If there is one thing product management is not, it’s simple. Product management involves a host of activities carried out by various players, including stakeholders, product users, product managers, researchers, designers, engineers, and marketers. These activities are necessary to turn a vision into a reality—a successful product or concept that can be taken to market.
Product management will look different depending on the industry or company; however, there are also generalities despite the complexities. This article provides a broad overview of what product management entails, the product lifecycle and management process, and the role of product managers.
Product management is the management of a product vision from its conception to its retirement. This includes developing a product strategy and roadmap, working with stakeholders to ensure that the product meets their needs, managing the design, development, and launch of the product, and then tracking its success.
A product manager can be described as the CEO of a product. Product managers focus on the success of the product while also placating stakeholders. A good product manager has to make quick decisions, so they need to be able to think strategically and manage multiple tasks simultaneously all while achieving the end goal of a product that meets the needs of its users.
A great product manager should also be a good listener and approach customers with empathy. This position requires various skills including decision making, business, marketing, technology, communications, and user experience.
How in-depth does a product leader's technical experience need to be? A product manager should at least have enough technical expertise to work with software engineers—a working knowledge, essentially. However, the manager must have strategic thinking and communication skills and be adept in consumer relations.
For a deeper dive into product management roles, read “What Does a Product Manager Do?”
Product management means different things depending on the organization. There is a lot to manage when it comes to the complete life cycle and strategy for a product, so separate teams carry out many aspects of project management. The leaders of these teams and departments coordinate to keep the project on task.
Some of the activities of product management teams are the following:
Market research: Researching the market, new products, competitor activities, processes, and technologies.
Strategy: Developing a product plan based on data and research, including goals and a rough timeline.
Communicating plans: Developing and presenting a product roadmap to key stakeholders, executives, investors, and development teams. Ongoing communication throughout and beyond the development process.
Managing development: With a green light to move forward with their product’s strategic plan, coordinating with the relevant teams—product marketing, development, ux designers, the engineering team, overseeing workflow and managing backlogs—and executing the roadmap and plan.
Acting on customer feedback and data analysis: Reacting to feedback from users during development, testing, and product launch, and incorporating this feedback into future product iterations to improve usability.
A good way to define project management is the journey from defining a problem to tracking metrics once a product has gone to market. Broadly, the product management process is the following:
Defining the problem
Quantifying the opportunity
Building a minimum viable product (MVP)
Developing the strategy
Developing the product
Marketing and sales
Tracking the metrics
A product is usually a solution to a problem, or it might address a customer or client pain point. For example, an embedded payment solution on an e-retailer’s platform makes paying for an item easier for a customer. The customer doesn't have to leave a page to make a payment, they can just click and pay with a card that’s already loaded into an e-wallet.
So, product management identifies problems that a company thinks are solvable. But there is a catch. Not all problems are worth solving.
Developing a solution and bringing it to market is costly and might not be profitable in the end. Part of product management is assessing whether an idea or initiatives are worth pursuing. This requires finding the answers to three questions and finding data to back up the answers.
How great is the demand for the solution?
Is the problem or pain point severe enough that people will actually consider alternative solutions?
How much is the market willing to pay for an alternative solution?
If, after substantial data gathering and research, there seems to be a market fit and an opportunity for a profitable product, a company can move to building an MVP.
An MVP is a prototype of the final solution product. The MVP is field-tested with users to check that its core functionality meets customer needs. A/B testing is a technique used to test software product requirements. This stage also involves testing the product’s value proposition—whether the market wants the product and how much users might be willing to pay for it.
If the MVP is well received by users, the company can go ahead and create a roadmap for product development. The road map includes achievable goals for production and marketing. Product roadmaps set expectations for the product and the entire organization because they turn a vision into a plan.
Many people are involved in the hands-on product development stage—designers, engineers, scrum masters, marketers. There are also product owners who are the CEO of one or more products, or they may have a horizontal function across multiple products —a technical product manager might be the application programming interface (API) expert for a group of products.
There is no end of project management tools to help build the best products. There are tools for collaboration that offer asynchronous messaging, file sharing, and tools for agile product management. There are web conferencing tools for presentations, wireframe tools with flowcharts, and tools for roadmapping methodology. Here’s a list of popular product management tools recommended by Product School.
Prototyping tools: Figma, InVision, Balsamiq, Sketch, Adobe XD
Roadmapping: Productboard, Airtable, airfocus, Aha!, Roadmunk
Prioritization: Trello, Feature Upvote, Craft, Hygger, GridRank, Productific
Task Management: ClickUp, JIRA, Airtable, monday.com, Asana
Sprints: Agilean, Binfire, Asana, Planbox
Data Management and Analytics: Mixpanel, Indicative, Heap, Amplitude, Pendo
User Research: UserTesting, Sprig, UserZoom, Apptentive, UserVoice
Once the product is developed and tested, it’s time for the sales team to get it to market. Product launch involves:
building customer awareness with marketing campaigns and promotional activities to stimulate media buzz
setting a pricing strategy based on the product’s value and market competition
setting a release date.
After product launch, the product manager monitors how it is being received by the market. Key performance indicators (KPIs) are metrics used to measure a product’s success in various areas, such as revenue, user engagement, user interest, product popularity, and user satisfaction.
These data are used to make refinements to a product, add new features, change the sales strategy, or remove it from the marketplace if it does not perform well.
Product management is not easy. Research shows that over 30,000 new products are introduced every year, and 95% of them fail. A big reason for their failure is a lack of preparation and research in the early stages of the product management process. That’s putting a lot of pressure on chief product officers to build products and one of the reasons a product manager job is very well paid.