What is an Agile Product Manager?

As a Product Manager at Onfido, Agustín Tonna gets asked tons of questions regarding his job; in this blog post, Agustín explains what a Product Manager's role entails.

A definition

'Product Management is above all else a business function, focused on maximising business value from a product. Product Managers should be obsessed with optimising a product to achieve the business goals while maximising return on investment.' - Mind the product

The Product Manager is in a strange position

The role of a product manager is often misunderstood. While there is no clear history of how this role came to be, it can be traced back to when straightforward roles such as Marketing and UX began to cross over. These roles were typically focused on understanding user behaviour and trends, and on generating profit by successfully applying the Marketing Mix (the right Product, in the right Place, at the right Price, using the right Promotion). Key metrics for such roles were closely related to revenue, as fields like consumer goods (e.g. shampoo) tend to move relatively slowly.

An ever-changing role

As the software industry began to bloom, several roles within organisations evolved and were redefined. In some cases, the transition went smoothly; in others, it was not so simple. Take, for example, the role of Marketing. Nowadays, it is largely focused on Brand and Customer Acquisition, whereas the role of the Product Manager requires an understanding of different fronts, such as UX, Business, and Technology.

Responsibilities of the Product Manager

Product Managers decide what features will get released in each cycle and provide guidance, definition and requirements for them. The quality of their work is directly linked to:

  • A good understanding of the user experience, i.e. what problem are they trying to solve by using the product? How are they trying to achieve this? Under what constraints do they work?

  • The ability to keep a long-term strategic view. It’s very easy to get lost in everyday tasks; when this happens, it’s hard to keep your focus on the product goals.

  • The ability to align all teams so that everyone moves towards the same end and understands the reasons behind that goal.

Interdependence across multiple teams

Product Managers’ (PM) work has an impact across most of the internal teams. As you can see in the Venn diagram below, the PM sits in between user experience, business needs and technical requirements within the company. As this multifaceted role includes a list of duties and knowledge outside its core, a product manager is prone to taking many unrelated responsibilities.

Furthermore, if product managers don’t take enough time to analyse each development cycle, long-term strategy and market insight, they may fall into the vicious circle of coming up with features which have their origin in mere “gut feelings”, subjective interpretation and personal preferences. Falling down this vortex of not being data-driven usually means that developers have to put out fires that could have been easily avoided by paying extra attention to detail, considering all the factors and planning ahead.

Another side-effect of constantly considering multiple fronts is tunnel vision. Getting too involved with one aspect of the Product (e.g. attracting new business) means that if the product manager can’t keep a medium and long-term vision, they are likely to ship new features and improvements with the aim of acquiring new customers whilst neglecting the existing user base and generating more technical debt.

Our description of a good Product Manager at Onfido:

1- Knowledgeable:

  • Knows the customer
  • Knows the product
  • Knows the competitors

2- A problem solver who is always applying technology to solve issues
3- Good at time-management
4- Empathic
5- Great communicator
6- Open to iterating and change
7- Great at focusing on a specific task and getting it done

As demanding as it can be, this is one of the most rewarding roles within an organisation, although it does require strong discipline to be able to handle all the variables while at the same time keeping focus on the immediate priorities.

Even though challenging at times, the satisfaction of watching the creation of a world-class product that is used around the world provides a rush of excitement that is indescribable!

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As Product Manager at Onfido, Agustín is in charge of defining and prioritising the product's roadmap. Born in Argentina, Agustín loves traveling around Europe and cooking new dishes.
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