A Product Manager is responsible for managing a set of products or product lines over the life of the product from ideation through development, launch sale, and finally discontinuance. They interface between the market and the product team during development representing the voice of the customer. And they manage the portfolio of products they are responsible for to maximize sales and profitability.
We have noted that two types of product manager roles across companies. We describe these at Lightweight Product Managers and Heavyweight Product Managers. The following is a distinction in these two roles.
Lightweight Product Managers – These Product Managers assess the market and identify opportunities for new products. The lead the effort to understand the customer needs and define requirements for new products. They manage the activities to support the commercial launch of a new product. While they help plan and manage the product line, the do not have overall profit and loss responsibility for the product line, they rely heavily on Finance to develop business cases for products, and executive management has a more dominant role in planning and managing the product portfolio for the product line. Lightweight Product Managers operate more as a peer on the product teams.
Heavyweight Product Managers – These Product Managers have all of the responsibilities described for the Lightweight Product Manager. In addition, they have more authority and responsibility to manage the product line profit and loss. They act as the General Manager for the product line. They have a more significant role in determining which products to produce and in portfolio planning for the product line. They interact with executive management as if management is the banker to fund their development effort. Heavyweight Product Managers direct the development efforts of the product team.
Specific Product Manager responsibilities are the following.
- Ideation: The Product Manager solicits ideas for new products from others and contributes ideas for new products. He/she collects information on new product ideas, analyzes new product ideas, and helps evaluate new product ideas.
- Market Analysis: The Product Manager maintains constant surveillance and awareness of the market and has been able to effectively identify customer needs and trends.
- Competitive Analysis: The Product Manager maintains awareness of competitive products, potential competitive products, competitors, and competitor capabilities. He/she actively collects and analyzes data on competitors and helps to organize this data into meaningful information. He/she organizes or effectively participates in competitive intelligence efforts. The Product Manager effectively uses competitive information in the development of a new product. He/she is able to identify strengths and weaknesses of proposed products relative to the competition, can anticipate competitive responses, and can consider competitive actions in the development of sales projections.
- Preparation of Voice of the Customer Plan: The Product Manager proactively develops a plan for collecting voice of the customer (VOC) data early in the development cycle. The plan addresses methods to be used, definition of the customers to be talked to, resources required, and the schedule for the investigation effort.
- Familiarity with Voice of the Customer Methods: The Product Manager is familiar voice of the customer (VOC) methods including market research, interviewing and interviewing techniques, focus groups, ethnographic research, usability studies, and other methods. He/she applies these techniques as appropriate. The Product Manager applies VOC techniques appropriately to understand both stated and latent needs. The customer needs identified reflect this VOC input rather than the Product Manager’s initial perceptions of the customer needs.
- Customer Needs Definition: The Product Manager develops an effective understanding of the customer needs balancing the information collected, with risks of not fully understanding customer needs and assessing market potential and with cost and schedule of the investigation.
- Requirements Development: The Product Manager works with the team to develop a comprehensive set of requirements that address all defined customer needs and that are complete. Product requirements are effectively communicated to team members to assure a complete and consistent understanding of the requirements. Product requirements are managed to minimize changes once development is underway. Any changes in products requirements are carefully evaluated to minimize disruption to the development team and plan.
- Use of Product Planning & Definition Methods: The Product Manager uses a structured approach to product definition and planning such as quality function deployment (QFD) to translate customer needs into product requirements and develop a product plan.
- Enhance Value Proposition: The Product Manager balances out requirements with cost to maximize the value proposition to the customer. He/she is familiar with and uses techniques such as conjoint analysis or other value assessment techniques to make decisions to maximize product value.
- Product Positioning & Strategy: The Product Manager does a good job of integrating overall company strategy, product line plans and strategy, competitive analysis, and customer needs into an effective product strategy and position in the marketplace.
- Product Line Planning & Strategy: The Product Line Manager appropriately contributes to the development of an overall product line plan and strategy.
- Product Line Roadmaps: The Product Manager contributes to, develops, and maintains product roadmaps and other representations of the product line plan and strategy. Roadmaps and related documents are up to date.
