What Is Product Management?

Product management is an essential business role for any company making and selling products. Why? Because research shows that 21% of products fail to meet the needs of their consumers. But what is product management, exactly, and how can a skilled product manager improve success rates?

For starters, having a skilled product manager and a well-rounded product management process can help prevent one in every five of your products from being a market failure. 

This guide will explain exactly what product management is, what it isn’t, and how it differs from marketing and project management

We’ll also walk you through creating an effective product management strategy and sharing essential tips for optimizing your product management operations. Plus, we’ll discuss how to choose the right product management tool for your team and organization.

An introduction to product management

Product management deals with handling the complete life cycle of a product or line of products. This process includes planning, forecasting, producing, and marketing the products, as well as determining when and how to discontinue products. 

The ultimate role of product management is to ensure the products your company delivers meet your customers’ needs and wants.  

What is the difference between marketing and product management?

Let's get a basic understanding of product management terms. Marketing and product management both have the same goal: to ensure your products are what customers want to buy. But, the tasks they complete to achieve that goal are very different.

Your marketing team will typically focus on refining your target audience, driving interest through marketing campaigns, and relaying feedback from potential customers to the product management team. 

On the other hand, your product management team will generally spend their time involved with product and feature design, production schedules, and more operational or technical aspects of getting the product to market.

At times, the two groups may collaborate on some tasks. For instance, if you create a prototype and want early feedback on it, the marketing and product management teams may jointly plan and run a focus group.     

Product manager vs. project manager: what is the difference?

People often confuse product manager with project manager, especially since they may both be shortened into “PM”. But project management and product management have very different areas of focus. 

Here are two key differences between product manager vs. project manager:

  1. Product managers are responsible for the entire product life cycle; project managers tackle a specific project, such as getting a product to market or completing a prototype.
  2. Product management tends to focus on the overall product strategy and high-level plan, while project management is responsible for overseeing the day-to-day execution of tasks. 

While product management and project management may occasionally tackle similar tasks or even use similar methods and frameworks (such as Agile), each one has a unique area of focus within a business.  

What isn't product management?

We’ve now covered that product management is not marketing or project management. But what else isn’t it?

Product management isn’t an operational role. A product manager is a strategic person who helps lead the vision for your business’ products. While they may help oversee operations, their job is to maintain the product roadmap (the high-level overview of the product).  

Product managers typically aren’t expected to know how to build the product. For instance, only 5% of product managers know how to code. Product managers just need to understand how it works well enough to oversee feature design and help translate the wants of the customer into physical functionality.

The product manager also isn’t (normally) the product owner. Product owner is a Scrum role that is responsible for representing the customer’s best interest during a project. They aren’t involved with the overall product strategy or roadmap outside of that project scope

The person filling the product owner role may have a different job title and description outside of the project. They could be a business analyst, someone from marketing, or someone on your product management team. 

In contrast, product manager is a full-time role that generally doesn’t end or change with a project. Product management would oversee all product-related projects and the product owners involved with each one.  

Who works on a product management team?

Like a project management team, a product management team will often depend on the organization and types of products being produced.

In some organizations, a product manager may not even have a designated team. Instead, they will act more like a consultant who interacts with and helps guide the teams in implementing the product plan (operations, marketing, etc.). 

In other businesses, product management operations may be a completely cross-functional team made up of the following roles: 

  • Product marketing 
  • Production
  • Product analytics
  • Product design
  • Testing/Quality Control

Enterprises may even have multiple product operations teams, with each one focused on a separate product line or customer segment. 

How to create a product management plan

Product management planning typically includes three stages:

  1. Define the overarching strategy for the product or product line
  2. Create a high-level plan to achieve that strategy
  3. Translate the product management plan into a visual roadmap

What do you put in a product management strategy?

Your product management strategy outlines the vision and goals for your product(s). This could involve capturing more market share, entering a new geographic region, expanding the product line, replacing an outdated product with a new version, etc. 

Once you’ve defined what you want to achieve with your products (in discussion with other key product stakeholders) you need to translate it into goals that can be measured. 

For instance, if you want to increase market share, you’ll need to define how much of an increase you’re targeting and by what date. You’ll also need to establish how you’ll measure market share so you and your team can consistently measure progress. 

What do you put in a product management plan?

After your product management strategy is created, it’s time to translate it into a plan. 

Since a product manager’s job is to focus on strategic initiatives, this is generally a high-level plan. At this point, there’s no need to get down into the weeds of what steps need to be executed each day. 

