What is a product manager? A complex, cross-functional role in IT
Product management is a complex role that requires a balance of soft and hard skills to manage requirements and to deliver quality products that align with the business' goals.
By Sarah K. White
Product manager definition
A product manager fulfills a complex role that blends soft and hard skills in an effort to manage requirements and deliver quality products that align with business goals. A product manager acts as the point person throughout a software, hardware, or service product’s lifecycle. It is a role that requires you to balance input, concerns, and feedback from multiple departments, key stakeholders, business leaders, customers, and clients.
Product manager job description
To succeed in their role, product managers must understand the market, audience, and demand for a particular software, hardware, or service product. They must also have a deep understanding of technology and business in order to know which products are worth developing and how they’ll directly impact the business. Product managers must lean on their communication and collaboration skills in making tough decisions and getting everyone on their teams on the same page when it comes to finding the right balance between user experience, technology, and business goals. Whether it’s an internal or external product, product managers are responsible for understanding everyone’s needs and expectations and then translating that across departments. They need the ability to understand several perspectives in the development process, including the needs of the user, capabilities of the developers, the vision of the stakeholders, and where the product stands in the market from a competitive standpoint.
Product management is a complex role that requires the skills to communicate across departments and unite everyone involved in bringing a product to market. When developing a new product, product managers need interview users, stakeholders, and business leaders to understand everyone’s key priorities, capabilities, limitations, and overall vision.
As a product manager, you’ll become a point person for any questions, concerns, or issues that might arise during the development process. Beyond that, responsibilities vary depending on the products you work on and where you work. Some of the most common responsibilities for product managers include:
Meeting with customers and clients to determine product requirements
Monitoring the development process
Establishing pricing models
Building and managing product roadmaps
Creating business plans for new products
Reviewing and correcting implementation strategies
Training support teams
Finding ways to adapt new technologies
Monitoring industry trends
Understanding potential challenges, risks, and hurdles
Requirements elicitation and testing
Agile software development
SQL and business strategy
Product manager skills
Communication is one of the most important skills for this role. You will need to know how to drive conversations, when to say no, and how to keep everyone involved on task and on the right trajectory. You will also need the ability to prioritize and make quick decisions. Another key skill for product managers is knowledge of the Design Thinking Process, an approach that applies a practical lens to figuring out how problems can be solved via design.
The five key steps to Design Thinking Process are to empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. These steps bring structure to product management but also outline key skills product managers must have to succeed: They must be empathetic problem-solvers capable of defining problems, viewing those problems from multiple perspectives, and brainstorming myriad solutions for prototyping and testing.
While business and IT skills are an important part of the product manager role, according to Julia Austin, who teaches a course on product management at Harvard University, a great product manager also needs the following soft skills:
Emotional intelligence (EQ): Product managers need a solid EQ to manage customer relationships and to ensure they have all the right requirements heading into a new project. They also need to understand how to “empathize with customers” and to read between the lines to address any potential hiccups from the start.
Relationship management: Relationship skills are vital for balancing communication between multiple departments, stakeholders and with various business leaders. Product managers must know how to negotiate, resolve conflict, and encourage teamwork, while balancing budgets and resources.
Self-awareness: Product managers need to stay objective during the development process so that their biases, opinions, and preferences won’t impact the final product.
Self-management: As a point person for multiple cross-functional groups, product managers need to have a good sense of time management and how to prioritize around tight deadlines.
Social awareness: Socially aware product managers tend to have an easier time empathizing with customers and clients, and they are more sensitive to a customer’s “emotions and concerns,” while balancing concerns from sales, support, or engineering.
According to reported salaries on Glassdoor, here’s what product managers earn at some of the top tech companies:
Reported salary range
$82,000 – $211,000
$41,000 – $290,000
$50,000 – $231,000
$42,000 – $256,000
$69,000 – $241,000
$65,000 – $203,000
$110,000 – $206,000
$81,000 – $210,000
$118,000 – $154,000
$101,000 – $288,000
$89,000 – $205,000
Product manager training and education
While the path to becoming a product manager depends on industry and expertise, there are a few things you can do to get started in the field. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all education, but a bachelor’s degree in business or a similar field are typically required for entry-level positions. Other valuable degrees include marketing, communications, statistics, or economics. For more seasoned product managers, higher-level positions may also require a master’s degree in management.
If you don’t have a relevant degree, but you still want to branch out into product management, you can opt for an online course to boost your resume. There are plenty of online courses, but if you want to get a jump start you can check out any of these programs:
There are several certifications available for product managers. To find the right one for you, it’s important to consider which skills are the most valuable in your position and focus on certifications in those areas, such as agile and Scrum. However, there are a few certifications you can pursue to validate your experience in product management: