What Makes a Good Software Product Manager?

giant puzzle pieces that spell "success"

Companies are like a puzzle, each person being an integral part to carry out short and long term goals. A product manager is inherently the CEO of the product, the person who is responsible for strategizing and defining the product roadmap. They often answer the questions of why something is a need, when does it need to be done, and what exactly it needs to be. The product manager is like the missing middle piece required to hold the supporting pieces together.

Role of a Product Manager

The role of a product manager varies per company size. For instance, in a small software company, the CEO often serves as the product manager, especially in the early stages. In a medium sized company there is more likely a team dividing ownership and in a larger company PM’s are likely feature owners and have the opportunity to learn from others in the company.

Company size differentiates the depth of thinking a product manager takes when developing the product strategy and roadmap. A product manager whom has had the opportunity to work for startups and a fortune 500 company, states that startups are more likely to comprise of “long term horizon thinking” that could be six months versus long term thinking at a larger company consisting of years. Regardless of company size, product managers hold an important piece to the overall success of the company.

The product manager takes responsibility for a product line’s vision and profitability. In this role strategy will be set, a roadmap developed and the product features will be defined. They’ll work to eliminate gaps between engineering teams and sales and marketing. If that fails, they’ll bridge the gaps ensuring the puzzle fits together.

This role requires a vision to deliver value based on customer demands. What features should the product team include in the release? What features are critically important versus what features can wait until a future release? What time frame needs to be set? These questions are some of many a product manager must scrutinize when defining a strategy and product roadmap.

The product manager works with virtually every team in the software company. Management needs to hear the plans and goals for the product. You must coordinate new development features with marketing and listen to customer feedback from the support team. Discussions with the development team center on goals while the sales team needs a demonstration of those new product features.

Qualities of a Good Product Manager

Product managers need excellent problem solving abilities and analytical thinking among the following:

  • Detail oriented
  • Pragmatic and clear communicator
  • Technical understanding
  • Ability to maintain strong ownership/leadership of process
  • Knowledge of engineering bandwidth value
  • Customer analysis

A product manager wears many hats to ultimately create the product vision. The co-founder and CEO of Aha!, discusses the “secret sauce” that product managers have. This blend includes being open, sharing credit and knowing the customer. These qualities in theory hold the puzzle pieces together to ensure the product vision is established and accomplished. Product Managers are an integral puzzle piece to ensure company success regardless of company size.

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