What You Need to Know to Become a Product Manager

By BrainStation September 18, 2017

As the demand for skilled tech talent has grown, with tech hubs like Silicon Valley and Toronto adding a combined 155,000 technology jobs in the past five years, one role continues to be in-demand: Product Manager (PM). In fact, the position came in at number eight on LinkedIn’s most promising jobs list, with 30 percent growth in job openings year over year, and a median base salary of $105,000.

Clearly, that kind of job security and salary is appealing, but the path to becoming a PM is not always clear; product managers come from diverse backgrounds – both educationally and professionally speaking.

Here, we cover what it means to be a Product Manager, and the skills you need to get started in the field.

What Does a Product Manager Do?

In simplest terms, Product Managers oversee the process of product development, successfully bringing them from ideation to market. And while the specific tasks and responsibilities of a Product Manager vary depending on the organization, there are many aspects that remain constant.

Some of the core responsibilities of a Product Manager include:

  • Managing the product life cycle
    PMs must oversee all stages of the product lifecycle, managing every touchpoint involved in creating, building, delivering, and distributing the product.
  • Managing across diverse teams
    There are many people involved in the creation of a product, and PMs must serve as a liaison between various departments to communicate changes and meet deadlines.
  • Creating a distribution plan
    Developing and launching a distribution or go-to-market plan for new products and services, which typically includes overseeing the budget for the entire project.

One of the main ways in which a Product Manager communicates the vision and goals for the product is through a product roadmap – a high-level overview of the motivation behind the product, the need it is filling, and the product’s goals. To bring this roadmap to life, Product Managers need to have advanced management skills to align multiple teams towards a common goal.

The Skills a Product Manager Needs

While technical skills and knowledge are always valuable, what often distinguishes great Product Managers is the ability to understand the consumer or user of the product, and then managing across teams to ensure that the product created serves these users’ needs. This requires:

Communication Skills

Product Managers have to communicate roadblocks, changes, and deadlines to multiple departments, and also manage communication with upper management and stakeholders. This is more than simply conveying ideas; they also have to listen to members of the team to ensure they always have a reading on the progress of the product.

“One of the most important traits a great product manager has is amazing listening skills,” said Nat Kunes, VP Product at AppFolio, in an interview with Forbes. “Not just listening to what clients want, but listening with empathy. This truly allows them to connect and deeply understand the problems needing to be solved.”

Familiarity with Agile Methodology

Many PMs, especially those working with digital products, will have to work in an Agile environment. Being comfortable with Agile methodologies and iterative work processes including sprints and scrums is crucial.

The best way to ensure you are acting as a true product owner is to always think of yourself as a member of your Agile development team — not a Product Manager outside that team,” explains Jim Semick, the Founder of ProductPlan, in an article on how to work with Agile development teams.

Organization Skills

As generic as organizational skills may sound, they are an integral aspect of being a successful PM. This is because Product Managers must often manage large multi-department teams, oversee budgets, define and maintain strategy, and deliver a product that satisfies all stakeholders involved – all on tight deadlines.

How to Become a Product Manager

A Product Manager’s unique ability to work across teams, meet tight deadlines, and build out product roadmaps puts them in high demand across industries. If you’re looking for a way to get your foot in the door, BrainStation offers Product Management and Agile training options, which will help you understand what’s required, and improve the necessary product management skills.