"A good product manager is the CEO of the product." This phrase was first said 20 years ago by someone called Ben Horowitz (you can read his article here). There has been a big debate in the industry since then about whether that is true or not. But one thing that is for sure is that PMs are very versatile individuals. They spend their days transitioning from the big picture to the nitty-gritty. Still, it remains that there are some inherent abilities that every product manager have in common. This blog post will go over what I believe are the 5 essential skills of a product manager.
One skill that came back a lot when writing my last blog post on the differences between a product owner and a product manager (read it here!) is communication. A good product manager is strong in both verbal and written expression because a big part of their job is to convince people of the value of their product. To be able to achieve this needed persuasiveness, they need to be effective communicators. Also, product managers are often dealing with different stakeholders to get their input on some features. Thus, to communicate their points effectively and to get buy-in, they must be clear and concise. This is especially important when explaining technical components to non-technical people, which happens quite a lot!
When looking at job postings for product managers, it is hard to find one that doesn't use the term agile, which is because the software development industry (closely linked to product management) is experiencing a shift to this project management philosophy. Therefore, it is only logical for a good product manager to at least be aware of the intricacies of Agile principles; a good first step is going through the Agile Manifesto. However, the framework used will change from one product to the other. The most common at the moment is the Scrum framework. Below is a high-level overview of how the process works.
We're in the data-driven era. It is no longer enough to make decisions based on your instincts. Good product managers look at data about their target customers to understand their needs and interests to make decisions about which features to prioritize. They also look at data about how the users are interacting with the product to find opportunities for improvement. While it is rarely the case that the product manager will need to code these plugins in the software or perform complex statistical modelling, they need to understand the basics of how it works. This article called "Becoming a Data-Driven Product Manager" and this online course called "Applying Data Science to Product Management" are resources to start developing this skill set.
Product managers hold a very strategic role as they directly contribute to achieving the organization's strategic goals. They must consider the short, medium, and long terms when defining their product vision, as well as making sure it aligns with the company's overarching objectives. Thus, they need to be strategic thinkers, but, more importantly, strategic planners. The timing of their product releases has a big impact on how successful it is. From there comes the necessity to have strategic planning abilities. As an example, you can think of how Google Glasses failed because it came out way ahead of its time. The primary tool used by product managers to be better strategic planners is having a product roadmap in place. Below is an example of this tool.
Product managers have large teams working under them, and while they are not necessarily "people leaders" in their company's organizational chart, they are still in a leadership position. A McKinsey report argued that "the role of the product manager has evolved to influence every aspect of making a product successful. As a result, CEOs and technology leaders often identify the role of product manager as one of their top talent priorities." Therefore, it is clear that leadership skills are essential to the development of good product managers. This includes being able to influence, motivate and empathize with the people in their team.
To conclude, when analyzing every aspect of the role, I have determined that the 5 essential skills of a product manager that you must develop now are communication, Agile project management, data analytics, strategic planning, and leadership.
However, the field is changing every day. Thus, the most important skill of all is adaptability. The best product managers are always staying up-to-date on the industry and are lifelong learners giving them the ability to always stay on top. Do you have what it takes?
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