Role of a product manager

A clear vision, unswerving focus, a collaborative approach, and prioritisation are some of the key attributes of a product manager that help him transform an idea into a tangible product.
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While it has been some time that the role of product management has existed across various companies, I find that the awareness about the role is limited amongst young graduates.

There could be multiple reasons for it, such as:

  • Handful of companies in India with product management opportunities
  • No courses in most of the colleges on product management
  • Different roles and responsibilities for the same job name across the organisations
  • Most companies looking to hire only experienced professionals into product management

I therefore thought it would be a good first topic for me to start blogging. In addition to this, I also feel this will be the one of the most difficult topics to write about as the role evolves with the product evolution and career progression.

My hero

The past decade has seen some exceptional product managers. All of them have been my source of inspiration in one way or another. But if I have to pick one of them to talk about, it would be Elon Musk. The product under consideration is Tesla.

If you read his blog from 2006 on Tesla’s website, he clearly articulates that Tesla’s vision is to help expedite the move from a mine-and-burn hydrocarbon economy towards a solar electric economy, which he believes to be the primary but not exclusive, sustainable solution.

He then proposes a product solution to achieve this vision, an electric car without compromises. That is why Tesla Roadster, a high-performance electric sports car, is designed to beat a gasoline sports car like a Porsche or Ferrari in a head-to-head showdown. Moreover, it has twice the energy efficiency of a Prius (The Toyota Prius is a full hybrid electric automobile developed and manufactured by Toyota).

He also clearly lays down Tesla’s long-term strategy which is to enter at the high end of the market, where customers are prepared to pay a premium, and then drive down market as fast as possible to higher unit volume and lower prices with each successive model.

We all know as on date how well he has executed this strategy through product development by bringing together the best-in-class talent from different streams to achieve Tesla’s vision.

Role of a Product Manager

Coming back to the question now, what is the role of a product manager? Talking clues from the journey of Elon Musk and Tesla, here is my definition for the role:

“A product manager is someone who has a vision or a passion to solve a problem statement. He/she then thinks of a product solution to achieve the vision. As next steps, he/she brings together people from different streams/departments together, onboards them on the vision, and takes their support in implementing the product solution. The product manager then takes feedback form the users to improve the product solution in order to solve the problem statement with which he/she started in the first place.”

Though we might not have the kind of vision, funds, expertise, resources and/or luck to build a product like Tesla, the principles defining the role of the product manager remains the same.

A product manager in a company might be owning specific areas like booking experience in a cab aggregator like Ola/Uber, or payments experience in ecommerce companies like Flipkart/Amazon. He/she should have a clear vision or a well-defined problem statement in the area of ownership.

A payment product manager could have problem statements like making payment experience seamless or more secure or both. Or, it could be giving more confidence to the users that the payments on the platform are safe and secure.

He/she should then think of a product solution for the problem statement. For example, the product solution for giving confidence to users on secure payments could be a simple UI callout stating “Safe and secure payments” with relevant iconography.

The product manager would then try to onboard designers and engineers to execute the feature. Once the feature is executed, he/she should measure the impact for the problem statement picked up initially either qualitatively or quantitatively or both and iterate accordingly.

Selling a dream

While the example of payments in the above section was a simple one and thus needed to onboard only designers and engineers to execute, a more complex feature requires onboarding talent from different teams for execution.

Role of a product manager

This is the most clichéd diagram used to describe the role of a product manager. You generally need talent from these three teams to execute your product solution. Believe me when I say this, it’s no less than selling a dream (we will talk more about it in future). I just want to communicate two things over here:

  1. The definition of business can change from product to product. It could consist of members from one or more of the following indicative teams -- marketing, finance, operations, human resources, etc.
  2. The percentage contribution to overlap can also change from product to product. The percentages could range from 0 to 100 for each function shown in the diagram. For example, in platform products like inventory placement, demand forecasting, etc. the design contribution could be 0%.

And we are stuck!

If we let go of the pathbreaking technology from the discussion, there is no such thing as impossible. But given limited resources at our disposal, we are stuck with solving most of the problems.

The role of a product manager is no different.

There are so many problems to solve with so few resources. Thus, a key part of the product manager’s role is the prioritisation. You need to pick the right set of problem statements to solve.

In future, we will also discuss the methodology for prioritisation but do remember that it is one of the most critical parts of a product manager’s role. If done right, you will see a significant impact on the problem you intend to solve as well as you will be able to build credibility with your partners and stakeholders in the long run.

Closing remarks

To summarise, listed below are the indicative responsibilities of a product manager:

  1. Setting up the vision or identifying impactful problem statements
  2. Prioritising problem statements
  3. Thinking of product solutions to solve identified problem statements and prioritising them
  4. Onboarding partners and stakeholders from different functions like design, technology and business to execute the product solutions
  5. Work with the partners closely to resolve blockers which come in the way of execution
  6. Take the solution live, measure the impact and iterate

While you may not be bestowed with all the responsibilities given the complexity of the product, the size of the organisation and your experience level, I assure you that each of these responsibilities is both exciting and enriching for any individual.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)