Essential Product Manager Skills in 2021

Updated on February 3rd, 2021
Essential Product Manager Skills in 2021

When I first started in product management, I had no idea what I was doing. I had just barely managed to land the job and now that I had gotten my foot in the door, I wasn’t sure what product manager skills I needed to contribute tangible value to the team.

Through the past few years, I’ve learned a lot and I’ve synthesized the top 10 skills you should develop to be a great product manager.

The top 10 skills are:

  • Outstanding Communication Skills
  • Basic Technical Expertise
  • Deep Business Skills
  • Research Abilities
  • Analytical Skills
  • Interpersonal Abilities
  • Marketing and Sales Abilities
  • Delegation Skills
  • Strategic Thinking
  • Prioritization skills

I'll dive into each below, but first, let's take a look at the definition of product manager. If you're interested in learning more via video, then watch below. Otherwise, skip ahead.

What's a Product Manager?

A product manager is the primary person who manages product development and product strategy.

According to Stanford University, product managers are responsible for a product from end to end.

Product Managers deeply understand their product and the market it serves in order to craft customer value propositions that drive desired user behaviors and create sustainable growth.

They work with cross-functional teams throughout the product lifecycle including design, engineering, marketing, etc.

Essential Product Manager Skills

Let's take a look at the top 10 skills a product manager should have in order to build outstanding products.

1. Outstanding Communication Skills

Product managers are the product champions and are responsible for guiding product ideas from start to finish.

They should be able to communicate with different stakeholders (e.g., customers, product team members) in order to make sure they understand how their decisions will affect the product or business strategy.

Communication skills help a product manager establish credibility, listen to their product team, and create a shared understanding of the product.

2. Basic Technical Expertise

Product managers need to be able to understand product design, engineering, and coding.

This means that they should know the difference between UX/UI designers, product engineers, and product developers and how each of their skills is fundamental in designing an outstanding product.

Basic technical expertise is also important for understanding what problem a product solves and making sure the product is properly built and tested.

3. Deep Business Skills

Product manager skills will evolve as product management becomes a more strategic position.

In 2021, product managers must be able to use data-driven decision-making and understand the business side of product development.

Product managers need these deep business skills because they have less time for traditional “product management” tasks like product planning or product design.

The product manager role will evolve with product development to be more business-focused.

4. Research Abilities

Product managers need product management skills and deep business knowledge, but they also must have a strong understanding of the customer.

The product manager will then be able to apply their product development skills strategically with data-driven decision-making for an outstanding product that meets market needs in 2021.

It is important for product managers to keep up with trends, product management techniques, and new product development strategies.

Product managers should be able to understand the ever-changing customer needs, think strategically about diversifying or evolving products/services that already exist but are not meeting current market needs.

5. Analytical Skills

Product managers must be able to process and analyze data, product feedback, and user insights. Product managers should have the ability to interpret statistical models with complex algorithms. This will enable product managers to make more informed decisions in product development.

The product manager skill set is evolving as companies are using big data analytics for strategy-making which requires product managers to be able to analyze data in order to make product decisions.

If you're interested in learning the skills to become a great product manager, then check out our product management certification courses.

Product Manager Certification

6. Interpersonal Abilities

Product managers must work with product teams, engineering/programming teams, and other product stakeholders. This requires the product manager to be able to communicate effectively with colleagues by persuading them of any product decisions that have been made.

A product manager is often required to make presentations on behalf of their team, which means they need excellent public speaking skills and the ability to speak in front of groups.

Also, a product manager also needs excellent interpersonal skills when it comes to negotiating with stakeholders, making sure they are able to identify what is important and make deals without being walked over.

7. Marketing and Sales Abilities

Product managers must be knowledgeable when it comes to marketing and sales. For product managers, this means being able to understand what strategies will work best for their product in the market as well as understanding how they can get a product into the hands of consumers without spending an exorbitant amount on advertising or other external initiatives.

8. Delegation Skills

Product managers need to be able to delegate tasks and responsibilities. This means assigning necessary product management duties as well as what is required of the team members who are reporting back, ensuring that they have everything they require in order to complete their work thoroughly.

9. Strategic Thinking Skills

Product managers must be able to think about product strategy past what is simply on the product roadmap, and this means being able to anticipate possible hurdles or problems. This includes thinking of ways around a problem that have been tried before in order to come up with something new and innovative for their product.

