Product managers work with product marketing, engineering, and development teams—and, often, other stakeholders as well—to meet organizational goals and customer needs in the development and launch of a single product.
That's a pretty broad description of their work, but that's because product managers operate across a broad range of industries and enterprises. What product managers do on a day-to-day basis depends heavily on their work environment. Senior product managers at large companies primarily help disparate team members move as a unit towards a big-picture goal. In contrast, professionals at small companies can get their hands dirty in research and other granular tasks.
According to the most recent United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) figures, the median annual income for all project management specialties, including product management, is $94,500. Senior professionals can earn far more—nearly $150,000 annually, according to Glassdoor. Additionally, top product managers make excellent candidates for executive positions. According to one Forbes article, the CEOs of Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft all come from product management backgrounds.
What does a product manager do? This article explores that question and also addresses:
Product managers anticipate user needs and manage the product team to meet goals throughout the product life cycle. Successful product managers know what customers wants before they do, though they also incorporate customer feedback into new product development. They rely heavily on up-to-the-second market research and emerging technology (like the Internet of Things) to develop and refine product roadmaps and new features.
According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), the typical product manager job description requires having a hand in every stage of the product development process. These professionals follow the market, evaluate product performance, and develop new strategies to boost return on investment (ROI).
Senior product managers also define short, medium, and long-term product visions—often in conjunction with executives and other decision-makers. Additionally, they identify the best tools (including software and technology) to advance the product. Throughout the process, they continue to refine product strategy, prioritizing upgrades based on user experience research and stakeholder goals.
Notably, the responsibilities of a product manager do not typically include physically producing the product. That task usually falls to product owners.
Good product managers need a diverse skillset.
According to PMI, these professionals often lead large cross-functional teams and are most effective as influencers rather than micromanagers. Top professionals inspire their teams to coalesce around a singular goal, a role that requires excellent leadership and communication skills.
Product managers don't just rely on soft skills; they usually have a deep understanding of computer science or information technology. These professionals can benefit from a STEM bachelor's degree, especially because many manage information technology products. A finance background can also be useful as product managers may balance complex budgets.
The BLS says the top ten percent of project management specialists earn nearly $160,000 annually, while the bottom ten percent make a little under $50,000. Industry can play a role in how much you earn. The BLS's most recent figures say most project management specialists (63,680) work in computer systems design and related services, earning $114,930. The next-most popular specialty (61,000) is architectural, engineering, and related services; the annual mean income is $104,540. Finally, management, scientific, and technical consulting services is the third-most-popular speciality; 53,680 professionals work in the sector and earn an average of $102,320 per year.
These numbers don't account for experience and education; senior product managers, of course, earn more than junior professionals. A master's degree alone may not guarantee higher earnings, but it can qualify experienced degree-holders for the best product manager jobs, including executive positions.
The difference between these two professions is about more than what they manage (products vs. projects). Product managers evaluate how their decisions fit the big picture; project managers oversee a single element. Product managers may manage a whole team of project managers. The PMI says product managers often sharpen their managerial skillsets as project managers.
While there's no substitute for experience, companies frequently look for applicants with a master's degree, especially for senior-level positions. You don't necessarily need a Master of Science in Information Management (MSIM), though it's an excellent choice. Many professionals opt for a Master of Business Administration (MBA).
Information management is the process of gathering and using data and metrics for business decision-making. MSIM programs take two years to complete full-time; part-time or accelerated degree options are also available. Alternate degree names include Master's in Management Information Systems (MIS) or Information Systems Management (MS-ISM),
This degree can appeal to experienced professionals and career-changers alike. University of Washington offers options for both early and mid-career professionals. Though core curricula, electives, and specialization options are similar, one pathway caters to students entering the field while the other attracts those seeking upper management roles. Admissions requirements differ slightly for each pathway. Experienced professionals need five or more years in the workforce; inexperienced students may need to complete bridge coursework, depending on their specialization.
Educational outcomes can vary, not just by specialization but by program. One school may emphasize the STEM side of information management, while another focuses on business. Traditional core IM coursework covers project management, data analytics, data management, cybersecurity, cloud computing, IT management, and data science.
Specialization plays a massive role in what you learn and the career paths you can pursue after graduation. Common pathways include artificial intelligence, user experience, cybersecurity, risk management, data science, project and program management, and digital enterprise systems.
Excellent schools at which to earn a graduate degree in information management (or a closely related subject) include:
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