Product management isn’t a very well-known occupation—at least among college students. On top of that, it seems like unless someone has been a product manager or has worked directly with a product manager, people have a hard time defining what exactly a product manager does. I first heard about product management in my freshman year of college, and since then, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to work at both AppFolio and ProductPlan as a product management intern, learning firsthand what product managers actually do.
At both ProductPlan and AppFolio, I’ve been able to observe many successful product managers, and it seems like there are several similarities they all share.
1. Cross-Functional Collaboration
First, they work cross-functionally with several different teams, mainly with UX/UI, sales and marketing, and developers. From my perspective, a product manager’s job seems to involve developing a strategic vision and then actualizing that vision, which involves the help of all the different teams. At ProductPlan, product managers actually seem pretty hands-on, taking on some of the responsibilities of the different teams, and mainly helping with UI design and assisting with quality assurance testing.
During my internship, I was able to experience this cross-functional teamwork. I worked with the UX/UI team, reviewing designs and suggesting changes. I also worked with the QA team to help test new features before they went out to customers, and helped write several Pivotal Tracker stories to document bugs and fixes. For some of my other projects, I worked with sales and marketing to improve lead generation and I helped with user data analysis. Interestingly, according to our 2017 Product Planning Survey Report, the most common challenge PMs face involves working with different teams.
2. Customer Interview Skills
Second, product managers are expert interviewers. They’re constantly asking customers for advice and feedback. Don’t know what functionality a feature should have? Ask a customer. Don’t know which interface is better? Ask a customer. Want to know how to expand the product to fit user needs? Ask a customer. Since it’s the customers who are ultimately using the product, it seems like good product managers actively listen to their customers and build their feedback into the product. That being said, sometimes the customer is not always right, and a product manager’s job is to analyze customer feedback to find the root of the problem and implement a solution with the biggest impact.
“Good product managers are expert interviewers. They’re constantly asking customers for advice and feedback.”
A large part of my summer internship actually involved interviewing customers. Some of these calls were exploratory, some were for validation, and others were simply to ask for feedback on existing features. Finding customers to interview leads us back to the idea of cross-functional teamwork. Customer support, sales, and marketing are departments that are very customer-facing and, as such, can provide valuable input as to which customers PMs should contact or highlight feedback they’ve already received. Since ProductPlan is a startup, it’s easy for product managers to go directly to each department since they know everyone on each team so well. At AppFolio, it seemed like product managers had one or two go-to people in each department that they sought advice from.
3. Prioritization Practice
Third, product managers know how to prioritize features for implementation. How product managers prioritize varies from product manager to product manager, but I’ve noticed that the PMs I’ve worked with tend to prioritize features based on customer demand and company goals.
At the root of it, product managers oversee a product, or parts of a product. They’re in charge of determining what features the development team should build, working with UI and UX to figure out how to streamline the interface and overall user experience, and ensuring the product makes it to market. Once the features are out for the customers to use, product managers must compile customer feedback and ensure the success of the features, iterating and changing the features to meet changing customer needs over time.
After working as a product management intern, I now have new insight into what it is product managers actually do. I’ve enjoyed my internship at ProductPlan very much—so much so that I now know I want to become a product manager after finishing my computer science degree.
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