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What is a Product Manager and How to Become One

By Ajoke Aminu

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A product manager can potentially boost profits by an astounding 34.2%, yet many find themselves asking, “What does a Product Manager do?” Our guide cuts through the confusion, offering a clear breakdown of the product manager job description, insights into the product manager salary, and actionable steps on how to become a product manager—equipping you with everything you need to step confidently into this pivotal role.

Career Summary

Product Manager Salary

Product Manager Salary

Given the responsibilities and impact of product management on a company’s success, the compensation structure is often attractive, aiming to recruit and retain top talent in this critical area.

The total pay takes into account various elements such as base salary, performance bonuses, equity or stock options (in some companies), and other possible perks, which collectively constitute the product manager salary trajectory:  

  • Entry: US$114K
  • Median: US$147K
  • Executive: US$192K

The product manager salary is a competitive one, much higher than the national average salary of $59,428.

What is a Product Manager?

A product manager is a pivotal professional within an organization, responsible for guiding the success of a product and leading the cross-functional team that is involved in improving it. This role involves identifying customer needs, defining the vision of the product, and working closely with engineering, sales, marketing, and support to ensure revenue and customer satisfaction goals are met.

What does a Product Manager do?

A Product Manager plays a crucial role in identifying customer needs and pinpointing market opportunities, setting the strategic direction and vision for the product. They prioritize product features and capabilities, ensuring that the most valuable elements are developed first. Working closely with cross-functional teams, they guide the product from conception to launch, acting as a bridge between various departments to ensure alignment and cohesion. Along the journey, they continuously gather and respond to feedback, iterating on the product to refine and improve it, thereby ensuring it meets and exceeds customer expectations.

Product Manager Career Progression

  • Associate Product Manager: Entry-level position focused on supporting senior Product Managers. Responsibilities may include market research, data analysis, and assisting with product development tasks.
  • Product Manager: Core role responsible for managing the lifecycle of one or multiple products. Involves defining product vision, prioritizing features, and collaborating with cross-functional teams to deliver successful products.
  • Senior Product Manager: Leadership role with increased responsibilities in product strategy and execution. Requires deeper market analysis, strategic decision-making, and team management skills.
  • Product Lead: Strategic leadership position overseeing a portfolio of products or a product line. Involves setting long-term product vision, aligning with business goals, and driving innovation across the product portfolio.
  • Director of Product Management: Executive role responsible for overseeing the entire product management function within an organization. Involves setting strategic direction, allocating resources, and mentoring product management teams to drive business growth and innovation.
  • Vice President of Product Management: Executive leadership position with broader strategic responsibilities. Involves defining product vision, shaping corporate strategy, and driving alignment across multiple product lines or business units.
  • Chief Product Officer (CPO): C-level executive responsible for the overall product strategy and direction of the company. Involves setting the vision for product innovation, driving organizational change, and aligning product initiatives with company goals.
Product Manager Career Progression

Best Aspects of Working as a Product Manager 

  • Having a significant impact on the creation and direction of a product.
  • Working with diverse teams and learning from different disciplines.
  • Tackling complex challenges and finding innovative solutions.
  • Engaging directly with customers to understand their needs and receive feedback.
  • Opportunities for advancement and diversification in roles within the tech and business fields.

Worst Aspects of Working as a Product Manager 

  • Constant pressure to deliver successful products within tight deadlines.
  • Navigating disagreements between stakeholders with differing opinions.
  • Managing with limited resources and making tough prioritization decisions.
  • Dealing with uncertainty and rapidly changing market or company priorities.
  • Managing the workload can sometimes impact personal time, especially close to product launches.

Useful Skills to Have as a Product Manager 

  • Strategic Thinking
  • Communication Skills
  • User Empathy
  • Analytical Skills
  • Leadership skills

Popular Product Manager Specialties 

  • Technical Product Manager
  • Data Product Manager
  • Growth Product Manager
  • UX/UI Product Manager
  • B2B Product Manager

How to Become a Product Manager

Product Manager 5 Steps to Career

Education

Do I Need a Degree to Become a Product Manager?

It is not an absolute necessity for entering the field of product management. The question of whether a degree is necessary to become a product manager is a nuanced one. Here, we will provide insights and more clarity into this topic, reflecting a blend of opinions and industry practices. 