The product management plan will typically include only the high-level product initiatives. If your vision is to expand a product line, your product management plan may outline something like this:

  • Step 1: Work with marketing to elicit current customer feedback
  • Step 2: Create a new design based on product data, feedback & market trends
  • Step 3: Build a prototype or beta version of the product
  • Step 4: Gather early user feedback
  • Step 5: Refine the prototype based on feedback and re-test the market
  • Step 6: Go to production
  • Step 7: Work with marketing to launch the release campaign
  • Step 8: Go to market
  • Step 9: Ongoing management of product life cycle

Essentially, you want to include an overview of the different steps that will be covered, the departments or people involved, and a general timeline of how long each step or phase may take. 

What do you put in a product management roadmap?

A product management roadmap takes your product management plan and transforms it into an easy-to-understand visual. 

By creating a product roadmap, you can see the product plan's overall timeline and where steps overlap. Plus, a visual of your plan makes it easier to share with stakeholders, such as the marketing director, operations manager, and other executives. 

Your roadmap is similar to a project Gantt chart. It should include all of the high-level steps covered in your product launch plans, as well as general timelines and any key milestones, such as targeted release dates. 

Tips for optimizing your product management operations

Here are five tips on how you can optimize your product management operations:

1. Develop skills related to product management

Product managers need to be able to efficiently gather custom feedback and capture needs. They’ll then translate those needs into product features and requirements, communicate those requirements to production, and oversee the entire product lifestyle. 

Other skills can include creating roadmaps, prioritizing conflicting needs, allocating resources, understanding market analyses, defining and tracking performance metrics, and determining market pricing. The stronger these skills are, the smoother product management will go. 

2. Improve your emotional intelligence

Product management spans across the entire business. Your product management team is likely made up of people in different areas of the business. Not only is your team cross-functional, but so are your other stakeholders. You need to be able to effectively communicate with people in all areas of the business as well as external clients and customers. 

To do this effectively, emotional intelligence is essential. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to use, understand, and manage emotions in a way that improves your communication. You can improve your EQ by working on your self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. 

3. Adopt an Agile mindset

Product life cycles tend to be shortening across most, if not all, industries. As products become obsolete faster, product managers must adapt to changing demands and market trends.  

The Agile project management framework can help product management teams quickly adapt and increase the speed of new products to market. Agile methodology also emphasizes a customer focus, which aligns well with product management. 

4. Create standard workflows

Product managers have to oversee a lot of moving parts, especially if they’re in charge of multiple product lines. Creating standardized processes, forms, and workflows can help reduce errors, speed up tasks, and boost overall productivity. 

For instance, having a template for capturing customer feedback or creating product roadmaps will decrease the amount of time the process takes, ensure every feedback form or roadmap looks the same, and decrease the risk of essential information being left out.

5. Adopt the right product management tools 

How do you create standardized processes, forms, and workflows without wasting a lot of time and effort? You need to have the right product management tools. Product management software can help you create forms and templates, automate parts of your workflow (such as sending updates), and standardize processes. 

With the right tools, you can improve communication and collaboration with centralized databases, real-time reports, live dashboards, and instant notifications. Plus, you can monitor results with KPI examples for product management.

But how do you choose the right tools? 

How to choose the right product management tools for your team

Product management teams have to tackle a lot of tasks and oversee many areas of the business to stay on top of a product’s life cycle.

Some of the types of activities a product operations team may need to be involved with are : 

  • Capturing customer feedback
  • Conducting market data analysis
  • Planning the product strategy and roadmap
  • Coordinating design and wireframing
  • Overseeing user testing
  • Promoting collaboration between teams and stakeholders
  • Overseeing productivity of key departments, such as production
  • Handling project management functions such as reporting

When it comes to product management tools, you can either opt for one tool that handles everything or multiple tools that each specialize in one key area. 

The right choice for your team can depend on a number of things, including:

  • What tools you already have in-house (i.e., if you already have a CRM your team loves)
  • What you can afford 
  • The size of your organization
  • The complexity of your business and product management process

For instance, if you want a tool with specialized design and wireframing features, you’ll likely have a hard time finding an all-in-one product management system that meets your needs. So, in this case, you may be better off looking for separate tools that can seamlessly integrate with each other. 

Once you determine what you’re looking for, you can narrow down your options based on the features, functionality, and integrations your team needs.

You should have a checklist of your needs and wants, including the level of support you’re looking for and your overall budget. This will help ensure you pick out product management software that ticks all the right boxes. 

Why Wrike should be your next product management system

Wrike product management software is an all-in-one collaboration tool that can meet your product management needs. It offers all the features required to create roadmaps and dashboards, share reports, collaborate with clients and other departments, store vital customer and product data, and more.  

Plus, Wrike Integrate ensures you can seamlessly integrate your product management software with the rest of your tech stack. There are thousands of integrations available, ensuring you can maintain one central source of the truth without abandoning tools your team already uses and loves.  

Sign up for a free two-week trial today and see how Wrike product management software can optimize your product management operations!

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