Product Managers play a central role in bringing solutions to life by managing the successful development and launch of a product. They often serve as a liaison between the company's goals as outlined by executives and the engineers who use those goals to create effective products.
In other words, a Product Manager plays a pivotal role that includes:
- Maintaining a high level of focus
- Stakeholder management
- Product success
While a Product Manager may not get involved in specific coding decisions, they maintain a high-level perspective and encourage developers to move the product in the right direction.
In the video below, Pat DePuydt, a Web Developer from Washington D.C., takes a closer look at a Product Manager's role. Read on (or watch the video) to learn more about their responsibilities and required skills.
Product Manager skills
To help you better understand a Product Manager's duties, Pat provides an example:
Imagine a DevOps team tasked with building a web app users can use to book appointments. The team's Product Manager will need to engage with various stakeholders (e.g., devs, executives, etc.) throughout the ideation, creation, and testing of the product. For example, they may be in charge of ensuring:
- The app has a user interface that suits the needs of end-users from a functional perspective.
- The app's color scheme and layout are aesthetically pleasing for end-users.
- The appointments users book with the app properly interface with an internal database, an API, or a customer relationship management (CRM) system.
- The app functions as designed, meeting the expectations of all stakeholders.
To fulfill the responsibilities outlined above, a Product Manager needs to have a balance of technical, interpersonal, and conceptual skills to guide their team in the right direction. Let's take a closer look at these skills and how they manifest in a Product Manager's day-to-day.
Maintaining a focus on high-level objectives
Keeping high-level objectives in mind is essential to ensure the end product is both effective and aligned with the organization's goals. An app can work very well and even be appreciated by end-users, but it still wouldn't get the job done if it didn't help advance organizational objectives.
Say a company's executives decided to create an application that facilitated faster online ordering for a restaurant's takeout menu. There are many factors the Product Manager would have to keep in mind throughout the app's development, including:
- Ease of use by customers
- An accurate selection of menu items
- Convenient payment options
- Delivery options
- Extra elements that may make the user experience more enjoyable, such as the ability to leave notes for the driver or enticing images of menu items
But, if the DevOps team started to get too heavily involved in making the menu as comprehensive as possible, the objective of designing "faster" online ordering may be compromised. The Product Manager would have to recognize this pitfall, identify why it's happening, discuss possible solutions with their team, and report on this hiccup in the process to C-level executives.
Making ideas come to life
In the video above, Pat goes on to explain how a Product Manager needs to be able to take an idea and envision the technologies, systems, and procedures required to make it happen. This requires discernment. A Product Manager shouldn't agree to take on the development of every single project without carefully considering its feasibility.
This requires an in-depth understanding of the capabilities, processes, and individual skill sets of those on the DevOps team. It also necessitates a deep familiarity with the technologies available to the team and a general understanding of how they work and what they can do.
An adequate depth of understanding requires a degree of technical fluency. While discussing a Project Manager's role in our forums, Richie W., one of our Senior Product Managers, explains how they need to understand:
- How APIs work
- How microservices work
- Systems design
- The difference between client vs. server
- Tech debt
Richie goes on to explain how Product Managers need to be familiar with SQL because "a large part of the job is understanding data and having the ability to query on your own." Check out our Learn SQL course if you want to learn how to use the programming language to query databases and manipulate data.
Lastly, if you're looking to become a Product Manager in the tech industry, Richie suggests building a few apps yourself:
"The best way to understand technology is to build something simple. I'd recommend you go through Codecademy's web development path, for instance, and work through one of the web projects."
Learning how to build an app will give you a better understanding of your team's dependencies and processes. Take your first steps into web development by learning how to build a website.
Guiding the development process
A Product Manager has to make decisions that improve the quality of the end product and the speed with which it gets developed, ideally without significantly sacrificing one for the other. This requires them to understand how long different processes take to complete. They also need to understand each stage of the development process, including how long they'll take.
Then, as the process unfolds, they need to check in with developers to see if things are shaping up the way they should. At times, this may involve connecting with the team lead to see if there are any roadblocks the team needs to huddle around to overcome.
Ensuring a minimum viable product
A minimum viable product (MVP) is a product that consists of only its most essential features, without any bells or whistles. Basically, a Product Manager needs to ensure that a product does what it's supposed to by the project's deadline. There are always additional features that can help polish a product, but they're not always worth the time they'd take to develop. Plus, as Pat explains, if a product's core utility doesn't resonate with its audience, no amount of polishing will make it a success.
Another critical element of guiding the development process is understanding how the target market will receive the product. This involves collecting data on both the market and the product's technical performance.
One of the best opportunities to gather data about a product is when it is tested and fails. Failures often yield insights that are more helpful than those derived from successful test runs.
To pull insights from tests and measure the success of a product, a Product Manager needs to know:
- Which data sets to gather
- How to get the appropriate data during the testing phase
- How to present the data to the DevOps team
- How to use the data to improve the next iteration of the design
Factoring in competition
A Product Manager must also consider the competition while plotting the course of a project. The objective is to keep an eye out for products that can accomplish the same thing yours does but better, faster, or cheaper. The Product Manager then has to make sure their product can compete with their competitors.
How to become a Product Manager
In sum, Product Managers play a critical role in the development process — serving as a guide, coach, source of ideas, and more. Still, if you're considering a career as a Product Manager in the tech industry, you'll need a degree of technical knowledge and skills to properly manage your DevOps teams.