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Product Management

This articles describes the most important aspects and features of a career as a product manager. We will detail what product managers do, where they work, typical duties, how to enter the field, common career paths, salaries, and more.

What We Do

A product manager is a management professional who may work in many industries, from pharmaceuticals, to technology, to manufacturing. A product manager bears similarities to brand managers.

The product manager is often thought of as the ‘CEO’ of the particular product. He or she is responsible for the road map, strategy and features for a particular product or product line. In many cases, the product manager role can including many roles, such as forecasting, profit and loss and marketing.

Product managers often perform market and competitive analysis and lay out a vision for the product. The manager produces a vision that is highly specific and differentiated, delivering a unique value that is based upon the demands and preferences of the consumer.

The product manager role can include many activities that vary from tactical to strategic. Those who perform their job well often will serve as an effective cross functional leader of the product. He or she will be able to bridge wide gaps between teams with very different functions in a company.

For example, the engineering team for a product nearly always has a vastly different perspective about the product than do the sales and marketing team. It is the role of a product manager to hear the concerns, challenges and input from these different teams and to produce a quality product.

Becoming a product manager is a process at most companies that occurs over time as you gain more experience and are promoted through the ranks. Some product managers come from a more liberal arts background, and others have more technical expertise. Product managers who have mastered both ‘soft’ communication and writing skills, as well as engineering and computer science skills, will find themselves in especially high demand.

Job Duties

The core job duties of product manager can vary depending upon the company and type of product. Nevertheless, the following are the core aspects of many product manager roles:

  • Strategy: Responsible for establishing the vision and strategy for the product. Their role is to very clearly describe to product stakeholders in the company so that they understand what the purpose of the product is. They take ownership of the strategy underlying the product, and also its road map. The manager must work with engineering to build a product that reflects this carefully refined strategy.
  • Releases: Must plan for what teams are going to deliver and when. This is the case no matter the type of development methodologies that are used. The manager owns the release aspects of the particular product.
  • Ideation: All companies want better ideas, but managing them and prioritizing them is what is difficult. A product manager handles ideation: the process of coming up with, developing and curating various new ideas. They decide which ideas need to be actual features of the product.
  • Go to market: The product manager makes the decisions about when the product is ready to go to market and how that will happen. The PM needs to provide support to the entities and organizations that will bring the product to market. This will involve working closely with marketing and sales staff.

Where We Work

Product managers often work in technology-related companies, as well as pharmaceutical and medical device companies. As of 2017, the cities with the most job openings for product managers are:

  • San Francisco
  • New York City
  • San Jose
  • Atlanta
  • Boston

How to Become

Many product managers have a bachelor’s degree in marketing or bachelors degree in business, as well as an MBA in general business or marketing. Others have a background in computer science, economics or business, or a combination. Having a good mix of technical and liberal arts skills is often very important.

Many business professionals want to become product managers. But it is important to understand that one generally does not become a product manager as soon as you graduate from college. Being a product manager at a large company is a very important position that requires a good deal of work and experience to achieve. Most product managers have several years of experience in their industry and/or that specific company.

Current product managers say that you can become a product manager by following these tips:

  • Become extremely knowledgeable in the industry, product and company.
  • Practice your listening skills. You need to be able to listen carefully to client needs and also be empathetic with them.
  • Learn how to write computer code. Technical product managers are especially in high demand in tech companies.
  • Learn how to prioritize: Product managers have demands coming at them from all sides with different stakes in the product.
  • Develop end user understanding and experience.
  • Must be able to exercise leadership and handle a team of professionals from many different disciplines.
  • Think about how you would improve a product at your company and really be able to flesh it out.

Having the above skills will increase the odds that you can move into a product management role over time.

Employment/Salaries

Glassdoor.com reports that the median national salary for all product managers in 2016 was $103,000. Payscale.com reports that the median salary for senior product managers is $118,900.

Glassdoor also reports that product managers at different companies make different salaries: For example, product managers at these companies make the following average salaries:

  • Cisco Systems: $141,000
  • Google: $148,000
  • Microsoft: $116,000
  • Amazon: $115,000
  • IBM: $114,000
  • eBay: $112,000
  • Target: $99,400
  • Motorola Mobility: $129,000

Career Paths

Product management career paths tend to follow two different paths, and in some companies and industries, these paths could merge.

  • Technical: Some product managers have more of a technical background with a degree in computer science, degree in engineering management, sometimes combined with a marketing and sales background. They may start out as a junior engineer and eventually earn a master’s in technical field, then become a regular engineer, product engineer, and eventually be promoted into product management.
  • Sales and Marketing: Product managers with a sales and marketing background often have a bachelor’s and/or MBA in marketing, advertising, economics and other liberal arts fields, and possibly with some computer technical expertise as well. They may rise in their career from customer service to administration and to marketing management. After several years in the field or company on this path, they may be promoted to product manager.

