Requiring knowledge of business, marketing, data analysis and technology - plus excellent communication and organisational skills - product management is challenging and rewarding work

A product manager works with the people who make a product, those who use the product and those who manage the business to ensure that the product is meeting everyone's needs.

As a product manager you may find opportunities at any company which makes a 'product' of some kind. Usually these products are:

  • technical products such as programmes, apps and video games;
  • financial products such as credit cards, mortgages and savings accounts;
  • manufactured products such as appliances, pharmaceuticals and toys.

Product managers help to ensure that the product is being made as efficiently as possible and that the people building it have access to the latest technologies and techniques. They also listen to the users of the product, finding out what new features they want and gathering and analysing their feedback and usage data. This helps them to make decisions about the future of the product; what will and won't be possible and which features to prioritise or to drop altogether and produce product roadmaps.

They are also responsible for the lifecycle of the product, ensuring that everyone is following the product roadmap and that features are being released on time and are of a high quality.

In your role you may focus mostly on the users of your product, sometimes referred to as product marketing, or on the creation of the product itself, known as product development.

You could manage one or two parts of a product. For example your product may just be the search feature of a website, rather than the site as a whole.

Responsibilities

As a product manager you will:

  • take overall responsibility for the success of your product;
  • contribute towards product strategy and vision;
  • meet regularly with all stakeholders, including product developers, marketing, customer service, finance and company heads;
  • collect, analyse and respond to user feedback;
  • manage one or more budgets;
  • gather and evaluate ideas and opinions;
  • plan new features and changes to a product;
  • demonstrate new ideas and features to stakeholders;
  • create timelines and roadmaps for developing the product;
  • attend conferences and events related to a product or sector;
  • implement or support marketing campaigns;
  • create and oversee development and project management processes;
  • inspire and enthuse colleagues and users of the product;
  • learn about users and a product's market;
  • research competitors and similar products.

Salary

  • Starting salaries for product managers and junior product managers are usually between £25,000 and £40,000.
  • Experienced or senior product managers will usually earn between £35,000 and £60,000.
  • Very experienced product managers, heads of product and vice presidents (VPs) of product can earn more than £60,000.

Your salary will depend on the size of the product you're responsible for as well as on the size and the location of the company.

Product management roles often include share options and bonus schemes.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours are usually 9am to 5pm, almost always in the head office of an organisation. You may need to work outside of these times if your company has offices in other time zones as regular meetings and communication with all stakeholders is an essential aspect of the role.

Some companies may expect longer working hours to finish a project, such as a new feature launch. Time off in lieu is more common than paid overtime as compensation for work outside of your regular hours.

Part-time and temporary contracts are rare for product management positions and are more likely if you manage one aspect of a larger product.

What to expect

  • You will have a lot of responsibility, especially if your company relies on the success of the product you manage. You will sometimes have to make difficult decisions about the future of the product.
  • The role will be mainly office based but, depending on the geographical spread of the organisation, you may need to travel regularly to meet with all the people who contribute to the product.
  • Your dress code will depend on the organisation you work for, though you will have regular meetings with very senior colleagues, including company heads, so formal business attire is expected.
  • There can be competition for product manager roles as companies tend to employ relatively few, sometimes just one.
  • The broad range of skills required does mean that you'll almost certainly need around two years of relevant work experience to be considered for a product manager position.

Qualifications

There are no formal qualifications needed to become a product manager, although most employers will prefer candidates with a relevant qualification, especially a degree.

If the focus of the role is product development then an employer will usually ask for a degree related to their industry.

If the focus is on product marketing then employers may ask for a marketing or market research qualification. There are degrees, university short courses and HND's in these subjects as well as certification from professional bodies like the Market Research Society (MRS).

Almost all employers would favour a candidate with a business-related degree or qualification. However, experience is the most important factor for securing a job as a product manager, and things like recommendations from recruiters or people in mutual networks can count for more than qualifications.

Skills

You will need to be:

  • knowledgeable about your product's users and industry;
  • decisive, visionary and able to support your decisions with research;
  • flexible and adaptable as you'll be working in-depth with different business functions;
  • a good collaborator, leader and diplomat;
  • organised and able to work to deadlines and roadmaps;
  • a very strong and clear communicator, with a variety of stakeholders at different levels of seniority and knowledge;
  • good at persuasion and negotiation;
  • able to analyse complex data and look for trends in the market and users' opinions and behaviour;
  • fair and objective when making decisions.

