What is the product manager?
Let's revisit the definition once again. The product manager is tasked with developing a product that meets the needs of the client, while also being a success for the business.
The product manager is basically the CEO of the product. They are responsible for the strategy and road map for the product, as well as the team of employees that are involved in every step of making the product.
The product manager has the responsibility of analyzing the markets and watching the competition, and laying out the initial product vision based on his or her assessments. The project manager has duties that are both strategic and tactical, and must have excellent leadership skills. They must be able to bridge the gaps between the many different teams working on a product, from design and engineering, to sales and marketing.
There are three things that the product manager can never forget:
1. The most important thing is the health of the business, which means the value that the product provides to its customers and users.
2. Everything begins with a strong understanding of the target market's needs and wants, and the focus must stay on creating a positive experience for the customer.
3. In order to meet these needs, planning and execution must be constantly done in a sustainable way.
Having those three beliefs in their head will help the product manager be successful in day-to-day work. This day-to-day work could include any of the following:
Finding and assessing product opportunities
Ensuring the right product is launched at the right time
Determining a product strategy and product development road map
Helping the team execute the product development road map
Getting management and stakeholders excited about the product
Always considering what the customer wants throughout the product development process.
Why Do Companies Need Product Managers?
Some companies balk at hiring product managers. They may feel that other people can fill that role, or they don't want to relinquish control to someone else. A company that has these opinions doesn't understand the role of the product manager.
For a product to be successful, it needs one manager, not a bunch of people not 100 percent directed at the product success. The product manager sees the whole picture, and clearly understands the product vision. This allows them to make the best decisions about how to proceed through the product's road map.
Product managers bring two major benefits to the table. One is that they are able to ensure a market-driven approach, and second is that they improve time-to-everything.
The Market-Driven Approach
One of the main reasons companies hire product managers is because they help the company be driven by the wants and needs of the targeted market, and not by new technology or fly-by-night fads.
A market-driven approach can lead to a company having long-term success, because the company stays focused on the customer and solving problems in the marketplace, as opposed to looking for opportunities to develop new tech products.
Companies that have a market-driven approach are more profitable than those that don't. Simply put, they care about the consumer, and by caring about what the consumer wants, they sell better products and make more profits.
A product manager will help a company reduce the time it takes to meet its goals. An effective product manager with a strong team will have a streamlined development process that will bring products to market faster, thereby improving time-to-market and time-to-revenue.
Product managers provide faster turn-around times, because they are responsible for what should be developed and what shouldn't be. This equates to less time spent on wondering what will work and what won't. It also allows the company to have a stronger focus, allowing them to use more people to develop products that will likely succeed, instead of wasting time and money on products that won't.
How Product Management Departments Differ
Product management is a very diverse field, even in the narrow software development field. Even when using Agile methodologies, each company has their own way of running their product developments. This is great for those that love change -- but it can be difficult if you are looking for a product management job.
Here are some of the main ways that companies differ when it comes to product management.
A transparent company allows its teams to see what all the other teams are working on. With this type of open environment, more collaboration is possible. Product managers in transparent companies are able to understand the big picture, and can benefit from using the expertise of other employees. Google, Facebook and Yahoo are known to be very transparent companies.
Companies that are not transparent limit their teams to their own projects, and try to keep them from interacting with other teams. These companies have a more closed culture, and don't really understand the big picture in the way one would at a transparent company. This type of environment is often required when there are confidential products, and a leak could cost the company. Apple and Amazon are known for not being transparent.
Ratio of Product Managers to Engineers
The product manager works closely with the engineers, and how many engineers can vary, depending on the company. At a small startup, the ratio could be one product manager to 10 engineers, while at a larger, established company, it could be one product manager to three engineers.
In companies that have a lot of product managers, the PMs have less ownership of their products, but have a greater ability to learn from others. Microsoft is set up this way.
In companies that have fewer product managers, the PMs own the product, and have more chances to do work on their own. Google and Twitter are set up this way.
There are two types of strategies that companies use when it comes to products; the bottom-up approach, and the top-down approach.
With the bottom-up approach, the product managers and the engineers make most of the decisions when it comes to technical and user-experience design. Product managers are more involved with product strategy in the bottom-up approach, and are required to work with a great number of people. Google, Facebook, Yahoo, and Amazon all use the bottom-up approach.
