What Does a Modern Product Manager Do?

13 min read

Behind every successful product, stands a highly-qualified Product Manager, who is there to make sure that it meets both customers' needs and brings in revenue. But what does a Product Manager do? And, even more importantly, what skills do you need to look for to ensure you’re hiring the right person? Read on to find out.

What is Product Management?

As the name might already hint, product management revolves around developing, refining, and managing a product. The ultimate goal of every Product Manager is to ensure the product’s continued success in the market.

Product Management requires a mix of strategic, analytic, and technical skills, topped with a knack for team leadership.

You know the Venn Diagram, where three circles overlap in the middle? For Product Management, these three circles would be built of business, design, and technology. 

What does a Product Manager do?

Before I go into the Product Management bread and butter, it’s important for you to know that it is still a discipline in the making. And so, as it often is with emerging roles, there isn't a one-size-fits-all list of things these product specialists are expected to do.

In fact, Atlassian’s Agile Product Manager, Sherif Mansour, admits that when he was offered to take on the role over a decade ago, he had no clear understanding of what it would involve. This mainly came down to lack of reference. There was no standard he could simply look up online, the way it’s possible for more “established crafts”, like software development and design.

As mentioned earlier, Modern Product Managers engage in a mix of design, tech, and business-related tasks. In some companies, they focus more on business, while at others, they engage in all of these areas equally. It all comes down to the type of product they’re bringing to life (or managing).

That being said, a day in the life of a Product Manager could be built around:

  • Developing and refining the product vision. Sounds like a big task, doesn’t it? Well, it surely is, as it involves a number of processes, including:

    • Analyzing user goals and needs, as well as ideating how these can be best reflected in the product

    • Running market & competition analyses to understand how their product can be better and more successful given the other players in the game

  • Deciding which features to prioritize, given their business impact. So, in essence, planning the roadmap in a way that promotes a return on investment and impacts the users and company positively

  • Acting as the product’s chief advocate in all interactions with stakeholders. It’s the Modern Product Manager’s role to explain what the purpose of the product is and how the team can help fulfill it. In order to orchestrate this product management machine, they need to align everyone around a common purpose.

One more thing I must mention here is that Product Managers are often simply referred to as ‘PMs’. Which, while convenient, might be a bit tricky. How so? They can get confused with Project Managers, who also use the abbreviation, and they’re not the same role.

But, more on that later! Let’s now take a deep dive into the most desired Product Manager skills. 

What are the necessary Product Manager skills?

Hard skills

  • Proficiency in product management software – while the exact tools will vary from company to company, some of the most popular software includes Monday, ProductPlan, Airfocus, and ProdPad. Describing each of these would call for a whole separate article, so for the sake of this piece, it’s just worth knowing that these tools do various things. Some let you engage in roadmap planning, others allow you to build out documentation, draft user personas, etc.

  • Understanding how software development works – while practical coding experience is a nice-to-have product manager skill, knowing how the whole software development process works is an absolute ‘must-have’’. I’ve learned about this first-hand, as I took a brief detour off the marketing road back in the mid-2010s and worked as a Product Manager at a startup. I was offered a junior role, having been moved from another department, and worked under a Senior PM. In the beginning, I had a nearly non-existent understanding of Agile, how front-end vs back-end compared, or what was technically possible (and through which team member’s work). Not only did I feel confused, but also couldn’t relate to what the software team were discussing. This story does have a happy ending, as I ended up working as part of the product team for another two years. However, this only goes to show that a Product Manager must understand the software development process and relate to each engineer’s work. This leads me to the next point.

  • Technical documentation writing – explaining what a feature will do from a user’s perspective is part of a Product Manager’s daily work. However, it’s equally important that they’re able to create documentation for developers. Depending on the Product Manager’s software experience, this could be a technical specification or a document, which helps developers understand the high-level vision. While some teams will have a dedicated individual, i.e., a Technical Writer, PMs should be able to write documentation that specifies a clear goal and direction for engineers and designers on the team.

