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A day in the life of a product manager—what does a PM do?
What exactly does a product manager (PM) do in a day or a week? Are most days the same? This blog post will walk you through what a product manager gets up to in a day.
Last updated5 Oct 2022
Reading time10 min
Reuben Borg, Senior Product Manager at Hotjar, immediately fell in love with building user-focused products, right after graduating in Computer Science and Engineering. He was more interested in cross-functional teams and understanding user needs, so the move toward product management was a natural—and happy—one: he's been working in product for the past eight years.
But here's the million-dollar question: what exactly does a product manager (PM) do? We caught up with Reuben to find out why no day as a product manager is precisely like the other.
Let's start with the basics.
What does a product manager do?
The product manager is the bridge between a product strategy that satisfies the users' needs and one that doesn't—but the role and the tasks are much more complex than that. According to Reuben, a product manager is responsible for:
Identifying the problems to solve user issues
Directing the product strategy to solve these problems
Prioritizing tasks to deliver value to the user
And continuously learning and understanding the user
What do they need? What would improve the product for the user and the company? “It's our job to ensure all teams are working towards the goal. We find the highest value to deliver and work with stakeholders to ensure that it's delivered correctly,” says Reuben.
Reuben is also a fan of the product executive Marty Cagan’s simple definition of the role: “to discover a valuable, usable, and feasible product.”
And that can only mean one thing: no day is the same—and it's definitely not dull.
A day in the life of a product manager
"My days vary a lot," says Reuben. To make sure that a balance between daily tactical work and longer-term strategy is maintained, he likes to use the continuous discovery and delivery dual-track approach.
"The delivery is when you are actually building and delivering the features to the user," he explains. "And the discovery part is what makes you question assumptions, learn what users are really thinking and how they’re using your product; and all of this fuels into planning what you need to build next. The day is filled with tasks from both tracks." Personally, he starts by planning the day—"prioritization is important across the journey of a PM"—looking at specific metrics and data before jumping on a daily meeting with his squad. "Then, we look at what we're currently working on—the tasks, the progress—which is the delivery track. If the teams have any blockers, any questions, or anything that's missing to deliver those tasks, it's the PM's responsibility to make sure that that's unblocked," he says. This way, the team can keep delivering, and the squad can meet their sprint goals.
And that it's just Reuben's morning!
But don't be intimidated: "It's usually very quick," he says.
After the morning squad rituals are done, he might have a few more meetings, although he explains that much of the work is done asynchronously. "However, a big part of a product manager's role is collaboration. You need to continuously collaborate and communicate with your team's peers and stakeholders—internally and externally," he points out.
Bonus tip: A product manager might encounter their own blockers. When that happens, it's essential to reach out to colleagues and ask for feedback to keep each other updated and the workflow smooth.
And after the meetings are done, it's time to focus on the discovery track.
"I try my very best to have at least half of the day for it," he confides. That means:
Looking at user behavior data and trends,
Listening to the voice of the customer through interviews and surveys
Analyzing business metrics to measure impact
Researching market and industry trends
These are only a few examples. "The important part is to fuel the product strategy continuously, so you're learning all the time," Reuben explains. "A product manager is always planning what's coming next!"
Bonus tip: documentation is essential, especially for distributed remote-first teams. Findings, decisions, and feedback should always be documented to achieve transparency and communication within the team. "When all information is well referenced, you can easily share knowledge with other teams," he tells us.
How to prioritize tasks efficiently
Prioritization is one of the most significant aspects of a product manager's daily life. But how to do it effectively? "There are a lot of different aspects to consider," Reuben confides. "We could discuss this for hours."
This is because there are a lot of different angles to approach your priorities as a product manager: user feedback, technical complexities, the expected impact on user and business value, and the overarching product vision, for example. "And the worst thing you can do is trying all of your ideas at once," he suggests. "Prioritization is aligning the user problems, the market trends, the product vision, and the goals. Is it something that we want to do now? Do we have the capacity to do it? Is it in our product strategy? What do I need to invest to achieve it? What's the potential impact on the business metrics?"
"We collect all the info and do impact analysis, submitting it for feedback. When we get it back, we can decide as a team what to prioritize to work on next quarter or next year—that's for bigger projects," Reuben explains. For individual tasks on a daily basis, he suggests looking at the sprint and prioritizing these tasks—even though you might only be able to achieve 75% of them by the end.
Reuben also suggests looking at the current rate of progress and impact of each decision—then prioritize tasks based on that. He reminds product managers to focus on what will deliver value to the user and the business first, or what might block other team members from moving forward—and act on that.
That said, other product managers might have completely other criteria to approach prioritization. At the end of the day, it depends on the prioritization framework used.
