Product management is a thriving and fascinating career. More and more people every year aspire to become product managers. That’s why there are so many books published on product management, not to mention thousands of training courses and certifications designed to train people to become skilled PMs.
You can also acquire some product management skills on the job, which requires not only technical knowledge but also business acumen and a knack for articulating customer needs.
Table of contents
In this article, we will walk through six skills required to be a successful PM:
- Problem definition
- Negotiation skills
- Strategic thinking
- Data-driven decision making
- People management
1. Problem definition
Everyone perceives the same situation differently. This often leads to different priorities based upon which pain is perceived as more severe, given the context.
“If you can define the problem correctly, you almost have the solution.” — Steve Jobs
Product managers are responsible for the success of a product. They must work across various departments to ensure that a product meets customers’ needs and is profitable for the company.
Product managers deal with multiple subject matter experts daily. Mostly to solve a niche focus area within an entire journey with the ultimate goal of serving our users. Everyone must be aligned and focused on the correct issues, contributing to the same plan and ensuring efficiency.
Therefore, a PM must be adept at defining the problem correctly — i.e., writing product requirements. Fortunately, there are many training courses and certification programs that teach you how to write user stories and myriad resources online on how to write product requirements documentation (PRDs). However, it takes some research and learning to master this skill.
Seasoned PMs can create custom templates that suit their needs by compiling a few templates. The most important learning is to speak the same language across the organization when referring to the problem.
2. Negotiation skills
The ability to negotiate is crucial in all walks of life. Product manages negotiate daily with stakeholders, developers, and cross-functional teams, to name a few.
To succeed in negotiation, you should spend time mastering conflict management, persuasion, assertiveness, and versatility. To develop these skills, you should practice:
- Clear communication — State the expected ideal outcome and the boundaries clearly with motivation so everyone in the room understands
- Active listening — Sometimes, we only passively listen because we’ve already made up our minds and are waiting for our turn to speak. Active listening helps us understand the real problem, which is sometimes different than the consequence of said problem. Listening is an underrated skill that can help you gain trust and respect in the discussion
- Emotional intelligence — Separate yourself from the discussion and don’t take it personally. The negotiation is about the work, not about who is winning and losing personally. So long you’re rational, you can come to a conclusion with a decent discussion instead of heated arguments
- Adaptability — As you enter a negotiation, the other party too has some expectations. To craft win-win negotiation terms, you should be willing and able to compromise when necessary
- Patience — While negotiations, there can be long discussions and repetition of the information to help bring everyone on the same page. During the negotiation, patience serves well, avoids irritations, and smoothens the process to reach conclusions
When you’re just starting out as a product manager, there is a learning curve to mastering negotiation skills. Planning before entering negotiations helps because it enables you to start with good outputs.
3. Strategic thinking
A product manager’s most critical responsibility is creating a roadmap and vision for the product. Creating a roadmap is crucial to understanding the problem and applying critical analytical thinking to identify potential solutions.
Along with the solution, a product manager is also responsible for giving an estimated timeline for delivery, which requires in-depth calculations, while mapping dependencies and continuous market evaluation.
A roadmap is a guiding compass for the organization and the development team. Product managers must be keen to understand the market and user needs. The roadmap should include all phases of product development, including research, design, and launch.
There are templates available online to help you create a roadmap for your product. Before your start, you should understand your product inside and out, including the basic technical details and dependencies. In addition, studying your user base, market needs, and pain points will give you an idea of impact and priority.
These three basic knowledge sets will help you develop your strategic thinking skills:
- Technical knowledge — You want to be able to converse with the development team without losing the thread so you can understand the possibilities and dependencies during development and planning. Product managers don’t need to be engineers, but they should have enough technical knowledge to understand how the product works and how it can be improved
- Business knowledge — As a PM, you should be able to understand and explain the business, define success and failure metrics, and understand the market needs and value creation with your product
- Design knowledge — Every product has its own design language. It always helps to acquire some basic knowledge about the components, tools, and terminology used in designing the product
Strategic thinking is not an inbuilt talent but rather an acquired skill that can be sharpened by gathering knowledge related to your product area.
4. Data-driven decision making
Making decisions is a complex and daunting task, but product managers need to be able to do so quickly and confidently.
