The impact of a strong product manager can be felt throughout every facet of the business. From founder to user, anyone who touches the product is connected to the product manager. It is their job to gather all relevant information and input from each department, to translate those inputs into actionable plans and priorities, and then, critically, to translate that back to internal teams in a way that helps each of them work toward shared goals.
From gathering the right information from the right people to synthesizing it appropriately to communicating plans to the organization, each step of the process is meaningful and necessary to growing the product and business. Strong product management means understanding the needs of the different internal teams and communicating to them in the ways that help them do their jobs best.
Collecting information from product buyers and users is a critical job for product managers, but just as important is collecting internal input. This internal input becomes an interconnected web, in which many different functions are connected through one main hub, the PM. Each departmental input, when translated correctly, is integral to the digital product’s success and future, and the success and future of the overall business.
The leadership team often has abstract, high-level input. They are the idea makers. Founders and executive teams have the vision and insight to dream up new solutions, new offerings, new markets to tackle, or new technologies to pioneer. It is the PM’s job to get this vision, this big, dreamy idea from the leadership team and understand the underlying motivations behind it.
Need to know what problems customers are facing? The sales team is well-versed in representing this feedback from prospects and customers. What are their needs? What pains do they want to solve? The product manager needs to understand why they are asking for features.
From the marketing team, product managers get valuable insights into what the market wants and what the competition is doing so they can identify the product’s unique differentiator and positioning. What value can the product bring to customers that is different or better than their alternatives?
Existing users need to be heard. Speaking to the support team gives product managers insights into how users are really using the product and what their roadblocks are. Product managers need to have the right filter on feedback in order to put it in its proper place as a legitimate roadmap item or as something that is surfacing because of other issues.
Development and Design
The design and development teams know every capability of the product, and they know the scaffolding behind the facade. They know what features or integrations are easy and what will take time. They know what the infrastructure can handle and when it needs to be updated or re-evaluated. They understand what constitutes light UI updates versus heavy UX workflow design renovations. Product managers should know how to gather important feedback on infrastructure, technology issues, and UX from these teams and be able to weave those items in with the rest of the roadmap.
After all that input has been collected, it is the product manager’s job to organize it into prioritized and actionable plans. They need to make good recommendations for the product and the business, and communicate it to the team with the right level of information for each audience.
Product managers help the leadership team by filtering the information appropriately. As a PM, communications to leadership teams should concentrate on the “why” by focusing on what the plans will mean for the product value and competitiveness as a business. How will the roadmap plans help to meet revenue goals? What will they mean for the future of the organization? What are the high-level timelines that they can expect and plan for?
When a new feature is added, the sales and marketing teams don’t care about the technical details of the update. They need to know how to talk about it in a way that will appeal to the customer, and they need to factor in impacts to pricing, packaging, positioning, messaging, and sales enablement. What does this improvement mean for prospects, and how will it benefit them? Why does this feature make the product different from the competition? Why should they care?
Support teams are on the front line, and they need the nitty gritty on how features work and what other parts of the product it could impact so they can explain the feature to users in non-technical terms.
Developers and designers need to know the user context so they can bring features to life in the right way. Product managers should be collaborating closely to make sure what the team is designing and building aligns with the overarching goal of the product and mission of the business. Getting specific and tactical will be integral to the success of the product.
As the “middle man” between the teams and the product, the product manager is a translator, organizer, planner, and sometimes a therapist. They are the vision translators for leadership, a resource for support and sales, and a teammate for the dev and design teams.
The consequences for communicating the wrong information at the wrong level can be serious, with breakdowns occurring everywhere. Leaders may not understand why the dev team can’t build a feature faster, and the dev team may not even understand why a feature is being built. That is where a product manager is critical to provide context on the “why,” communicate tradeoffs, and explain timelines at the right level to the right people at the right time.