A brief introduction to Product Management fundamentals

Rohit Ganguly

Product Management as a career is difficult to define, and my personal opinions on the career I chose change every year I give the 'Intro to Product' talk to the CSC (stop by!). I'll capture my consistent beliefs on the basics of the role here.

Product Management?

There's a million definitions online, here's a summary.

In general, Product Managers do the following:

  • Work with engineering, design, and other orgs in a company collaboratively
  • Represent the voice of the user
  • Prioritize and rally features
  • Find problems to solve and prioritize them

I'd advise you to do your own research on Product Management as a career before choosing it, especially for reasons besides the fact that it's a tech job that doesn't involve constant coding (this attracts a lot of folks looking for the past of least resistance, which this job is not). You'll face adversity in this role that will make you miserable if you don't at least somewhat align with the role's definition.

You should also know, Product Management is an incredibly hard role to break into as a new grad and you shouldn't count on it - most PMs transition later in their careers and start in a different role. That doesn't mean you shouldn't try to break into it as a student (you absolutely should if you're interested), but don't be discouraged if you don't land it early on. Careers are long, and we're all going to make it.

The Important Basics

Product Management looks different everywhere. Sticking to the fundamentals will take you very far in your PM career no matter what the role looks like in your organization.

The First Fundamental

The first thing to remember is that the term Product Management can be defined by the three words "who", "what", and "why". Everything else in the career is to gain a clearer understanding of these three concepts.

To elaborate:

  • Who are we building this for?
  • What are we doing? What does success look like with this feature?
  • Why should we do this (and not something else)?

In the scope of an engineering team, the job of the Product Manager is to clarify the work to be done, and have a clear reason why. You aren't the one defining how the problem gets solved at the end of the day (design and engineering-wise). You can come to the table with ideas, but designers and engineers are there to handle that portion - you need to ensure the solution is a good answer to 'who', 'what', and 'why'.

The Second Fundamental

To be successful, you must understand what makes a product. This is something that somehow, people with Ivy League degrees, venture backing, and every meaningless signifier under the sun don't understand.

Simply put, a product is the fix to a problem that people will pay not to have. This means that if you haven't identified a problem to solve, you don't have a product, you have a (hopefully not expensive) side project. We see it all of the time - at the time of writing this, the AI boom has led to a lot of attempted products with no real problem to solve. Value is the term for solving meaningful, money-making problems.

You now understand that your job is to generate clarity on who you're building for, what you're going to build, what success looks like, and why. You get that there's money to made only when a problem is solved. Where do you start?

Product Management Skills

The name of the game is problem identification, prioritization, and ideation. We'll cover each individually.

Problem Identification

You're a Product Manager on a software product. Let's say you're focused on Business to Consumer (B2C) products like Netflix.

My personal approach is to start backwards and always ask questions. What makes your company money? For Netflix, when focusing on customer features, its membership fees. Why do customers pay money for Netflix? Because they find content they want to watch. How do they find content to watch? Through the algorithm that suggests categories and shows. After that, you can dig deeper into specifics. What do your users look like? Who uses the most Netflix? Where are they struggling?

Understanding how your business makes money, now what are the higher ups saying strategy-wise? What can your product do to align with overall business goals? While you represent the customers, you also have to get buy-in and aligning with strategy is a must.

Once you have a good understanding of what makes money and what your company wants to do, you can look for problems to solve. PMs do this in a variety of ways, but they can look like:

  • Digging into usage data to see where users are struggling
  • Talking to users and seeing what their issues are, or running UX research studies
  • Seeing what competitors are doing and what they're prioritizing (competitive intelligence)
  • Learning about latest developments in your field, in-person at conferences/meetups or online

Understanding your business and your users is key. A solution that makes everyone happy exists.

Problem Prioritization

Ideally, this is a pretty straightforward answer once you have a good understanding of the problems to solve. When prioritizing, remember to keep in mind the initial reasoning behind building that feature. If you're building something to satisfy users, build something that satisfies a more important pain point. If you're looking to make money, pick the feature that has a higher chance to increase money made from your product.

You should have a clear reason for prioritizing work, and if you're feeling unsure in a particular scenario, you have more to learn about your customer, the problem, your competitors, or the business.

Solution Ideation

You'll eventually bring your prioritized ideas to your stakeholders (design, engineering, leadership, etc) and they'll have their own thoughts.

You can come to the table with ideas on how it should be done from a customer's perspective. Understand their job to be done (JTBD) and pain points. The design and engineering teams will handle the rest - do not get attached to a solution!

The most important thing is adjusting the priorities for your ideas as you understand impact/effort when collaborating with stakeholders. This is often referred to as 'scoping' your features - once a feature is scoped, there's a clear understanding of all the key pieces - who's it being built for, what it's going to do, why it's being built, and now, how it's going to be built and how much effort it's going to take.

Again, you are not responsible for ideating a solution - your job is to ensure that there is value provided to customers at the end of the day. If you're getting pushback on your features and you can't defend it, you need to develop a deeper understanding of the customers/problem/business/competition OR improve your communication of your ideas.

At the end of it all, you'll again have to prioritize scoped features. Ideally you go for low-effort high-impact features first, and work your way backwards to medium-effort high-impact, medium-effort medium-impact, etc. This is very situational but this process will look the same everywhere.


Product Management is an incredibly rewarding career that benefits curious and hard-working individuals with multiple domains of skills (technical, design, research, marketing, economics, psychology, so much more).

Here's some resources I suggest if you're interested in learning more:

Last updated: Apr 23rd 2024