The first response when you ask a product manager (PM) in a tech company to describe a typical day at work is, most likely, “There is no typical day; every day is different.” You may think, “How helpful!” But that’s what it is. There is really no typical day.
But on any given day, PMs meet or interact with specific groups of professionals, colleagues, customers, and others, as they manage different deliverables. Colleagues may be engineers, designers, legal experts, finance people, and marketing/sales and customer support teams.
Whether they handle an enterprise or customer markets, or pre-launch or post-launch operations, PMs are deeply involved in the launch and the future of a product (strategy, roadmap, product requirement documents, marketing requirement documents), customer interaction (customer programs, events, focus groups), marketing (communications, brand development), sales/pre-sales, pricing and revenue, customer support/training, legal issues, and recruitment of new PMs.
A PM’s role depends on the size of a company, the type of product, and the stage of the product in its lifecycle.
Conflict resolution is a big part of the tasks of a PM, who functions like the CEO of a product. For example, the design and engineering teams may be at loggerheads, two engineering teams may disagree on priorities, finance may have a tussle with services: the PM is often the peacemaker.
That’s one reason why a PM’s day is full of meetings — occupying 50-90 percent of an eight-hour day.
Here’s a head-up on what a technology company PM’s day looks like, more or less.
If you are a product manager at a tech company, you may have the luxury of waking up around 7 am and then getting ready for work. If you are a fitness enthusiast, put the clock back to 6.30, when you get up and can go for a walk or to the gym. If you live about 45-60 minutes commuting time from your office, you leave home around 8.
On the way, you probably will take out your laptop and get down to priority number 1: check your inbox, which is often full of reminders (to yourself), updates (from a colleague or an automated newsletter), or requests (such as an engineer asking when during the week you are planning to present a new product for launch approval).
You may also run a plan for the day, or review what’s been happening, through your mind
As soon as you reach office around 9, you go to the top-floor cafeteria and grab breakfast, perhaps with a team member. You invariably talk shop after a short initial conversation on general stuff, and discuss something like user metrics for a product launched some time ago.
Right after breakfast, you go to the daily “stand-up” with your team members in-house, in which teammates abroad may join you virtually. Thereafter, PMs working on different products may hang on for some more time to catch up on what the others are doing.
In some tech companies, stand-ups may be a short affair of 10-15 minutes to know whether anyone is facing any difficulty and quickly discuss what solutions can be found, to share any interesting information about the product/competition, and to welcome newcomers to your team or visitors.
It may be a longer meeting, involving the larger team, including product managers such as yourself, besides engineers and designers, to update one another about what is going on with the development of Product A, how near the product approval and launch you are, what has been happening over the past week, and what is being planned to be accomplished over the next week.
You may also discuss which teams need to interact closely for product development, etc. (many PMs work on three products at any given time).
Often, in tech companies, the longer meeting may follow the short stand-up right at the start of the day.
You get into a meeting with the legal team to discuss any foreseeable legal problems in the launch of Product A or product feature. This meeting is part of the SOP (standard operating procedure) associated with product launch and helps alert the legal experts of what issues might be looking for a solution from them.
Right after the legal huddle, the sales team may ask for a quick meeting, to discuss whether a new feature can be included in Product A. The sales people say the new feature will be most appealing to customers and improve the marketability of the product a great deal.
You call in the designers working on the product. At the meeting, the designers agrees to work on the suggestion for a new feature but demand some substantial support from the tech team.
The sales team leaves, and you and the designers call in the tech team so that the designers can explain what technical support is required.
The tech team first says the new feature may face serious technical issues but, when you give them a sample of the sales team’s pitch, agrees to try out solutions.
As the PM, you take the opportunity offered by this meeting with the designers and the techies to recap Product A project status, updates, and plans for the rest of the week.
At 12, it is time for a scheduled usability/user testing (pre-launch, post-launch, ongoing) on a feature of Product A. Earlier, you would have sent out invites to the test to colleagues who are interested and may contribute with suggestions.
