What is product management?

Product management is an organization’s strategic process for each step of the product lifecycle while considering both business and consumer needs.
For industries everywhere, product management is a key element of an organization’s overall business strategy and can vary from company to company. Getting a product sold has many phases (such as development, marketing, pricing, etc.) that take focus, experience, and intentionality to successfully implement. For that reason, product management is one of the most demanding, but essential, processes for modern businesses. By homing in on what customers need and balancing that insight with business objectives, your product managers can influence the function and success of your product operations.

Product managers have a lot of responsibilities, but the following points are the most prominent duties they oversee:

  • Defining the problem
    Every product should solve a problem, so the first step in product management is determining the pain points that your product will address. Product managers often conduct research by analyzing user feedback and personas, understanding the gaps in the industry market and what competitors are doing, looking at possible hang-ups with current tools or products, or collaborating with stakeholders and product teams.
  • Quantifying the opportunity
    Next, managers need to set goals that not only align with their business objectives but that also make the “next steps” concrete and actionable. This takes a significant amount of high-level strategizing to create a realistic timeline that justifies the investment in product development.
  • Researching potential solutions
    Once the need is defined and goals are established, it’s time to test and define a solution. Managers aren’t expected to do this alone; discovering the right solution takes creativity and effort from the whole team. As product managers get closer to the best solution, they’ll conduct user research and gather feedback on working models to truly test the solution. This will develop into a solid product vision with measurable metrics for tracking success.
  • Buildinging an MVP
    Developing a useful product doesn’t happen on the first try; managers need to create a minimum viable product (MVP), a simplified version of the target product that has the basic features of your envisioned product. This should be released on the market to test the functionality and reception of the product. An MVP helps you anticipate potential problems, understand your messaging strategy, and tweak the product before it goes into mass production.
  • Creating a feedback loop
    Collect feedback from the market and use data analysis to perfect your product. This step helps the team better understand how the customer thinks and feels so they can adjust their approach according to feedback.
  • Setting the strategy
    As feedback is finalized, it is time to solidify the strategy and timeline of product development, construction, marketing, etc. A strategy should integrate the detailed research you’ve conducted, empathy for the customer, and storytelling to make the product a success.
  • Driving execution
    As the product strategy is put into place, guiding the execution of the product launch is truly where the product manager shines. They lead the development and engineering teams to bring the product vision to life and set priorities to ensure everything runs smoothly and on time.

As you can see in the list of tasks above, product management goes beyond a single product manager—there are several key roles at various levels of a company that make product management function efficiently.

Entry-Level

Product management has entry-level roles that fall under internships, associate product management, and junior product management that are best suited for qualified college students, recent graduates, and other people that are looking to gain experience and enter their field of interest. Task-wise, entry-level roles involve both hands-on product management and training exercises.

Mid-Level

Mid-level product management roles fall into the general “product manager” category, and people that qualify for this role have exceeded an internship or junior role and can now work more independently. This position requires more leadership as you guide design and development teams with confidence so that products are accurately and expertly created.

High-Level

These high-level positions, such as senior product managers or Scrum product managers, require a lot of experience after you’ve spent time creating products and understanding the needs of the customers. You will play a bigger role in supervising entry-level employees and still potentially do some hands-on work.

Product directors or VPs of product management will also fall into this category where they are responsible for the entire product management department and the product development process from beginning to end. This person is usually in a high enough position that they report to the CEO or other members of the C-suite.

As you can see, product management covers a lot of ground, but there are four main categories that can be used to break everything down:

  • Customer-focused product management
    This aspect of product management emphasizes the customer experience and how the product best serves the customer. Storytelling, marketing, customer support, and sales will be especially important for managers in this area.
  • Business-focused product management
    With a focus on business, a product manager will also likely have a background in sales and understand the funding, development, and improvement stages and their impact on your business. They should know the market in and out, understand competitors, and should specialize in product positioning in their specific industry.
  • Engineering/technology-focused product management
    This side of product management is in the weeds with the product, how it’s developed, and how it runs. A manager that focuses on these aspects will be more familiar with IT or software engineering so that they better understand what it does for the customers.
  • Design-focused product management
    These managers focus on the internal efforts of product management by understanding the product's design and the consumer's user experience. How easy it is to use, the interface, and the functionality are the main priorities of this type of product management.
Graphic explaining what product management is.

Many people believe that there is a major difference between working on Business to Business (B2B) and Business to Consumer (B2C) products. But while there are some obvious distinctions, there are also several similarities.

B2B managers must be focused on selling to other businesses, which can influence how the product is designed and marketed. Often, a more technical approach is useful because businesses mostly need tools and resources that make their operations more effective or lucrative. Additionally, whoever is buying your product or approving a budget is not always the end-user, so it can take multiple personas and pitches to win the right audiences over.

B2C managers sell directly to the consumer, so instead of focusing on the business impacts your product will have, you can focus on individual concerns for the immediate consumer.

For both B2B and B2C professionals, effective product management takes multiple value propositions and an understanding of the niche audiences and pain points you are addressing. There are emotional, financial, and practical justifications for both types of users, it just may look a bit different for businesses compared to consumers. B2B, for example, will take a lot more convincing in terms of sales and the cost of acquisition may be higher. Still, most product management can adjust to both, even if they mostly have experience in one or the other.

Product management vs. product development

While product management and development sound similar, they aren’t the same. Product management is a broader, more strategic role that takes into account the entire product life cycle. A product manager wears many hats and focuses on the vision of the company, not just the product.

Product development is more focused on the process of getting a product idea from an abstract concept to an actualized product that can go to market. These teams consist of software developers, designers, engineers, and quality assurance professionals to ensure the product is functioning as it should. Management and development teams work closely together even though they fill distinct roles and have different priorities.

Product management in an Agile environment

An Agile software development approach to product management is a process that puts the product through several iterations and focuses on continually releasing improved versions in subsequent iterations. This type of management tends to be more fluid and flexible compared to traditional approaches, designed to increase speed, improve collaboration, and ultimately adjust to active and ever-changing market trends.

Product management with ServiceNow

Product management is no small feat, and in today’s competitive and technology-driven environment, managers need software that can keep up with their teams and deadlines. To ensure that the people and the many moving parts of your overall product management strategy are aligned with your business goals, it is more important than ever to use a strategic portfolio management (SPM) system.

SPM is all about making your business outcomes more achievable by focusing on making the vision of your product strategy both manageable and realistic. With tools that help you build clear and adaptive plans, understand your target market and objectives, and streamline decision-making, you can make the most of your budget and the most of your team’s efforts to deliver valuable results. 

Learn more about ServiceNow’s strategic portfolio management solution, and gain the tools you need to visualize your objectives, align investments, and ultimately drive business outcomes more effectively.

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