10. Prioritization Skills

Product managers need to be able to prioritize product features, requirements, and tasks in order of importance. This means that product managers must know which product feature will have the most impact on their customers or potential customers.

Other Important PM Skills

The following are some other important skills product managers should have in 2021.

1) Empathy

I’m a firm believer that you cannot succeed in this field and be a successful product manager if you do not have the capacity to understand the emotions of others around you. As a product manager, you simply deal with too many different stakeholders, and having the empathy to understand everyone’s motives will allow you to cut through the noise, make the right trade-offs, and set a clear vision for your product.

The first major use case for empathy deals with your most important stakeholder: your customer. Keep in mind that your development teams rarely (if ever) get the time to go out and understand your customer base. It is up to you to be the umbrella catch-all for customer feedback.

You will generally be the sole representation of your customers during internal decision-making. You need to develop the empathy to understand exactly how your customers are interacting with a new product or your existing product and what they need so that you can effectively guide your team towards developing the right product features.

Your second use case for empathy involves working with cross-functional teams in your organization who are all helping to make your product a success. You’ll quickly find that every single team has its own agenda and motivations for getting particular product features onto the roadmap.

As the product manager, it’ll be up to you to take in everyone’s needs, prioritize accordingly, and arrive at a product decision that everyone deems satisfactory.

For example, your sales team might request an admin tool that will allow non-technical salespeople to easily change product prices and your marketing team might request that you build in a feature for a cross-product rewards program.

Your product marketing team may have done some market research showing that you need to be ready for a product launch in the next month.

Meanwhile, your engineering team is scrambling to complete a feature that has already been delayed for the past 2 weeks.

Having the empathy and interpersonal skills to understand each team’s agenda will allow you to parse through all these requests, prioritize the right features to ship in your product development cycles, and create a product strategy that everyone is aligned with.

2) OPC (Organization, Prioritization, Communication)

Product management is like a never-ending fire drill with countless tasks to complete every single day.

Good product managers are extremely organized with their project management and time management. The best product managers know how to keep track of their tasks so that nothing falls through the cracks and gets lost in the e-mail twilight zone. You'll find that all product experts in the PMHQ community would agree.

I like to use a combination of Evernote (to take notes during my daily meetings/scrums) and Google Docs (for schedules/lists / tasks) to keep track of what’s going on.

After a product manager has managed to organize everything, the next step is prioritization. Product managers need to prioritize everything, from their daily tasks to the product roadmap.

Establish a system that works for you: for personal tasks, I use a low, medium, high priority system and for the product backlog, I use various criteria like importance, urgency, and cost to prioritize features. This one’s a bit subjective depending on your work style and how agile you like to operate, but as long as you are following the Pareto principle (80-20 rule) and prioritizing your important tasks, you’ll be fine.

Lastly, there’s no use in doing all of the above if you aren’t communicating with the rest of the stakeholders on your product team. Be consistent and clear and remember to exercise empathy when communicating with different parties to ensure that everyone is on the same page.

If you need a system for communication (like weekly 1 on 1 meeting) then get it set up to make sure there are constant feedback loops with the rest of your teams.

As you can see, OPC is a triangle of soft skills that requires all 3 sides to function in order to remain stable. Having a baseline of these skillsets in place will free your mind up to focus on higher-level strategic thinking.

3) Driving Analysis and Insight

The final skill set great product managers should have is the ability to get their hands dirty with analyzing data. While technical skills like coding aren't mandatory, the ability to analyze data and provide recommendations/insights for the rest of your team is crucial for measuring success.

For every feature, you push or course of action taken through the life cycle of your product, there should be measurable results that can determine success or impact.

From a quantitative standpoint, this means that you should be getting familiar with Excel and SQL so that you can dig through available data and let your team know how the feature they’ve helped ship has made an impact.

And if there was no impact, they should be aware of this too so that you can all recalibrate and decide on the next steps.

From a qualitative standpoint, this means spending time with your users and getting insights into how new features have affected their use of your product.

 


Interested in strengthening your product manager skills to become a great product manager? You might want to check out our popular Product Manager Certification Course. You'll learn the fundamentals of product management, how to launch your own side project, and how to dominate product manager interviews.