What Is Product Management? Roles, Process, Tools, and More
Product management is equal parts art and science – and it’s vital to the success of your SaaS.
In this article, we’re going to unpack what is product management, how it differs from traditional project management, the role it plays in building products that delight your users, and the skills a good product manager must demonstrate to succeed.
- Product management describes the continual process of overseeing the development of a product across its entire lifecycle.
- The main difference between product management and project management is the focus. A project manager is focused on the completion of a specific project, whereas product managers focus primarily on the long-term vision and evolving a product to deliver value over time.
- Product management delivers value in many ways: it aligns teams with organizational goals, focuses on customer needs, and drives product success by delivering products that make the lives of users easier.
- Product teams are staffed with various skilled professionals. While the product manager’s role may differ from one organization to the next, they will still work with dedicated product owners, engineering and design teams, data analysts, and product marketing managers.
- The product management process starts with building an understanding of your users and the market, defining a vision and strategy, generating and prioritizing ideas that could solve user problems, articulating them in a clear roadmap, launching an MVP, and then gathering feedback to evolve it over time.
- Product teams need to have a combination of hard and soft skills to succeed: technical knowledge, communication, leadership, strategic thinking, and empathy.
- They also need tools to help them do their job: Userpilot is a powerful, end-to-end product management solution, offering a range of capabilities from gathering feedback, to providing support to engaging users with in-app messages, and far more. Book a demo to see it in action.
What is product management?
Product management describes the continual process of overseeing the development of a product across the entire product lifecycle: from initial ideation, through the development process, to launch and beyond.
Product management is absolutely critical to securing a product’s success.
Product management encompasses many different techniques and activities: product managers define a vision, spend time prioritizing features, groom the product backlog, and ultimately, define product features that will keep customers happy.
Product management vs. project management
Product managers and project managers might sound similar. Even though both roles are responsible for ensuring that a product is successful, they do so in different ways.
- Product management is concentrated on creating value for users and managing the overall product strategy across the entire lifecycle. The product manager decides the strategy and helps define the most effective way for the product development team to get there.
- Project management is the process of planning, organizing, and managing the resources needed to complete a specific project. Project managers are responsible for ensuring that the project is completed on time, within budget, and to the required specifications.
Why is product management important?
Product management is a discipline valued by the world’s most successful and innovative tech companies. But why?
Here’s why it’s important:
- Defines a product vision and aligns strategy with organization goals. Great product managers and teams are able to understand and interpret the wider context, defining a clear vision that satisfies customer needs along with company goals.
- Champions a customer-centric approach. Product teams advocate strongly for users: they’ll gather customer feedback, conduct market research, isolate a clear target market, and ensure new features are built to directly address user needs.
- Drives product success. Agile product management is proven to improve a product’s development, delivering value sooner than waterfall projects. Plus, when you satisfy customer needs and wants, you get rewarded with their loyalty.
Which roles exist in product management teams?
Effective product management is all about how well a cross-functional product team can collaborate.
In a small startup, a product manager might oversee everything. In a large corporate firm, there might be many specialists (i.e., a dedicated growth product manager alongside a core product manager or technical product manager) reporting to a chief product officer.
The specific structure of a product team will vary depending on size, industry, stage, and more. Let’s check out a few common roles occupying a product team.
- Defining product strategy and vision
- Articulating a roadmap of valuable initiatives that realize the product’s vision
- Generating new product ideas
- Performing competitive analysis
- Helping define product requirements
Product marketing manager
A PMM’s main focus is making sure a product lands well with users while nailing the marketing and product positioning.
- Develop and implement the go-to-market strategy
- Work with product managers on positioning and product-market fit
- Execute product marketing campaigns and product launches (i.e., formulating a product launch plan)
- Work with the customer support teams to use valuable insights gathered from user feedback
- Work closely with the sales team for a better market understanding
A product owner is a role in the Scrum framework responsible for maximizing the value of the product. They work closely with the development team and product manager to ensure that the product is developed and delivered according to plan.
- Running a range of day-to-day responsibilities within the Scrum team
- Organizing a prioritized backlog of tickets tackling user problems
- Product planning and collaborating with the engineering team to work out possible solutions
Development teams are responsible for the actually product development process itself. Engineering teams write the code and build the product from the bottom up.
- Write code, define unit tests, and deploy into different environments
- Build features prioritized by the PM
- Share technical knowledge with the rest of the team
- Maintain technical services and support the company’s products
- Get the feature development working process right
A UX designer is a professional responsible for the user experience of a product or service. They work with a cross-functional team to understand the needs of users and create products that are easy to use, efficient, and enjoyable.
- Gather feedback, understand user behavior and expectations, conduct user interviews with potential customers, and map out where to tweak things to improve the user journey
- Optimize the customer experience to boost user engagement
- Conduct usability testing
- Create user personas
A data analyst is a professional who collects, cleans, and analyzes data to extract insights that can be used to improve business decisions.
- Collect data (including identification, gathering, and cleaning to remove errors and personal information)
- Data analysis and synthesis: investigating trends and extracting insights
- De-risk: use insights from data to gather competitive intelligence and inform decision-making before new features are built
- Communicating insights with the product team and stakeholders clearly and concisely
What is the product management process?
Product management is a multi-faceted, complex process. Let’s work through the steps.
1. Conduct user and market research to understand customer needs
First things first, you’ve got to understand the problem you’re trying to solve. You don’t want to launch right into building new features if you’re not sure there’s a viable market.
