5 immutable truths to sharpen your product management skills
Advice from JJ Rorie on how to take your PM skills from good to great
The five truths – exceptional customer intelligence, expert relationship building, masterful communication skills, uncommonly good judgment, and a fanatical focus on prioritizing time – represent the skills, behaviors and aptitudes that are common across all great product managers.
We wanted to break everything down and share a bit about each one in case you’re eager to refine your product management skill set as the new year nears.
Exceptional customer intelligence
It goes without saying: being customer-centric is important as a product manager. So what separates good from great?
Good product managers understand their customers’ basic characteristics and the situations and conditions they currently operate in. Great product managers go further – they dig into customer motivations, what drives them, and work to understand the unmet needs and pain points their customers experience. This level of knowledge and curiosity is what sets the best apart.
How should a good product manager who wants to be great improve their skills? Build a simple habit: study the world around you and your customers (read annual reports, listen to podcasts), discuss what is going on (with your customers and others), and observe how your customers interact with your product.
Expert relationship building
Everything product managers do is cross-functional, making relationship building key to creating an environment of confidence and trust in not only you, the product manager, but also in the product vision.
If you’re not sure where you stand in your cross-functional relationships, it’s important to do an assessment. Some of the people in your ecosystem might believe in you and your skillset, but not in the product, while others might believe in the product, but they’re not familiar with your skillset or don’t yet trust you as product manager. Seek to understand where you are in each of your cross-functional relationships (you can even plot this out on a 2×2 matrix as seen below; see the full recording for details on how best to use it) and then work to cultivate, repair, build or nurture relationships as needed.
Masterful communication skills
For great product managers it often comes down to two things:
- Can we connect with our audience?
- Is our message clear enough?
Connect with your audience by adapting to their point of view – who are they? Do they care about the details or the big picture? Tailor your message for each audience and be as concise as possible with delivery.
See a recent Productboard fireside chat for more on cross-functional communication.
Uncommonly good judgment
Good judgment and decision-making isn’t something anyone always gets right, including great product managers. The key to making the best possible decisions is to avoid as many biases as possible, so the data you’re basing decisions on is the best available. You also need to be comfortable making decisions in an ambiguous environment.
That doesn’t mean you double down on any decision made if it turns out to be the wrong one – being able to pivot quickly is also important if new, salient data comes to light.
Fanatical focus on prioritizing time
Even the greatest product manager cannot do everything, so learning to prioritize time effectively is absolutely vital to success. The VITAL framework is also incredibly helpful here, breaking down tasks into those which are:
- Vital: essential to your product and the core of your role as a product manager
- Important: affect your product, but are possibly owned by other teammates
- Transactional: providing or requesting information or support
- Ancillary: support your product, but are not led by product manager
- Learning: grow your business knowledge and skills
Being intentional about your time and evaluating where your time is being spent (consider tracking in your calendar, color coding with the framework above) can help you get to where you’re spending your time in a more impactful, efficient way. Be sure you always make time for learning!
A final piece of advice: when you’re making prioritization decisions, be sure the product matters enough to customers that they are willing to pay for it — and that the path you plan to take makes sense for the company.
Want more? Join the Productboard Product Makers community to see the full discussion, including all of the post-presentation Q&A, and to sign up for future events!