The top-down approach means that product managers don't have much input on their product until they are in a more senior role. Both Microsoft and Apple use this approach.
Companies can have so many different types of cultures. Some foster innovation, and some foster learning. Some companies are also very lighthearted, while some are extremely intense.
Some of the companies that have a laid-back culture are Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook. These companies have incredible benefits and perks -- things like free meals and snacks, free dry cleaning and childcare, and even free massages. Even though the companies are laid-back, the people still work, and are expected to work, extremely hard.
Companies like Apple and Amazon place most of their emphasis on hard work. People who work hard and do good work are rewarded for doing so. The employees at these companies work very long hours and often work on the weekends, but do so because they believe in the company's mission, and they believe in the product.
Every company has different requirements when it comes to the background and experience they are looking for when hiring product managers. Some want product managers with an engineering background, while some are willing to take risks on new graduates. Here is a brief list describing some of the different requirements at the top tech companies:
Amazon – Amazon prefers to hire MBAs, usually from the top U.S. business schools. Having a technical background is not crucial, but they do not hire new graduates.
Apple – Apple hires new college graduates, but prefers technical background as opposed to a business one. They do not look to hire candidates with MBAs.
Facebook – Facebook hires recent college graduates, and they prefer a highly technical background.
Google – Google hires new college graduates, but they prefer a technical or engineering background. They do hire some MBAs, with more emphasis on master's degrees in engineering or computer science or PhDs.
Yahoo – Yahoo hires new college graduates and some MBAs. They prefer to hire experienced product managers, especially ones with technical backgrounds.
Microsoft – Microsoft hires new college graduates and MBAs, and prefer candidates with a technical background.
What Do Product Managers Do at Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple
Google is considered the holy grail of companies for product managers. They have a large portfolio of products, and are open about wanting to develop new ones.
Google takes a very TECHNICAL view of product management.
In order to be on a product management team, the candidate must have a bachelor's degree in computer science or computer engineering.
While technical degrees are also an asset, product managers have to find ways to increase their management skills, and Google does offer in-house boot camps for managerial and leadership skills. Google product managers are considered the best in the world.
Google is fairly secretive about their processes, but we do know what makes a successful product manager at Google.
1. Take ownership of the product, even its problems. If there are bugs or errors, the product manager needs to take responsibility and get them fixed. Placing blame on a team member is an easy way to get fired from Google.
2. Be persuasive – get things done even if you aren't the one in charge. Be convincing and do whatever it takes to get things done.
3. Think like an engineer. You don't have to have an engineering background or know how to code -- but you should think like an engineer. Google is very technical, and they value engineering time. Know about algorithms and how the features work, and learn the product architecture. The top product managers at Google enjoy getting technical.
4. Be positive. I am sure this could be repeated at most companies, but at Google it is essential. Being positive is contagious, and it's an important part of the Google culture.
5. Never self-promote. This should be obvious at any tech company, but it is particularly true at Google. Everything at Google is about the team.
6. Be inclusive. Include your team. Get input from everyone you can, the more the better.
7. Be fearless. Google didn't become Google but playing it safe. They want their employees and product managers to take chances and to go for it. And remember -- titles don't fly at Google. Everyone is treated the same.
The product management and development teams at Microsoft are more marketing-based than other companies, like Google or Apple. Also, at Microsoft product managers are called "program managers."
The hardest thing about working at Microsoft is getting the job. They are renowned for being very tough interviewers, with most candidates (top candidates at that), leaving without a job offer.
In the interview process they ask questions based on problem solving and intelligence. The interviewer doesn't really care if the candidate gets a question wrong; they want to see how they deal with not knowing the correct answer. Can the candidate work out the problem on his or her own? If so, the interviewer will change the question again, and see what the candidate does. While very stressful for the candidate, this is a great method for discovering which candidates have the best problem-solving skills.
Working at Microsoft can be very rewarding, both financially and professionally, but to be successful, you must follow certain rules.
Have a strong work ethic - The product manager must have a very high level of commitment and effort to their products and the company. Microsoft is not the place for someone who is afraid of hard work. It is a tough environment for people with families, since most employees work extended hours and weekends.
