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The Essential Skills for Product Managers
I often get this question from aspiring product managers. Which skills are essential to transition to a product role and to be successful in that role? In this article, I'll explore the nuances of the role and shed light on the key skills required.
The Evolving Role of a Product Manager
The role of a product manager (PM) is evolving. The responsibilities that come with this role can vary based on factors such as company maturity in product management, size, and specific needs. Unlike the clear-cut expectations for software engineers—developing code and possessing knowledge of specific technologies—the PM role is more nuanced.
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In some companies, a technical PM role is required with hands-on tech experience. Other organisations assign PMs to manage the engineering team. Sometimes a PM is responsible for only handling the backlog, for others a PM’s focus is on the strategic aspects of the product.
Before you step into a new PM role, it is crucial to gain a good understanding of what will be expected of you to be successful in that role.
As a general rule, a Product Manager (PM) plays a vital role in overseeing the entire lifecycle of a product, from its conception to launch. This role is the crucial link between diverse teams, stakeholders, and customers, ensuring the successful development and delivery of a product that fulfils market needs and aligns with business objectives.
As a PM, you'll have touch points across various domains, including marketing, sales, engineering, and more. However, it's important to note that being an expert in all these areas is not a prerequisite for the role. PMs typically come from one of these areas, often engineering, UX, but it can also be sales, consulting, or other background.
The Skills of an Effective PM
So what are the key skills that you need to have or develop to excel in product management role? I’d consider the following areas as crucial indicators:
While not specific to PMs, cultural alignment is vital. I always look for a strong culture fit with new candidates. This lays the foundation for a fulfilled and motivated employee who thrives over the long term.
For a PM, this is even more important because the role involves working closely with many stakeholders. It's essential to click well with others, as being trustworthy and respectful encourages them to follow your guidance.
As a strong PM, you should have the amazing ability for organising chaos, handling uncertainty, and connecting different pieces together. A strong PM can spot the important parts and seamlessly bring them all in harmony.
This skill is essential for setting product goals that match the company's objectives and creating a sense of togetherness within the team.
A PM has the ability to turn a jumbled puzzle into a clear picture, explaining it effectively to the others and leading everyone towards success.
I highly value candidates who embrace a continuous learning and improvement mindset in their work. A person who is forward-looking and innovative, and who works on personal growth, would also encourage the product team to do the same.
A PM role should continuously look into improvement of the product, the development processes, the way of working, and the people in the team. This requires a learning mindset.
PMs should adopt a user-centric mindset, but even more importantly, a lean mindset.
A good PM should be able to find continuously ways to maximise client value while minimising engineering effort and product complexity. Of course, this can be done together with the product team (the UX and an engineer will play a critical role here), but the PM is the person who should ensure that this is done successfully.
A lean mindset skill is critical for delivering delightful products effectively and without introducing a lot of complexity in the software.
Another important skills is effective collaboration and relationship-building skills. This is necessary for a PM to work effectively with cross-functional teams, including engineering, design, marketing, sales, and customer support.
A great PM excels at fostering cooperation to achieve common goals. It's essential to be able to listen and understand the problems of others. While it's not possible to please everyone, it's crucial to communicate the reasons behind decisions effectively, so that everyone can support them.
Understanding of technology
You don't need to know how to code to become a product manager. However, as a PM, it's important to have a good grasp of how software and technology function.
This knowledge helps you collaborate effectively with engineering teams, understand if product requirements are technically feasible, and bridge the gap between technology and business.
It's also valuable to stay updated on technology trends and explore how to use them in product delivery. This fosters innovation and improvement, making your product continuously better.
Understanding of the market
While not mandatory, having market knowledge is a significant advantage for PMs.
As a PM, it's important to fully dive into the product and gain a deep understanding of the market, competitors, and similar products. This is necessary to form your vision about the product and develop or maintain an effective product strategy.
Having an upfront market knowledge saves time on learning and helps you make better decisions.
You might notice that the skills I've listed above are primarily soft skills. While hard skills certainly have their place, I firmly believe that mindset and approach towards working with people and problem-solving hold greater significance in this role.
So, as you start on your journey as a product manager, focus on developing the right mindset and most importantly - ensure you learn continuously. Embrace these skills but also nurture your own unique approach to product management. This will empower you to excel in this role and make a significant impact in your new role.
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