In this post, an enterprise (IBM) and a consumer (Google) product manager describe a typical day in their life on the job.
While there doesn't exactly exist a "typical" day in product management, you can expect to perform certain tasks based on the stage of your product.
Product Management in the Product Lifecycle
In the initial discovery stage, you can expect to be ideating with your peers and conducting user interviews to validate your ideas. In the define stage, you are planning the MVP by sharing your vision with your engineering and product design counterparts. This is where you'll write requirements and epics. After that's completed, you'll execute on your plan by ensuring any roadblocks engineering and design face are taken care of. This includes clarifying any questions they may have or conducting A/B tests to help the team make a design decision.
Next in the pre-release stage, you are helping to prepare marketing materials and user-facing documentation so your product is successful upon release. This may include building demo videos or working with marketing to get press about the upcoming launch. Finally in the launch phase, when the product is released, you measure success by monitoring quantitative as well as qualitative metrics and making adjustments to iterate and improve the product.
To add some color to this picture, two product managers from different fields–an enterprise PM from IBM and a consumer PM from Google–share a typical day in their lives.
Enterprise Product Manager (IBM)
I'm Kevin Wei, a product manager at IBM working on data integration tools. Here's a snapshot of my day. I pieced together various meetings from my work schedule to display an informative look at what product management is like at the enterprise level.
Disclaimer: The following are opinions of Kevin and not the views of IBM.
Check Emails and Messages
While there's always guaranteed variability in my day to day activities, the first task I handle every day is the same: checking emails and my messages. I make sure to spot urgent requests and respond to those in a timely manner. This does two things: it helps me get zoned into work, and it helps to keep my number of unread emails and messages to a manageable amount.
As you may expect at IBM, we don't use Gmail; to handle emails, employees use software we developed ourselves called IBM Verse. We also use Verse to schedule meetings. I've synced my work emails and calendar with the email and calendar app on my phone for my convenience. As for internal messaging, we use the wildly popular Slack app.
The practice of developing internal tools to handle productivity is actually pretty commonplace in enterprises. Some arguments for not using a competitor's software -- like Gmail for email -- include not wanting to be contributing to a rival's bottom line, or for data privacy reasons.
Amazon is notorious for this; they have developed their own tool for everything (except email, for which they actually use Microsoft Outlook). For example, Amazon employees use "Chime" for instant messaging and video conferencing, "Sim" for tracking epics and stories, and "Sage" for Stack Overflow style Q&A.
Next, I'll attend "standup" with the engineering team. This short agile meeting, also known as scrum, helps to get everyone in sync and work together to clarify any vague requirements or overcome any blockers.
Monitor and Manage the Health of the Product
I'm not actually making sure everyone is healthy, but that's important too! By "health", I'm referring to checking my metrics dashboard to ensure everything is running smoothly.
I'll also be reviewing and responding to any Net Promoter Score (NPS) feedback we've gotten. NPS scores measure customer experience by giving users the ability to tell us, on a scale of 0-10, how likely they are to recommend our product to a friend or colleague. We consider those who score 9-10 to be promoters, as their feedback is positive. For users who give a score of 0-6, we consider them to be detractors as their score is generally negative. In the middle are passive users who provide a score of 7-8, who are satisfied with the product but may be vulnerable to churn to competitors as they are not entirely happy with the product. The NPS score is calculated using a formula, resulting in a score that can range from -100 (if every customer hates the product) to +100 (if every customer is a raving fan of our product).
For positive feedback, I like to communicate the excellent news to the team and refer the client to fill out a reference survey we value (eg. Gartner Peer Insights). With negative feedback, I like to not only dig deeper to find out more about the customer's pain points but also share with the team so as to prevent similar future criticism.
I'll also use this time to check on feature requests filed in the form of a ticket and make any necessary updates to our Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).
Eat with Team Members
If possible, I like to grab food with co-workers and talk about whatever is on our minds. Conversations have ranged from travel hacks and frequent flyer programs to crazy travel stories, to what their kids are up to in high school and college. As for the latter, I usually find my co-workers, most of whom are parents, turning to me for advice or for some perspective, as I just graduated from college two years ago.
I may also use my lunch time to check major industry blogs, analyst reports (Gartner, Forrester, IDC), and news aggregators to stay up to date on trends in the market. Sometimes this can even include listening to a podcast episode. One show I follow in the data management space is The Data Engineering Podcast.
We have recurring team syncs after lunch time just for us product managers working on the product. Our manager never attends this meeting. Typically we use this time to share knowledge to help each other out.
These regular team syncs help prevent members of the product team from working in silos. We also use this time to align on priorities. For instance, I was ideating an AI feature for our product to better assist the end-user. After sharing my goal, I learned from another product manager that there was a related initiative being worked on by another team. He put me in touch with that team, and together we collaborated on ideation of my feature. Similarly, there have been times when I desired to conduct some user interviews, and other product managers were able to put me in touch with new customers to chat with.
I like to frequently schedule interviews with customers to not only nurture our relationship but also to get their feedback on our product. I usually have an interview script prepared and conduct these meetings with the help of a colleague who will help take notes while I engage with the user. Note-taking using a real-time editor has proven to be very useful, as I'm able to refer to my co-worker's notes in real time to reference something the customer said earlier in the call.
These user interview calls are usually followed by a debrief with my coworker to talk about what went well and what takeaways we have from the chat with the customer. I like to send a thank-you note after each interview with any follow-up information the customer may have been curious about (eg. a presentation deck on a new feature we've recently shipped).
Various Ad Hoc Meetings
Later in the day, I'll schedule one-off meetings with the cross-functional team as necessary. This includes chats with design, sales, business operations, release management, and marketing folks.
