajan is a Senior Product Manager at Grofers — leading the Growth team within consumer product.