  • Product roadmap planning – it’s not as much of a product manager skill, as actual art. How come? Creating a roadmap is about more than putting together an itinerary for how and when the product features will be rolled out. It acts as a high-level plan for the entire product team, other departments in the company, and even potential investors or future users. And so, it needs to be both actionable and convincing to sell others on the idea. If this feels like it’s not just a hard skill, but also a soft one, you’re definitely up to something. A product manager can’t achieve this without the right soft skills, which leads to the next section. 

When wondering "what does a product manager do", one of the first product manager skills that come to mind is the ability to plan product roadmaps
Source: Craft.io

Soft skills

  • Ability to think critically and analytically – PMs are strategists, whose work revolves around data. They have to be confident going through large volumes of information to draw insights based on which they’ll decide about further product development. This without a doubt requires an analytical mind. It's the PM's job to ensure the product meets customers' needs and that it stays competitive. Every single decision must not only be backed up by data but also made quickly. 

  • Time management – an agile Product Manager has a lot on their plates, sometimes they have to manage more than one product. Juggling between different tasks and responsibilities, as well as jumping between meetings require outstanding time management skills. Since they’re accountable for launching products on time, without being organized, projects would result in delays. Part of every Product Manager’s job is to set priorities and assign deadlines and make sure that everyone involved delivers on the agreed objectives. 

  • Negotiation – Product Managers are the link between the business and the customer. They work with various stakeholders, who often have differing points of view and ideas, which can lead to conflict. The PM's role is to find a solution that would be acceptable to all the stakeholders, which calls for good negotiation skills. It’s quite common to see Product Managers going through tons of feature requests from customers, trying to persuade the dev team and the CTO to implement the most urgent ones. 

  • Communication – every product is driven by a vision. And it is the PM, who – among others – is held accountable for fulfilling it. In order to make sure that everyone is on board, and that solutions are effectively executed, they have to be great communicators. After all, PMs are often stuck in a room full of people who have different opinions. They have to convince them to go with the solution that they have proposed or explain politely why the solution that someone else put forward isn’t the best option. 

Product Manager job ad example

If you’ve carefully read the two previous sections, then you won’t be surprised by the scope of work and skills in the example below. Here’s what IP Info, a company in the SaaS industry, is looking for in their future Product Manager:

an example of a job ad for an Agile Product Manager at IP Info
Source: weworkremotely.com

As you can see, the perfect candidate will be someone who’s worked with various types of stakeholders in the past. They’re expected to communicate their ideas and vision to designers, software engineers, and marketing team members in a way that’s relatable to all of these groups. Notice that what we’ve mentioned earlier, i.e., a certain level of technical knowledge is always expected here. In the case of this particular company, it’s about how IP address domains work, as that’s the niche the brand operates in.

Product Manager vs Project Manager – key differences

Product Manager and Project Manager are often used interchangeably, but these roles vary, and we will now take a look at the main differences.  

Responsibilities

A Product Manager is a strategist, who also acts as quality control. They’re responsible for successfully launching the product, making sure it meets customer needs and that it stays competitive throughout its entire lifecycle. They’re a bit like a parent, who makes sure that their child stays on the right path, all the way from when they are born to when they become grownups. 

Project Managers, on the other hand, manage the entire project from start to finish, ensuring that tasks are completed within the agreed time and scope. They’re also responsible for setting up and managing the budget. 

Main focus 

Product Managers focus mainly on building products that are in line with customer needs, all the while delivering on business objectives. Meanwhile, Project Managers’ work revolves around timetables, finances, and tasks. All to make sure that the project is delivered on time and within the agreed budget. 

Role

Product Managers are visionaries, who move in between two worlds – that of the business and the customer. They deal with various stakeholders, from the dev team, and C-level, all the way to customers. And for this reason, they have to speak “multiple languages”, i.e., the technical and the non-technical ones.  

Project Managers have to be more task-oriented since they have to set priorities, assign tasks and deadlines, and make sure that the project is delivered on time, and on budget. 

In short, a Product Manager deals with the What and the Why while a Project Manager is responsible for the Who, When, and How. You can think of the former as the CEO, while the latter as the COO. 

Product Manager vs Product Owner – key differences

If a team follows an Agile methodology, then high chances are there will be a separate role present in the team – a Product Owner. Here’s a comparison of Product Manager vs Product Owner roles.