Training and Certifications

Some of the product management certifications that can enhance your career include these that are offered in part by the Association of International Product Marketing and Management (AIPMM), in conjunction with the 280 Group:

  • Certified Product Manager or CPM: Understand functions needed to champion new products throughout the lifecycle.
  • Certified Product Marketing Manager or CPMM: Shows a complete understanding of functions to champion product through the entire back end of the product life cycle.
  • Agile Certified Product Manage and Product Owner or ACPMPO: Gain a complete understanding of Agile development techniques and methodologies, and how to apply them in the product life cycle.

The company Pragmatic Marketing also offers six levels of certification in product management and marketing. It has educated more than 100,000 product management professionals since 1993.

The 280 Group also is a leading product management and training company that offers certifications in product management.

General Assembly is another company that offers intensive produce management training and certifications.

15 Statistics You Should Know About A Career In Product Management

If you’re looking at a career in product management, you’re in a good place. As long as a company has a product, it requires a product manager.

This is a view supported by the US-based management consulting firm, McKinsey & Company. The company says that “the role of the product manager is expanding due to the growing importance of data in decision-making, and increased customer and design focus, and the evolution of software-development methodologies” (Source).  

If you love understanding who the customer is, their needs, and why they behave in a certain way, you may do well in a product manager role. Added to this, you will need to have a keen interest in competing products, determine the role of the product in the bigger scheme of a business, and define how it will be marketed to the customers.   

If the product manager role intrigues you, here are 15 statistics about a career in product management you need to know: 

1. How Many People Work As Product Managers?

In an attempt to get an idea of the number of product managers out there, we ran a search on the social network for career and business professionals, LinkedIn. We found that 698,945 individuals listed their profiles as a product manager (August 22, 2020). Of course, the actual numbers are likely to be higher because some people may not have profiles on LinkedIn.

A user of the American question-and-answer website, Quora, reports that a LinkedIn search in 2014 using the words “How many Product Managers are in the United States” revealed that the number was at 146,333. This indicates a growth of over half a million in about six years.

2. What Is The Gender Balance In The Product Management Space?

Product School, a global provider of product management training, carried out a survey involving over 500,000 members of the product manager community and released a report titled “The Future of Product Management” in January 2020. The results show that 66.1% of the respondents were male and 32.1% were female. The other 1.3% of respondents preferred not to state their gender. 

3. What Do Product Managers Spend Their Time Doing?

According to McKinsey & Company, almost 80% of product managers are involved in design activities. The same percentage is involved in go-to-market decisions, with half of these also taking part in making decisions involving pricing. The same organization reports that “60 percent of product managers have basic analytics skills that enable them to dive into metrics and draw insights without relying on analysts” (Source).  

The pie chart below, provides an idea of what most product managers say they spend most of their time doing. 

product-management-1243.png

Product managers spend the most time defining product strategy and collaborating with technical and design functions.

Read more about what product managers do to find out more about the role and key responsibilities.

4. Percentage Of Time Spent By Product Managers On Unplanned Fire Fighting

In this age of the Internet and where information travels at lightning speed, it’s easy to understand why product managers find themselves often involved in an attempt to deal with problems emanating in the late stages of the product development lifecycle. Customers also generally tend to have more information, making them more demanding. Consequently, product managers report that they spend 52% of their time on unplanned fire-fighting activities (Source).

5. What Percentage Of Graduates Take Up Jobs As Product Managers?

A Wall Street Journal article reported that 7% of Harvard Business School graduates took jobs in product management. The same article also reports that Harvard Business School reports that it is only able to accept one in every three applications to its Product Management 101 course.   

6. Average Salaries Of Product Managers

Finding the average salary of a product manager is quite complicated because different sources use different methods in providing answers. However, it is essential to note that salaries are affected by demand, location, cost of living, and standard of living in various parts of the world. 

One of the go-to sources for salary information, Glassdoor, a U.S. job portal, analyzed 40,713 salaries and put the average base pay for a product manager at approximately $108,992. With the 2015 U.S. Census data showing that the median household income in the U.S. was $56,516, it’s easy to see that product managers are well paid.  

Globally, the average base pay for a product manager is $110,916 per year (Source). The United States of America holds the highest average base pay of $108,992. In contrast, India pays an average of $21,687 per year to product managers.

product-management-1244.png

The U.S. reported the highest average base pay for product managers at $108,992. Image Source:  Product School

Read more about salaries in our product manager salary and career guide.

