The Simple Guide to Product Management

Guiding LightContributed by Cynthia Andre

In 2016, Glassdoor identified Product Management as the #8 best job to have in America, with a job score of 4.5 out of 5. Other jobs on the list included Data Scientist, Tax Manager and HR Manager.

Unlike many of those jobs, product management is known for its nebulous career pathing and ambiguity. For one, roles can change drastically from company to company. Secondly, training and preparation vary.

For new and aspiring product managers, that can be a challenge. So, here’s a simple guide to product management to get you started and on the right path.

Think critically about product direction and market opportunity

In the pragmatic marketing framework and others like it, market understanding, strategy and definition drive all other activities for product development and delivery. It also helps product managers think critically about the future of their product, whether it addresses a market need and how to position it as industries change.

To own a product requires a strong vision for what it can become and achieve.

One of the tell-tale signs of ad hoc product management at a company is product managers “being viewed as tactical ‘janitors’ that clean up a mess.” As product managers, we need to be strategic product leaders.

Exude Confidence  

For new product managers, stepping into the role of a “strategic product leader” can be exhilarating as well as daunting. Generally, product management is a high visibility role. Product Managers should feel comfortable talking with execs, and equally with engineers and peers.

The confidence to communicate and lead comes from your preparedness, knowledge of the market and data.

As Lauren Fragoza, a new product manager at TripAdvisor, says, “..the best way to determine a strategy for your product is to let data guide you.” Have a new idea? Make a business case around it and create a testable hypothesis. A proven idea is valid no matter where it comes from.

Rest assured that whether you are a few years on the job or a few decades, your value as a technical and strategic leader is measured not simply by the length of your career but the quality and achievements to which you can speak to and deliver.

Know your audiences

After a product manager learns the market and their customer, the next skill is to convey your findings to different audiences. Any one project or product can involve multiple stakeholders, gatekeepers and decision makers.

The test is supplying just the right information to make progress and achieve results.

Deploy different strategies for different audiences. During leadership meetings, the product manager may give a status update instead of a recommendation. When working cross-functionally, it can mean partnering with other teams rather than directing deliverables. And, if a new feature request comes in for review, the product owner needs to decide on its prioritization and inform the engineering team.

As Fragoza explains, “To appropriately convey your message to different audiences, it’s critical to know what details to cut out to give someone a basic overview, but to still be able to recall that information and go deep when questioned about the topic.”

Make a difference and Be Different

Having a vision for yourself and your career is just as important as having one for your products and teams. Identify mentors and allies in and outside your company. Take on and create opportunities that will stretch you professionally. And, claim and exude your value as new and seasoned product leaders.

Feature image from Flickr Commons

Cynthia AndreCynthia Andre is a product manager at Propel Marketing, a division within a subsidiary of New Media Investment Group Inc. (NYSE:NEWM), where she combines innovation and strategy to help her team ideate, develop, build, launch and modify digital products that meet the needs of small and medium sized businesses. Her prior experience includes product management at Wayfair, Constant Contact and an educational software startup.

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