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What is product management? Part 1: What do product managers do?

| March 8, 2019
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At the start of every year, UserTesting gathers its entire sales organization to get aligned and inspired for the upcoming year. We hear from internal leaders, customers, and thought leaders in the industry. This year we were fortunate to have a product management veteran speak with the team about product manager roles and career paths.

Sachin Rekhi, founder and CEO of Notejoy, a collaborative notes app for teams shared some key characteristics common to product management roles and how their work is commonly structured within organizations.

Sachin’s talk is a great primer for those new to product management or has ever asked themselves,

What is product management?

We’ve broken up the highlights from Sachin’s talk into a three-part series:

  • Part one: Product manager responsibilities, including strategy and execution
  • Part two: Product manager roles within product teams
  • Part three: Where product managers fit within an organization

Get started with part two below, or, you can watch his full presentation here.

What do product managers do?

A common definition is that they’re at the intersection of business, technology, and UX. While this is true, it doesn’t tell you what they do on a day-to-day basis. The definition Sachin prefers is that product managers drive the vision, strategy, design, and execution of their product. The key word here is “drive”, they don’t own all of these elements but instead work with the team to curate the best ideas and drive the process.

Vision

A compelling vision articulates how the world will be a better place if you succeed. The best format to communicate a vision is to create a customer-centric vision narrative. Sachin’s role model for this is Jeff Bezos who requires memos to introduce new initiatives.

Full sentences are harder to write. They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking. – Jeff Bezos

Strategy

Creating a compelling strategy is all about articulating how you’re going to dominate your market.

Sachin recommends presenting this as a “product/market fit hypothesis” by addressing the following questions:

  1. Who is your target audience?
  2. What is the problem you’re solving?
  3. What is your value proposition
  4. What is your strategic differentiation?
  5. Who is your competition?
  6. How are you going to acquire customers?
  7. How are you going to make money?
  8. What KPIs are your “north star” metrics?

Design

A compelling design delivers a useful, usable, and delightful experience for your customers. So what’s the role of the designer and the UX researcher vs. the product manager?

The designer works on developing mock-ups for the experience the team is building, the UX researcher drives the insights that inform the strategic product decisions being made. The product manager is responsible for two key deliverables: the product roadmap and product requirements

A product roadmap outlines what products you’re going to build, when, and why. Product requirements outline what key elements are needed in order to satisfy the customer need.

The challenge with creating these deliverables is how, with limited resources but endless possibilities, you decide what to prioritize. This is where the art of product management comes in. A great product manager deeply understands their customers and their customers’ problems. The best way to do this is to spend time with them directly. This is often referred to as exposure hours.

Execution

Relentless execution ultimately determines whether you’ll make your vision a reality. This is the phase where product managers spend most of their time. One aspect of execution is project management. The main methods for this have historically been waterfall and agile.

Nowadays many teams use a hybrid of both methods. What this typically starts with annual planning to determine what the big initiatives and priorities are going to be for the coming year, based on a post-mortem of what went well and what didn’t in the previous year.

Next is goal setting, during which decisions are made about what the objectives are and how they will be measured for each quarter. These goals and measures then inform regular engineering sprints, usually bi-weekly, where the objectives are broken down into tasks. The tasks are broken down to daily activities that are reviewed each morning as a team in a daily scrum. This software development cycle is constantly running as an execution loop of define-validate-iterate.

A core challenge for all product managers is how to increase the execution loop velocity. In our next post in this series, we’ll look at how product roles differ and how these differences affect where product managers focus their time and the challenges that they face.

Want to learn more?

You can learn more about Sachin here.

To learn how UserTesting can help you understand your customers through on-demand human insight, contact us here.