7. Where Are The Highest And Lowest Product Manager Salaries In The U.S.?

Product managers in the East and West coast areas are among the highest-paid U.S. product managers. According to the U.S. software company Aha!, San Francisco product managers earn a median salary of $129,000. Product managers also earn median salaries of $119,000 and $108,000 in Seattle and Los Angeles. In New York and Boston, they earn median salaries of $107,000 and $109,000, respectively (Source).

The U.S. Midwest/Rocky Mountains pay the lowest median salaries to product managers. Chicago and Denver pay $99,000 and $95,000 median salaries, while Minneapolis pays $103,000 (Source).

8. Which Industry Pays Product Managers The Best Salaries?

Some product managers at Google, Slack, Uber, and Microsoft can earn average salaries of over $200,000 a year. These companies are considered some of the best places to work as product managers (Source).

These top companies are also among the companies listed in our article on the best product management internships.

9. Which Companies Hire Product Managers?

When it comes to which companies hire the most product managers, it’s clear that the leading technology companies take the front row. The online courses provider Upgrad.com identifies the top three companies hiring product managers:   

  • UBER: It’s easy to understand why many product management graduates would head for a company like UBER. The ride-hailing company says that it made 7 billion trips in 2019. To accomplish such a feat, it requires “heavily data-driven product development strategies in sync with the vision and mission of the company” (Source).
  • Microsoft: With an average salary of $188,924, and the kind of reputation that the company holds across the world, many people are likely to see this company as a place that would provide job security and a great working environment. 
  • Amazon: With as little as two years’ work experience and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration, Marketing, Finance, or Engineering, you could find yourself working as a product manager at Amazon (Source).

Companies like Apple, Facebook, Uline, Zillow, SAP, Adobe, and LinkedIn all have positions open across different levels in different cities across the U.S. and around the world (Source). 

10. How Much Education Do Product Managers Have?

A Business Bachelor’s degree is enough to kickstart a career in product management. This provides you with essential skills, such as marketing, operations management, and finance. 

A master’s degree will make you an ideal candidate for a senior product management role. It provides you with additional communication skills when dealing with stakeholders and the credentials that will make other executives respect you (Source).

It’s also common for product managers to earn a product management certificate in addition to formal education.

11. Where Are The Best Places To Work As A Product Manager?

According to the career portal Zippia.com, Washington is the best place to work as a product manager. It has an average annual salary of $122,737. 

The table below lists five states named by Zippia as the best places to work as a product manager in 2020. 

STATES TOTAL PRODUCT MANAGER JOBS AVERAGE ANNUAL SALARY ($)
Washington 2,243 122,737
Colorado 1,141 122,160
New York 3,271 121,595
California 8,881 120,445
District of Columbia 298 128,369
Source: Zippia.com 

12. What Is The Average Experience Of Product Managers?

Pragmatic Marketing Inc., a company that provides product management and marketing training, carried out a product management survey in 2016. Over 2,500 product managers participated in the survey (Source).

According to the results, 26% of the product managers polled had 3-5 years’ work experience. This was followed by 24% with 6-10 years’ work experience. The study also showed that about 39% of the polled sample were within the ages of 35-44 years of age. You can see the rest of the report here

13. What Company Size Do Most Product Managers Want To Work For?

According to a Product School survey, 55% of product managers prefer working for small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) because of such enterprises’ flexibility and willingness to try new things. The proportion of product managers who prefer to work for bigger companies with more resources and better compensation is 45%. The other 5% report that they would work for any company that meets their personal preferences.

14. Growth Demand For Product Managers?

Glassdoor puts a product manager position as the 4th best job in the United States for 2020. The job portal currently has about 12,173 product manager listings. 

In the U.S., interest in product management has doubled in the last five years. It can be expected that product management isn’t going to disappear anytime soon because the need for products will always be there (Source).

15. What Are The Leading Product Management Skills For The Future?

Product managers need a mix of skills. They must have soft skills (such as leadership and communication) and hard skills (like artificial intelligence, data handling, and working knowledge of tools such as product management software or product development software). Professionals in the field are expected to find the proper mix between these two sets of skills.  

According to LinkedIn’s ‘The Most In-Demand Hard and Soft Skills of 2020’, AI, data, and UX design are the top three hard skills that will be the most sought after in the future amongst product managers. For soft skills, leadership, communication, and creativity are the top three skills (Source).

Learn More About A Career In Product Management

Check out our other articles to help you build your career in product management—see who the top product management experts are, get ready for an upcoming PM interview, or scope out new tools for product roadmapping or managing a product portfolio.

To stay in the loop, join the waitlist for The Product Manager online community to network and share best practices with other product professionals.

References