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Product Management

What skills you should see in a Product Manager?

A product manager is involved in every stage of the product. This makes Product Manager one of the most impactful roles in a product organization. She is responsible for all activities from product concept to launch to growth. A product manager works on strategic areas such as making a product stand out among its competitors and also works on tactical areas such as solving challenges of the targeted customer segments.

The scope of product management role is defined differently in different organizations and it evolves over a period of time but the core objective of the job role is around product success.

Most founders may lack the specialized skills and dedicated time to manage the entire product cycle and address customer expectations. This is where the need to hire a product manager arises. When you interview engineers and designers, you can test their efficiency at design and code. Their responses are tangible results and give you a clear picture of the candidate’s ability. Product Manager hiring is a real challenge due to the complex and diversified nature of this role.  Here is an extensive list of product manager skill set which you can refer to while chalking out your product manager job selection criteria.

Soft Skills

Empathy

A product manager deals with many different stakeholders and, therefore, if you wish to succeed in the role, you must understand the emotions of all around you. You need to understand everyone’s motives to be able to cut through the noise and devise a clear vision for the product.

Your first and most critical stakeholder is the customer. You need to have the empathy to understand how your customers are interacting with the product and during every internal meeting, highlight their needs to develop the right product features.

The second stakeholder that you will be involved with is the teams in your organization. These are cross-functional teams involved in different activities like marketing, sales, engineering, product development, etc. Every team has their own agenda and you need to streamline their actions to make your product a success.

Interpersonal skills

Product managers play a key role in influencing several departments within an organization like finance, engineers, sales, and even customers. It is, therefore, important that PMs clearly and effectively communicate their vision to all audiences.

Product managers must have great listening skills. They must carefully listen to the needs of the stakeholders, the challenges of the teams, and the demands of the customers. Additionally, PMs must have excellent presentation skills. They must be able to convince the management as well as the potential customer to buy the product.

Product managers must be skilled to fulfill various responsibilities – from predicting costs, managing budgets to outlining marketing strategy and working closely with the design team. They must be a pro in a wide range of subjects to understand various product-related strategies.

Co-ordination

Just like the CEO of the company, a product manager must know how to co-ordinate with other teams and team members. A PM is, at the end of the day, responsible for the success or failure of the product and any loophole at the time of co-ordination of tasks amongst the various teams can cost significantly.

Organizing, Prioritization & Communication

The tasks of a product manager are never-ending with innumerable things to complete on a daily basis. Successful product managers must know how to organize their activities and once everything has been organized, the next step is to prioritize. Everything from the daily tasks to the product roadmap needs to be prioritized.

Lastly, the organization and prioritization of tasks will be of no use if the same is not communicated to the various stakeholders. You must co-ordinate with the different teams and different parties to keep everyone on the same page.

Leadership

The role of product managers is extremely challenging, especially when the need to exercise leadership arises. They need to align all teams towards a common vision without any formal authority. Product managers cannot instruct different teams like traditional managers. This means that they need to lead by influence and example. They need to guide and motivate the individuals working with them.

Curiosity

Product managers must remain curious. They should ask questions, frequently converse with customers, analyze data and competition, experiment with new technologies, etc. A PM must also leverage the knowledge of their team and constantly discuss ideas to stay ahead of the competition.

Passion

Some employees have that light in their eyes to remain motivated and fired up. You know that they are going to work with their 110%. Product development is a long process. It can take a few months and sometimes even years. When the process gets elongated, many product managers lose sight and vigor to achieve objectives. However, a passionate product manager will continue until the product goes through a successful market launch.

Trust with honesty and transparency

A good team player trusts his/her team. While it is human to doubt the qualities and abilities of the people in your team, a skilled product manager will find ways to fill in the gaps. He/she will organize training and expert sessions. In the case of a lack of trust in the team, performance will be hampered.

Core Product Management Skills

Business Acumen

A product manager needs to optimally allocate and utilize resources so that maximum output is generated from them. This requires an acute business sense. A product manager must know how to devise a product roadmap and develop strategies so that the business can result in profitability and success.

Market and competition intelligence

Every product is unique and distinctive yet it has competition in the market. It is the product manager’s responsibility to evaluate the competitor’s success and overvalue their weakness to understand where improvement can be made to your own product. A market analysis of the customer’s feedback for the product is also essential and one of the key responsibilities of a product manager.

User and customer research

User and customer research can be a huge time-saver, especially at the time of product launch. A product manager must know how to effectively use this tool. User and customer research are conducted using product discovery interviews or feedback interviews with customers. These assist in identifying customer opinions for the product and appropriately upgrading or enhancing the product as per customer demand.

