The role of product manager comes with multiple masters to serve.
In short, being a product manager means commercializing a product for the business so it becomes a salable package that customers will embrace. If the product is software, the product manager must be technically savvy about software development, but also business savvy about the client needs that the software must satisfy. The product manager must understand clients' pain points so he or she can direct product development to include the functions and features the clients require. He or she must also supervise the entire software development process to assure that the end product is built for quality and is easy to use.
Not only that, but the product manager needs to have an eye for the business side. She must be able to manage costs of producing the product, and must also position the product to produce revenues and profits. Finally, the product manager must develop market plans and product strategic roadmaps, as well as ensure that the product has adequate training and support channels. And through all of this, the product manager has to talk to everyone including the CEO, the CFO, end clients, and business analysts
In a nutshell, a product manager, in many respects, is a miniature version of a chief operating officer (COO), with touches of CFO and even CEO skillsets. If a product manager does the job well, she can easily find herself in position to advance into the C-level of the company.
Not everyone desires to be a product manager because of the broad nature of the position. The versatility required to do this position well is not for the faint of heart. However, those who choose to take on product management often find that it can be a great way to promote themselves and their careers.
Who make the best product managers?
Because the position is broad-based and interdisciplinary, the ideal person is technically astute when it comes to the product, but also personable and able to communicate with anyone. Often, persons with liberal arts backgrounds who have migrated to technical careers are well suited to product management because of their people and communications skills.
It is also a fact that in many companies, product managers are chosen by upper management, with few people expressing early interest in the position. However, if you are interested in advancing to a C-level position and you believe that you have the skills needed for product management, you should let your boss know that you would like to be considered as a candidate.
Are you ready to be a product manager?
There are a several essential skills required. For one, as previously mentioned, a product manager has to enjoy talking with people, and not only that, but be effective in doing so. Also, there's no getting around that fact that it's a stressful job, so the ability to handle stress well is a plus. There's also the matter of versatility. Generalists who are comfortable dealing with a business or technical topic from the vantage point of any discipline within the organization will be well-suited for the role. Finally, the product manager should be results-oriented, unafraid of taking calculated risks, and willing to lead.
And all those qualities may end up making exactly the right argument for why a product manager should move up the chain.
Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President of Product Research and Software Development for Summit Information Systems, a computer software company; and Vice President of Strategic Planning and Technology at FSI International, a multinational manufacturing company in the semiconductor industry. Mary is a keynote speaker and has more than 1,000 articles, research studies, and technology publications in print.