Product management is an evolving career field within engineering management. Steeped in Agile and Lean methodologies, product managers can quickly learn the tools and techniques that support the efficient development of new products. However, it’s also crucial to understand the principles of product management that lead to success.

Product management is a career that continues to evolve. It combines both strategic planning and tactical activities. It also involves a relentless focus on creating products that solve problems for consumers or fulfill consumer demand.

Merrimack College offers a Graduate Certificate and a Master’s Degree concentration in product management as part of its online Master of Science in Engineering Management program. The online program prepares students for success by teaching them product innovation, design, scheduling, marketing, data science, accounting, and engineering management principles.

What is a Product Manager?

A product manager oversees a product from the beginning of its lifecycle to its end. The term “product” can include physical items, such as cars or clothing, productized services like banking or insurance, and digital solutions, such as an app. At Merrimack College, engineering management students can choose to focus on three popular areas of product management: Life Sciences, Software/Web/Mobile, or Technology.

Product managers define the vision for a product, ensure the product fills customers’ needs, and oversee any updates. They may manage a team and work hand-in-hand with project managers. Success in the field often relies on a combination of STEM and business knowledge, including data analysis, market assessment, price modeling, and an understanding of user experience (UX).

Product managers have become in-demand in various areas, including eCommerce, finance, and management consulting. 

Some of the Guiding Principles of Product Management

With responsibilities for defining the strategy, roadmap, and features for a product or product line, product managers will find that the following guiding principles work whether they are building products for external customers or company employees.

There is no one guide for these principles. However, author Peter Yang’s “Principles of Product Management” has offered a popular blueprint for developing and bringing a product to market. Yang works as Product Lead at Credit Karma.

This is not a step-by-step guide to product management. Rather, these are principles to keep in mind as a product moves through the early stages of the four-stage product life cycle: introduction, growth, maturity, and decline.

Define the “Why”

Yang urges product managers to “start with why” before moving into the details of managing a product. This involves creating a product vision and strategy that show how the product delivers unique value. Jens-Fabian Goetzmann, Head of Product at RevenueCat, writes that this can make the difference between what investor John Doerr called “missionaries and mercenaries.”

Goetzmann writes, “Missionaries follow their passion to achieve some higher-level purpose, while mercenaries seek to exploit opportunities they see arise.” Having a clear definition of the “why” for a product can create a team of missionaries.

To do so, product managers need data from customer research, competitive intelligence, and industry trends.

Define the Problem to Solve

This is often part of the “why” but worthy of separate mention. All successful products and services have one aspect in common: they all solve a problem or fulfill consumers’ wants. This requires knowledge and data from customer research, competitive intelligence, and industry trends. All product management should evolve from the initial understanding of what problem the product is solving or consumer need it fulfills.

It’s also important to stay completely focused on this issue throughout the product life cycle. It’s better to solve one consumer challenge well than build something with extra features people don’t need.

Create Cross-Functional Teams

Successful product development teams bring in expertise from all the relevant areas of an organization. This includes representatives from engineering and design, marketing, innovation, and operations. Product managers also benefit by identifying all stakeholders before initiating development on a product to ensure their involvement in the project. Not taking this step could create obstacles down the road.

Transparency and Communication

As product managers create a product roadmap, they will translate their product vision into action. During this action-plan phase, managers should ensure that communication is flowing between management and team members on the product, including major issues such as the product’s areas of functionality and the strategic reasons why they are included.

Find the Truth

One of Yang’s principles is “find the truth.’ This refers to the idea that when conflicts arise on product development teams, smart product managers should approach them by working together to find the truth rather than one party attempting to force the other party to see things their way.

Merrimack College MS in Engineering Management

Merrimack College offers two pathways to launch or advance a product management career. With a Graduate Certificate, students can land their first product management job. Experienced product managers can further their careers with a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management Product Management Concentration. Both options allow students to engage in concepts through experiential learning. helping them grow their product management skills.

The program curriculum covers core competencies such as product innovation, product design, marketing, data science, and accounting. Students learn the complete product development cycle and strengthen skills in several key areas.

  • Identifying market friction points and developing products to satisfy users’ needs.
  • Developing product specifications for a range of products.
  • Creating marketing plans that use the latest data analytics tools.
  • Building the business case for a product idea.
  • Communicating technical, strategic, and entrepreneurial goals of the project.
  • Leveraging available resources to meet business goals.

The MSEM concentration or Graduate Certificate in product management provides graduate students with the skills they need for leadership in this growing career field.