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The Skills You Need to Be a Successful Product Manager

Product Manager skills
Product Manager skills

Being a good product manager requires a diverse range of skills, abilities, and know-how. Whether you’re new to the role or looking to refine your skills, here are three factors that contribute to being a successful product manager.

The three factors that contribute to the success of a product manager

  1. Core competencies
  2. Soft skills
  3. Values alignment

Core competencies

These skills are the bread-and-butter of product management. It can vary by company and level, but these are the most common responsibilities for product managers: 

  • feature prioritization and road map planning
  • translating business and customer needs into product requirements
  • conducting customer interviews and user testing
  • actively participating in sprint ceremonies such as daily standups, backlog grooming, and team retrospectives
  • running design sprints
  • performing market assessments and competitive analysis
  • pricing and revenue modeling
  • defining and tracking success metrics

It’s important to understand where you are today regarding product management skills and capabilities. 

If you’ve never done so, conduct a self-evaluation of your skills using a competency matrix. I’m a big fan of Neil Cabage’s framework and use it to guide clients when assessing their product managers’ skills.

Ravi Metha has taken a different approach by developing a 12-point framework based on four different types of skills. 

Need help?

If you’d like help conducting your assessment, I invite you to schedule a call with me to chat about my coaching services. In this call, I’ll share how I can help you identify and understand your current baseline, create a roadmap that shows where you want to go, and achieve your goals of becoming a more effective product manager. 

Soft skills

In order to accomplish the responsibilities of a product manager, you’ll need to be adept at the following soft skills:

Communication

Product managers spend a good part of their day in meetings and writing emails/instant messages. Good product managers are solid communicators both verbally and in writing.

Leadership

Shipping products requires a broad range of skills and teammates (e.g., designers, engineers, marketers, etc.). Good product managers are comfortable leading people over whom they don’t have direct authority.

Organization

Product managers are usually involved in ensuring the project they work on is delivered on time. Good organizational skills are critical.

Execution

Finally, good product managers get sh*t done. The ability to execute is essential.

Values alignment

Once you have an idea of your strengths and weaknesses based on the core competencies, it’s time to shift gears and identify the best workplaces for you to target. 

What gets you excited?

If you are super passionate about practicing meditation every day, you might want to consider a role at one of the many companies offering mediation services, such as Headspace. 

If you love to cook, perhaps you can focus on a Product Management job with one of the many food-related companies such as Blue Apron or Apeel. 

I can share with you my own experience. I have always been fanatical about listening to music. I’m such a music nerd. So for me, being a product manager allowed me to combine my love of music with technology. I was able to build a long career based on my passion. 

Now I’m not saying you’ll be stuck forever with whatever choices you make today! Not at all. But by being selective about the types of companies you work for now, you may find that you can carve out a niche for yourself and become a subject matter expert!

B2B/enterprise or B2C?

Do you find yourself leaning towards helping people do their jobs more efficiently? Or perhaps you love a particular subject matter? 

This is the time to reflect on your interests and passions to decide which types of product you want to work on. B2B (business to business) or enterprise products have their own unique set of challenges that some people are well equipped to tackle.

Enterprise and B2B companies tend to focus on problems derived from customer feedback, such as customer support and sales. 

Consumer-facing companies typically move faster and allow product managers more direct access to their end-users. 

Start-up or Established Company

Another important consideration is if you would prefer working in a small, scrappy start-up environment or with a larger, more established company.

I have found that start-ups are often willing to take on more risks when hiring. Why? 

Founders usually want to hire people who are super passionate about their product or ideas and are willing to wear a lot of different hats. 

The downside of working at a start-up is that you are often the ONLY Product Manager there, at least in the early stages, so if it’s important for you to have a manager who can help you develop your career, it might not be the best choice for you.

Larger companies can offer existing best practices for how to do product management. They have established career ladders that transparently explain what you need to do to advance your career. And you usually have managers who can help you in developing your career. 

Not everyone is suited for startup life. It can require a LOT more hours from you than working for a more established company and be quite stressful, but the impact you can have is enormous. 

So spend a little time reflecting on this before deciding which companies to target. 

Being your authentic self

I worked with a client last year who was interviewing with many companies. Sheila is a Principal Product Manager with over ten years of experience. 

One of the companies she interviewed with showed signs of a “bro culture.” As someone looking for a company that supports working parents, this culture was a red flag for her. 

Despite the attractive job opportunity, she ultimately chose to withdraw from consideration for a director-level position because she knew that work-life balance and flexibility to take care of her growing family were top priorities.

Another person I know joined a company that was not LGBTQ-friendly. They ultimately did not feel safe showing up as their authentic self. They also struggled to establish trust and credibility with their teammates, which may or may not have been related. 

Thankfully, after a few short months, they left the company and found a job at a company that is entirely different in terms of supporting and accepting everyone.  

Life is too short to work for a company that will not support who you are and what season of life you are in. 

Do your research to figure out if a company is a good fit in terms of values. Talk to people who work there. You can learn a lot from talking to former employees because they are typically more honest about their experiences.

You can also read reviews on sites like Glassdoor. 

Choose a job that you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.

Confucious

Product management is a talent. It takes more than just experience and skills in the products you’re working on – it requires a diverse range of abilities. 

Get more tips like this!

Want more tips to be a better product manager? Get out my free e-book.

How do your product management abilities rank? If you’re not sure, schedule a chat with me today to learn how to develop the competencies needed to be a successful product manager.

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