The Fundamentals of Product Management

Lasse Rosendahl Ravn

Updated December 20th, 2022 (Published July 8th, 2022)

This post outlines the fundamentals of the product management discipline. I’m expanding this post as I’m learning, reading, and testing, meaning this should continually evolve. Consider this as a collection of notes, thoughts, and ideas.

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As of now, this post is mainly just a braindump of everything I'm taking note of in the PM world. Anywhere from processes to key concepts and small nuggets of wisdom. I'll elaborate on each section as I gain more experience.

I've divided my notes into two sections:

  1. What is a Product Manager?

  2. What's the day-to-day work of a Product Manager?

Let's dive in!

What is a Product Manager? Let's discuss the role in general

What the Product Manager needs

There's a set of competencies that a PM should work to build over time to succeed in the role.

A good Product Manager needs the following:

  • Deep customer knowledge

  • Technology sophistication

  • Business savvy

  • Product passion

  • Key executive credibility

  • Product team respect

To build deep customer knowledge, the Product Manager needs to understand the users’:

  • Issues (with your product)

  • Pains (in life)

  • Desires (in life)

These are all required to prioritize what gets built and what it solves.

The Product Manager must also have:

  • Deep knowledge of the customer

  • Deep knowledge of the data

  • Deep knowledge of your business

  • Deep knowledge of the market and industry

Collaboration with the rest of the team

What’s important when collaborating with the other team members is that the PM:

  • Expresses the knowledge of the constraints team members are working under (e.g. what tools other teams have at hand)

  • Only brings projects or tasks to the table that she/he feels the team can accomplish

People the PM is cooperating with could be in roles like:

  • Developer

  • Product Marketer

  • Product Designer

  • User Research

  • Data Analyst

  • Test Automation Engineer

PM roles and product career development

Here's a non-exhaustive list of Product Manager ranks:

  1. Assistant Product Manager

  2. Product Manager

  3. Senior Product Manager

  4. Group Product Manager

  5. Product Manager Lead

  6. Head of Product (where people management begins)

  7. Director, Product

  8. Vice President, Product

  9. Chief Product Officer

I've seen plenty of companies where 1, 4 & 5 didn't exist and some companies where only one of 6, 7, 8 & 9 existed. Typically, the larger the company the more ranks.

The Head of Product role

The single most important skill for this role is team development.

Group Product Manager:

There's typically one Group Product Manager for each Product Manager team. This role is also only present in larger organizations.

  • One for marketplace

  • One for demand gen

  • One for supply gen

Product Manager verticals

The above ranks can be positioned in different departments and across specific products within the organization. An example is a “Growth Product Manager” typically working across teams on growth-related projects.

Examples of departments and functions that Product Managers can be in/have:

  1. Growth Product Manager

  2. Technical Product Manager

  3. Platform Product Manager

To me, all PMs could be have one or multiple of these PM hats on, so I don't think it's the best idea to start spreading them out across verticals. At least, I don't see the major benefit of doing so.

Growth Product Manager

  • Builds software to meet business goals rather than building software to meet user goals

  • Focused on AARRR metrics rather than meeting user needs

How to think about product teams

Here’s how core product teams differ from fx growth and marketing teams.

  • Product teams: software teams that solve user problems

  • Growth teams: software teams that solve business problems

  • Marketing teams: non-software teams that solve business problems

The scope of a Product Manager when starting a new job

One of the things I've learned during my time managing E-commerce sites and products is that the scope of what you're expected to manage can quickly get out of hand or be unclear.

To advance in Product Management, and in your career in general, it's important to show results and impact. That's much easier to do if your scope is limited from the beginning.

I was in charge of an E-commerce website. "In charge" didn't mean that I could fully do whatever I wanted, but it did mean that I was held somewhat accountable if the performance was not how my boss wanted it to be.

The problem was that there was a misfit between the assigned scope I was given and the areas of which I truly had the mandate to control. That's why I actually recommend taking on smaller scopes when starting a new PM job.

If you're able to easily understand the scope and the metrics you should move, it's much easier to get started and the road to showing impact will be much faster.

What's the day-to-day work of a Product Manager?

These are the notes of the day-to-day work of being a product manager. In general, you can divide the work of a Product Manager into three buckets:

  1. Product strategy

  2. Product discovery

  3. Product delivery

Think of these 3 buckets as a waterfall. 1 and 2 should happen before 3 and doing 2 before 1 means you're missing something!

Let's dissect each and of these and study what they contain! 🎉

Product strategy

All product work should start with a product strategy. I would argue that strategy is the single most important part, but also the part that most companies don't dedicate enough time and focus to.

In general, a product strategy is made up of 3 core components:

  1. Product vision

  2. Strategic framework

  3. Roadmap

Here are 3 great articles on product strategy and product management in general: OUTCOME BASED ROADMAPS: Unleash the Power of a Shared Vision and Purpose, A Practical Guide to Using OKRs in Product Management & How to develop product sense

Product vision

A product vision is an inspiring picture of what the future looks like. Something that gets potential team members excited about joining the ship.

It's important to easily see how the product strategy aligns with the overall business strategy that is (hopefully) in place already.

Melissa Peri describes this "aspiring future" that vision talks about with a small rhyme that I really liked:

I can understand that we're going to get there one day. I don't know how we'll get there, today. We'll find out along the way.

Strategic framework

The strategic framework is a part of the product strategy that contains important considerations such as:

  1. The market we’re going after

  2. What success looks like

  3. Big bets we’re taking

"The market we're choosing to play in, how we're choosing the win, the capabilities we need to have in place, the management systems we'll build"

The market we’re going after

This section should include:

  • a definition of the market

  • info about market size

  • market growth

  • key competitors in the market (globally and locally)

What success looks like

This includes:

  • Overall strategic goals (SMART goals)

  • Outcomes (measurable changes in behavior in the product - think OKRs here)

Painting a picture of the new reality we'll find ourselves in if we achieve our strategy.

Big bets we’re doing

Remember that big bets are not features. They could be new emerging technologies that the company wants to bet on, market expansion plans, etc.

Product discovery

The second part of the day-to-day work of a PM is product discovery. This contains the following elements:

  1. Opportunities

  2. Ideas

  3. Solutions

Product delivery

Product delivery is the 3rd and final part of the daily work of a PM.

  • Opportunities

  • Hypotheses

  • Features

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