You’ve probably already heard the buzz: product managers are trending right now as those who generate outstanding growth opportunities for companies in the valley, and you likely want to hurry and join the cool kids’ table at lunch. Your first question should be “what is a Product Manager?” and what you’ll hear from most people is that it varies depending on the company. Yet, according to Martin Eriksson, co-founder of Mind the Product, there are 3 main characteristics that most Product Managers share and that help describe their job.
1. Business mindset: It’s all about the problem, not the solution
If you have a technical background, you’ve likely spent your career focusing on the technology aspect of the product. PMs have a different mindset: they think of the problem first and about the technology second. In simpler terms, they have the business expertise to know that it’s not worth it to efficiently solve a nonexistent problem. Instead, PMs look for problems that need solving and use the existing technology to solve them.
2. Technical knowledge: PMs are information translators
Once you’ve identified the problem to solve, the next step is to work with your team to design a new product or adapt an existing one to fix it. A technical knowledge here is essential for the communication between the Product Manager and the tech team. Think of it as trying to explain Snapchat to your grandmother: you might be using English words, but it seems like a foreign language to her. PMs often act as the translator between the business and technical sides of a company.
3. User experience: The difference lies in the experience
Have you heard that when it comes to a business strategy what matters is execution? Well, when it comes to products what matters is the user experience. There might be several companies competing for the same position in the market to be the next Uber of this or the Airbnb of that. The company that wins is the one that offers the best experience whilst making the user’s life easier. That’s why Google rules the search engine market and Apple won the mobile music player market. The Role of a Product Manager is to understand the customer’s behavior in depth and design the product’s touchpoints in a way that leaves them satisfied – more so than when using the competitor’s solution.
Even though these are apparently disparate skills for a single person to have, companies expect their PMs to be excellent in at least one and highly capable in the others. There are things you can do to develop these skills and impress possible employers, so if you’re looking to make the transition to Product Management we recommend that you also check out Why is There a High Demand for Product Managers and 3 Skills to Go From Coder to Product Manager.
If you are interested in learning more about Product Management, we offer an 8-week part-time product management course in San Francisco.