In my consulting engagements over the past few years I have seen quite a few business cards with “Product Manager” printed on them, that in the context of the actual roles the respective holders were filling, kind of puzzled me.

While the term Product Management is obviously used in a wide array of contexts, the true role boils down to the following (literature has variations, but to me this covers it well):

To deliver measurable business results through products and solutions that meet both customer needs and company objectives.

Reads like a CEO’s job description? Almost. A Product Manager has many bases to cover and from what I see in startups the CEO often is the de facto product manager or chief product officer.

What it means for the Product Manager regardless of rank is that he has to manage (while not owning all of them) a number of domains:

The Product itself
Starting out from the actual product in question that means product requirements, features, quality, and performance. Beyond that, roadmap and strategy have to be considered taking into account customers, markets as well as competition and possibly industry events.

Technical Resources
First and foremost, obviously this relates to R&D in ensuring that the product is getting built, enhanced, or updated in line with roadmap and plan. This is probably one of the most critical relationships. Understanding issues, negotiating trade-offs to keep the project management triangle “scope-schedule-cost/value” in as good shape as possible. In addition working with testing, support, technical training, service engineering etc. to keep them updated as well as collect input.

Marketing and Sales
Create/work with Product Marketing and Marcom to create positioning, messaging, collaterals, and white papers. Support lead generation. Work with the sales force to get customer feedback. Present to key customers and press. Evangelize.

Managing the product to deliver optimal business results, supporting plan for the particular product as well as corporate objectives in general. This includes tracking revenue attainment v. plan, setting/reviewing/adjusting pricing, forecasting, and pipeline reviews,. Understanding changes and deviations.

So what skill set does that require from a Product Manager?
There are basic skills like a solid understanding and knowledge with respect to domain, industry, and relevant technology coupled with a good understanding of customers. On top a product manager should have a good working customer experience (in the holistic sense) knowledge.

In addition a Product Manager needs a good understanding of the processes underlying new product development (NPP-process!) as well as product optimization. This includes development (agile v. waterfall/V) models and testing methodologies (varying with domain).

On top a good product manager has to have business savvy and analytical skills as well as financial understanding. Today’s world is very data-driven – in particular when it comes to internet business models!

While all of the above are mostly technical skills, communication and collaboration really make the difference. A Product Manager has to be able to converse fluently with engineers, present to and manage Management stakeholders while collaborating hand-in-glove with various entities like Marketing and Sales.

To be really successful, a Product Manager also needs to be a leader, taking/defending decisions and getting the organization behind his product and objectives.

Most of the more technical skills require a solid technical or methodical grounding. Some other skills come with experience. The rest is art.