I think a lot about what it takes to be a really good product manager. Since I can’t very well take myself as , I do what all product managers do: I look at peers and their teams and compare successful product managers with the other ones, trying to single out success factors in leaders.
Product managers are a pretty a versatile bunch, hailing from different fields and industries. Product managers who started out as UX designers don’t share the same proficiencies with PMs who came over from R&D teams.
That means most of us have to pick up product management skills as we go along and try to be as decent as possible at as many things as we can, knowing we won’t ever perfect most of those sub-sets of skills. That said, I think most product managers would agree that these are a few basic requirements that contribute to
Foster the Capacity to Envision
The rest of the list below is debatable. You can argue that product managers can be color blind and not know a single line of code, but ‘visionary’ is the one thing a product manager is useless without.
What do we talk about, when we talk about product vision? The ability to build a long term strategy, based on a smart growth plan. But above all, it is the capacity to see that which is still invisible to other people. This is a rare quality, that combines intuition, sharp business foresight and a great deal of faith, primarily in your own abilities to lead the product from idea to execution.
Love Technology, or at Least Don’t Resist it
Put simply: product managers are better at doing our job when we are genuinely interested in the stuff we are meant to grow.
From my personal experience over the years, the best product managers are the ones with an avid, uninhibited passion for web technology and gadgets, and everything that surrounds them: tech news, beta testing new services, scanning release notes for new features, testing out new gadgets and getting really excited about new tools being released.
After a while of breathing technology, those PMs develop a true sense for it. They can see complex strategic moves behind purchases and startup exits, they can diagnose failures and successes intelligently and most importantly – it helps to develop the much needed vision I previously discussed.
Learn Enough about Marketing Tools to Set Realistic Marketing Goals
Apropos of keeping up with new tech – marketing tools are deserving of their own academic PhD course, if you ask me. The variety is endless, new tools pop up every day, and marketers are in a constant race to stay ahead of algorithm updates in the main content and search platforms.
In order to stay on the same page with your marketing team, get some hands-on experience with the basics: PPC, SEO, content marketing, social traction and copy-writing. You don’t even have to be good at any of them. A few must-know items from the bowels of digital marketing:
- Stay updated on what the top analytics tools are this this year
- Goals – industry benchmarks, combined with a realistic projection of your own product growth
- Product type conversion rate standard
- Product type CPA standard
- Growth hacking techniques – always be on the lookout for those
Nail those 5, and I guarantee you will be better at pushing your marketing team toward results.
Develop a Basic Understanding of UX
You wouldn’t believe how many of your product’s first releases will be about UX tweaks, for several reasons:
- Some of the product issues can be solved with smart UX planning
- You can test UX sustainability fairly easily (with agile-friendly tools like session recorders, heat maps and landing page A/B testing)
- Your users will tell you, even if not in so many words.
That last part is crucial to the process, because only through collecting good user feedback from your users can your product keep offering value and navigate through agile process successfully.
We really lucked out in this regard, because Craft’s users are exactly like us: tech lovers and beta testers, product management peers who speak fluent agile and are normally patient between releases and happy to contribute feedback. Most importantly – they can articulate user experience challenges when they see them.
UX planning and design is how users communicate with your software. You need to be able to understand their feedback, even if the UX planner will be the one implementing the change. Most users can’t tell you “you should move the comments section from there to here”, they’ll just say “I don’t understand how to comment on an item” (that is, if they say anything at all). The product manager is often the only one in the intersection between user and software who can identify the potholes and then work with the UX team to fix them.
Invest in Understanding of What Makes the Team Work Well Together
There’s a reason product managers are often called “product leaders”. Leadership is an indispensable part of leading product teams and getting your staff on board with the vision. Communicating the vision is a crucial part of that.
And then there’s the other stuff – helping the team to stay motivated, pushing for results, managing sprints and deadlines and making sure everyone on the team is doing their best and wants to be there.