A week in the life (aka "What does a Product Manager do?")

I'm chatting with a couple of people at the moment who are curious about getting into Product Management. They're asking similar questions, and one that we keep circling around is essentially "what do you actually do?"

It's hard to convey the breadth of work that you cover as a Product Manager. Many have added their voice to this conversation and are great reads: 

I like the way that Maddy describes it:

Product manager responsibilities:
1. Has responsibilities to manage from concept, to design, sample production, testing, forecast, cost, mass production, promotion, support, and finally product end of life.
2. Delivers the operating plan: achievement of growth objectives including market share, revenue, profit and return on investment for all the channels/categories of business and/or key customers.
3. Responsible for managing and implementing marketing activities through research, strategic planning and implementation.

How to use this post

I wrote this post because it's easy to find lists of the high level responsibilities and skills that people say Product Managers need. It's a lot harder to take those lists and bring them to life for someone at the start of their journey into Product.

This is a list of what I actually did this week, broken out by day. Real tasks, not high level responsibilities. Try to do three things with this post:

  • Take it with a pinch of salt. This is how I work, and how my company practices Product Management. There is no one size fits all.
  • Try to apply this to your knowledge of Product Management to bring it to life, and the reflect on it.
  • Try to find other people to share this level of detail with you, so that you have broader experience to draw on.

Context

First, a little about my role so that this all makes sense.

  • I work at NewsWhip in Dublin. We build products that are designed to help researchers and companies make sense of the spread of news and content online.
  • Our Product, Design, Engineering, Sales, and Success teams are here. Our New York office has Sales, Success, and Marketing teams.
  • I'm responsible for our APIs. They enable people to integrate our insights and data in their own software products.
  • I'm responsible for our integrations. These are out of the box apps and widgets that bring our insights and data into tools people already use.
  • I'm responsible for our Syndication product. This helps newswire services see how far their content spreads, who uses it, and how successful it is.

Monday

  • Showcase: Last week we spent 3 days building a prototype of a new integration. We did this for a few reasons; we could bring customer needs to life for the team, discover more about the tech, and quickly get feedback from potential users of the tool. In this hour session, we shared our approach and what we built with the whole team. We received a very positive response and some excellent feedback.
  • Monitoring: Last week we launched the NewsWhip Chrome extension. Today I pulled together the stats from its first week of use and compared them to the goals we had hoped to achieve. I shared these results with the company.
  • Preparation: I put together the materials I needed for a workshop the following day. Specifically, designing a flow for the session and making sure all of the customer interview notes and feedback on the subject were easily accessible.
  • Debrief: Last week I helped our Success team with a demo and discussion for a renewing customer. We got together to go discuss how that went and agree on some follow up actions.
  • Support: One of our customers was struggling to get going with our API. I wrote and shared a basic Python script that demonstrated how to use our API for their specific use case.

Tuesday

  • Workshop: We spent a few hours thinking about feedback about our API products, as well as salient points from interviews with customers. We considered our company goals and priorities as well. By the end of the session we had brainstormed a number of valuable opportunities to iterate on our product, and agreed three pieces of research we should do to enable us to make more informed decisions. We agreed to dedicate our next sprint (2 weeks of work) to doing that research.
  • Retrospective: Our Product team got together for an hour to reflect on the last month. Whilst we work on some things together directly, most of our work is with our own product-focused teams. Getting together to look back is a great opportunity for us to learn from and support one another. In fact, I enjoyed this so much I even tweeted about it.
  • Research: I had an hour to interview one of our customers, who talked me through their workflow and showed me the awesome dashboards they built using our API.
  • Steering meeting: The Product, Design, and Engineering team leads got together to talk through the work that's going on at the moment, and to also discuss challenges we might be facing. This helps keep us all informed and is an opportunity for us to pick up chances to work together on something or to highlight potential missteps.
  • Sales call: Our Sales team asked me to support a discussion they're having with a prospective customer, so I worked a little late today to make that call. Customers love having access to Product Managers, the Sales team like having someone who can talk to the technical detail, and I love hearing how our Sales teams talk about the products and features I'm responsible for. It's a win for us all.

Wednesday

  • Stories: I spent some time writing stories (what's a story?) we agreed to do in our workshop on Tuesday.
  • Support: There were some actions from our late call on Tuesday, so I followed up on those. For me it meant putting together a few explanations on parts of our functionality. I took a note to come back to this another day and add these explanations to our documentation.
  • Debrief: A catch up with our Sales team on how the call went and the follow up actions.
  • Research: I had another hour to interview one of our customers. This time they talked me through how their Data Scientists are using our data to support their work.
  • Support: I wrote a Python script as an example to help a customer improve their data gathering process. I took a note to look into whether building a repository of all these scripts would be a valuable use of my time, as I find myself doing it more and more.
  • Legal: I kicked off a legal review of some potential API changes, working with our Legal Counsel.
  • Testimonial: I approached one of our customers for a testimonial that we could use in Sales situations. They agreed.
  • Drinks with team.

Thursday

  • Podcast: Listened to This Is Product Management on the way to work (Episode 138: Becoming data-driven is Product Management).
  • International Women's Day: Just sayin', because it's awesome.
  • Backlog grooming: The team got together to review the stories that I wrote this week. We added more detail, acceptance criteria (the things that tell us whether the work is finished or not), and estimated the work.
  • Marketing: I helped review a new web page on our site, summarising Product updates in March.
  • Coordination: There are lots of releases planned for today, so I made sure that Engineers from three teams caught up with each other. This was good because it highlighted a small conflict, so we moved our own release to Friday.
  • Company meeting: Our monthly all-hands get together. At the end I talked about the prototype we built and asked for people to connect me to customers who would find something like that valuable. A member of my team demonstrated how it worked.
  • I try to keep Thursdays as meeting-free as possible so that I can explore some new ideas:
    • Exploration: Call with a potential new data supplier.
    • Exploration: Call with a potential analytics provider.
    • Exploration: Work on a potential developer documentation rethink/restructure.
  • Incident: A feature outage was caused by my team. Ouch. I was on and off Slack for a couple of hours whilst we fixed that.

Friday

  • Weekly review: Every week I try to keep my house in order and update reports, JIRA backlogs and stories, my feedback tracker, my to do list etc.
  • Post-mortem: We discussed the feature outage from Thursday night. It was a very simple mistake that was overlooked by someone rushing to get out of the office. We put actions in place to make sure that this doesn't happen again.
  • Release: We published some updates to our Syndication product. This was a refactor of our backend code, making it significantly more efficient.
  • Support: Answering questions from NewsWhippers about our Syndication product and the proof of concept that we demo'd at the company meeting.
  • Preparation: We have an infrastructure provider visiting us next week, so I caught up with them to confirm final details.
  • Research: Another hour with a customer to talk through their workflow and how they are thinking of using our API.
  • Development: Weekly catch up with my boss, where we talked briefly though projects and she gave some really useful feedback. We also talked through challenges and things that are on our minds.
  • Retrospective: This time a team retrospective (Product and Engineers) looking back on the last two weeks. We talked about our prototype, the outage, the calls I've been having with customers, and clarified a little about the roadmap that people were uncertain about
  • Planning: I started storyboarding some ideas to move on from our prototype. 

Saturday

Sunday

  • Blog: Finished this post and published it.