So, What Do You Actually Do As A Product Manager?

A typical day in the life as a PM

Catherine Shyu
Feb 5, 2014 · 7 min read

A lot of people have asked me what I do on a day-to-day basis as a software Product Manager, so here’s a schedule from an average day to help draw back the curtain. Product Management activities differ across organizations, titles, and teams. Common variables that will affect your individual experience are: product lifecycle stage, job level, frontend vs backend focus, and stage of the company. I’m currently in the new product development stage, so my “typical day” is likely skewed towards planning and coordination activities.

Much of a Product Manager’s responsibility is to juggle multiple streams of conversation and move them towards closure.

Whether over email or in meetings, you should be resolving uncertainty by gathering all available information (usage data, time constraints, budget constraints, competitor implementation, etc.), discussing the options with everyone, and either making a decision or assigning action items to get to one. People assume that because of the centrality of the role, a PM can tell people what to do — but that’s completely untrue and is a mark of a bad PM. Your role is deeply collaborative and many times you’ll be persuading people to support your decisions.

It’s not your job to have all the answers coming in, but you do need to be able to make defensible decisions from the information at hand.

A Typical Day

This is the average unsexy type of day. You have a ton of emails to respond to and take action items on, meetings to prepare for, and the largest chunk of open time you have is 1.5 hours — not enough to go deep into any one activity.

  1. 6:30AM. Wake up, throw on clothes and head to work. I usually come into the office around 8am to get a nice chunk of quiet time.

Atypical Days

These are the days a Product Manager loves, where you can focus and go deep on one activity, instead of switching contexts all day.

  • Strategy / Planning Days. These should happen at least every few weeks, to get ahead on project planning. Taking a day to think through use cases, edge cases, cross-team dependencies and general logistics for a project pays off in multiples later on when I need the context to answer a specific question in. Common Deliverables: product requirements, product roadmaps, presentations.

In Conclusion

Product Management is a challenging role because it requires mastery of a wide skills set (many of which aren’t taught in school). In terms of managing your day-to-day, context switching is an unexpectedly important skill to master as many days will require you to jump between meetings on very different topics. Finally, on the topic of daily schedules it’s important for you to maintain a balance of proactivity and reactivity. You need to be able to make decisions as they come in, but also block off chunks of time for yourself to get ahead in product planning.

The benefits are many, though — you have influence and control over an entire product, and many of the skills you practice prepare you for entrepreneurship if you plan to take that route.

The work you do changes so often that you’ll never get bored, and you are in a unique position to interact with many different types of people across your organization. The daily life of a Product Manager is challenging to say the least, but you probably wouldn’t be attracted to it if you were just looking for something easy.

If you’re a Product Manager, I’d love to know what your day looks like. Here are links to other PMs’ days:

If you enjoyed this article, please recommend and share below.

All Things Product Management

Providing clarity around the finer details of product management.

Catherine Shyu

Written by

Product @ Google, formerly at ShapeShift, SendGrid · Photographer @ Writes about the fun and pain of product management.

All Things Product Management

Providing clarity around the finer details of product management.

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