Have integrity – This probably applies to most companies, but at Microsoft, it's a requirement. The product manager cannot lead a team if the team doesn't trust the manager. And a manager who doesn't have the trust of company leadership will not be able to effectively manage his team.
Be confident – At Microsoft, you are among the best in the world, and that cannot intimidate you. Product managers must be confident, so they can illicit confidence in their team.
Have excellent communication skills – Some people can learn to be good speakers or writers. But at Microsoft, you must begin as one. The product manager must be able to get his or her team to follow them by persuasion, not authority.
Knowledge – Again, sounds obvious, and would be expected at any company, especially at a well-known tech company, but at Microsoft, the product manager is expected to know everything about the product -- down to the brass tacks.
Product managers at Microsoft often take lead roles in the marketing of the product. This means the product manager will be expected to do the following:
1. Be able to define product and its road map
2. Know positioning and differentiation (marketing skills)
3. Understand supply chain management and operational strategy
4. Know market segmentation and how to target the customer
5. Understand go-to-market for whatever area their product is in, retail, distribution, catalog, direct, etc.
Microsoft is very much a market-driven company, and that is how their product managers work. Google and Facebook are both known for the fact that they are engineering-centered companies and that they resist marketing-driven strategies. Both companies have changed over the years, but they both still heavily rely on engineering.
In the Microsoft product teams, product managers can be of a few different types.
1. Product Marketing Manager – This manager defines the product road map, owns the customer sales and marketing relationship, drives the messaging direction, helps determine pricing strategies, and helps with supply chain issues. This manager deals less with the team, and more with the customer and the marketing department.
2. Program Manager – This is what one normally thinks of when they imagine a product manager. The PM leads executables for new product introduction (NPI). Most products must go through multiple milestones, which range from "idea exploration" to "product has shipped." Each milestone has several deliverables. They must work with the team to make sure the products are delivered.
At Apple, design is key. That is their mission -- to design products that people love to use. Apple uses a framework in which every product is developed.
1. Every product begins with design. The designers at Apple are treated like royalty, and everything the company does revolves around their vision. This is completely the opposite of how most companies function.
The designers at Apple have no limit on how much they are allowed to spend when designing products and prototypes. Everything starts in the Industrial Design studio, which is where all products are developed, and only a few Apple employees are allowed access.
2. They form a start-up. Once a new product has been decided upon, a team is put together separate from the rest of the company, and it acts almost as if it is an independent start-up company.
They are set up in secure areas of the Apple campus, where all doors are locked. The start-up team only answers to the executive team, and they don't have to work with finance, marketing, or support.
3. The Apple New Product Process (ANPP). Once the design of a product in started, ANPP begins. This document acts as a road map and details every step of the development process. The ANPP was first developed with the MacIntosh computer. It details who works on each stage, what they must deliver, and when they will be completed.
4. Review Mondays – Every Monday the executive team reviews every new product that Apple has in development. This is possible because Apple makes so few products at one time. If a product doesn't get reviewed, it will get rolled over and reviewed the next Monday. Using this method, a product never has to wait more than two weeks to get approval to move forward with new product ideas.
5. Products are built and rebuilt. If a product is leaked before launch, Apple will often take it back to the drawing board and rebuild it. This has happened when Chinese workers gave a prototype to a reporter or a blogger, and got paid for it. The rebuilding process can often take four to six weeks.
6. The Packaging Room - An entire room in the marketing building is devoted to product packaging. The security is just as tight as it is in the new product buildings. In this room, employees take every test possible to determine the next packaging experience. They will even open box after box -- just to determine how it feels to open an Apple product.
7. Rules of the Road - The action plan for the product is called the Rules of the Road. It is a top-secret document that details every milestone of a product's development -- from its initial vision, until completion.
Each milestone lists the DRI – the directly responsible individual – that is responsible for making that milestone happen. If this list is lost, the person responsible is immediately fired. Apple does not give second chances, and using any kind of excuse is a sure fired way of getting terminated.
Apple's process is one of the reasons that their products are more expensive. But they believe that people are willing to pay more for a better product. And this belief has consistently proven true, as Apple products have a devoted following, and their new product releases are always sold out.