What is a great Product Manager?

Published on 23 October 2020

Reading time 7 minutes

In this interview with Fabio, Product Manager at Codacy, we are going to discover what is a great Product Manager, their daily tasks and must-have qualities to become a great Product Manager! 

Interested in becoming a Product Manager? Register to get more information here: https://apply.wildcodeschool.com/product-management-course

What is your background and how did you get to become a product manager?

Hi, my name is Fábio (aka Zé) and I'm a Product Manager at Codacy. I'm 28 years old and recently moved from Lisbon to Coimbra where I'm now working remotely. My motto is making the best tools for mankind - a realization I had while listening to Steve Jobs.

I think that it started with me, as a kid, being curious about how things work and how to build them. Everyone around me was saying that I should go studying engineering but I wanted to go for management. And while studying management, I learned how to code because I wanted to build websites and apps. After this, my first job was actually in digital marketing. 

All these somewhat random decisions ended up positioning me to be able to talk with different people at a company. I could talk with tech and business in terms that they could understand and with that create a shared understanding of problems and solutions. 

I first became officially a PM at homeit where I joined as an early employee. When I joined, the CEO wanted me to help with marketing and the CTO wanted me to do front-end development. As the company evolved, I started to fit more and more on the intersection of multiple departments and I also developed a vision for our products. This is how I became a PM.

But every story that I hear is different.

What is a great Product Manager?

A product manager, usually referred to as PM, is a person that lives on the intersection of Design, Engineering, Marketing, Sales, Support, Customer Success, Finance, and any other department that may interact directly with a product

It's the go-to person to ask a question about a product when that question is not technically deep enough to ask directly to a domain expert.

The exact things that a PM does will depend on which stage a product is (introduction, growth, maturity, and decline) and what resources are available to build it.

  • Very early-stage products will have a big focus on understanding the problem and getting insights from users and the market
  • Growing products will need a focus on well... growth
  • Mature products require a focus on quality, churn, and expanding the product around the current value proposition
  • Products that are on the declining stage may require a focus on cost efficiency, customer migration, and pivoting.
  • A PM will adapt his focus according to what is needed to build and to keep building a product.

What are the daily tasks of a Product Manager?

I recently did an exercise of ordering a list of tasks of a PM. Out of the entire list, the top 10 were:

  1. To build a deep understanding of customer needs and pain-points
  2. To develop a deep understanding of business goals, and then figure out how to leverage design and technology to meet those goals
  3. To hit measurable and specific goals tied to short, medium, and long-term business outcomes
  4. To collect requests from inside the company, put together a roadmap, and make it visible to the rest of the company
  5. To delight our customers and make sure we are always improving the product experience
  6. To formulate, test, revise, and communicate a product strategy
  7. To provide the necessary context to the team so that they can make reasonably good decisions, reasonably quickly
  8. To own the prioritization of the roadmap and backlog
  9. To field external customer requests, prioritize them according to value and level of effort, and then make sure they are delivered quickly without sacrificing quality
  10. To shield their team from requests and interruptions, while managing external stakeholders and keeping everyone in the loop

What do you think it's the best part of your job?

Good question. I think that I'm a person that gets highly motivated about a new topic, followed by a sudden disinterest in the same subject. 

At my job, I'm in the privileged position of being able to frequently talk with people that have way more knowledge than me on different topics and that keeps me always engaged.

I also love to see how everyone works together to make a vision becoming something real and, as a PM, I feel like I'm in the best seat of the concert.

What do you believe it´s the best quality to have as a product manager?

A PM, by definition of the role, must have a somewhat wide range of qualities. Not in the sense of having a high number of qualities but more on how separated, distant or different some qualities are from each other. But I think that the most important characteristics of a PM are Communication and Critical Thinking.

Communication is very important because your days will be spent with different people, that have different roles, backgrounds, opinions, moods... They will use different lingo and your job will be to consume information that they give you and then present it to someone else, in a way that will be well understood. Empathy, making the right questions and negotiation also play an important role here.

Critical Thinking is the ability to transform confusion into clear reasoning. A lot of the times you'll be helping your team by connecting dots with them. 

You don't have the knowledge to tell an engineer how to solve a technical problem but you'll have the capability of helping them making the problem and the solution seem obvious, by guiding them through the rationale. 

This will also be very handy when you are trying to explain a compressed insight or decision to someone else. Sometimes you'll have to explain in a few sentences why a decision (or concept, or idea) that took weeks of work and multiple inputs makes sense.

People tend to confuse product managers with project managers, do you understand why? What is your opinion?

They do have a similar name. Is it possible that if the names were more distinct this wouldn't be a thing? Some parts of the job as a PM involve Project Management but they are different positions.

Product Managers are good at managing Products

Project Managers are good at managing Projects

A Product Manager will do project management when executing. Sometimes we'll have to break a vision into smaller steps, set timelines, look into resource allocation, and other things related to managing a project. This all depends on the resources available in a team and I prefer that these tasks are mostly sourced from experts.

What is your tip/advice for professionals who want to become product managers?

A good idea is to aim for an internal move inside your company. If your company already has a PM position, you'll have a good source of learning by working with your fellow PMs. Ask to be involved in the work that PMs are currently doing and offer to help them. This is probably the fastest way to become a PM and to learn the necessary skills.

If your company does not have a PM role and you think that you need one, I recommend that you find someone willing to give you some mentoring. Mentoring will help you learn much faster and will also help to explain to your teammates what a PM brings to the table.

Read books. Start with the Lean Startup (Eric Ries) and Inspired (Marty Cagan)

There's also some good material on Medium. Take a look at "finding factor e

These are the ways that I recommend but, each person has their story of how they became a PM.

Interested in becoming a Product Manager? Register to get more information here: https://apply.wildcodeschool.com/product-management-course