The James Webb telescope recently revealed millions of unknown galaxies. It’s a huge step for the scientific world. Nasa’s efforts to innovate and advance the human species remind us that the world is in a constant state of technological bloom.
But the scientific world is not the only field experiencing rapid tech growth. According to Product School:
- Product-led growth is giving product managers (PMs) a seat at the table. 35% of companies see product leaders as essential to driving annual planning.
- Product managers are a hot commodity. 43% of companies are hiring more of them.
- Retaining PMs can be tricky. 26% plan to leave their jobs within the next 12 months
There is no doubt that this profession is on the rise. What’s important, it doesn’t matter if you develop a new product or if it’s already a mature one. If you’re the person who’s curious about PMs work, responsibilities and analytical workflows, this article will answer your needs.
After reading this article, you’ll understand:
- What do product managers do?
- Why smart product management requires analytics-based workflows
- How to continuously develop to become a great product manager
What do product managers do?
Type the keyword “product manager” into Google, and you’ll get 2,170,000,000 results. It’s impossible to plow through everything, let alone determine which resources are reliable.
This article will provide insights from industry leaders so you can hear what product experts in Allegro, Monese, Survicate, and Mighty Capital have to say about this role. You’ll also hear what a former practitioner for Airbnb has to say.
Product manager job description
According to Lenny Rachitsky (ex-Airbnb), the role of a product manager is as follows:
There are three parts to this, each essential:
1. Deliver business impact
“Fundamentally, you are responsible for delivering business impact. If your team drives positive impact — hitting important goals, reducing costs, shipping an important project, etc. — you’re doing your job.”
2. Marshaling the resources of your team
“Your job isn’t to do the building yourself but instead to increase the leverage of your cross-functional teammates — designers, engineers, data scientists, researchers, etc. — to deliver impact. To paraphrase Andy Grove, a product manager’s output = the output of their team.”
3. Identify and solve the most impactful customer problems
“Business impact comes from solving customer problems. Thus, it’s your job to lead your team to do identification, prioritization and provide a solution to the most impactful customer problems.”Lenny Rachitsky, Author at Lenny’s Newsletter
Consider this a solid definition as it provides all the building blocks for understanding the basics regarding the role of a PM. This definition might help you systematize your knowledge if you’re a more seasoned PM.
Now, let’s look at a quote from a product manager working in the financial sector (specifically, a banking alternative).
When you work in Product there’s a responsibility to inspire in that way. But ultimately I think that everyone is working towards the same thing — to build features that are relevant for our customers and help them to do things better or more easily than they could before.”
Now, let’s dive a bit deeper into the 3 core responsibilities of a PM.
What are the 3 core responsibilities of a product manager?
Let’s start with Marty Cagan’s description of a product manager.
“A product manager handles evaluating opportunities and determining what gets built and delivered to customers. […] And the mechanics of that are not the hard part. What’s hard is to make sure that what goes on the product backlog is worth building. And, today, on the best teams, the engineers and designers want to see some evidence that what you’re asking to build is truly worth building.”
But there is a different definition by Martin Eriksson. He is an expert in building world-class online products.
“I’ve always defined product management as the intersection between business, technology, and user experience. A good product manager must be experienced in at least one, passionate about all three, and conversant with practitioners in all.”
In general, both definitions seem clear. But your task may not be as straightforward if you really want to understand the ins and outs of product management jobs.
Eriksson said product management is the “intersection between business, technology, and user experience.” This definition leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
You may be left asking yourself questions like:
- Does this mean that product managers are responsible for UX, tech, and business department needs?
- Do product managers have to deal with UX, tech, and business departments daily?
- Which department’s needs and goals are key priorities?
- In which area should a product manager be the most experienced?
- What does it mean to be passionate about all 3 fields? What does it mean to be “conversant” regarding different departments’ stakeholders?
It’s easy to find online sources that misquote or wrongly interpret Eriksson’s Venn diagram. So, what’s the best way to explain what a product manager does?
Let’s explore Lenny Rachitsky’s description of a product manager’s core jobs.
It’s different from the previous statement because it’s product-led. It doesn’t focus on various cross-functional teams or stakeholders. The key factor here is the product development itself.
