When you visit a computer store, whether it's online or offline, there
are always new software packages available for sale. That's because the software
industry is constantly researching, improving and inventing new software.
Software companies, especially larger ones, usually work on many different
programs at once. Software product managers (sometimes called project managers
or program managers) supervise the development of these programs.
"[We are] people who sit in between the software developers who actually
code software and the customers who help you understand what kind of software
you need to build," says software product manager Justin Grant.
"We manage requirements, we manage schedules, we define the feature list
and work with all the constituencies in order to make sure that the product
that comes out has stuff that customers want, that we'll be able to sell in
the market, and that we'll actually be able to build," says Grant. "So it
requires some understanding of the pieces of all those parts of the technology."
The software manager oversees the whole process from beginning to end.
This means taking the initial idea through its development and finally into
its production. The manager plays a role in the marketing, design and development
of the new products.
"The role is always changing," says software developer Amber Shah. She
has managed software projects for NASA, among others. "While the goals will
remain constant, how they are carried out will change with each project, each
team and each new day's challenges."
It can take a year or more to complete the development process, from the
idea stage to when the product appears on the shelves or online.
The software product manager starts by developing a list of features that
customers want in a new program. They send that list to the developing engineers.
The engineers decide if the new requirements are possible, and determine how
long they think they might take to develop.
"Understanding your customer is really the key skill in product management
and the key skill of any software company," says Grant. "It's really understanding,
'Who is your customer?'"
The product manager makes a variety of decisions. The manager finalizes
how many hours it will take to complete the project. The manager may also
decide who should develop the software.
Then there are marketing decisions to make. This includes deciding how
much it will cost. The manager may also train salespeople to sell the product.
Software product managers do a variety of tasks every day. They manage
many assistants and hire different advertising and public relations companies.
They speak with customers, engineers and software programmers. They should
enjoy negotiating with people. They should also be excellent at organizing
and managing their time.
"The most important thing to working with software is a strong technical
foundation," says Shah. "From there you can become a software engineer, a
software project manager or many other professions."
The computer industry is highly competitive. A software product manager
has to be watching what competitors are bringing to the market. They need
to ensure their products are better than the competition!
Competition means managers have to work hard and be creative. They have
to be the kind of people who work well under this kind of stress.
"Like any manager, a software product manager must be a pragmatist rather
than a perfectionist -- his or her work is constrained by cost and function,
not aesthetics," says John Turnbull. He's a former software product manager
currently working as a systems consultant and technical editor.
"With skill, it's possible for the manager to support the perfectionists,
and help produce something that is better and more beautiful than anyone could
expect," says Turnbull. "While that must always be the opening goal, it's
the manager's job to blow the whistle at the end of the game, then declare
Software product managers must enjoy working with people. They have to
be able to speak with customers and understand what they want in a new product.
In other words, they have to have good listening skills. They have to figure
out what each group of customers, developers and engineers wants.
Most of a software product manager's work is done in an office. Yet the
job also requires a lot of travel. Managers go to trade shows to talk with
customers. They may also travel to train salespeople on the new software they
will be selling.
Software product managers work varied hours. Their hours are generally
9 to 5, but they must often work overtime. This is especially true as a product's
launch date approaches.
Physical requirements aren't strenuous. In fact, physically challenged
people may find unique opportunities in this career.