Deep Nishar, Vice President of Product at LinkedIn, once commented that, “A great product manager has the brain of an engineer, the heart of a designer, and the speech of a diplomat.” He’s certainly right. A good product manager must wear many hats, identifying customer needs and aligning these with larger business objectives, articulating exactly what success looks like for a product, and rallying a team that can turn a vision into reality. Not only do product managers need to be technically adept, but they’ll also often find themselves in situations which demand communication and persuasion skills that would put Churchill to shame.
Across all sectors, the demand for experienced product managers has exploded during the pandemic, as organisations have been forced to re-think their long-term plans, adapt, and prepare for future challenges. In the US, the demand for experienced PMs has risen astonishingly in the past few years alone, and figures from Europe tell a similar story. Nevertheless, there’s still a certain amount of confusion as to exactly what a product manager does, along with how their expertise can benefit an organisation. So, we wanted to take some time to demystify this topic, and ask the key question: why is the role of product manager so important?
What do product managers do?
No matter the industry, the long-term success of any organisation relies on a satisfied and loyal customer base, and product managers play a key role in ensuring this objective is achieved. There are two parts to the job: helping to bring new products to market, and managing those that are already launched to ensure they align with consumer expectations. Aside from that, a good product management team will also:
- Balance the need to ensure a product is profitable with what’s operationally and technically possible.
- Consider economies of scale which will result in higher profitability.
- Be experts on their particular product and market, helping to anticipate and identify trends.
- Be expected to lead within the business by being able to make specific recommendations based on evidence and research, and to confidently articulate their reasoning to the rest of the business.
- Provide insight and direction to the development team, to confirm that concepts are sound or to suggest changes in direction.
- Conduct cost Vs benefit analyses on various features to determine whether or not certain features should be implemented.
It’s easy to understand, then, why a project without a product manager has been compared to a rudderless ship; a great PM will introduce the consistency and focus vital to driving success. Nevertheless, with many companies (especially startups) operating on tight budgets, I’m often asked whether hiring a product manager is really necessary, and if so, at what point. With this in mind, we’ve broken down the key points of the product development journey, to explain the essential role a dedicated PM can play throughout each.
- The discovery phase
Product discovery is the initiation phase, in which customer feedback and market research is collated in order to ensure a product is the best it can possibly be. You should be asking key questions: who are we building this product for? Why are we building it? How will we build it? In practice, this is a great deal of hard work, and takes time and expertise both to collect all the necessary information, and understand how to interpret and implement it. This process could take weeks to months, depending on how wide and varied a target demographic is. Naturally, at this stage, budgets are often strict. However, the importance of getting this phase of product development right can’t be overstated. Without a competent product manager on board, there’s a serious risk that data will not be gathered correctly, or synthesised in a manner that’s actually useful for the rest of your team. Even highly established companies can get this completely wrong – I’m sure I don’t need to remind you all of the infamous Crystal Pepsi debacle! In short, it’s a huge cost-saver in the long-run, and could well make the difference between success and failure.
- The product roadmap
Would you drive around in an unknown area without your satnav? If the answer is yes, you may well find yourself driving around in circles – and this analogy holds true for product development. Technology, especially if it’s software based, often has a short shelf-life. Therefore, it’s vital that every company has a clear roadmap in order for their product to stay relevant in the long run. Product managers are responsible for devising a clear blueprint for this evolution, alongside research and development teams. Although a roadmap will change and develop over time, it’s the best tool to communicate the product vision clearly and concisely to the wider business, along with stakeholders. Without a decent product team on board, an organisation simply won’t have the knowledge and expertise to execute this stage efficiently.
- Building positive customer relationships
If a customer makes a one-time purchase of your product, driven by persuasive marketing, but is disappointed by the product in reality, that’s a customer lost for life. An engaged customer that’s delighted with your product is much more likely to be a repeat consumer, and a consistent source of revenue. Your customer may be delighted with your product to begin with, but their requirements will evolve, and so should your product. For example, Jawbone UP was the first wearable fitness tracker on the market – something we absolutely know there is a huge public appetite for. Yet, this product crashed and burned simply because the product failed to keep up with user preferences; an oversight other fitness trackers such as GoPro would be all too happy to capitalise on. From this example, we can clearly see that there’s far more to success than a great idea. Good product management is always data-driven, agile, and consumer-first.
- Expansion and development
One of the key capabilities of all product managers is the ability to understand and manage the short-term needs of the product with the long-term vision an organisation is trying to achieve. For instance, let’s say you’ve developed a great new healthy ready meal range. In the short-term, you want customers to buy your products. In the long-term, you want to support your customers with a lifestyle shift that will see them not only become loyal consumers, but to associate your brand with their new, healthier identity. One brand that has achieved this incredibly well in recent years in Huel; on the surface, they sell meal replacement shakes. In reality, they’re selling a lifestyle. No surprises as to how exactly they achieve this – they speak with their customers thousands of times a day, and are intimately familiar with their wants, needs, and likes. Not only this, Huel is a simple product with a big vision – to challenge the way food is traditionally consumed. This demonstrates the power of thinking big, even from a product’s inception, and ensuring that a brand has clear goals and direction underpinning every commercial decision. Product managers are experts in ensuring that a product not only delivers its short-term objectives, but that every small win is building towards a larger, more ambitious vision that will drive sustainable success and keep products relevant in the long-term.
Hiring a great product manager
Hiring someone to fill such a vital role is never a simple task, and the most important thing you can do is to ensure you have a clearly defined role tailored to your organisation’s product strategy. You’ll also need to be transparent about your expectations – what type of experience are you looking for? Do you need someone who has a deep knowledge of tech? What does your current product roadmap look like? At what stage of the product life cycle will your new PM be joining? If all of this seems overwhelming, then don’t panic. Here at GR4, we’re experts in recruiting experienced product managers for startups and established tech ventures, who will be able to join your organisation ready to hit the ground running. We’ll be happy to chat with you about your product strategy, and figure out exactly what your organisation needs together. For a confidential discussion, don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of our experienced consultants.
Download our complete recruitment guide for startups here.