Careers advice and planning

Product manager: job description

3 Nov 2023, 12:47

A product manager oversees the entire lifecycle of a product or product line.

two people looking at information on a computer to represent product management

What does a product manager do? Graduate salaries | Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Before we dive into what a product manager does, we should clarify: product managers are entirely different to project managers – these two job roles often get confused. Project managers are responsible for the planning, organising and day-to-day management of a project, whereas product managers oversee the entire development of a product, from its conception to its commercial launch and even throughout its lifespan. Being a product manager involves working with design, engineering, marketing, operations, legal and financial teams. They are responsible for understanding, improving and managing their product so that it best meets the needs of its user.

Many product managers oversee digital products – such as an app or video game. For this reason, you may see the job role advertised as a ‘technical product manager’. However, there are some product manager roles that involve working on physical products such as clothes, gadgets and healthcare items.

Typical responsibilities for product managers include:

  • contributing to the product strategy – this involves getting into the headspace of their target user to understand what they want and what the purpose of the product should be (sometimes known as ‘user storytelling’)
  • developing product roadmaps
  • using data analytics tools and software to gain insights into product performance and make data-driven decisions based on the information
  • building on product concept and briefing the developer(s) on build requirements
  • making sure products are made efficiently
  • meeting with engineering, quality assurance and software development teams to discuss product insights and develop the product roadmap
  • meeting with other product managers and product owners to discuss progress with product development
  • maintaining a strong understanding of the market and customer needs
  • coming up with measurable KPIs (key performance indicators) to ensure that features on the product are performing as they should be
  • running focus groups with their target audience
  • communicating ideas and features with stakeholders (employees or customers, for example) and gaining insights from them
  • considering resources and cost and prioritising what is most important and feasible.

Starting out, you’ll typically work as an assistant product manager or product manager. The natural career progression is to work your way up to senior or lead product manager and then head of product. Many well-known and successful CEO’s started out as product managers, so there are lots of opportunities for progression in this role.

How much money does a product manager make?

According to salary/jobs comparison website Glassdoor, the average salary for a graduate product manager in the UK is £33,400 and the average for an experienced product manager is £70,303 – this is based on 173 salaries submitted to Glassdoor by product managers in the UK over the last 12 months.

The 2023 Hays recruitment salary survey (which is comprised of over 13,000 employers and professionals over the last 12 months) goes one step further by providing a breakdown of product management salaries within technology based on location and the area of tech you are working in (such as software development and projects and change):

According to the survey, product managers working in software development earn an average of:

  • £100,000 in London
  • £65,000 in north west England
  • £67,000 in south west England
  • £62,000 in Scotland
  • £70,000 in Northern Ireland
  • £60,000 in Wales.

Meanwhile, product managers working in projects and change earn an average of:

  • £100,000 in London
  • £65,000 in north West England
  • £75,000 in south West England
  • £62,000 in Scotland
  • £65,000 in Northern Ireland
  • £75,000 in Wales.

Typical employers of product managers

Essentially, you can work for any employer in any industry that involves tech. This includes:

  • e-commerce companies
  • fintech companies
  • streaming services companies
  • telecoms companies
  • edtech and legaltech companies.

While companies working with technical products hire the bulk of product managers, bear in mind that there will also be some opportunities for product managers at non-tech organisations.

How to become a product manager: qualifications and experience needed

A degree is not essential for a career as a product manager, but there may be some employers that ask for one. If you do have a degree, it doesn’t matter too much if your degree subject is not directly related to product design or product management. It’s possible for graduates with degrees in marketing, UX (user experience) design, business studies or even politics, for example, to become product managers.

While graduates can apply for their first product manager job without any prior experience of product management, another way to break into this career is to apply for internships. You can look out for these on professional networking sites, job boards or directly on company websites. There’s also no harm in asking an employer directly if they have internship opportunities – this is called applying speculatively.

It’s also common to start out in another role, such as marketing or UX design, before side stepping into product management. Some product managers start out as product owners before moving into product management. There isn’t a hierarchy between these roles, but it is a common move. Bear in mind, though, that there is a difference between a product owner and a product manager. Product owners typically focus on short-term tactical wins rather than long-term strategies. They usually work closely with development teams and communicate less with internal stakeholders and customers, meaning their role is often more technical than a product manager.

What's important to note is that many employers value transferable skills gained from other projects, so if you don’t have a closely related degree or an internship under your belt, you can still become a product manager. Valuable experiences include volunteering, having a passion project or a part-time job, attending conferences, listening to podcasts and reading literature.

Regardless of the route you take, it is important that you have a genuine interest in technology and how it is evolving. This is critical for a product manager.

Key skills for technical product managers

A product manager requires a combination of hard and soft skills, such as:

  • an understanding of UX
  • critical thinking
  • the ability to analyse and interpret data
  • an understanding of market research
  • communication skills
  • attention to detail
  • decision making
  • the ability to manage expectations
  • negotiation skills
  • leadership skills
  • resilience.

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This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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