The Rise of the Product Manager

Publication: The Hindu
October 24, 2021

With our world becoming increasingly digital and the consumer buying patterns dramatically changing, it’s crucial for our products and services to evolve faster to stay abreast. To stay on par with this change, it’s necessary for organisations to pay attention to how the customer interacts with their product, service, and brand digitally. While in the past, considerable efforts had gone into ‘Building the Product Right’ that led to the rise of the Project Management function, now, more and more organisations are realising that ‘Building the Right Product’ is the need of the hour.

And this, in a nutshell, is the key cause for the rise of the Product Manager. Product Managers are the glue that bind various cross-functional teams, who touch a product from conception to launch and beyond – design, engineering, marketing, sales and customer success, to name but a few – and ensure that collective efforts coalesce into products that users LOVE. According to 280 Group’s recent survey, a fully optimised Product Manager could increase company profits by 34.2%. Product Managers have never been more in-demand than they are now, as firms strive to adapt and expand by adopting agile operation practices.

Why is this role so important?

The process of building a product end-to-end and selling it successfully, leading to a sustainable business, requires key contributions from many different specialist departments like – Engineering, Sales and Marketing, Operations, Customer Support, etc. They all bring remarkable expertise to realise the dream. However, if the business decides to use only the engineering expertise, they might end up with a product which incorporates all the latest and greatest technologies but may not solve customers’ key problems. Similarly, if they purely rely on their sales competencies, they might end up with a “me too” product (very similar to that best-selling product from their nearest competitor with minimal differentiation, like pricing). It’s the Product Manager’s dharma to represent the voice of the customer while making key decisions throughout the product lifecycle and to ensure that the implementation does not deviate from the core vision of the product as a vehicle to solve customers’ problems. While guiding these decisions, they use customer insights and bring together cross-functional teams in order to ensure alignment between diverse functions.

As a result of all of this, Product Management is becoming the new training ground for future CEOs. Prior to becoming the CEOs of Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo!, Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella, and Marissa Mayer were product managers. They learned how to inspire and lead teams by steering products from conception to development to launch and beyond.

What are the types of Product Management?

It’s very likely that a single Product Manager may move through the below “stages of product management” depending on the stage a product category is and also on their organisational structure:

a. Strategic Product Management: This applies to product managers involved in driving New Product or New Product Category introduction. Here, the bulk of the time of the product manager is devoted to strategy, innovation and business model development. Key activities involve (but are not limited to) identifying consumer problems, ideation, product innovation, target market selection, segmentation, positioning, buy-build-partner choices, competitor analysis, SWOT analysis and so on.

b. Technology Product Management: For deeply technical products, the product managers end up spending most of their time intechnology implementation related activities like requirements mapping, creation of user stories, product road mapping, feature prioritisation, driving the agile product development lifecycle, and so on. This is especially true for products where the business model has already been established. For instance, technology product companies like Google would have product managers for their search related products focussing on these aspects; especially since the business of delivering advertisements based on your search-intent was well-established when Google entered the digital advertising market.

c. Business-oriented Product Management: This category of product management professionals focuses more on owning specific business metrics and maximizing the performance of those KPIs by fine tuning product mix. For example, B2C products that have another source for creative inputs. Prime example is e-commerce products and services.

How to start a career in Product Management?

There’s no cookie-cutter way of building a career in Product Management. The most successful Product Managers usually don’t start their professional life as Product Managers, though it’s a goal they work towards over the years. 

If you see yourself as a Product Manager in the future, then you must take a look at these top competencies this role demands:

  1. Strategic mindset: Product Managers must possess a comprehensive understanding of the business (sales, marketing & product development) and its competitors. To meet consumer demands, they need business analytics and crucial problem-solving ability.
  • Consumer-centric approach: Understanding the customer who will ultimately use your product is the core of Product Management. While designing and developing the product roadmap, a Product Manager must always keep the end-user in mind. For this, they need to constantly interact with consumers, and they do so by implementing a feedback loop.
  • Leadership & interpersonal skills: Product Managers must possess excellent leadership qualities. They must be able to influence team members (even if they are not directly reporting to them) and help them align themselves with the core vision of the product. They enable teams to stay on top of priorities while inspiring them and defining the product roadmap.

Mastering Product Management is part science and part art. While the “science” part of it deals with areas like Ideation, Innovation, Implementation, Industrialization and continuous Improvement of the Product (5i Framework of Product Management), the “art” side, however, requires one to go through as many end-to-end complete product life cycles as possible in one’s career. This is the reason why we, at Jigsaw Academy, designed the Postgraduate Certificate Program in Product Management – in close collaboration with IIM Indore with ‘Bring Your Own Product (BYOP)’ feature at its core. BYOP becomes a vehicle for application of learnings from the program (which covers the 5i Framework very exhaustively) on a real-life product idea which is close to participants’ hearts. Thus, providing a taste of the real job of a Product Manager to the participant as they take their idea through an end-to-end product lifecycle simulation. Hence, even if one may be able to experience the complete product lifecycle in their current job role, one can take this program and get a taste of the real thing in an academic environment aided by industry experts as mentors.

Product Management is one of the highest-paying professions in the IT sector. An early-career Product Manager earns between INR 9 lakhs and INR 13 lakhs per year, according to Payscales.com. Today, there are more than 16,000 Product Manager positions vacant in the country only on LinkedIn.

Product Management appeals to a certain type of professional who is always looking for new challenges and wants to advance in their career. If it feels like you, then exploring a career in Product Management would be worthwhile.

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