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Career Guide: What is a Product Manager?

While Product Manager positions are a popular tech career choice, there’s still some uncertainty around it. We asked our alumni, who have recently join tech teams in this exciting role, to explain the key responsibilities of Product Managers and what it takes to excel.

What does a Product Manager do?
Product managers focus on three main areas: UX, tech, business.

A role focused on User Experience (UX), Tech, and Business

Product managers wear many hats. You could see them as being at the intersection of three main areas within a company: UX, tech, and business.

“Your role is to champion the people who work in these different functions (UX, tech, and business) and help them succeed.” — Alexandre R., ex-Product Manager at Moka.

Therefore, having a good understanding of these three fields is crucial for becoming a successful product manager.

Marty Cagan, writer of Inspired, gives a good overview of what the job of a Product Manager consists of. Our alumni and many experts in the field recommend reading it.  “His book does a good job describing the responsibilities of a PM, which include discovering a product that is valuable, usable, and feasible.” — Alexandre R.

Léa P., Product Owner at Cominity, adds that rather than being managers, PMs are enablers: “They’re responsible for the success of the project/product”. 

Key responsibilities of a Product Manager

Because a Product Manager’s priority is providing value to customers, being in this role means getting to know your customers better than anyone else at the company. 

In his book Inspired, Marty Cagan highlights the four key responsibilities of product managers:

  • Deep knowledge of the customer
  • Deep knowledge of the data
  • Deep knowledge of your business
  • Deep knowledge of your market and industry
Understanding your customer is the first and most important step. By focusing on your customer, you can ensure that you are solving the right problems and delivering value.” — Alexandre R.

A product manager’s role is similar to an entrepreneur’s, some may even say that you’ll be like a mini “CEO of your product” (Pierre J., Product Owner). So, if you are interested in entrepreneurship, it is quite an exciting position!

The importance of iteration cycles 

There are many ways to bring value to customers over time. 

One popular way, inspired by the best practices of successful startups and books like The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, is implementing a strategy to test your hypothesis over iteration cycles. 

According to The Lean Startup, entrepreneurs and PMs should always be launching new features or product increments to test out their hypotheses, making sure to listen to customer feedback and adapt accordingly along the way.

If the company you are joining works with scrum, a framework for developing and sustaining complex products, you'll work in sprints and continuously launch new features or increments.

As a Product Manager, you’ll iterate over this cycle again and again:
  1. Define your hypothesis
  2. Test your hypothesis
  3. Collect data, learn, and iterate
Alexandre highlights that PMs should do for every single feature or every single product they are working on: "You’ll have a lot of different hypotheses on how you are going to solve the customer’s problem.” 

Product Managers vs Product Owners?

That’s a tricky one! 

There is no industry consensus on the difference between a Product Manager and a Product Owner (PO) . 

Usually, companies following the Scrum Guide have a team structure called “scrum teams”. It consists of: 

  • A Product Owner
  • A Scrum Master
  • A Development team
The scrum team should be autonomous and have all the skills required to deliver product increments. There should be one product owner per scrum team.

Companies with complex products or applications sometimes opt to have one Product Manager overseeing the project with multiple Product Owners reporting to them for specific features, regions, or markets. 

Smaller companies often choose to have only one Product Manager and prefer not to use the term “Product Owner” at all. 

As you can see, there are many different ways of defining job positions and structuring product teams. 

"In my experience, companies use many different job titles for tasks that would be done by a product manager, like 'business analyst' or even 'webmaster'. Some job offer titles are 'product owner' but you will actually be a 'project manager'. It’s important to double-check with the company you are applying to for what they specifically see as the role’s key responsibilities." — Léa P.

What skills are required to work in product management? 

Top skills for a Product Manager 

Because you’ll be working with a product that can change quite often and have many responsibilities, you should be curious, creative, persistent, and not afraid of making decisions. 

This role can be stressful or even overwhelming. But it’s essential to keep in mind that you don’t always need to develop new ideas. What matters is to champion ideas.

Besides being curious and results-driven, another great skill to have is communication. “A big part of your job is communicating your vision and making sure everyone is on the same page, both the team and all the stakeholders” 
— Léa P.

Is product management right for you? 

Working with many different components and putting them all together makes product management a job for generalists: you need to enjoy both the technical and business sides of products.

You need to be ready for failure and criticism, but if you enjoy learning, receiving feedback, and are passionate about solving problems in teams, product management might be for you!” — Alexandre R.

The most exciting thing about product management is that you get to participate in all conversations. From solving the business’s most pressing challenges to building new things and planning the next steps for the product, you get involved in many company areas. 

How does Le Wagon prepare you for a career in product management?

We have many product managers joining our bootcamps to understand better the technical process behind products. And some other students chose to learn to code to start a career in this field. 

What students usually appreciate the most about their experience at Le Wagon is learning to code in a very practical way, focusing on product. At the end of the bootcamp, you’re capable of building a web product from scratch

“I studied business strategy and was always curious about technology. I therefore spent some time working with various startups and wanted to better understand how technology enabled all these products, so I decided to join Le Wagon.” 
— Alexandre R.

After the bootcamp, some of our alumni landed jobs as Product Owners, such as Pierre J., Product Owner at Alithya and Chloe S., Product Owner at Desjardins. Others even launched their own tech products, such as the founder of Arkangel AI, Jose Z. If you want to discover more alumni stories, head over here.

Tools that a Product Manager uses

By now, you’re getting a better sense of whether product management is a good fit for you, your goals, and your personality. Why not take things a step further and test some of the tools product managers use? 

At Le Wagon, we are passionate about product management , so we teach and use some of these tools as part of the bootcamp. For instance:

  • Figma allows you to create prototypes with multiple collaborators
  • Github is a fantastic tool to share your code and collaborate with other devs
  • Trello is great for project management
  • Slack & Zoom is a must-have for team communication
Other tools PMs typically use:

Product Managers salaries in 2021 

Industry Perspectives 

Amid the current challenges triggered by the health crisis, job placement rates in STEM fields are still encouraging. 

According to a recent study, at the end of 2018, 1.8 million Canadians worked in the digital economy. And that number is expected to reach 2 million by 2023 if the tech sector continues to grow nearly twice as fast as the overall economy, as it has been.
STEM and related jobs as share of all canadian jobs

Product Manager salaries in Canada

According to Payscale, in Canada, Product Managers with 1-2 years of experience, working in Software, can expect salaries in the range of 61k to 109k a year. 

The media salary for Product Manager is $83k. 

The numbers are quite similar whether you search for “Product Owner” or “Product Manager” — yet another reason why there’s still a lot of confusion about the differences between these two titles.

Here’s a breakdown of product manager salaries in Canadian cities: 
  • In Montreal, Product Managers can expect a salary between $52k and $108k. The median salary is $78k
  • In Toronto, Product Managers salaries range from $66k to $110k. The median salary is $85k. 
  • In Vancouver,  Product Managers salaries range from $63k to $108k. The median salary is $84k. 
Our users have also consulted:
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