What does a Product Manager do? A brief primer for UXers

I'm a lifelong UXer - coming to user-centred design via the medium of graphic design. However, when the opportunity to be loaned out to a major mobile company as a Product Manager came along, I jumped at the chance. New experiences, new challenges, new industry sector, a long-term project, and my lovely job as a UX consultant still there at the end of it - what's not to love?

What is a Product Manager?

My first question when I got to my new job was, "what is a Product Manager, anyway?"

Product Managers are responsible for one or more products within a business (eg a specific piece of software, or perhaps a set of related features on a large website). They gather requirements for their product & gain strategic sign-off. They own the product within the business: planning and execution throughout the lifecycle from design & development to deployment, new releases & perhaps withdrawal. They are the company expert on the product and its competition in the marketplace.

What did my job entail?

  • Gathering business requirements for the software
  • Gathering user requirements for the software
  • Gathering technical requirements for the software
  • Creating a vision & roadmap for the software
  • Briefing the in-house UX team & working with them to refine & develop product concepts
  • Working with others to produce a product backlog (a prioritised list of features) & brief the development team
  • Working with the customer care team to ensure that appropriate software support could be provided

Project managers roadmap

Sound familiar?

Business requirements, user research, competitor reviews, talking to designers & developers as part of a team building a piece of software. Not so different from the life of a UX consultant. If you fancy a career change, it might be one to consider.

How can this help me to work with Product Managers in organisations I consult for?

  1. Ask what your work will be used for
    Is it to gain sign-off, prove to the wider business that their product is successful, gather user requirements or inform a product's redesign? Produce a draft report for approval and be prepared to tweak to their needs. Talk early, share the vision and revise as necessary.
  2. Make sure you communicate effectively with your Product Manager
    It's the Product Manager who's in trouble if things go wrong. It may be more natural for you to communicate with any in-house UX teams, but it is the Product Manager who must take responsibility for any decisions.
  3. Make sure you understand the brief, meet any deadlines and keep in touch with status reports
    In my experience, Product Managers are very busy - they have a lot of plates to spin and need to know that things are going to plan.
  4. Make sure you ask questions early
    Your Product Manager may have to consult other team members to answer your questions and this could be difficult on short notice.
  5. Try to find out about your Product Manager's background and drivers. Pitch your input accordingly
    Product Managers can come from very different backgrounds. Some are UX and design focussed whereas others are business orientated.

What are your experiences...?

This is the account of one person working as a Product Manager in one Agile development environment. What are your experiences of working with Product Managers? Any more learnings to share?

As joint Head of UX with Fiz Yazdi, Jesmond leads our team of UX consultants. She is co-author of the book Smashing UX: foundations for designing online user experiences.