What Are Product Managers? How Do You Begin A Career?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Product managers manage the process of building new products or improving existing ones. In this guide from Coursera, learn about what they do and how you can start a career as a product manager.

[Featured image] Product manager standing in room full of seated  coworker

Product managers focus on product planning and development to create, distribute, sell, and obtain feedback on a specific product or service. Product managers are found in most industries, including retail, technology, and the service industry.

Product managers oversee the business and overall life cycle of a product or group of related products, including how to implement that strategy. They often cover both physical products, such as gadgets or clothing, and digital products (computer software, apps) or media.

Product management can be a very rewarding career. In this guide, you will learn about the role of a product manager, how it differs from other business management roles and what skills you need to build a career in this role.

What is the difference between a product manager and a project manager? 

While the terms product manager and project manager are often used interchangeably, they actually represent two different but related roles.

What is project management? 

Project management is the process of managing a group of people and working to accomplish a specific goal within a specific time. Project management can be used in every sector from construction to software development, from manufacturing, from marketing—anywhere work is being done.

What is product management?

Product management is the responsibility for determining which products a company offers, ensuring that these products meet the needs of customers, setting strategies and plans to bring new products to market, managing both the product and the development team—and, ultimately, being accountable for both the profitability and long-term viability of an organisation's product line.

What does a product manager do? 

Managing a product means understanding and facilitating each link in the product project lifecycle, from design and manufacturing through sales, distribution, and customer service.

As a product manager, you will be a strategist, working on bringing products to the market. You will be:

  • Defining product strategy

  • Leveraging both quantitative and qualitative methods to derive insights into customer needs and desires to create innovation that drives success

  • Developing a product vision and mission statement based on customer feedback and market research

  • Helping to design products that fit brand personality 

  • Envisioning the future of a particular product, whether that's taking an existing product to the next level of enhancement or developing something new altogether 

  • Identifying a target audience or audience segments, or geographical markets where a product can reach the most customers

  • Creating a pricing strategy and marketing plan that directly targets their needs and wants to gain more business and revenue 

  • Driving profitability by managing the ROI of each product initiative 

You will find yourself in meetings discussing all aspects of your products. Here are some examples:

  • With analysts about features for a new version of the product

  • With potential buyers about their opinions and needs

  • With marketing about costs and benefits of each feature

  • With the board about pricing strategies for a new product

  • With customer service about potential issues prior to releasing a new version of a product

Your focus will be on achieving timely market introduction with a high-quality product as well as ensuring profitable growth over the entire product life cycle.

What skills do product managers require?

Today's product managers have a diverse skill-set and must be able to fulfil many different roles, often from brand manager to creative director. Product managers should be market aware, creative, and detail-oriented. Equipping yourself with the skills necessary to succeed in the field will put you one step closer to achieving career success.

Communication skills 

Product managers need to have communication skills that allow them to collaborate with company stakeholders, executives, and product teams. In an increasingly global and competitive market, companies need highly flexible team members who can quickly absorb product market feedback, synthesise that information, and convey the appropriate information and vision to the right people at the right time.

Strategic thinking

Product managers are responsible for a lot of product design and strategy, risk identification, project definition, pricing strategy and high-level reporting.

People skills 

The people skills product managers need include one-on-one, group and digital communication, relationship building, as well as the ability to look at an issue from multiple perspectives. With high-level people management skills that keep the team on track and motivated, you will be more effective and successful in your role.

Design, technical and software skills

If you don't know how to use software development tools and have no knowledge of design principles, it can be very hard to communicate with engineers, graphics teams, and developers.

User science and empathy

The product manager is the expert who can translate user needs into a compelling definition of a product or service. Product managers combine business and development skills and are responsible for identifying, articulating, and validating the value that a product or service will provide to its intended audience.

Why pursue a career in product management?

Product managers coordinate the development and delivery of successful products through every stage of the product life cycle. This is a challenging career field with high rewards. It requires working in a business environment that is fast-paced and constantly changing. 

Product managers help to introduce new concepts and ideas into the market, so they must be entrepreneurs and visionaries at heart.

Product manager salary

Product management is an exciting field that can help you truly shape the future. Though new product managers make less on average than more experienced managers, salaries can increase dramatically as you gain experience and expertise.

Product Manager£57,555£57,875£50,549
Data from December 2021. Averages salaries on job sites in London, UK.

Product managers make a mean annual salary of about £55,000. Additionally, they are often eligible for bonuses and commissions. Your product manager salary will vary depending on many factors, including location, amount of experience, product type, and the brand you work for.

How do you become a product manager?

A bachelor’s degree in business or a related field is often required for this position, along with some work experience. Many companies also prefer candidates who possess an advanced degree. You should also have a firm grasp of the ins and outs of consumer behaviour and psychology, specifically when it comes to products.

Combining project management experience with product experience can create an excellent blend of competencies for product management.

It is also important to point out that there is no single path into product management. The first step is often to take an entry-level job in the product field. These positions allow you to prove yourself and develop your skills while you work your way towards a management role. You could work as a product analyst, in product design, or product marketing, or pursue a graduate trainee management course.

Move towards product management with Coursera

The field of product management is in high demand and can be a great fit if you are a forward-thinking, innovative, strategic thinker. Consider the Google Project Management: Professional Certificate, where you'll learn the skills you need to succeed in this growing industry.

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