According to ProductHQ, a degree in business, computer science, economics, marketing, statistics, public relations, or even design could give an edge. Forbes echoes this sentiment by emphasizing that a Bachelor of Science in marketing or a degree in business can furnish students with a foundational understanding of several disciplines relevant to product management. Indeed, further improvement is evident as more universities offer Product Management as a standalone course.

However, the industry acknowledges a range of pathways into product management, recognizing the value of practical experience, certifications, skills, and the ability to lead and innovate. In essence, there’s an acknowledgment within the sector that a specific degree does not singularly determine one’s success or capability as a Product Manager despite what the product manager job description may say.

For those without a traditional degree, focusing on acquiring relevant skills, such as market research, project management, customer experience design, and technical know-how related to the product’s domain, can be crucial. Additionally, leveraging any relevant experience, continuing professional education, networking, and understanding the product lifecycle and strategy are pivotal steps towards a career in product management.

Anyone can learn how to become a product manager, as it is open to individuals from diverse educational backgrounds, provided you demonstrate the requisite skills and passion for product development and management. 

Can I Become a Product Manager through Online Education?

Yes, you can become a Product Manager through online education. The digital age has significantly expanded access to learning resources, including for those aspiring to enter the field of product management. Online education platforms and universities provide a range of courses covering the fundamentals of product management, from ideation to launch and beyond. 

When choosing an online course for product management, opt for reputable platforms like Coursera, edX, or Udacity, known for their quality education and partnership with leading institutions. Ensure the curriculum is comprehensive and aligns with your career goals. Select courses taught by instructors with real-world experience, available on platforms like LinkedIn Learning. Lastly, consider peer reviews and testimonials to gauge the course’s effectiveness and its impact on students’ careers. Focusing on these factors will guide you to a valuable learning experience in product management.

What are some Web Resources to Learn Skills to Become a Product Manager? 

Several authority websites can provide valuable resources for learning and developing skills.

Here are some web resources you can explore:

  • Product Coalition: Product Coalition is a community-driven platform that features articles, case studies, and insights from seasoned Product Managers. It covers various aspects of Product Management, including product discovery, roadmapping, and product marketing.
  • Mind the Product: Mind the Product is a leading platform for product-focused professionals. It provides a wealth of resources, including articles, podcasts, webinars, and conferences. Their content covers a wide range of topics, from product strategy and development to leadership and career growth.
  • Product Manager HQ: Product Manager HQ is an online resource hub for aspiring and experienced product managers. It offers a collection of articles and guides covering various aspects of product management, including product discovery, user research, and stakeholder management.
  • The Product Folks: The Product Folks is a product management blog that provides a collection of insightful articles and resources related to product management. It covers topics like product planning, competitive analysis, and effective communication techniques.
  • Product School: Product School offers a variety of online courses, webinars, and workshops focused on product management. Their resources cover a wide range of topics, including product strategy, UX design, and data-driven decision-making.
  • Aha! Blog: Aha! is a popular product management software, and their blog offers valuable insights and resources for product managers. It covers topics such as product roadmapping, prioritization, and building a product-driven culture.

Practical Experience

What are Internship Opportunities for Aspiring Product Managers?

As an aspiring product manager, internships can provide valuable hands-on experience and help you kickstart your career.

Here are some internship opportunities that can help you gain practical knowledge and skills in product management:

  • Tech Startups: Many tech startups offer product management internships, providing you with exposure to the fast-paced and dynamic startup environment. You can work closely with product managers, contribute to product development processes, and learn about agile methodologies and user-centric approaches.
  • Established Tech Companies: Large tech companies often have structured internship programs that include product management roles. Interning at these companies can give you the opportunity to work on well-established products, collaborate with cross-functional teams, and learn about product lifecycle management.
  • E-commerce Companies: Interning at e-commerce companies, such as online retailers or marketplaces, can provide insights into product management in the context of digital commerce. You can gain experience in areas like customer segmentation, product merchandising, and conversion optimization.
  • Digital Agencies: Digital marketing agencies often have internship opportunities in their strategy or product teams. This can be a great way to learn about product marketing, digital analytics, and working with diverse clients across different industries.
  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) Companies: SaaS companies often offer internships in product management, as their business model heavily relies on building and improving software products. Interning at a SaaS company can expose you to product roadmapping, user research, and working with development teams.
  • Nonprofit Organizations: Some nonprofit organizations have internships in their product or technology departments. This can provide you with a unique perspective on product management within a mission-driven context, where you can work on projects that have a social impact.
  • Innovation Labs: Innovation labs within larger companies or research institutions often offer internships focused on product innovation and development. This can involve working on cutting-edge technologies, conducting user research, and prototyping new product concepts.
  • Entrepreneurial Ventures: Interning with entrepreneurial ventures, such as startup incubators or accelerators, can expose you to the early stages of product development and the challenges of bringing new ideas to market. You can gain hands-on experience in areas like market research, product validation, and pitching.