- Product Forecasting: The Product Manager uses a reasoned approach to develop to develop forecasts of customer demand and maintain forecasts as customer demand changes. These forecasts are communicated with others in the organization that need this information. The Product Manager analyzes variances between forecasted and actual product demand to understand what happened and to refine his/her forecasting approach.
- Business Case Development: The Product Manager works effectively with Product Team members and Finance to develop a realistic business case. He/she has a good grasp of the factors which affect the business case. The Product Manager monitors the project and environment and updates the business case as required.
- Portfolio Planning: The Product Manager provides needed analysis to support product portfolio planning. If the Product Manager participates in portfolio planning with management, he/she provides useful insights and perspectives to prioritize development programs.
- Analyze and Rationalize Product Portfolio: The Product Manager regularly conducts a critical review of his/her product line or product portfolio to identify needed actions to discontinue poor performing products, overlapping products, or products that require repositioning or re-launching.
- Communicate Product Plans & Strategy with Management: The Product Manager effectively communicates product plans and strategy with management to obtain required decisions, resources or management support and minimize surprises.
- Communicate Product Plans & Strategy with Team Members: The Product Manager effectively communicates product plans and product strategy with team members to assure understanding and obtain consensus where necessary. As a result, team members are well-aligned with overall plans and understand program direction and needed actions.
- Project Management: The Product Manager works effectively with the project manager, helping to plan the project, provide guidance, and monitor the project results.
- Gate Reviews: The Product Manager assembles needed information to support gate reviews and provides critical analysis to help management make good decisions.
- Gather Customer Feedback: During development, the Product Manager gathers needed customer feedback from prototypes or mock-ups and communicates the results of this feedback to the appropriate team members. The Product Manager uses this feedback to guide making sound decisions for the project.
- Develop Promotional Plan: The Product Manager prepares a comprehensive and well-thought out promotional plan that details strategy, needed actions, and messages with promotion and advertising.
- Evaluate and Define Distribution Channels: The Product Manager evaluates and defines distribution channels. The Product Manager considers new channels when appropriate.
- Develop Distribution Channels: The Product Manager works with existing distribution channels to improve their effectiveness and develops new distribution channels as required. The Product Manager negotiates arrangements with new distribution channels when needed.
- Evaluate and Refine Promotional & Marketing Messages: The Product Manager works with Marketing, advertising agencies, and PR firms to develop the product’s promotional and marketing messages. The Product Manager evaluates and refines these promotional and marketing messages to develop an effective promotional program.
- Execute Promotional Plan: The Product Manager oversees and effectively manages the execution of the promotional plan. The Product Manager takes corrective action as required to keep the plan on track and revises the plan as required.
- Plan Test Markets & Beta Tests: During the development effort, the Product Manager plans any required beta test programs or test market programs.
- Manage Usability Testing, Beta Testing, & Test Marketing: The Product Manager manages any required usability testing, beta testing, or test marketing programs. The Product Manager assess the results of usability testing, beta testing and test marketing and takes appropriate corrective action.
- Evaluate and Establish Pricing: The Product Manager effectively evaluates the market, the competition and establishes product pricing to maximize profit and long-term sales.
- Support Customers and Channel Partners: The Product Manager supports requests for customer proposals and presentations and ensures all relevant materials exist to support the product. He/she creates and defines tools that enable the sales channels and customers to evaluate product options.
- Coordinate & Manage Product Launch: The Product Manager effectively coordinates and manages the launch of a new product.
- Promote Product: The Product Manager proactively promotes the product to customers, analysts, social media, and the press.
- Monitor Product Results: The Product Manager monitors product performance by tracking key performance indicators including revenue, cost savings, margin, market share, customer feedback and other indicators identified.
- Management Reporting: The Product Manager provides regular and ongoing reporting for management-level operational reviews.
- Manage Product Lifecycle: Based on product performance, the Product Manager determines when actions are needed to upgrade, improve, revise or reposition products, or when actions are needed to revise product promotional programs and product pricing. He/she then develops appropriate plans, marshals resources, and executes these product changes, revised promotional plans, and pricing changes. He/she also determines when actions are needed to discontinue existing products and then develops appropriate plans to discontinue the product and migrate customers to a new product.