As Lenny Rachitsky states:
“So, in detail, I’d say that those 3 areas are as follows:
- Shape the product: Harness insights from customers, stakeholders, and data to prioritize and build a product that will have the most impact on the business
- Ship the product: Ship high-quality product on time and free of surprises
- Synchronize the people: Align all stakeholders around one vision, strategy, goal, roadmap, and timeline to avoid wasted time and effort.”
From this Venn diagram, you can assume that: to make an impact, you need balance between all 3 jobs. And the balance comes from making constant trade-offs.
Remember that a PM’s scope of work differs depending on the organization. It’s rare to see 2 matching PM job descriptions.
Let’s take a closer look…
How the role of a product manager varies depending on the size of an enterprise
Numerous factors influence the scope of a PM’s work in addition to the number of employees and the turnover rate. Culture and readiness to grow also affect the scope of responsibility.
Let’s consider the size of an organization and its annual turnover:
- Large enterprises: employ 250 people or more and have an annual turnover of more than €50 million
- Medium-sized enterprises: employ fewer than 250 people and have an annual turnover of no more than €50 million
- Small enterprises: employ fewer than 50 people and have an annual turnover of no more than €10 million
- Microenterprises: employ fewer than 10 people and have an annual turnover of no more than €2 million
Key differences between small and large company requirements:
Micro and small enterprises (e.g., startup)
- The product manager wears many hats. Acts like a project manager, product owner, designer etc.
- Reports directly to C-level
- Wide scope of ownership (from ideation to launch
- Quicker decision making process
- A lot of freedom or autonomy
- Big impact on business goals and big responsibility
Medium and large enterprises
- The product manager has more “classical” scope of PM’s work
- Report to Product Director rather than C-level
- Narrower scope of ownership (feature- or module-oriented)
- PMs more often need to get buy-in from leaders. But it doesn’t mean they don’t have autonomy at all
- A bit smaller impact and narrower scope of responsibility
But there are some fixed aspects of a product manager’s work. To be a successful product manager, you must:
- Act like the CEO of the product, taking responsibility for the entire product (or part of the product you lead)
- Be efficient at developing a product strategy and product roadmap (in B2B and B2C)
- Be thick-skinned — able to accept criticism without getting upset or offended by things people say and do
- Have the courage to say “no” to stakeholders (regardless of hierarchy or cultural differences)
- Have the ability to harness strategic thinking to make quick decisions based on qualitative and quantitative data
Now let’s look at a more refined product management requirement — agile methods and analytics workflows.
Why smart product management requires analytics-based workflows
As Cagan said, world-class engineers and designers want to see evidence from product managers. Proof that what you’re asking to develop is worth developing.
You must base your arguments on qualitative and quantitative product data. Another key thing is to use lean product development processes like Kanban, Agile, Scrum or ScrumBan, etc.
Agile development makes it easier to:
- Deliver customer value faster (in shorter iterations)
- Avoid hiccups and misunderstandings (continuous feedback)
- Deliver a product, part-by-part, within a specific budget
The first step in a new iteration is to analyze the data (even better if you have access to product data and customer feedback). Knowing numbers and qualitative insights gives you more awareness regarding a product’s health and possible issues.
After analyzing a new product feature, you need to plan. Perform proper research and discovery. Later, you’ll have to shift your know-how into specification. Involve your development team. Take their ideas and expertise into consideration. A good product manager acts like a leader and partner, not a micromanager.
At the end of the planning and design stage, be sure to take all important aspects into account. For example, if you decide to put a new session recording player in place, be sure that the funnel analytics feature doesn’t change. The rest of the entire product needs to remain consistent.
Once you begin feature development, you must be sure that this is the right decision. All new features have to play well with one another in terms of business aspects and technical limitations of your stack.
Now, let’s see what analytics workflows you can use to make better and faster decisions.
3 analytics workflows: how to make product decisions based on data
There is a good reason every agile loop starts with an analysis. To make the right decisions, you must eliminate hunches from the equation.
Try analyzing the following:
- Tabular data from various sources
- Media, including images, visuals, charts, etc.
- Text data
By performing an analysis and making decisions based on data, you’ll benefit in 2 ways. First, you’ll make decisions that make sense, and second, you’ll avoid the dominance of HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion).