What Skills will I Learn as a Product Manager?

As a Product Manager, you will acquire a diverse set of skills essential for success in the role:

  • Strategic Thinking: You’ll learn how to align product development with overarching business objectives, considering market trends and competitive landscapes.
  • Communication: Effective communication is key to conveying product vision, gathering feedback, and aligning cross-functional teams towards common goals.
  • User-Centric Design: Understanding user needs and behavior is crucial for designing products that resonate with your target audience.
  • Market Analysis: You’ll develop skills in market research and analysis to identify opportunities, assess competition, and make informed decisions.
  • Project Management: Product managers are responsible for coordinating tasks, setting timelines, and ensuring projects are delivered on schedule and within budget.
  • Data Analysis: Analyzing user data, metrics, and feedback allows you to make data-driven decisions and iterate on product improvements.
  • Leadership: You’ll learn to inspire and motivate teams, foster collaboration, and drive innovation throughout the product lifecycle.
  • Decision-Making: Product Managers must weigh trade-offs, prioritize features, and make decisions that maximize value for both users and the business.
  • Technical Understanding: While not always required, having a basic understanding of technology and development processes can facilitate effective communication with engineering teams.

What is the Work-life Balance of a Product Manager? 

The work-life balance of a Product Manager varies significantly across different companies and stages of the product lifecycle. However, the balance can be challenging but manageable with the right strategies. For instance, in startup environments, product managers might find themselves working anywhere between 40 to 60 hours a week, as highlighted by an article on Product Management Exercises. This range is indicative of the demanding nature of the role in fast-paced settings where product development cycles are shorter and more intense. 

Nevertheless, the intensity of work can be offset by its impact. Some product managers report working around 12 highly impactful hours a week, emphasizing the importance of efficiency and the value of the output over the number of hours worked. This approach underscores the necessity for product managers to prioritize tasks and focus on high-impact activities.

Moreover, maintaining a work-life balance as a product manager also involves aligning one’s professional environment with personal values. This alignment helps in sustaining a healthy balance between professional commitments and personal life. Also, being mentally present and limiting work-related thoughts to work hours is a strategy some product managers use to manage their work-life balance, as shared by eight Product Managers on Balance the Grind. The experience varies widely depending on the work environment, but with the right strategies, product managers can navigate these challenges successfully.

What’s the Career Outlook for Product Managers?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an approximate 10% growth in product management roles by 2024, underscoring the increasing reliance on data-driven decision-making and strategic product development within companies. This growth trajectory is further supported by the current job market statistics, which reveal about 12,173 product manager listings, indicating a doubling of interest in product management over the last five years.

In terms of demographics, the United States currently employs over 43,603 product managers, with a gender distribution of 34.7% women to 65.3% men, showcasing a diverse workforce engaged in this dynamic field.  This momentum is also reflected in the product manager salary prospects and job satisfaction rates. 

Given these optimistic statistics and projections, it’s clear that product management is not only a viable but also a thriving career choice in the USA. The role’s importance in driving product success, coupled with favorable job growth rates, competitive salaries, and high levels of job satisfaction, makes product management a highly desirable career path for individuals looking to make a significant impact within their organizations.

Product Manager Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of a Product Manager?

