Skip main navigation

An introduction to product management

Find out what product management is, the tools needed for it, and how to develop a product management career.

Product management

Product management is a relatively new concept in the world of product development and sales – it didn’t even exist as an idea until the 1930s. Now, however, product managers are an indispensable part of any company that wishes to deliver the best possible experience for its customers.

In this article, we’ll explain the benefits and history of product management, as well as how you can get started with a lucrative career in this exciting field.

What is product management?

Product management is an organisational function that focuses on the product and its customers throughout the product lifecycle, from development to positioning and price. Product managers advocate for customers within the organisation and ensure that the market’s voice is heard and heeded to develop the best possible product.

Product teams consistently ship better-designed and higher-performing products due to this customer-centric emphasis. In the tech industry, where established products are quickly uprooted by newer and better ideas, it’s more important than ever to gain a deep understanding of customers and the capacity to design customised solutions for them.

What is the function of product management?

Product management is a strategic function in which product managers establish a product’s overall purpose.

Product managers inform the rest of the company about product goals and aims. They must ensure that everyone adopts a common strategy. Product managers carry out a wide range of continuous strategic tasks and are more concerned with broad strokes than low-level specifics.

Smart businesses specify this role and delegate tactical tasks like scheduling and workload management to project managers. This separation allows the product manager to concentrate on higher-level planning.

What are the benefits of product management?

Having a product manager – or a product management team – on board gives companies a competitive edge. Here are just a few reasons why:

Defined expectations

While an engineer may not require knowledge in business development, they must be aware of how their approach impacts the business. A product manager builds a system in which each process informs and assists the others by defining expectations for each step. They facilitate information flow between departments to guarantee that everyone is on the same page and speaking the same language.

Market awareness

A product manager reviews and analyses market research to make the product stand out and add value for the client. This type of research is essential for the product’s launch, as it establishes the product’s defining characteristics and value to the customer. The result is a creative solution that addresses a significant market issue.

Improved collaboration

The product manager establishes a structure for teams to work inside, as well as collaborating across the company. They bring together a diverse collection of people from various professional backgrounds and work with them daily. To reduce any uncertainty related to the project, the product manager establishes clear roles and boundaries for each participant.

Translating between disciplines

Just as an engineer isn’t necessarily trained in the sales process, a business development expert may not be fluent in systems layout. To design, create, and market a product, a wide collection of abilities is required, and each skill is critical. The product manager serves as a universal translator between processes, allowing each employee to focus on honing the abilities that best serve the client in their current position.

Reduced likelihood of failure

Understanding the consumer and establishing a product roadmap won’t completely prevent failure, but the product manager’s expertise will help to reduce it significantly. They are completely involved with the client and the market, and are aware of the modifications required for existing products. Knowing what the market needs helps to avoid launching a product that fails.

A brief history of product management

Product management as a concept was first defined in the United States during the Great Depression.

Neil McElroy, an advertising manager at Procter & Gamble, wrote a message to his coworkers in 1931. (P&G). He proposed the idea of a “brand guy,” a role with specific responsibility for managing the brand of a product and being accountable for its success.

McElroy wanted brand managers to accept full responsibility for businesses’ overall plans, not only for individual pieces of printed word copy. Today’s product management revolves around the concept of product ownership.

McElroy’s memo had a significant impact. Over the next half-century, many companies adopted a brand management approach – which became known as consumer product management. The software industry embraced many of the same principles as it grew throughout the 1980s.

Over time, the product owner’s organisational benefits became so sought-after that many technology companies hired brand managers. These start-ups wanted to take advantage of the role’s extensive product expertise and sense of ownership.

Many brand managers went on to become product leaders and entrepreneurs. Scott Cook, for example, worked for P&G as a brand manager before launching Intuit in 1983. Although the responsibilities of brand manager and company founder are fundamentally different, Cook’s brand management experience — which focused on understanding, delivering, and improving user experience — was central to Intuit’s success.

In the 1990s, as technology evolved, the divide between engineering and brand management grew wider. Companies like Microsoft were rapidly expanding, but quickly ran into problems of scale. Engineers lacked the necessary abilities to keep up with the needs and concerns of clients. They also didn’t have time to interact with the revenue-generating sales and marketing departments. Product managers and leaders started to bridge the gap between teams.

What is Agile product management?

Agile product management is the process of steering a product through numerous iterations using an agile approach. Agile product management is a more flexible method than traditional product management, as Agile programmes are more fluid than previous approaches. It’s an ideal approach to digital product management.

One of the basic Agile concepts is that a project’s scope can change, while its resources remain constant. As a result, with Agile product lifecycle management, the team spends less time upfront defining the product and is more open to changes. The product is built one iteration at a time, with user feedback and team meetings guiding the process.