That doesn't mean we're done with Reuben's insider tips and insights, though. Keep reading to find out what his favorite tools and resources are.
Empathy: one piece of advice every product manager should follow
"I'm a big fan of empathizing with the user," says Reuben. "We must remember that our users are humans, and we cannot understand humans just by looking at numbers. We need to speak to them through surveys or interviews and ask them for direct and honest feedback through open-ended questions," he summarizes.
In fact, Reuben points out that empathy was a big turning point in his product manager career. "Numbers can only give you so much," he says. "The empathizing part comes in when you experience the user journey yourself. To me, the best way to understand the users is to become the user and experience the product we're building: the journeys, the functionality, the features." Then, he concludes, one can see exactly what the user is experiencing. "When you're building, you see the product from one angle—but when you're using it, you might see a completely different side to it. Take both roles in the entire journey," he suggests.
With empathy, product managers can get closer to understanding the users' perceptions fully. After all, that's who you're building products for!
A product manager's favorite tools to understand users
Understanding users is the core task of a product manager's daily life. Luckily, technology can support them. Reuben is a fan of the following tools:
Hotjar: Reuben was a customer for six years before joining the team in 2022. He uses heatmaps, recordings, and trends to understand users' behavioral patterns, and feedback tools to ask questions and gather qualitative insights.
UserTesting and UsabilityHub: he uses these tools to run unmoderated user tests and other usability tests. "We create a prototype, and then we do a couple of user tests before we actually build it," he explains.
Dovetail: this tool is an excellent repository for qualitative feedback, including excerpts from moderated user interviews. "Our research team organizes everything in this hub. Then you can go in and filter information by a particular topic," Reuben says.
Mixpanel: for quantitative data analysis, Mixpanel is the PM's choice. "This is a dashboarding tool where we can get all the events we are tracking, and you can create reports and funnels based on what you need to see."
Google Analytics: if you're working on a project that measures site traffic quantitative data, Google Analytics is a classic.
Miro: this is Reuben's favorite collaboration tool. "I think it's a great way of visualizing what you're working on, whether it's a big project or an individual task," he says, adding that it's also a great resource for workshops and brainstorming sessions.
After all, having a great tool kit can make the day of a product manager more manageable and more organized—thus improving communication across the whole team.
What else should product managers keep an eye on?
Resources for product managers
Empathy is a crucial product manager skill, but it's not the only one. A product manager'sresource list is extensive, and Reuben was kind enough to share his favorite knowledge sources.
There are a lot of good product manager communities sharing great content, whether that is on Slack channels, newsletters, blogs, or forums. Reuben is a fan of the following:
The Product Stack: a product manager community focused on Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tools.
Mind the Product: a platform with extensive educational content, famous for its yearly conference.
Creative Product Managers: anopen discussion forum for PMs to exchange expertise and ask questions.
Books for product managers
Books are always an excellent resource for gathering knowledge and intel about best practices and career advice. "There are a lot of books I'd recommend, maybe too many," Reuben says. His favorites are the following:
Hooked by Nir Eyal. "A classic about creating habit-forming products that get users hooked," he summarizes.
Don't Make Me Think by Steve Krug. "A good and easy intro to product usability."
The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout. "A marketing book by definition, but it relates a lot to how we think about a product."
The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. "Another classic. This book focuses more on product in startups."
Continuous Discovery Habits by Theresa Torres. A structured and sustainable approach to continuous discovery.
And to complete the list, he's a big fan of Marty Cagan and his Silicon Valley Product Group books:
Inspired. "The go-to book for product management, in my opinion."
Empowered. "A great resource about product building and leading empowered product teams."
Loved."Insights more focused on product marketing."
Best podcasts for PMs
At the moment, Reuben is listening to:
Product Thinking: a podcast by Melissa Perri, the CEO of the product management consultancy Produx Labs.
Spotify: A Product Story: a miniseries about product strategy and a glimpse into the decisions that guided Spotify’s product evolution.
Ensuring a work/life balance as a product manager
With such a busy day and complex role, it's important that product managers aim to get a good work/life balance. "When you're working on something you're passionate about, it's very easy to overwork, and sometimes it takes a while to notice it," Reuben points out.
On a daily basis, he makes an effort to stick to office hours by planning the week and days as efficiently as possible (prioritization again!) to achieve his goals without overworking. "I'm into fitness, so I commit myself to hitting the gym every evening. Also, my dog is very good at making sure I'm out of the office in time for our daily walk," he concludes.
And that's what a day in the life of a product manager usually looks like: very busy and very intense. "But very fulfilling as well," concludes Reuben.
A busy, but well-balanced and fulfilling life.