The role of a product manager is a wide-spanning one, with intersections between marketing, sales, customer service, design, development, and of course, the product itself.
On any given day, a product manager could be: focused on building product strategies and roadmaps, writing documentation, meeting with customers, checking merchandise, pitching new projects, the list goes on.
Ben Horowitz explains the role in his widely-popular article, Good Product Manager/Bad Product Manager:
“Good product managers know the market, the product, the product line and the competition extremely well and operate from a strong basis of knowledge and confidence. A good product manager is the CEO of the product.“
We had the opportunity to speak with eight product managers, ranging from large corporations like Google and LinkedIn, to emerging startups, to talk about work-life balance for product managers, and a typical day in their life.
Yana Yushkina // Product Manager at Google
No two days are alike. My job makes me responsible for the overall user experience. This means that I work with software engineers and UX designers to build the right solutions for user pain points and needs.
But that also means that I evangelize the product across the company to make sure that leadership is aware of any bottlenecks or staffing needs, and that other stakeholders are in the loop.
That also means that I partner with other product teams, work with legal, marketing, privacy, security and accessibility stakeholders. All of this amounts to a lot of meetings.
In meeting-free time, I do strategy and feature work: build and amend product roadmaps that match our product mission and the vision for how to accomplish it; write PRDs (product requirements documents) that detail solutions for specific user problems; shepherd features through launch experiments; and eventually lead them to launch.
Owen Wallis // Senior Product Manager at Atlassian
Every day is different. Roughly it starts like this. Woken up by son sitting on my head. Play LEGO together. Leave home just before 8am. Jump on the train and check Slack and Emails. We have many offices around the world at Atlassian.
I haven’t found there is an expectation to stay online 24/7 (unless you want to). So asynchronous communication is a big thing here. I get into the office and eat. Then try and clear out email and Slack before the ‘normal’ day starts at 9am. Usually I’ll start with team meetings to align on priorities.
Then I’ll carry out similar meetings with teams in the US. I’ll try and do some interviews with internal staff members. There is so much to learn from people here. Then I’ll do interviews with external customers. To build empathy and learn pain points. I have a standup with my tech leads and dev team to run over any blockers or issues we’re facing.
If I’m feeling a bit ‘peopled out’ I’ll grab lunch then defragment in a quiet room. In the afternoon I try and block time out to work on strategy and vision for my product. I’ll usually finish the day with 1-1s with peers. I try and head out the office at 5pm. I aim for making sure all Slack messages and emails are dealt with before I go home.
Get home, play with child, glass of wine with wife and chat about the day. Then relax with a computer game or brainless TV. I’m ashamed to say I became addicted to a show called The Bachelor.
Raffaela Bethke // Product Manager at Hyper Anna
There is a famous quote from Mike Tyson that I find describes most of my days as a Product Manager so well: “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
I’m a morning person, which means I usually get to the office before 8 am (pre-Corona lockdown). This helps me get stuff done before it gets busy and all the distractions of being in an office kick in (my home office distractions? my dog?). I normally start by going through and getting an overview of my day ahead and then come up with a plan and a to-do list.
From then on it becomes a mixture of sticking to the plan and the to-do list and adjusting according to what needs my attention, i.e. the getting punched in the face part.
As dramatic as that sounds, this part is actually one of my favourite parts of being a Product Manager as it keeps me on my toes, forces me to make quick decisions, collaborate with my team and think fast.
Once one of the hectic periods is over, having the to-do list to come back is useful – it helps me refocus.
Iana Guzhyk // Product Manager at Merch38
I love to wake up early. I’m a morning person and it’s the most productive time for me. Every day starts for me from a glass of water, morning exercises and delicious breakfast with reading the news portal.
I always start the work from the most important things to do: it’s a multitasks process: work with clients, discuss new projects, work for a content, check merchandise production, etc.
Those who worked for a startup know that it’s a huge mass of information and endless flow of process and tasks that you have to work with. But the main thing is to enjoy your job and find your own work-life balance.
I am always glad to find time for a walk and evening training. Perfect relaxing evening for me is a good movie with good company or a beloved one (I hate watching a movie alone).
Alex Reeve // Product Manager at LinkedIn
I’m up at around 6am most mornings. The first two priorities are usually exercise and commute, the order of which depends on whether I’m spending the day in San Francisco, or commuting to South Bay.
Every day is a little different. I’m usually at my desk by ~8:30am, with a typical day involving 4-5 hours of meetings, a lot of communication (verbal, Slack, email), and a couple of hours of focused work and/or thinking time. Where possible, I try and pre-schedule my day and batch certain activities (e.g. email).
Luke Hefson // Product Manager at GitHub
I work from home and have young children. This means I haven’t had to regularly use an alarm clock for a long time now! They wake my wife and me up at 6.30ish, and then we all slowly get ready for the day. If I’m not taking the kids to school, then I’m usually sat at the desk in my office-room by 8.30.
At one point I had kicked caffeine – but unfortunately, I fell off the wagon a couple of years back – so I’ll need a cup before I can properly function (I feel sorry for my West Coast USA-based colleagues who do lots of video calls at 9am with Europeans as I rarely have to look fresh that early!)
By 10am, I’ve hit my groove and will be working through my day’s goals/tasks.
As I start early and finish late often – I try to use lunch to take a decent chunk of time off. It’s a great opportunity to go for a run, do some gardening or even go for a surf if there are waves.
I have a hard stop at 6.30pm, but oftentimes I finish up at about 5.30pm. For the most part, I try to avoid looking at work notifications on my phone during the evening.
Lucie Kasna // Product Manager at Subly
Both my kids are either at school or part-time childcare so my normal day starts around 5.30 – 6 when they both try to get into our bed. Then the normal family morning getting everyone out of the door and starting my day at 9 with either some exercise or straight to work with a cup of coffee.
I’m a huge fan of “to-do lists” which I always make at the end of the day for the next day. As I have limited time before picking up my kids from school at 3pm I try to split my days into 70% Subly and 30% my passion project – it keeps it interesting and fun. It does’t always work out that way of course. Being able to adapt and be flexible is really important.
3pm get the kids and the usual afternoon starts with getting dinner ready, bath, bed.
7pm – back to work and team stand up – half of our team is in UK / Europe so this is the best time for everyone to connect.
Finish work around 8.30pm
It may not look like a balance for some, but for me 9-5 doesn’t work. I like that I can take the kids to the beach in the afternoon or do my life admin when needed.
Daniella Corricelli // Senior Product Manager at VMware
Every day is different, but usually meeting heavy. I kick-off every day with 9:30 am ‘stand-up’ to sync with my team’s engineers.
Then for example today, I had two user interviews, wrote a go-to-market strategy for a product we’re planning to release in a few months, met with a customer to help unblock them through an issue, and shared great feedback to one of my reports.
Around 12:30 pm is when I break for lunch. This usually means grabbing something quick to take up on my building’s roof. I’m based in Brooklyn, New York so outdoor space isn’t particularly common, but rooftops with skyline views are coveted.
Taking my eyes off the screen for that hour has become more necessary now, so I’m lucky I get to enjoy a beautiful view when I do. By 6:00 pm I try to shut things down and start cooking. On most days I’ve stepped away from work and am eating dinner with Jeopardy at 7.
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