Product managers have many responsibilities that are heavily relied upon by their company, customers, and teams. However, what are the key traits that distinguish a good product manager from a bad product manager?
Good product managers have the following traits.
Product management includes both strategy and delivery.
Product managers begin by determining the “what” and “why” and then work with their teams to determine the how.
However even as a solution is built and released, strategy is still involved in every step of the process (for example answering the question which feature should be released first and why?).
Strategy is understanding where you are and determining where you want to go and the steps to get there. While in the process understanding your surroundings, the resources that are available, and your capabilities.
And to add to this, a rock solid understanding of why it is important to reach the specific destination and how it impacts your product and business.
Good product managers are strategic. They understand what needs to be done, how to validate their assumptions, and how their work impacts their customers, business, and industry overall.
By no means are we making the claim that product delivery is easy or not important. However strategy is where strong product managers shine.
As a product manager advances in their career more of their attention will focus on strategy (for the overall product line and company) and less on delivery.
A good product manager is a great communicator and has strong interpersonal skills.
Writing and oratory skills are vital skills for product managers because they are used in multiple settings and scenarios.
Writing release notes
Writing product documentation
Presenting the product roadmap to customers
Demoing an enhancement to your product team
Communication is one interpersonal skill. Other interpersonal skills include empathy, listening, conflict management, negotiation, teamwork and leadership.
Product managers act as the glue that holds their various departments together.
They are relied upon by the majority of the departments in their company (senior management, design, development, sales, and marketing). Along with fielding requests from sometimes irate customers, a product manager also has to navigate through internal requests, concerns, and the competing priorities of the stakeholders within their company.
Only a product manager with great listening skills, the ability to resolve conflicts, influence others, and communicate effectively can listen to and work with teammates to ensure that everyone is aligned on one mission and are working towards the same goals.
Product managers are constantly required to context switch.
In one moment they may be speaking to a customer about a specific problem that they are facing, and then soon after meet with their customer success team to address how they can better enable them for success.
This can then be followed up with a session to update the product roadmap to communicate how it will evolve for the remainder of the year to ensure that they remain competitive.
With the various stakeholders that they work with, the multiple solutions (products, enhancements, and features) they build and support, good product managers have a deep detailed view of their product but simultaneously maintain a bird’s eye view on everything that surrounds their product and company.
This bird’s eye view includes what is happening in the industry that they operate within.
A competent product manager is aware of the growth rate of their market, the new entrants, the laggards, the opinions of industry analysts, and extremely important, competitor activity.
This is one of the key questions that product managers in senior roles are always trying to answer: how does our work impact the company and how do we ensure that this assists the company and our various departments with reaching their goals?
Did you know that most product managers don’t know how to code? In fact, only 5% of product managers know how to.
Product managers do not have to know how to code, but a good product manager is technical.
In 8 Skills You Need to Be A Successful Product Manager we mentioned that product managers need to be able to navigate technical discussions with their team.
They have a good understanding of how software and technology works. So much so that they can have technical discussions with their development team and their development team can include them in discussions surrounding technical trade-offs.
Developers involve product managers in discussions about technical trade-offs because these trade-offs may affect the customer experience, which product managers are responsible for.
Though most product managers do not have to know how to code there are some that do have deeper and comprehensive knowledge of how software and technology works.
These individuals are known as Technical Product Managers (TPMs). But hold tight, we’ll discuss them shortly.
Good product managers are reliable team players.
This means two things:
Team members trust and rely on product managers
Product managers are relied upon by multiple team members within their company.
Designers rely on product managers to specify design requirements. Developers rely on product managers to provide clear specifications on what needs to be built and the intended outcome.
Senior management relies on product managers to keep them informed on what is being worked on, progress, and if KPIs are being met.
Product managers work closely with multidisciplinary teams to build and launch products.
Good product managers enable their key stakeholders by supporting them with the tools, communication, and resources that they need to succeed.
This can involve:
Spending additional time with developers to answer their questions
Training the sales team on how to use a new product and its various features
Assisting the marketing team with drafting marketing communication
Joining a customer support call to appease an irate customer and assure them that their main issues are being prioritized
Spending additional time with members of the senior management team to clarify the progress of key roadmap objectives
Which leads to the next point.
As software companies grow it is standard practice to increase the development, design, and sales headcount.
In the very early days of a startup the founder of the company initially carries the role and responsibilities of a product manager.
It may be hard to believe but a software company can survive without a product manager (however this does not mean that it will thrive).
However software companies can not go without developers, designers, and a sales and marketing team.
Being that product managers interface with multiple stakeholders and act as the glue between various departments, good product managers work well with and are generally liked by their team.
They bring their unique personality to work, care about their team members, and enable them to perform their best work.
Leaders set a vision, chart a course, and can rally others around them with inspiration, motivation, and effectiveness to achieve stated goals.
They identify problems and then roll up their sleeves to solve them, not waiting on others to find a solution.
Leaders train and support others and help them grow. They enable those around them to do their best work, mentor others, and grow others to be leaders.
They are kind to those they interact with but are also assertive when needed.
Good product managers are leaders. And it is necessary for them to be because they shoulder the concerns of their customers.
Customers trust product managers to deliver what they need to make their lives easier.
And their company trusts them to chart the course that will allow them to continue serving their customers while also ensuring that their business continues to grow and reach stated goals.
Great product managers are great storytellers.
It’s not so much what you say, but how you say it.
Storytelling is an activity that product managers are constantly engaged in and should never tire of.
What they communicate and the way they communicate has a direct effect on the results that they receive.
Informing a customer that they will not receive a requested feature anytime soon because they don’t pay enough for your product will yield a far worse response than informing them that their request is being deprioritized for the time being as your company focuses on other items which will benefit them (and other customers in the long run). Followed by a walkthrough of the roadmap.