What is a Software Product Manager?

You've been reading up on product management, and the description varies so much from company to company, you're starting to wonder what the hell a product manager actually does.

Does he just write cool ideas down on a white board all day? Is she just a glorified project manager? Does he boss around the development team a bit and then go eat snacks? (Even though the dev team ignores him if they aren't interested in working on his ideas. He doesn't have authority over them anyway.)

Different companies describe the role of the product manager differently, but according to my experience working at various companies as a product manager, this is the definition I find most accurately reflects a product manager's role: 

The job of the product manager is “to discover a product that is valuable, usable, and feasible.” (Marty Cagan, Inspired)

Here are the main high-level responsibilities of the product manager:

  • Big Picture Thinking: A product manager should always be striving to answer the big questions, such as “What’s the next phase of our product’s strategy?” or “What competitors have appeared in the last year that we should analyze?”
  • Write Product (or Feature) Requirements: A product manager should be guiding the product by writing clear requirements for all stakeholders to reference. This includes technical, UX and design, and exec teams. The product manager should be the main point of contact for collecting, managing, and clarifying (when needed) requirements for how the product, and accompanying features, should work. 
  • Collect and Analyze Customer Feedback: The product manager should constantly be eliciting feedback from users. This means any time a new feature is being considered, or was just pushed to production, the product manager should be asking the customer what they think.
  • Demos and Training: Larger, enterprise-level companies may have sales or ‘outbound product management’ teams to do demos for prospective customers and training for existing customers, but if you work for a small company, this is product manager domain.