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What is Product Management? A Detailed Explanation Simple Enough for a Five Year-Old to Understand

Erika Carter

Stuff you can do once you’ve hit five: speak in sentences, count objects, recognize letters, understand the order of daily activities, use future tense, follow commands, know your address, understand everyday things like food, money, and… PRODUCT MANAGEMENT?

You got it. Learning about product management is right up there with stepping on a school bus and writing your own name, and great PMs can begin rising to stardom at just five years old.

So here’s how to explain product management to a five year-old. Or your mom. Or your manager. Or that random guy walking down the street.

What is Product Management?

Product management is the process of strategically overseeing every stage of the product lifecycle from research and development to testing and positioning, in order to build technically sound products that delight users and fulfill business objectives.

Who are Product Managers?

When organizations work on a product, it can be easy to get lost in the details. A product manager (PM) helps make sure the work of each team contributes to the big picture and serves the customer.

Typically, product managers are responsible for:

  • Pitching and positioning new ideas for product and feature development
  • Working with engineering and design teams to bring the product to life
  • Ensuring that each product meets the needs of the target user or customer

How do Product Managers and Engineers Work Together?

Developers and product managers look at the project from different perspectives. Even for product managers who come from a development background, their success metrics are different from the development team’s.

Product managers are focused on deadlines and revenue, while developers are focused on creating the best possible product. Combine this with starkly different daily routines, and you have two crucial parts of the software project on separate paths.

For those on the outside, the goals of a product manager and the development team may seem identical, in a similar way to the idea of outputs and outcomes. The difference between outputs and outcomes are, in a sense, the same as the differences between the goals of a developer and product manager.

Developers focus on outputs: the deliverables that come together to form a product. Developers need to harness their creativity to achieve output-based goals. Outputs are a purely quantitative measure, so while they are simple to achieve, they have little impact on the business side of things.

Product managers focus on outcomes: the objectives that the business is looking to achieve through the product. This could be increased sales, greater brand awareness, or any other business-related objective.

Outcomes are both qualitative and quantitative, which gives product managers an idea to chase and a well-defined business-related metric they need to achieve.

What’s the Difference Between a Project Manager and a Product Manager?

A product manager’s role is to prioritize the right problem for the team and business. The end goal is solving that specific problem for the benefit of both the business and the product’s users. Product managers are deeply involved in product strategy, making sure their team is focused on the highest-impact problems and collaboratively working together to solve them.

A project manager, on the other hand, has a more tactical role. Project managers are focused on the delivery and execution of the product based on the product vision. Are you following? The project manager is in charge of delegating the work to team members and ensuring everyone is doing their part on schedule. The project manager’s job spans the whole lifecycle of the development process until a successful product is built and ready to launch. It is the project manager’s responsibility to ensure that a project is completed on time, within budget, and of good quality.

To sum up:

  • Product management is more strategic, while project management is more tactical
  • Project managers are more focused on ensuring on-time project delivery, while product managers are more focused on ensuring that the right thing gets done in the first place
  • You could say that product managers care about the why and the how, while project managers care more about the when and facilitate the actual process 

What Skills Do Product Managers Have?

  • Writing Technical Requirements and Specs
  • Conducting Market Research
  • Critical & Analytical
  • Excellent Communication & Negotiation Skills 
  • Leadership Skills
  • Practicing Empathy
  • Flexibility
  • Problem-solving Skills
  • Time Management Skills
  • A/B testing
  • Data Analysis Skills
  • Product Roadmap Development
  • Software Development Skills
  • Market Research Skills
  • Basic Knowledge of Agile Methodology

What Sorts of Documents do Product Managers Create and Maintain?

  • Specs and Product Requirement Documents (PRDs)
  • Project Kickoffs
  • OKRs, KPIs, other metrics for measuring success (and failure)
  • MVP Ideation
  • User Journey Documents
  • Competitive Analysis Documents
  • Product Strategy and Vision Documents (i.e. Roadmap)
  • Designs and Prototypes Documents 

What Tools do Product Managers Use?