Cultivate a habit of data-driven decision-making and take an analytical approach to solutions. For example, if you’re required to slice the MVP to deliver on deadline, consider the following data points:
- Impact of missing the deadline versus missing out on a particular feature.
- Which features are must-haves and which are nice to have?
- How many users will be affected by the following delay or missing features?
- What is the business impact?
Decisions should be thought through, not based on solely gut feeling. If the findings are challenged, you will have an explanation backed up by data to support your decision.
Create a process to decide what steps to take before committing to any particular path. Keeping track of the decisions made in the past can also help you refine your process. Bottom line, product managers need to be able to work with data and use it to make informed decisions.
Another significant responsibility of a product manager is the ability to prioritize. Backlog prioritization involves a series of calculated decision.
When prioritizing the backlog, key considerations include:
- User needs — Focus on solving your users’ most painful pain points
- Business needs — Your goals should be aligned with those of the business
- Development resources — Whether you have the time and the competence to build the feature
- Dependencies — Streamlining dependencies is the most efficient approach
Other factors may emerge, such as new market needs due to unforeseen circumstances, regulation changes, and more.
Usually, there is a conflict between focus areas, and that’s when a product manager must prioritize what produces the best results under the circumstances.
Fortunately, we have developed countless methods and frameworks to help you prioritize, such as:
6. People management
As a product manager, one of your trickiest responsibilities is people management. Outstanding people management skills will set you apart from other PMs.
Product managers must be able to influence their team members and motivate them to produce high-quality work. They also need to be good at delegating tasks and handling conflict.
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In this age of innovation and technology evolving at the speed of light, a product manager needs to rely on subject matter experts and the team for ideas. As a result, leadership in product management is less authoritative and more persuasive through influence and motivation.
People management is a skill that comes naturally to few people; most PMs need to go through a long learning curve that only comes with experience. However, if you consider a few underlying traits and start working toward them, people management will become manageable and also the most satisfying part of your job.
A product manager plays the following roles:
As a product manager, your job is to solve any hindrances your team might face during development.
Sometimes you must ask your team to work more than usual when a system fails or a deadline is critical. During these times, you need them to be on their A game, and simply brute-forcing this extra push out of your team is a bad motivational tactic.
Lead not by authority but by serving others. When you are available to help your team members solve their problems, they will, in turn, be available and willing to help you when you need it.
Persuasion is way more effective than demanding. The product’s success is the product manager’s responsibility, but they can’t do it alone. PMs must work with developers, UX designers, system testers, a marketing team, and a sales team to make the product successful.
Unfortunately, a product manager can only know so much. Extracting ideas from subject matter experts is critical. Use your influence to empower these roles to think and solve problems creatively.
Great leaders empathize with their users and are driven to solve problems that create value for their customers. If you can incorporate a similar drive in your team and motivate them by showing the impact they create, you can get them working independently and striving for better themselves.
The reason why and the big picture is a solid basis to foster motivation among the team. Motivate them to walk the extra mile instead of force, and the results will exceed expectations.
As a product manager, you often work with cross-functional teams to bring a product to market. This means you will need to be able to build relationships and trust with people from different departments, such as engineering, design, marketing, etc.
You want everyone working toward a common goal, not working in silos. At times, you will have to compromise and find creative solutions that satisfy all parties involved while keeping the user needs and product quality in the core value. You are a bridge between all parties involved in successful product delivery.
To be a successful product manager, you need to be able to see the big picture and have a clear vision for your product. You’ll need to be able to explain your vision to others and make sure they understand its merits.
This requires thinking strategically, identifying opportunities, and developing creative solutions on paper first to get everyone’s buy-in before executing your vision. You must work far ahead in the future while being in the present.
Product managers are responsible for a product’s strategy, roadmap, and features. They collaborate closely with other teams within the company to ensure that the product meets customers’ needs and is successful in the market.
To be successful in the product manager role, you must have a clear vision for their product and be able to articulate it to others. You must also understand the market landscape and how your product fits into it.
Furthermore, you must be able to work with cross-functional teams and manage stakeholders effectively. Developing these skills is crucial if you aspire to enjoy a successful product manager career.
Featured image source: IconScout
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