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What is Product Management?

April 12, 2021

Product management is an organizational function overseeing new product development, product planning, product lifecycle management, and often product marketing within a company. A product manager’s responsibilities include development, business justification, planning, proof-of-concept, forecasting, pricing, launch, and marketing.

Marty Cagen, founder of the Silicon Valley Product Group and author of the book “Inspired” describes the role as “discovering a product that is valuable, usable, and feasible.”

Product management is “the intersection between business, technology, and user experience,” writes Martin Ericksson in Mind the Product. “A good product manager must be experienced in at least one, passionate about all three, and conversant with practitioners in all.”

Nonetheless, there is still some uncertainty when people ask, ‘what is product management?’ This confusion often stems from differentiating between the role of a product manager vs. a project manager. Unlike a project manager charged with executing a product plan, a product manager sets the vision for the product. They are part visionary, leader, shepherd, and orchestra conductor.

A Product Management Maestro

The analogy of a symphony conductor is apropos for understanding the role of a product manager. A conductor knows music intimately. While they may be a virtuoso with a particular instrument, they do not play the instruments. Their job is knowing how each instrument should sound and how it should be played.

A symphony conductor knows all the elements of the orchestra and how each one is blended into a whole. They have before them a plan (the score), possibly one they have written. From that plan, they envision the result – an expertly executed piece of beautiful music.

Likewise, a product manager shepherds a product’s vision that enhances the lives of their audience – the end user. They understand the elements required to bring that vision to fruition and how to skillfully combine each into a functioning whole.

Like a maestro, a product manager combines leadership, empathy, creativity, technical knowledge, and visionary insight to bring wonderful new things into the world.

Why Pursue a Career in Product Management?

Product management is among the most sought-after careers in the country. According to Glassdoor, “product manager” was near the top of the list for the 50 best jobs in America for 2020, coming in at number four.

There are several reasons for this:

  • Growing demand for product managers: In a digital, interconnected, product-focused economy, companies increasingly rely on people competent in the specific skillset of talented product managers.
  • Meaningful work: Product managers have their hand in potentially changing the world. Product design and management is all about building products that, in ways large and small, makes people’s lives better.
  • Wellpaid work: Salaries for product managers range from between $63,000 to over $200,000. According to Glassdoor, the average annual base pay in the Boston area for a product manager is $109,012 as of January, 2021.
  • Career advancement: As the demand for product managers and range of salaries suggest, there is plenty of room for career growth in engineering, marketing or general management.

Jobs in Product Management

Specific jobs in the field vary with experience, local demand, and organizational need. The following are typical roles, responsibilities, and average salaries of a product manager moving up the ranks.

  • Associate product manager: Breaking into the field often starts as an associate product manager. Typically reporting to a product manager, this position is often considered as a mentorship position. Salaries can start at around $96,000.
  • Product manager: Product managers work with cross-functional teams including product marketing managers and business analysts. They are responsible for the strategy, roadmap, and feature definition of a product. Compensation averages around $109,000.
  • Senior product manager: Experienced product managers often move up to senior product management roles. At this level, the responsibilities often include managing several product lines or a company’s entire product portfolio. Senior product managers can expect an average salary of $124,000.
  • Director of product management: At this level, at least seven years of experience is generally required in many companies. Often this includes personnel management experience, as the role can entail leading large teams of product managers. Directors must be able to articulate a clear vision of a product’s lifecycle. This is very much a leadership position with concomitant compensation in the range of $149,000.
  • VP of product management: This is a highly influential role usually requiring 8-12 years of experience. They often report directly to the CEO and are responsible for the overall product vision within a company. In addition, the VP mentors and manages the entire product team. Compensation packages vary widely, but an average salary of $181,000 is typical.

Orchestrate Your Future in Product Management

The online Product Management Concentration is part of the Master of Science in Engineering Management degree program at Merrimack College. Designed for students with both STEM and business experience, the program teaches the broad range of skills expected of a product manager.

The practical, industry-aligned, skills-based curriculum employs an experiential learning methodology. Striking the perfect balance between theory and practical, hand-on experience, students immediately apply new concepts to real-world challenges, reinforcing new knowledge and skills.

Graduates of the program develop the strategic skills and business savvy companies look for to manage complex product management projects. Students can specialize in one of three tracks: Life Sciences, Software/Web/Mobile, and Technology.

Intended for working professionals, students engage with the program part-time around their busy schedules. The flexible online format also provides ample opportunity for students to interact personally with each other and their instructors.

Are you ready to advance or launch your career in the exciting, rewarding field of product management? If the answer is yes, then the online MSEM product management degree is the place to start.