Product management tools are about understanding “the why”, user problems, customer journeys, and the steps taken before the actual building. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at what PMs at Shortcut use:

Amplitude

Amplitude is the maximum displacement or distance moved by a point on a vibrating body or wave measured from its equilibrium. Wait, no, sorry. Wrong amplitude. We use Amplitude, an analytics tool, for measuring and monitoring product analytics and for A/B testing. Amplitude’s metrics help us understand our users, make better product decisions, drive conversions, and increase engagement, growth, and revenue. They say increasing engagement, growth, and revenue is much better than not increasing engagement, growth, and revenue.

Our wonderful product team happens to host weekly Amplitude “office hours” for anyone in the company who has questions about how our customers are using Shortcut, for anyone who wants a second set of eyes on a chart they’ve built, or if they want to just learn more about what Amplitude can do. Or if they just want to hang out with a Product Manager for an hour and talk about being five.

Calendly

We use Calendly for easy scheduling when customers want to talk to us. We like it when people want to talk to us. Calendly allows us to schedule meetings easily and efficiently, eliminating the hassle of back-and-forth emails and other annoyances so we can actually work: which means we can keep making Shortcut better.

Chameleon

Chameleon is our distinctive and highly specialized old world lizard here at Shortcut, known for its distinct range of colors as it shifts in different hues and brightness. No. Wait. Sorry. Different chameleon. We use Chameleon to manage and validate our in-product engagement: user onboarding, user experience, feature discovery, customer support, and feedback.

Discord 

We use Discord to engage with our community of users. We like to think we're not the only people out there who like talking about building good software and product management tools. As one of the only places where no one will fall asleep if you say the word DevOps, we’d love for you to join our ongoing conversations. What’s in your PM toolkit? What’s your favorite new product? What are your thoughts on flowcharts and methodology? What’s your favorite thing about being five?

FigJam / Miro

With FigJam/Miro, we can cater to different learning and working styles by sharing our ideas with visuals while communicating them. We like to share screens and use collaborative Docs or visual tools to share a summary and quick visual for brainstorm meetings; it helps to keep the relevant docs & visuals in sight of the viewers.

“I love using these as a visual during Zoom meetings, and for working/collaborating during remote workshops with the team. It’s a good way to visualize your thoughts/ideas/problems/solutions w/o going to high fidelity.” - Shortcut PM

Google Sheets

We use Google Sheets for cranking out spreadsheets when the need arises for product planning. The beauty of the Shortcut + Google Sheets integration is getting real-time updates of Shortcut data in a connected Google Sheet. Any updates that happen in a Shortcut Workspace are dynamically updated to the connected Google Sheet. The data sent from Shortcut to Google is the same data that's captured from your Workspace when you export to CSV.

Google Sheets’ sister, Google Slides, is also great for decks.

Gong 

A gong is a large, flat, circular piece of metal that we hit with a hammer to make a sound like a loud bell, often as a signal that it’s time to do something, like work. Wait, no. Sorry. Wrong gong. We love Gong for recording and sharing customer interviews and clips.

Looker

Looker captures our data: our MQLs, PQLs, our ARR, and bunch of other acronyms having to do with our web traffic and signup rates. Our product managers work closely with our marketing team in Looker to optimize wherever we can. We’re all lookers of Looker.

Shortcut

Of course! We use Shortcut for task management and to track workflows. We use it to collaborate on work with our software engineers, design squad, marketing squad - every team member and stakeholder! It’s where we keep our product Roadmap and track our Epics, Stories, Milestones, and sprints. With kanban boards, reporting, and much more It’s the only powerful project management tool without all the management for product management teams and development teams- more powerful than Asana, much easier usability than Jira, and with many more features than Trello.

Docs

Docs is Shortcut's very appropriately named documentation tool, a way for you to create Docs for your team that works seamlessly with the rest of Shortcut. For example, you can highlight any text in a Write Doc and create a Story, Epic, or Iteration from that text that will forever be in sync across Shortcut. That way, if an engineer updates that Story while they're working in the code, it automatically updates in Docs! We think this is a game-changer for product development.

Use Shortcut

Whether you’re 5 or 50, or 500, one thing for certain is that product managers shouldn’t have to manage their project management tool. Try Shortcut for free.

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