As we move forward in our discussions surrounding Product Management, we’ll be covering various topics that will shed light on the importance of the role, and the best ways to focus on your success as a PM. A PM, as we’ve previously mentioned, needs to have a specific skill set that relates to various areas and departments within an industry and business. Being that PMs tend to wear multiple hats each day, these skills are all essential to not only building a PM’s success but ensuring that the product development process and all after runs at an effective and efficient level.
A successful PM is an exclusive guide along the product’s path from concept to distribution. So, what are some of the skills you need to possess in order to be a successful PM?
A PM’s work does not happen in a vacuum. Just as a product’s form and structure change, so too does the external environment. A successful PM needs to be able to keep up with market trends, relevant legislation, competition, and other factors that work in tandem to influence the success of a product’s development and launch.
Product Manager/Coach Daniel Elizalde affirms the importance of innovation for PMs, particularly technology trends. His three-step process of innovation is as follows:
- Identify “hard trends,” those being the obvious ones that continually drive the market
- Focus on the vision instead of the product, as losing sight of the vision can negatively impact a business’ ability to deliver said product
- Balance today’s sales with tomorrow’s investment, which requires an understanding of the product and market forecasting.
For Product Managers, a product isn’t a means to a monetary end. Product Management’s end goal is to provide the best possible product to customers who need it. To fulfill this role, PMs do need a degree of market understanding, that being the ability to identify opportunities, threats, and market trends. However, an equally important necessity that should not be overlooked is interpersonal skills. Empathy for consumers with problems your product can remedy, the ability to listen to ideas from team members, and simply the ability to communicate effectively with a variety of people are essential characteristics of a successful Product Manager. These likely aren’t the words used in a PM job description, but having sensibility towards a variety of people and issues makes you that much more effective in your position.
Consider, for instance, how empathy for consumers can help you better suit the product to their needs. Or, consider how the ability to listen to team members can offer a fresh perspective, one that you hadn’t considered or lacked the ultra-refined technical expertise to figure out. And, of course, communication can make a PM into a fantastic marketer and promoter for products, both within the company and outside of it.
As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, a PM is responsible for interacting and working with various departments and areas within the organization, all while working directly with his or her own team. That being said, a successful PM needs skills and knowledge as varied as the departments with which they interact. For instance, a Product Manager can regularly interact with sales and marketing departments to execute a variety of tasks. These responsibilities can range from developing product pricing frameworks and strategies for a product launch and release, researching market trends and opportunities, and general ways to promote a product.
A short quote from Job Search Expert Alison Doyle defines Product Manager roles perfectly: “Although not an engineer, she must have enough technical knowledge to understand a product’s structure, composition, and applications. And while not a marketing specialist, the Product Manager must also be able to analyze market data and brand/position the product. Although not an accountant, he has to predict costs and manage budgets.”
Highly technical skills are equally important for Product Managers, as PMs will also interact with designers, data scientists, and software engineers to ensure that the product’s digital domain is successful. The trick for PMs is balancing all of these skills and responsibilities while still maintaining focus on the end result—the product.
As a communication bridge between several departments, a Product Manager serves as an influential figure to many others within an organization. Because of this, PMs possess unofficial yet undeniable authority amongst fellow employees. A PM is the driver of a product, the visionary to whom market researchers and data analysts and engineers look for advice. PMs, then, become the catalysts for change and development in the life of a product.
What makes a PM’s leadership different from that of any other manager? Because the PM has such a hands-on role with coworkers and products, there is no ability to conflate leadership with bossiness. The PM sets a positive example, serving as a tutor to some and an extra set of hands to others. No matter how or with whom a PM interacts, the leadership responsibilities built into the role set the standard by inspiring success.
As a PM, one of the key skills required is to get things done. If you can’t do that, what is the point? A PM needs to be highly skilled at launching a feature, product or even removing impediments. Possessing subject matter expertise can be quite valuable here—insofar as it can help product managers make calculated and intelligent tradeoffs and meet tough deadlines. Subject matter expertise would vary depending on the nature of the industry. In an eCommerce firm, knowledge of lead generation and optimizing the checkout flow may be handy. Knowledge of technology and user experience may be useful in tech startups. Supply chain, operations management, and manufacturing knowledge would come in handy with firms that sell and ship physical goods. Of course, a product manager may not possess the subject matter expertise, but what is important is the fire in the belly and the eagerness to pick up a new domain that will help them get the job done. For an execution-minded Product Manager, no work is too small or “below.” As Ken Norton says, “always bring the donuts.”
There are many product managers who are great executors, but very few who can bring about a monumental shift and change. Strategic shifts can only happen when PMs are resilient and can stomach ambiguity. It is important not to quit even if you have repeatedly failed. It is not without such mental toughness or resiliency that industries such as transportation (Uber) or hospitality (Airbnb) were disrupted in the face of long-held and archaic regulations. Product managers also work cross-functionally with designers, data scientists, executive leadership, engineers, marketers, and sales. When there is a lack of clarity or uncertainty, these teams look to the product manager to lead the way and guide them. As such, it is critical for PMs to have the right mindset to lead teams: they must demonstrate a growth mindset, resilience, and grit.