Do You Have What it Takes To Be a Great Product Manager?

What makes a good product manager? Is it one who knows the many product management processes?  Is it one who has specific industry expertise?  As I coach product management teams, I see many teams with different skills.  Are there core skills or traits that make someone a great product manager? As a coach, how can we put the right processes and tools in place if we do not understand what makes a great product manager?

This is the first in a few blogs on key traits or skills of product managers.

Being a product manager is a difficult, at times thankless job.  Product managers must….

  • Have deep knowledge of customers and their needs
  • Collaborate with architects and developers who prefer to be the expert at everything  
  • Listen and communicate with sometimes angry customers
  • Be strategic and tactical, all within the same day
  • Be able to say ‘no’ to sales and to leadership when it does not make sense to build a particular feature.  
    • And then (at times) have to put a smile on their face as they are told to build it anyway.
  • Effectively communicate with sales and account managers who may be concerned about meeting their quota
  • Lead cross-functional teams without formal authority and ensure the entire company is ‘ready’ when the quarterly release goes to market.
  • Accept the fact they will not receive a ‘thank you’ very often but when a customer is frustrated, they are one of the first to have to solve the problem

Is there a set of traits or skills that underlie being a great product manager? If a product manager has these key skills or traits, can he/she learn the rest? Here are my top 11 (I tried to keep it to 10)  product management skills and traits.  You may be surprised by some of them.

  • Customer Centricity.  A great product manager must do all of his/her work with the lens of the customer.  They realize that they are not the experts on the customer issues, the customer is.  He/she ensures that customer challenges and workflows drive the product.

  • Passion.   Great product managers need passion for

    1. Building great products
    2. Solving customer business challenges
    3. Inspiring others to build great products
    4. Inspiring the market
    5. Thinking big, starting small, and moving fast
    6. Creating a shared product vision
  • Empathy.  Great product managers have empathy for the customer.  They need to be able to walk in the customer’s shoes and understand both customer needs and the context of those needs.
     
  • Courage.  Great product managers must be courageous to challenge norms and always be asking ‘why’ and ‘is there a better way’?  

  • Curiosity. Great product managers are curious.  They will ask good questions, probe for details, and look at issues through different lenses.  They will not assume their ideas are the only ideas and are curious about everyone’s thoughts and ideas.
  • Humility.  Humble product managers create empowered, productive development and cross-functional teams who are inspired and innovate.  When the product has a win, he/she ensures everyone is given credit.  He/she respects and leverage the knowledge and skills of each person on the team.

  • Technical Acumen.  Product managers do not need to be engineers. But they must have an analytical mind and technical acumen to understand complex business and technology issues.  They must be able to review an engineering proposal and understand its impact on customers and their business needs.  They also need to understand how to build and analyze key metrics to determine product success.
  • Universal Translator.  Great product managers are universal communicators and translators.  They communicate the product, the message, the value, and the customer business challenges.  They translate this message based on who they are speaking to, whether it’s engineers, UX designers, sales, marketing, management, QA, or services.  
  • Collaborator. Great product managers prefer to collaborate when building ideas versus solving problems by themselves sitting at their desk.  They are energized when in a room brainstorming a new product idea.  They are comfortable collaborating with engineers or product design, on UX designers on the user flow, and with fellow product managers on how the entire product will work together.  
  • Prefer to Think Big, Start Small, Go Fast.  Great product managers always have the big picture in mind.  But, they prefer get started quickly and build through collaboration, experimentation, failing, and learning. They have a sense of urgency and hunger for solving the customer problem.

  • Active Listening.  Great product managers actively listen.  They discern what is said, how it’s said, and what is not said.  They do not need to control the conversation. They actively let the conversation unfold with everyone participating.

 

What you may notice are some attributes and skill sets that are not on my list. These are trainable skills:

  • Agile
  • Project Management
  • Writing PRD and MRDs
  • Lean processes
  • Sales training and enablement
  • Time Management
  • Prioritization
  • Persona development
  • Competitive Analysis
  • Product research
  • Business justification
  • Risk analysis and mitigation
  • Industry expertise
  • Pricing analysis
  • …..and the list goes on

 

Do you have what it takes to be a great product manager?  Are you hiring people with the right skills to become great product managers?

Do you see any skills/traits missing from this list?