“Don’t get me wrong. You should definitely carve out time to go over data and analytics. Any good product manager makes decisions based on the numbers. But, in case it’s been a while since you’ve talked to an actual user, here’s a gentle reminder: users aren’t numbers.“ ~ Evan Michner
Here’s something not everyone knows about me: I used to be a Product Manager. Not the most exciting revelation but I actually really loved the job! What I don’t miss, though, is explaining to people what a product manager does. You know that moment at a dinner party when someone asks: What do you do? And you think: How long do you have?
In the social situation, I often found myself using metaphors like air traffic controller or orchestra conductor which at once elevate and minimize the job – and, let’s face it, leave people scratching their heads.
Now, in a business setting, I often get a similar question when suggesting a company needs Product Management help: What role will product management play in our company? But what they are really asking is the inescapable question.
What does a Product Manager do?
I recently read an article by a Product Manager named Evan Michner who shared his favorite interview question for prospective Product Managers, “How would you spend your first week on the job here?”
He shared a few answers that ranged from studying the product, to figuring out who the stakeholders are, to starting to build relationships with the developers, to digging through the data. And I agree with the article’s insight that while all of these tasks encompass the job, any Product Manager’s first week should include directly engaging and talking with users.
The way I see it, the Product Manager is simultaneously the face of the product, and the hub of an organization – liaison and mediator. This person serves as the internal and external evangelist for the product at the center of all key company activities – marketing, sales, customer support, executive leadership, product delivery, legal and accounts receivable.
Day-to-day for a new Product Manager at a company just starting to develop a product looks something like this:
And this is just for the pre-development phase of the product life cycle! Once this phase is over the Product Manager needs to switch gears and start building a measurable plan to reach that vision – a roadmap for everyone to follow. In fact, it is likely impossible for a single person to accomplish all of the tasks effectively for a product of a relatively significant size.
Often, out of necessity, and I’ve been there, a Product Manager becomes focused on just the development and delivery of a new product. The result is that he or she loses sight of the most important aspect of new product development: Are we building a product that enough of our target customers will buy?
So, a lot rides on choosing the right person for the job. Above everything, the Product Manager is the Voice of the Customer – residing at the hub of the organization, ushering the product from concept to launch and beyond.
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