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 3 skills you should develop to be a great product manager.
The top three skills are:
- Organization, Prioritization, Communication
- Driving Analysis and Insight
I'll dive into each below.
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 org. who are all helping to make your product a success. You’ll quickly find that every single team has their 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 sales people 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.
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 a 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 meetings) 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 skillset great product managers should have is the ability to get your 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 next steps.
From a qualitative standpoint, this means spending time with your users and getting insights on how new features have affected their use of your product.
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