In this stage, good product teams:
- Conduct research and analyze the market
- Build insight from users with customer interviews, focus groups, and in-app surveys
- Map out customer needs, personal preferences, jobs to be done, and pain points
2. Create the product strategy and product vision
This is arguably the most important thing in product management: defining a vision and a strategy. But what’s the difference?
- Product vision is a high-level explanation of your product’s main reason for existing. It should be punchy, inspirational, aspirational, and memorable. It is a long-term goal that guides the development of the product. Take the example of Slack’s vision below:
Slack: ‘To make work life simpler, more pleasant, and more productive.’
- Product strategy is usually a written narrative that explains how you’ll bring your vision into reality. It outlines what it takes to build a product, get it in front of users, and drive value. The product strategy should be based on the product vision.
If you fail to articulate a vision or strategy, you run the risk of complete product failure and struggling to align decisions with business objectives.
3. Brainstorm and prioritize product ideas
Next, you want to get into the lower level detail: What should you and the team work on?
But you can’t just give your team a list of ideas. You need to prioritize ruthlessly. There are many frameworks to choose from:
- Kano model
- MoSCoW framework
- RICE framework
- Value vs. effort mapping
Whichever you choose, the key is deciding in a structured way what you’re going to tackle next.
4. Develop and streamline the product roadmap
Once you’ve prioritized what you want to work on, you need to organize it into a clear product roadmap.
A product roadmap is a visual representation of those concepts. It’s a tool that outlines the vision, direction, and priorities of a product over time. It is a clear plan of action that aligns the organization around short and long-term goals for the product.
5. Build the minimum viable product
Product managers and other team members should be highly attuned to reducing risk. Your ultimate objective should be to quickly iterate and launch thin slices of value instead of launching a full-fledged feature your users might not like.
A minimum viable product is a great way to do that. An MVP is not about creating the perfect product. It is about creating a product that is good enough to get feedback from customers and learn what they need and want.
By launching quickly and learning from mistakes, you iron out any issues before a wider launch.
6. Improve products based on customer feedback
Products are never truly finished. There’s a concept that if you’re not improving your product, it rapidly becomes a ‘legacy’.
You need to continually gather feedback from customers and improve the product accordingly. Additionally, if you want to validate the feedback received from customers, you can use product analytics features, like heat maps and session recordings.
Essential product management skills for tech companies
Your product management team needs to wear several hats and develop many different skills in order to succeed.
They are true jacks of all trades, and help cross-functional teams with a range of hard and soft skills:
- Technical skills. Product managers need to understand the trade-offs between different product/feature ideas and engage with the engineering team to plan and prioritize work.
- Communication skills. Whether it’s an internal team session or communicating details of a change to key stakeholders, a product manager’s ability to communicate with clarity is paramount.
- Leadership skills. The team and the organization will look to each product manager as an inspirational figure who can drive the team forward.
- Strategic thinking. Product teams need to understand the organizational context and craft a coherent plan for how it all fits together. Strategy, problem-solving, and innovative thinking are all extremely important.
- User empathy. If product managers and other team members don’t empathize with their users, they’ll churn out features that fail to hit the mark and run the risk of failing to achieve key success metrics (i.e., customer satisfaction, engagement, conversion, etc.).
The best product management tools of 2023
They say a craftsman is only as good as their tools. The same could be said of product teams. Let’s explore some of the best tools in the marketplace and how they can help.
Userpilot – complete product management tool
- In-app surveys with customizable templates for targeted feedback collection
- Dedicated NPS analytics, including qualitative response tagging
- Feature usage tracking (clicks, hovers, and text infills)
- Advanced user segmentation capabilities
- Interactive walkthroughs and checklists for user onboarding
- Resource center for delivering on-demand user support
- UI patterns for in-app messaging (modals, tooltips, banners, hotspots, driven actions, and slideouts)
- Integrations with a range of tools, including Amplitude, Heap, Mixpanel, Google Analytics, and HubSpot
- Advanced product analytics features, including funnel and trend analysis
ProductPlan – recommended product roadmap tool
ProductPlan is a product roadmap tool that helps teams plan, build, and communicate their product strategy with a visually appealing roadmap.
Key features include:
- Visual roadmapping. ProductPlan allows teams to create and visualize their product roadmaps in a variety of ways, including Gantt charts, Kanban boards, and timelines.
- Collaboration. ProductPlan allows teams to collaborate on roadmaps in real time. This makes it easy to get feedback from stakeholders and align the team.
- Planning tools. ProductPlan offers a variety of planning tools to help teams prioritize features, track progress, and set goals.
Figma – best product prototyping software
Figma is an ultra-collaborative web-based design tool that allows users to create, prototype, and share designs in real-time. It is a popular tool for designers, product managers, and developers and taking the SaaS world by storm.
Key features include:
- Rapid prototyping. Users can create interactive prototypes of their designs. This can be helpful for testing designs with users and gathering feedback.
- Real-time collaboration. Figma allows multiple users to collaborate on the same design file at the same time.
- Sharing. Figma makes it easy to share designs with stakeholders.
That wraps up our deep dive into the fascinating world of product management.
You’re now well equipped with an understanding of what product management is, the importance this discipline has in organizations large and small, how product managers slot into an agile development team, the stages of a product development process, and more.
Want to get started putting what you’ve learned into practice?
Get a Userpilot demo and see how you can start creating valuable product decisions today.