No matter if you work in a customer- or stakeholder-facing product, try not to listen to those driven by gut feelings.
What does an expert have to say about why analytics data is so important?
Knowing exactly what and how to track product data can be tricky but the journey is worth it, even if it takes a few rounds to tweak it and get the information you want out of it. The recent surge of PM tools is a great start — the initial effort is greatly reduced, and you can leverage these platforms that provide insights and standard product metrics to review much faster.”
Now, knowing how essential analytics data is, let’s arrange them into agile workflows.
- Monitoring and verifying a release, including detecting anomalies
Following every new feature release, look at the qualitative and quantitative data. With numbers, you’ll discover:
- Usability-related problems
- Technical bugs
- Mismatches between requirements and implementation
Understand how your user base interacts with a feature by comparing their actions with the specifications in your PRD document or design deliverables. The knowledge that the future is used in the right way gives you peace of mind and control over the product’s health.
For example, you can use session recordings to see if your users interact with a new feature like your engineering team planned. This is your first qualitative overview of the situation.
Dive into product analytics metrics like user engagement (daily, weekly, and monthly active users), retention rate, and conversions. Always set up metrics that are key for the product and business. Then, try to improve them. You should be aware of what influences those metrics and what other metrics might be affected if you make a change. It is good to set up your goals for features as KPIs.
Keep a close eye on the situation throughout the first couple weeks after release.
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Remember that when monitoring and verifying a release, it’s essential to combine qualitative (behaviors, observations) and quantitative (funnel analysis, number of clicks) data.
Keep an eye out for odd occurrences after a recent product release. Anomaly tracking will help you monitor user reactions to new features. For example, you may wish to analyze your product funnel for anomalies.
- Observing how users interact with features
Reviewing a product’s user recordings is the closest thing to observing users “in the wild.” It’s the best way to see the issues they face, including where they seem to hesitate or get lost. Watching how users interact with a specific feature is like watching a beta testing without having to organize a synchronous session.
You don’t have to spend hours on end watching thousands of session recordings. You’ll easily filter and find key recordings fast if you know what you’re looking for.
Imagine strictly watching United States users that spend 5 minutes in one part of your product. With filters, you’ll quickly discover potential usability problems and form a better understanding of user needs and behavior.
Furthermore, you can determine if a specific user group faces the same issue repeatedly. For example, if users from one country experience a failed payment attempt on the 3rd step of your product.
Let’s see how a product manager from Allegro (an online e-commerce platform) approaches product analytics. He also has some tips regarding how often you should analyze data.
You can, and you need to talk to your clients. But is it enough? What if you have thousands of millions of users? You need numbers to understand your users, their behavior and also to validate your hypothesis.
As a PM you should look into data on a daily basis. Based on reports you can define your goals, hypothesis, validate your solutions and just monitor the health of your product.”
- Binge-watching end-users
As a product manager, you must know customer needs inside and out. By understanding their behaviors, patterns, and abnormalities, you’ll be able to craft a product that’s user-centered and solves key pain points.
Binge-watching user session recordings is crucial when clients are hard to reach (e.g., steep workloads or different time zones). Understanding your client’s behavior will help you provide value through your product in an account-based sense.
The term “binge-watching users” might convey that it’s a time-consuming task. That’s why you should always have an end goal in mind and look for efficient ways to achieve it. In most cases, a product manager needs to only watch a couple of recordings to understand repetitive user behavior patterns.
Imagine you notice that 10 users from the United Arab Emirates have trouble logging in. You don’t have to sit back and watch an additional 50 users to determine something’s wrong. It seems there is a global production problem affecting this specific region.
If you have the capacity to observe large swathes of users (more common for medium and large enterprises), plan A/B tests thoroughly and remember to consider all findings.
How to continuously develop to become a great product manager
Now you understand the key roles and responsibilities of a product manager.
This career path requires you to remain focused all the time. Product development is a marathon, not a sprint. Pride yourself in becoming a thoughtful manager with a deep understanding of how to shape and ship products and sync stakeholders.
Feature-wise, every new piece of a digital product requires deliberate decisions. Always do your best to strategize and predict how every decision will influence the product, users, team members, and stakeholders.
Although your role requires plenty of responsibility, positive customer feedback should be your main motivation at the end of the day.