I may engage with sales to find out which deals we have recently lost out on and how we can position ourselves better with respect to our competitors. Or, I may use this time to review the content strategy for our IBM blogs with our marketing counterparts.
My 1:1 meetings with my direct manager are casual chats about my work. I like to use this time to dive deeper into our team strategy or get clarification for any work I may need help with. My manager is very well connected in the company, so oftentimes I'll leave my 1:1 meetings with names of other folks within IBM to reach out to who can help me with a current project I'm working on.
Ad Hoc Personal Work
As the work day winds down, I like to use this time to get some alone time and deeply focus on solo work. This could include building a demo for a new feature or analyzing the market needs in order to create a pitch to execs for some new initiative. I could also use this time to manage the backlog and write requirements. I also use this time to catch up on emails I may have missed throughout the day.
After work, I always try to get some exercise. I alternate strength (bench press, squat, deadlift, overhead press) days with cardio (running or spinning) days. By the time I get home, I eat a quick dinner, chat with friends, and catch up on some personal work before heading to bed.
Consumer Product Manager (Google)
I'm Stephen Cognetta, a product manager at Google working on Google Search. I'm here to show you what Google product managers actually do. Like Kevin, I pieced together various events from my work schedule to display an informative look at what product management is like at the consumer level.
I rush to board the “GBus” (Google’s private shuttle bus), which drives me from my home in SF down to the Google Mountain View headquarters. On the bus, I pull out my laptop to get some work done. As a Google product manager my inbox is slammed with new emails, that generally fall into one of these categories:
- Reminders. I use Inbox by Gmail’s “Reminder” feature to set reminders and snooze them later. (More on my inbox system here)
- Updates. Either via an automated newsletter or a team member, I’ll receive some sort of status update.
- Tasks. For example, an engineer may ask me to submit our product for launch approval, or I may need to edit a document and reply to comments.
Yep, it takes over an hour and a half to finally get into the office, especially if there’s an accident on the road.
I grab my usual breakfast of scrambled eggs and kale in my building’s cafe and run into one of the engineers on my team. We chat about our weekends, and I mention the good news: our user metrics have nearly doubled since our launch last week.
Meeting #1 (Legal)
I dial-in to a meeting with the legal team to discuss risks and approval for a new Google Search feature we’re launching — the Google Solitaire feature! These meetings for a Google product manager are standard and help flag the legal team for any potential issues with a product launch.
Meeting #2 (Usability Testing)
I’m running a one-hour usability test session on a set of new Google Assistant voice features (e.g. “Ok, Google… flip a coin”).
I’ve sent out an email and a calendar invite to a group of interested co-workers, and we all meet in a conference room to test out the Google Assistant. I ask all the users survey questions, as well as jot down some of my own observations.
Meeting #3 (Standup)
Standup! This is a time for engineers, product managers, and designers on our team to share updates from the past week. We’ll also discuss what we plan to accomplish next week, and if there are any opportunities for collaboration in our workflows.
Meeting #4 (Dashboard Core Team)
Next up, as a Google product manager I have a core team meeting composed of an engineer, a designer, and myself (PM). The engineer/designer/PM trifecta is a common core team composition. At this meeting, the designer presents updated mocks for a dashboard feature we’re building. The engineer comments on some of the constraints, including the technical difficulty with changing the graph color dynamically.
As the Google product manager, I run the meeting. I’m prepared with an agenda and open questions that our team needs to resolve. I take notes and send out action items after the meeting has ended.
I grab lunch with some engineers on my team. I enjoy the lunches with my teammates as a great way to talk about something other than work.
That said, half the time, my calendar is often too full for me to make time. 😅
In a cozy nook of the Google office, I crank out more emails and chat replies. I have a queue of tasks I’ve entered into my Inbox reminders that I usually start with.
Finally! For the first time since the morning, I have some time to actually get work done! After checking my email, I crank away at a Product Requirements Document (PRD) for a new Google search feature: a random number generator.
PRDs are clearly defined specification documents that outline key product decisions. For the most part, they’re exclusively written by Google product managers. Some specs for the random number generator might include:
- What’s the min and max number a user can input?
- Does the random number generator box appear on the top of the search results page? Or should Google Search rank it along with the other results?
- What queries should trigger the feature?
I grab a snack with a coworker and attend one of the Talks at Google. Google often hosts free talks, events, and classes that are a great way to take a break from work.
Meeting #5 (Engineering Lead One-on-one)
Toward the end of the day, I have a few “one-on-one” meetings. These are more casual meetings that serve as a great way to discuss product, solicit opinions, or ask for feedback.
I spend this meeting chatting with my engineering lead about Google Solitaire’s product vision for the next quarter. We’ll be presenting our plan to executive-level management in a week.
Meeting #6 (Manager One-on-one)
In my Google product manager one-on-ones, I review what I’ve worked on the past week, and my plans for the upcoming week. I also take the time to alert my manager of potential delays with the dashboard project due to unforeseen engineering constraints.
The pace of work has slowed down a bit, and I’m now able to catch up on the onslaught of emails I’ve received throughout the day. I also catch up with co-workers and hang out a bit before dinner time.
Dinner time! I grab a to-go box for the bus ride home.
Bus Ride Home
After wrapping up some final emails, I catch up on personal work and finish reading a book on my Kindle.
Home at last! The bus rides are shorter in the evening, so I have some time to hang out with some friends and relax for a few hours before I sleep.
Between enterprise and consumer product managers, there certainly exists differences. Kevin has to study analyst reports as he works on IBM data integration tools, while Stephen is able to build and ship his products (like the random number generator) at a much quicker speed.
We hope these two snippets help to paint a picture of a typical day in the life of a PM. Interested in breaking into product management like Kevin and Stephen with the help of Exponent's expert interview coaching? Visit Exponent's Interview Course and website to learn more.