Here are some of the common job opportunities that Product Managers can pursue:

  • Product Manager (PM): The primary role involves overseeing the entire lifecycle of a product, from ideation and development to launch and optimization. PMs collaborate with cross-functional teams to define product vision, prioritize features, and ensure alignment with business goals.
  • Technical Product Manager: This role requires a deeper understanding of technical aspects, such as software development processes, coding languages, and system architecture. Technical Product Managers bridge the gap between engineering teams and other stakeholders, translating technical requirements into actionable product plans.
  • Product Marketing Manager: Product Marketing Managers focus on promoting and positioning products in the market. They develop marketing strategies, conduct market research, create messaging and collateral, and collaborate with sales and advertising teams to drive product adoption and revenue growth.
  • Product Owner: In Agile development environments, Product Owners work closely with development teams to define and prioritize user stories, manage the product backlog, and ensure that delivered features meet user needs and business objectives.
  • Product Strategist: Product Strategists focus on long-term planning and vision-setting for products and product portfolios. They analyze market trends, competitive landscapes, and customer feedback to identify opportunities for product differentiation and sustainable growth.
  • UX/UI Product Manager: UX/UI Product Managers specialize in user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) design. They work closely with designers and usability experts to create intuitive, user-friendly product interfaces that enhance customer satisfaction and drive engagement.
  • Entrepreneur/Founder: Many Product Managers transition into entrepreneurship and find their own startups. As founders, they leverage their product management skills to identify market opportunities, develop innovative solutions, and build successful businesses from the ground up.

What Type of Companies Hire a Product Manager?

A variety of companies across different industries hire Product Managers to drive product development, innovation, and growth.

Here are some types of companies that commonly hire Product Managers:

  • Technology Companies: Tech companies include software companies, tech startups, and IT services providers. These companies often develop digital products, platforms, and services, and require Product Managers to oversee their development, launch, and optimization.
  • E-commerce and Retail Companies: E-commerce platforms, online marketplaces, and retail chains hire Product Managers to manage their digital storefronts, mobile apps, and customer shopping experiences. Product Managers in this sector focus on improving user engagement, conversion rates, and overall customer satisfaction.
  • Consumer Goods and FMCG (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods) Companies: Consumer goods companies, including food and beverage, household products, and personal care brands, hire Product Managers to develop and launch new products, manage product portfolios, and implement marketing strategies to drive sales and market share.
  • Finance and Fintech Companies: Banks, financial institutions, and fintech startups require Product Managers to develop financial products, payment solutions, mobile banking apps, and investment platforms. Product Managers in this sector focus on enhancing security, compliance, and user experience in financial services.
  • Healthcare and Pharmaceuticals Companies: Healthcare organizations, medical device manufacturers, and pharmaceutical companies hire Product Managers to develop medical devices, healthcare software solutions, and digital health platforms. Product Managers in healthcare focus on improving patient outcomes, streamlining clinical workflows, and ensuring regulatory compliance.
  • Consulting and Professional Services Firms: Consulting firms and professional services companies hire Product Managers to provide strategic guidance, product roadmap development, and project management expertise to their clients across various industries.
  • Automotive and Transportation Companies: Automotive manufacturers, transportation companies, and mobility startups hire Product Managers to develop connected car solutions, navigation systems, autonomous vehicle technologies, and mobility services. Product Managers in this sector focus on enhancing the driving experience, improving transportation efficiency, and reducing environmental impact.
  • Gaming and Entertainment Companies: Gaming studios, entertainment companies, and digital media platforms hire Product Managers to develop interactive entertainment products, gaming platforms, and digital content experiences for consumers. Product Managers in this sector focus on engaging users, driving monetization, and optimizing player experiences.

Should I Become a Product Manager?

Now that you know how to become a product manager, it’s crucial you weigh the key points discussed, reflect on your personal interests and skills, and align these with your long-term career goals. Product Management offers a rewarding career path for those who are passionate about guiding the development and success of a product. 

The product manager job description deduces that the role requires a balance of technical knowledge, strategic thinking, leadership abilities, and effective communication skills. It also demands a high degree of adaptability and problem-solving capabilities, as you may often navigate complex challenges and work closely with diverse teams. Fortunately, the product manager salary makes it worthwhile. 

Consider your personal interests and whether they align with the duties and responsibilities of a Product Manager. Do you find excitement in the thought of bringing new products to market? Are you driven by the challenge of solving user problems and working at the intersection of technology, business, and user experience? Your passion for these areas will be a critical factor in not only succeeding but also finding fulfillment in this role.

Careers Related to Product Manager


Ajoke Aminu

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