Work experience

Experience and knowledge are both essential for getting a job as a product manager. Due to the high level of responsibility of most positions, employers usually prefer candidates to have some kind of track record of commercial success, to come recommended by someone they trust, or to have worked in the company itself and built up a good relationship and reputation with the company management.

Try to gain some experience in positions of responsibility. This could be leading a university society, taking part in business competitions and challenges, becoming a trustee for a charity or asking to lead on important projects during an internship, part-time job or voluntary position.

Product managers are experts in their product, so you should also try to use work experience as an opportunity to learn about the building, marketing and success of the types of products that interest you. For example, it's expected that technical product managers have a good understanding of IT and how software is built in order to work well with the product developers. Internships, part-time jobs, work shadowing and volunteering in a sector that interests you are good ways of building the first-hand knowledge that a product manager needs.

All product managers need a good understanding of how businesses work and what makes them successful in their market. These skills are very similar to those of an entrepreneur, so starting a business, even if it's not successful or on a very small scale, can show employers that you're responsible, hardworking and knowledgeable about commerce.

You could also see if your university has any business, entrepreneurship, marketing or finance societies which you could join to work with and learn from other students.

Employers

Most companies who hire product managers are in the private sector, although there will still be occasional non-profit and public sector employers with product management openings.

You'll find the most vacancies on job sites which specialise in the tech, business and financial services industries. However, many employers will use general job sites too.

The majority of product management positions in the UK are in tech organisations, where the products are apps or online services. Look for vacancies on specialist technical job sites such as:

Many employers use recruitment agencies to hire product managers as the required knowledge and skillset is not something which you can easily demonstrate solely with standard in-house screening techniques like assessment centres and psychometric tests.

For this reason, networking and speculative applications might also help you get a job as a product manager. As well as your knowledge and experience, employers will want to hear your ideas for the development of their products and any insights you have about the market they operate in.

It's extremely unusual for an employer to recruit a product manager without at least two years' relevant experience. So when starting out in your career it's best to look for work in areas which have a lot of overlap with product management such as programming, sales and account management, marketing, market research or project management. This will give you a platform either to work your way up within the organisation into a product management role, or to move to another employer looking for someone with your skills and experience.

Professional development

The training and development you receive as a product manager will vary greatly according to your employer. Your employer will probably focus on developing your:

  • knowledge of their sector and users through industry events, mentorship and by supporting self-led research;
  • organisational and project management skills through qualifications like PRINCE2 and training you in different working methods like agile software development and Kanban;
  • presentation and communication skills through training courses and coaching.

As a new product manager, you won't have developed the range of skills that you need, so you can expect an employer to help you improve in any area that will be beneficial to the role.

There are certifications in product management available through some international professional bodies such as:

However, these won't usually be necessary for your professional development in UK organisations, though the resources and events they list may be useful during the early stages of your career.

Career prospects

At a large employer you will usually start your product management career as part of a product team, with either shared responsibility for a product, sole responsibility for one aspect of it or focusing on one part of product management such as marketing or development.

Early in your career it's unlikely that you'll be the only product manager in an organisation unless they are a very small company, you have significant prior experience or come highly recommended by someone they trust.

During your first few years you'll learn more about the product and its users and see more of your ideas being implemented. Your employer should reward you with increased responsibility, a wider remit in your role and possibly a higher salary, though this depends on the internal structure and policy of the company.

You may sometimes find that you're competing with other members of the product team or other people across the organisation to get your ideas for new features approved. It's important that you support your ideas with research and present confidently and clearly to senior colleagues, while not being disheartened if the company decides to do something different to your suggestions.

After around five years you may find that you are ready to manage a small product team or move to being a loan product manager with more responsibility. You may need to complete some management training at this stage. Product team leaders will usually have job titles like senior product manager, product owner or head of product. If you are managing staff you'll find that you have more input into the product strategy but some of your time will also be dedicated to line-management duties.

After around ten years' working in product management you may be in a position to look for work at an executive or board level in roles such as vice president (VP) of product, chief operating officer, chief marketing officer or chief technology officer.

The broad range of duties in product management means that moving between different job functions is an option even at a senior level. You're also equipped with most of the knowledge and skills needed to start your own business, which is also an option for experienced product managers.