5 skills every great product manager needs
The role of a product manager is complex. With their responsibilities straddling those of technical, business, and customer-facing roles, no two days are the same. No wonder people refer to them as ‘mini CEOs’ or ‘CEOs of the product.’
Because it’s such a broad and varied role, it’s important that product managers possess a similarly broad and varied skillset. Some of these skills are a given. Any product manager worth their salt should be able to demonstrate technical understanding, communicate effectively across functions, apply critical thinking, and be data-driven.
But beyond these baseline skills, what makes a product manager great? As a VP of Product & Design, some of the best product managers I’ve worked with do the following…
Skill #1: Great product managers know that they don’t know it all
Domain knowledge and experience are important strings to a product manager’s bow, but they can also hold them back. Existing knowledge comes with preconceptions, some of which may be outdated or counterproductive. When we think we already have all the answers, we close our minds to learning opportunities.
The market is constantly changing, and so are our customers’ needs and expectations. To keep up with this shifting environment, we need to be inquisitive and ask the right questions. This is how we better understand what our customers need right now.
At productboard, we’re building a product management system that can be used across many industries. We speak to product managers who work in healthcare, learning management, real estate, and many more. It’s critical to understand their different needs before we start thinking about specific solutions.
And as many product managers are required to switch between domains, they constantly need to challenge their existing beliefs and expand their knowledge.
Skill #2: Great product managers step outside their comfort zone
Stepping outside one’s comfort zone isn’t exactly a skill. Nor is it an easy thing to measure, quantify, or demonstrate – we all have different comfort zones, after all. What I’m really looking for are people who have experienced a range of challenges that forced them to think differently.
Why is this important? Because product managers have to manage risk and uncertainty. Having experience outside of your comfort zone indicates a better ability to do this.
One example is working in a startup – not just because productboard is a startup, but because of the challenges that come with operating in a rapidly changing environment. Being part of a startup forces you to think on your feet, manage shifting priorities with grace, and focus more acutely on business strategy, objectives, and the overall vision of the product. These are all excellent ways for a product manager to learn and grow.
It doesn’t matter if the startup was a success or a failure, what matters is that you exposed yourself to an environment that stretched you.
Another example is international experience. Stepping outside of your own culture forces you to think differently and opens your mind to new ideas and approaches.
Skill #3: Great product managers see both the big picture and granular, day-to-day details
Product managers oversee the entire product process, engaging cross-functional teams in order to achieve the best results. In a sense, they have to be a jack-of-all-trades. They understand not only the challenges that designers and engineers face, but also those of the sales and support teams.
Great product managers are able to both zoom out and see the bigger picture and zoom in to tackle smaller, day-to-day issues. For example, in a typical day, they may find themselves in a long-term product strategy planning session with leadership one moment, then a meeting about a granular technical issue with an engineer the next.
In a typical day, product managers may find themselves in a long-term product strategy planning session with leadership one moment, then a meeting about a granular technical issue with an engineer the next.
What’s more, they need to be able to define outcomes in clear business terms. That means understanding what adoption looks like, how to measure success, and how much revenue that would represent to the company.
Skill #4: Great product managers practice empathy
A key goal for product teams is to understand customer problems and then offer a solution they’ll love. Empathy is an inherent part of this process. Having and practicing empathy helps us understand people’s problems and needs on an emotional, human level.
As a product manager, you have to have empathy not only for individual users but for the entire market – an aggregated understanding of customer needs in each respective industry.
The way we live, work, and interact is changing at a rapid pace. Great product managers have a solid understanding of technical, generational, and workforce trends. They understand which products people use, how they use them, and why.
Skill #5 Great product managers analyze and synthesize
Great product managers don’t have to come up with the best solutions all on their own. Their job is to analyze and synthesize deep insights from users, the market, and internal teams, and then identify the best solutions that align with the overall goals and vision of the business.
In short, it’s not about being the smartest person in the room, but coordinating the smartest insights in the room.
With productboard, product managers can now consolidate and organize feedback from a wide range of channels and sources. So instead of being scattered across Slack channels, email, or lost in their heads, all customer insights are in one place.
Having this single source of truth certainly makes the job easier, but ultimately it is up to the product manager to analyze this information and use it to make the tough decisions around what to build next.
Do you have what it takes to be a great product manager? If the answer is ‘yes!’, we’d love to hear from you. Check out our career page for more info.