They gather in the conference room, and you put to them all the user-survey questions that you have prepared, and assess the response. Participants may have their own questions, and enact the part of actual users trying out the new feature.
You take notes all through, so that you can tweak the survey questionnaire and remember what suggestions can be pursued.
It’s past 1 ‘o’ clock, and time to acknowledge hunger pangs. When a colleague, also a PM, calls you out for lunch, you readily join her. You feel you have the time to take a 10-minute walk with her to your favorite deli.
Over lunch, you briefly talk shop, but quickly and consciously change the topic to general matters. Another colleague joins you for lunch quite unexpectedly, and you somehow revert to work and office politics.
Many tech companies organize talk shows of an hour or so around this time, which you can attend in person or virtually. Even on busy days, you can be at your desk, biting into a sandwich and watching a talk show. It is a good way to freshen your mind.
You return to your desk after the leisurely walk and lunch. High time to take a look at your inbox again. No urgent messages, just your own reminders.
You turn your attention back to work after all the meetings in the pre-lunch period. You can now focus on resuming your work on a Product Requirement Document (PRD) for another new product, Product B, you’re the PM for. You have already met the client in the past week and completed much of the PRD.
Even as you draft the PRD for Product B, and also MRD (Market Requirement Document), the questions that the designers, techies, and sales guys may have already start coming to mind.
Then, out of the blue, comes an email from a customer forwarded by marketing / customer support. The customer has complained about the “slowness” of a newly added feature of Product C, launched a couple of months ago, and asks for help.
You forward the email to the Q&A team, and asks for a response to be sent to the customer, with a copy to you.
At 3 pm, you yearn for coffee. After a five-minute break at the cafeteria, you continue your PRD work on Product B.
A reminder goes off from your phone about the last two scheduled meetings of the day, one with the lead engineer of Product A and the next with your manager. You need to prepare a little bit.
You meet the lead engineer at 4 pm. You discuss questions such as what tech issues are left to be resolved in Product A and what the vision is for certain current and future products. The meeting is casual and presents a chance to you and the lead engineer to open your minds.
The second meeting, at 4.30, is with your manager. She has the usual questions: What has been accomplished last week, and what is being planned for the current or coming week?
You discuss the technical problems the designers are facing in implementing a new feature for Product A suggested by the sales people and the support that has to come from the tech team. Solutions have suggested, you add, but alert her of a possible short delay.
You are almost through, but you need to check your ever-expanding inbox before you go. You informally meet the lead designer and lead engineer individually at their desks and give them your manager’s feedback and suggestions.
Even as you are planning a quick exit, and dinner with friends later, comes a call from the COO for a meeting in his office. The CTO will also be present.
As soon as you enter the COO’s office, he talks about the complaint he has received from a customer about a new feature of Product C (the same customer who sent an email to marketing, and you asked Q&A to handle).
The belligerent customer has somehow managed to contact the COO directly and express dissatisfaction with the resolution by Q&A. You promise to take care of it first thing the next morning.
The CTO wants to know how well the roadmap of Product D, launched four months ago, is being followed. The plan was to hit 100,000 customers in six months and 500,000 in a year. But the current figure is just 25,000.
You and the CTO discuss the “scalability dream” and agree that the figure has to be adjusted, given the technical hurdles. The CTO and you agree to redo the roadmap.
After the meeting, you wonder if you should go back to work on the PRD or call it a day and head for home. You could still catch you friends for dinner. You take the second option: you are well ahead on the PRD and need only about an hour on a new day to complete it.
You leave office around 7.30 pm and head for the restaurant where you are to meet your friends.
After dinner, you head back home, and catch your close family on the Net. Then you watch a nice movie, which, quite interestingly, is a little about work-life balance. After the movie, you see your inbox again: only reminders and a quick suggestion from a designer.
Now it’s time to hit the bed.
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References: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15