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What is a Product Manager / Product Owner?

In today’s accelerated and data-driven age, we are seeing the rise and evolution of the product manager/ owner position.  Whereas this role was previously primarily in the FCMG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) and retail industries, we’ve seen more and more businesses, from e-payments firms to companies in the energy sector, that are seeking individuals with a broad skillset to step into product management.

It must be said here, even if obvious, that the very definition of a product has also changed.  Although a product owner must still be passionate about delivering tangible results, this does not mean that the product itself is necessarily an object.  A contemporary product owner may perform the same e-functions as the craftsmen of old – coming up with product ideas and then delivering via methodologies and according to criteria such as timelines and budget.  However, today’s product owner may not necessarily be required to do the actual technical work, as developers will carry that out.

A product manager in the e-payments industry, as in the example given previously, might oversee the development of new ways of making electronic payments.  This requires acute project managing skills but differs from the responsibilities of a brand manager, which oversee a widespread yet possibly less focused realm.  There is also crossover into marketing; however, whereas a marketer introduces a product to the consumer, a product owner oversees the entire life cycle of the commodity – from drawing the outlines of the product through to managing its conception and prioritising in order to deliver.

Interest from both companies seeking product owners and individuals wanting to become product managers / owners is on the rise.  A Commercially minded MBA student with a mix of skills, for example, may be especially drawn to this position, as it allows oversight of many different areas of the company whilst also appreciably rewarding with direct ownership of the product. 

Qualities of a productive Product Owner

A good product owner will have keen qualitative and quantitative skills.  Alongside a logical, market-driven mind that understands where and how the product fits into the wider objectives of the business (the brand manager’s primary remit) the product owner will also be creative and able to empathise with the consumer in an instinctive way and provide solutions for needs that people probably do not know they even have (read: Apple products, both physical and electronic - the best and most iconic of our age).  A familiarity with data collection and breakdown is also key so that the product owner is able to back up intuition with numerical evidence that enough demand for the product can be fired up. 

The previous example of the new e-payment product would require the meticulous observation of customer activity online to then ground an understanding of what the customer wants and how they think.  E-commerce changes so rapidly that product managers working in this space must be especially original and disruptive in order to anticipate innovations in the industry.

Ease when liaising with a wide variety of stakeholders is essential for running focus groups or performing consumer interviews in order to fine-tune product ideas or see where the most acute consumer need and desire exists.  The product manager will also often be called upon to consolidate support for the new product from the ground up – eliciting direct and indirect validation from customers, developers, the Chief Product Owner, and at times even addressing the CEO.  A new product represents a substantial investment and accompanying exposure for the company, so the product manager must be an effective and well-informed ambassador and salesperson for the product.

What does a Product Manager do?

In instances that have crossed our desks, companies are seeking product managers who can develop prototypes to examine internally and run past users for feedback.  Once the investment in the new product is approved, the live product will then be built under the supervision of the product owner.

Although every product and every company is different, we have observed typical stages in product development which we have grouped and labelled:

Research and Planning:  Data collection, evidence gathering

Design: Consideration of user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) alongside the design team

Implementation:  Managing developers and engineers as they put the key functionalities into motion

Product Testing: Focus groups and in-house analysis

Release:  The product goes into the world

So we can see that, as this role is made up of different aspects from multiple fields of expertise, you do not necessarily have to be a product owner from the outset to excel here. Keen individuals who are able to transfer skills developed elsewhere will be compatible with these positions and also help to lead companies into new, rewarding directions.

If you are interested in a role as a Product Manager and would like to find out more, then get in touch with one of our Candidate Managers who can talk through this in more detail with you.

Looking to hire a Product Manager? Talk to one of our Account Managers today to find out how we can help.