Rely on product metrics

All product managers must know how to tackle metrics. From product concept to marketing, data analysis is an important part of their day-to-day KRA. They must know what is behind a meaningful metric and what can help in planning the future stages of a product. Several metrics such as product usage, behavioural patterns of customers, any drop-off, etc. must be studied diligently and worked upon.

Product managers must use product metrics to evaluate what’s working and what’s not and appropriately use the product’s strengths to their benefit and rectify the challenges for improvement.

Building right with experimentation and testing

Every business owner and its team loves the product they develop. But that’s not all for it to succeed. It is important to leave the intuition behind and focus on actual market testing. A product manager must know how to undertake product hypothesis testing to understand what are the requirements of the market and then formulate the design of the product. Skills of A/B testing and customer survey are an advantage in a product manager.

Ensuring Product Quality

Product managers must focus on the quality of the product and ensure that it is as per market standards. There are several tests to evaluate a product’s quality and a product manager must be skilled and knowledgeable to take the product through these tests.

Estimate engineering work

Product managers must have basic knowledge and the skills of engineering. With this skill, they can effectively avoid the loss of productivity arising due to triaging stories and bugs. Moreover, they can improve efficiency by planning specific engineering tasks in a better manner keeping in mind the responsibilities of the other teams. Product managers with a slight engineering background can handle queries and communicate appropriately with the team for quick solutions to reported issues.

Keeping users in mind and heart

As product managers need to communicate with end users, they must have the knack to understand user behaviour. This further helps in communicating with the design team and creating a product that will appeal to the users. The design of a product plays a key role in its success or failure and if the design is not as per consumer feedback, it will not be appreciated. A product manager needs to understand the users and then devise design principles keeping users in the mind and heart.

Expert in Business & functional analysis

Product managers must have great business acumen and the skill for functional analysis. They must be able to evaluate the business needs, product’s functionality and accordingly prepare its business strategy for the customers to clearly understand what the product has to offer. 

Decision making

Product managers must be decision-makers. They must be able to manage value, effort & risk from short term and long term perspectives. They must be able to take decisions by prioritizing features backlog based on user value, business value, and development effort. Sometimes they need to be quick with their decisions so that a growth opportunity and the right timing is not lost.

Cross-functional

Product managers must be able to switch gears fast. They need to understand the perspectives of different stakeholders such as development for technical complexity, UX design team for design challenges, customer support for customer demands, and sales for driving growth. They need to drive multiple teams without power and paint a holistic bigger picture keeping the user at the core of the heart.

Evangelism

Product Managers may or may not be involved directly with GTM. However, he needs to still evangelize the product within internal teams to keep them motivated with the bigger product vision, product goals and kind of impact it is making with newer and newer features. Feed with initial content on the product which can be used by marketing in different ways.

Technical Skills

Basic knowledge about software code

When product managers communicate with engineers, it is important that they understand what is being talked about. They must talk in the basic languages of coding – HTML, Javascript, etc. They mustn’t just carry what they hear from the consumers to the engineers and then from the engineers to the development team. They are the voice between all segments but they must know what technical aspects they are working on and what would be the outcome of the same.

Only when PMs have the technical knowledge and a little know-how of coding can they work with the engineering teams to improve overall performance. They can help to significantly reduce costs and better allocate resources for optimum time and effort management. This is why you must check the background of a product manager and if they have technical expertise, it is an added advantage for you.

Awareness of the latest tech stack

The field of technology is rapidly advancing and for a product to remain in the market, it has to continuously upgrade as per consumer demands. A product manager is successful when he/she remains versed with the latest advancements in technology and understands the various languages, infrastructure, hardware, cloud services, and more. PMs must integrate the required tools in an interesting way and keep the product updated so as to give an edge to the product over competitors. PMs can gather information about technological advancements through blogs, podcasts, training sessions, and workshops.

Product managers must understand every technical aspect of the product before they can convince the potential customer for a sale. They must detect flaws and then communicate the same to the right department for improvements. A product manager can share feedback and innovative ideas with the engineers only when his/her own knowledge in that field is fluent.

Knows data analytics tools

It goes without saying that the job of a product manager involves large quantities of data. This data is used to understand the requirements of the consumer and their demands.

One of the most renowned software for analyzing business metrics is SQL. Some of the other tools include Looker, Mixpanel, Tableau, and Google Analytics. A product manager must know how to use these tools to track and interpret vital data.

