You are probably reading this guide because you are a product manager who is looking to advance their career or you are interested in product management. We are going to describe impactful product managers, what a product manager’s career can look like, and a vision for the career.
What is interesting about product management is that there is no degree for product management. There are business degrees, there are management degrees, and there are engineering degrees, but the truth is that product management, especially at a technical company, is at the intersection of all of these degrees and you must be able to speak all of these different "languages".
Anyone can do the work of a product manager. A product manager can do research to understand if a product will be successful in market, but it is what happens before this work and after this work that determines whether a product manager is impactful.
The key determinants of success are:
Impactful product managers need to be able to innovate and bring innovative products to market. If you are able to innovate and come up with new and exciting ideas, then you will be able to have an impact on the business and bottom line.
Innovation is a key differentiator for organizations, and if you have people who are able to innovate, you will be set apart from the competition.
Once you innovate a new product, there is, of course, a vetting process to ensure the product makes sense for launch. However, in order to get that step, you must come up with ideas to be vetted.
Impactful product managers must be methodical. This is an attribute that is often overlooked. Many people think all that's necessary is coming up with a super cool idea and then working with a team to bring it to market.
But how do you know that this cool idea makes sense for the market? You must work through the cost, the ROI, the need in the market, research, working with customers, etc. Often these processes are tedious and time-consuming, but if this is overlooked, it means that a lot of time and money could go into a product that ends up being a flop in the market.
This piece is very important before you bring in your key stakeholders to launch a product.
Impactful product managers are those who can work with many different departments and understand fully how to speak their languages. After you innovate a product, you often have to bring in key stakeholders to help you execute. As they say, "It takes a village."
It is very important that product managers understand the motivations of their key stakeholders and how they can ensure their stakeholders see success with a product launch.
When I look at the product managers I believe are the most impactful, they are the ones who are playing nice in the sandbox with others. If a product manager is able to get all of their key stakeholders to work together on the launch of a product that they have vetted, then the launch will be a success.
Who are the key stakeholders that a product manager intersects with?
The first are project managers. These are people that will manage the overall project itself, and often they help manage all the stakeholders we are about to list. However, at a smaller company, you might not have the resources for a project manager.
The second is engineers. The engineers usually are one of the first teams to come in. Especially in a technical company, they are going to help you design and engineer the product.
The third is product marketers. This is another role that depends a bit on the size of the company. I have worked in organizations in which product management and product marketing were the same person and also those where it was separate. You might use a general marketing department as well. But the product managers needsto bring in marketing in order to get the product on the shelves.
The fourth is sales. The sales roles can vary as well, and they usually come in after product marketing. Sometimes you bring in a sales force for business-to-business sales. Sometimes it’s brick and mortar sales for a consumer good.
And lastly, you need to bring in the customer. A product manager might actually do some research work with the customer to see what they want before they even decide to move forward with the product. Then, after the product is in market. the product manager is usually the one presenting the product to the customer and helping the sales team as a technical lead. This also varies a bit by industry and organization.
In addition to the most important stakeholders for a product manager to work with that we just outlined, these stakeholders mentioned above are working with their own stakeholders. You very quickly realize that an entire company is involved in a product launch.
Product managers wear a ton of different hats and must be able to speak all different languages to ensure success for their key stakeholders.
When you are looking at your career vision, you must take into account innovation, method, and ability to work well with others. If you can master these three skills, you will be able to grow as a product manager.