As a result, Agile product management is more concerned with steering the development team through the different development stages while retaining the product vision and incorporating user feedback. As a result, Agile product managers are more closely associated with technology teams than with business teams.

Product management roles

A single product manager may be in charge of product lifecycle management for a single product or a family of products. This person must be skilled in at least one of the areas that affect product management, as well as having a passion for or knowledge of the others. This usually comprises one of two things: someone experienced in business marketing, with a passion for excellent user experience who is proficient in tech jargon; or a technical developer who understands the product well enough to drive its creation. These individuals have proven to be so scarce and valuable that product management jobs are now some of the best-paid in the tech industry.

It’s difficult to find knowledgeable people in both fields, so product management is frequently carried out by a small team of experts. These include the following roles:

  • Chief Product Officer (CPO) – on an organisational level, the CPO leads the product function. Ensures that skilled product managers and their teams take responsibility for each product.
  • Product Marketing Manager (PMM) – product-tailored marketing efforts and the information they provide improve the product team’s ability to contact customers and learn from them.
  • Product Owner – manages the engineering team’s backlog and their contact with other stakeholders, taking a more active role in the product’s development.
  • User Experience (UX) Researcher – UX is one of a product manager’s primary tasks, but a dedicated UX researcher who examines user behaviour and makes usability recommendations is an excellent addition to any product team.

What skills and attributes do you need for a job in product management?

Because there is no clear path into product management, many aspiring product managers focus on gaining the core skills required, alongside more formal product management training.

Emotional Intelligence

A good product manager may be aware of the dos and don’ts of a customer interview, but the best product managers are able to empathise with customers during the interview, are aware of their body language and emotions, and can discern the pain points that the product or feature will address. This emotional intelligence is a valuable skill in work and life. 

Self-management

Working as a product manager can be demanding. Customers express their opinions about the product; the CEO wants something else; the engineering team has other demands entirely. It is tough to manage tight deadlines, revenue targets, market demands, prioritising conflicts, and resource limits all at the same time. If a product manager can’t control their emotions and continue to solve problems while under pressure, their colleagues and clients will lose faith in them.

Relationship management

Relationship management abilities are one of the most significant traits of a great product manager. The best product managers inspire people and help them reach their maximum potential by building authentic and trustworthy connections with both internal and external stakeholders.

Social awareness

When it comes to developing a product, the sales team are concerned about how to sell it, the service team about how to support it, and the engineering team about how to develop it – all while trying to keep the customer happy. From acquiring money and staffing to securing a top engineer to work on their project, product managers need comprehensive awareness of how the business runs and must establish social capital to influence the success of their product.

Self-awareness

To remain objective and avoid projecting their personal preferences onto customers of their products, product managers must be self-aware. If a product manager likes a feature because it solves their own problems – product managers are frequently power users of the products they oversee – they may persuade a user to say they like it as well, just to satisfy the product manager.

Company Fit

While having the above traits is certainly useful, success is far more likely if your personality and management style fit the culture of the company you aspire to work for.

Product Management Tools

Traditionally, most product managers communicated their product strategy and roadmap using a combination of spreadsheets, presentations, and text documents. These tools are widely available and are frequently included in any company’s software bundle. However, as the discipline progressed, it became evident that purpose-built product management tools were required.

Three of the best product management tools

Jira

With a Kanban-style board, you can track goods from In Progress to Done in Jira. Jira is a project management solution for agile teams that need to take a product from concept to hard launch and beyond. Jira software features like scrum boards, roadmaps, agile reporting, and customised workflow can help any product lifecycle management team.

Some users may be deterred by some micro-level challenges, despite Jira’s well-balanced features-for-pricing combination. Customising columns within a workflow, for example, can be difficult – while not a deal-breaker, this is worth keeping in mind if you are considering adopting Jira for your team.

Monday.com

Monday.com is a web-based product management tool that helps teams of all sizes plan, track, and manage their daily tasks. Monday.com enables teams to define clear ownership, assess and track their work, organise sprints, and engage together on everything from large-scale product roadmaps to weekly iterations. Monday.com’s easy-to-use Agile platform allows teams to collaborate from any location.

Craft.io

Craft.io is a product management platform that includes tools for gathering input, organising workflows, and creating roadmaps. You can set product specifications, prioritise and communicate crucial decisions, and control workload capacity on the platform.

Craft.io’s unique prioritisation functionality helps you to quickly find the best next steps in your development pipeline by ranking jobs and features based on their RICE score (Reach, Impact, Confidence, and Effort).

Final thoughts

Product management means many things to many people, with a number of different roles available within this diverse field. Whether you’re coveting a research career or a managerial role, our range of business and management courses can help you to launch your dream career. 

 

FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education

Related stories on FutureLearn