Prior to the launch of a product, it is important to research and analyze its potential in the market. This helps in understanding the relevance of investing in it. Product managers should have solid analytical skills to evaluate the market and offer appropriate recommendations. This forms the foundation for developing viable solutions and strategies for the product. With every course of action taken, there should be an option to estimate measurable results and decide success or impact.

The scope of product management cannot rely on instincts and, therefore, a product manager must crunch numbers for better decision-making.

Understands system architecture

A product manager must be able to contribute in making choices and decisions with respect to architecture designing. For this, she must have a functional understanding of the different apps and services that the company is using or is expected to be using. This way it becomes easier for the team, as a whole, to identify flaws, loopholes, bugs, and other reasons for issues and accordingly formulate a hypothesis. When problems related to the product are solved instantly, it helps in saving a considerable amount of time and thereby reduce costs.

Well versed with end-to-end product development lifecycle

A product goes through various processes before it is launched in the market. A skilled product manager must understand the processes of the product development lifecycle and be able to supervise different environments, phases, and tools. At any given time if there is an error, A product manager must be able to identify and rectify the same.

It is the product manager’s responsibility to deliver a polished product to the customer within deadlines and she must know how to get this done by initiating the various processes from one environment to another.

Wireframing & Prototyping

A product manager must clearly communicate with the team members. In the process of communicating concepts, gathering feedback, and setting design goals, it is beneficial to use a wireframing and prototyping tool. A product manager must know how to use these tools and generate effective results. Balsamiq and Sketch are powerful tools for this process and competency to use these can be tested.

Effectively manage tasks for the team

Task management is a vital responsibility of the product manager. PMs must co-ordinate between all teams and have complete updates about the status of different tasks. A product manager is successful if she knows how to use Jira, Asana, and other task management tools for a smooth and flawless flow of the product development processes.

Run Surveys

Surveys help to obtain information about the customers – demands, interests, preferences, etc. This information is important for the launch of a product. A product manager must successfully use tools like SurveyMonkey, Google Forms, and more to complete surveys and collect data.

Build roadmaps

Roadmaps work as a functional framework for a product’s launch. They entail information about various tasks, objectives, timelines, goals, strategies, and processes related to a product. PMs must effectively use AHA, ProdPad, and other tools to build roadmaps that can be adhered to throughout the product development process.

Expert in creating business workflows

When product managers align tasks between different teams – engineers, developers, designers, sales personnel, marketing executives, and more, it is important that they understand how to create business workflows. Business workflows ensure that there is smooth co-ordination between various teams and no resource is wasted.

General Skills

Problem Solving

Most executives are looking for product managers who have problem-solving traits. This is because the process of product development includes several roadblocks and challenges. PMs must understand different market problems and know how a creative solution needs to be devised to battle unexpected challenges.

Writing Skills

Product managers are the central point for communicating with different stakeholders. This means that they must possess the skills for effective business writing and story writing. As they present information to different stakeholders, they must know how content should be developed. For some stakeholders, it needs to be in detail while for others, it must be clear, concise, and simple.

Demo & Presentation skills

Product Managers are constantly involved in presenting the product and its phases to different audiences. This requires efficient presentation and communication skills so that the receiving audiences understand what is being communicated.

An eye for Legal, Data Security and Compliance

There are lots of legal and security compliances around data protection for a product. A product manager must be aware of the latest developments like GDPR, HIPAA, etc. She must understand the requirements of the customer around data security. Legal aspects need to be dealt with care and an understanding of the various agreements with customers, vendors, and partners is recommended.  

Training

A product manager must be able to impart training to various audiences depending on their role in the product lifecycle. Customers must know how to use the product, the sales team must understand product competencies, the engineering team must have product ideations, and the customer support team should know how to handle product-related queries. A PM must educate all these teams and other stakeholders on their responsibilities to contribute to product success.

Awareness of industry trends

Strong PMs remain up-to-date with all kinds of industry news. They adopt new products, know about startups that failed or succeeded, learn new technologies, perform market survey and research, and read about rising consumer trends. The market is full of new ideas, innovations, and changes, which is why strong PMs must have the right knowledge of market trends. They need to constantly expose themselves to creative ideas, new concepts, and user experiences.

Conclusion

Product managers are the one-stop channel of communication between various teams working on a product. The success or failure of a product lies on the shoulders of the product manager. Therefore, an ideal product manager must be multi-skilled and must know how to handle the various phases of product development, marketing, and customer feedback. Product managers must be able to implement the required changes on time to make the product more useful.

Now that you are aware of the essential skills in a product manager, it is time for you to step out and find a suitable one for your organization.

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About author

I am a Product Management professional. I love to write and talk about product, growth, career, and entrepreneurship in Enterprise Software and Internet space.
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