Responsibilities

 As I’ve already mentioned in the previous section, Product Managers define the vision and direction of the product. They do so through continuous research, including market and user analysis.

A Product Owner, respectively, takes this vision and decides on how to achieve it through the work of the product development team. They break these goals into smaller milestones and tasks and make sure they happen as planned.

Main focus

Atlassian perfectly puts it by saying that the Product Manager “outlines what success looks like”.

It’s the Product Owner’s responsibility to take this high-level plan and break them into steps, built on exact deliverables and actions.

Role 

The Product Manager role is focused primarily on the big picture. That is, there’s a ton of conceptual work, ideation, as well as a lot of ‘doing the math’. Among others, Product Managers need to assess how to meet business objectives and how the product will bring in revenue.

The Product Owner’s role, in contrast, is much more day-to-day oriented. They create and run the task backlog, manage the daily work of the team, and help achieve the greater vision through groundwork.

With the above comparisons in mind, remember that Product Manager vs Project Manager vs Product Owner differences aren’t set in stone. Depending on the company you look at, some of the Project Manager’s or Product Owner’s work could be delegated to the Product Manager, and vice versa. But, hopefully, these two sections have helped you understand the key differences and how all of these team members can be working together towards a common goal.

Product Manager salary – how to attract top talent

Becoming a Product Manager is a common career path among college and MBA graduates. And it’s hardly surprising since it both pays well and offers good career progression opportunities. According to Glassdoor, on average, a Product Manager's salary in the US stands at $108,162 per year. This excludes bonuses, tips, profit-sharing, etc., which brings the total pay to $119,717 per year. 

How much a Product Manager gets paid will depend on their experience, geographic location, and industry expertise. Let’s take a quick look at how Product Manager salary varies between North America and Europe. 

Product manager salary overview: North America and Europe

As you can probably imagine, there are significant differences within North America itself – the higher the cost of living, the higher the pay. 

North America 

San Francisco – 138,489 US $

New York – 113,260 US $

Seattle – 121,698 US $

Atlanta – 106,605 US $

Toronto – 89,643 CAD $

Montreal – 83,659 CAD $

The same applies to Europe. 

Europe 

London – 57,555 GBP £

Dublin – 63,773 EUR €

Paris – 48,000 EUR €

Barcelona – 45,269 EUR €

Berlin – 57,917 EUR €

Stockholm – 580,080 SEK kr

Amsterdam – 67,386 EUR €

Let’s also look at how the Product Manager salary differs on a per-company basis. As mentioned earlier, it will be impacted by the seniority level as well as the industry the business operates in. Among the companies listed below, Walmart seems to be the most generous, however, overall, the salaries offered are rather similar. 

How Product Manager salary varies from company to company
Source: Glassdoor

Business success calls for an effective Product Manager

After reading this piece, I’m sure hiring a Product Manager is a no-brainer. It’s hard to imagine having a product team without them, as they’re the link between the business and the customer. That being said, hiring the right person for the job is an art in itself.

If you want to find the perfect candidate without spending weeks (or even months) on talent sourcing, reach out. At MVP Match, we’ll:

  • Connect you with the best-skilled Product Managers – everyone we work with has been verified is vetted for

  • Take care of all the formalities, including contracts and payment

  • Offer you a solution that’s not only time- but also cost-effective. The longer you work with us, the less you pay. Plus, did we mention, that there are no hidden fees? ;) 

Sounds like a plan? Reach out and let’s bring the absolute best candidate on board.

About the Author

I have been an avid writer for as long as I can remember – and, as I’ve always enjoyed a strategic challenge or two, I’ve fallen in love with content marketing many years ago. Back in 2019, my business partner Kasia and I made it official and created Contentki – a boutique content marketing agency for tech brands. Taking this leap of faith and becoming a self-employed content strategist & writer was the single best career decision I’ve ever made (and my biggest career achievement, too). We have been a part of the MVP Match community since 2021 – we love sharing our thoughts, experiences, and tips for fellow freelancers and hiring companies here on the blog. All the articles you’ll find here under my name have been written by the both of us.