After spending a decade as a web developer, I was finding that I wanted another challenge. I felt that I was getting comfortable in my position and I wanted to find a way make a change. I wasn’t sure what that change was. But it was going to be something.
I spent several weeks doing those personality tests. I ended up looking at what traits and skills I had and based off the results of those tests, I decided that what I was going to be was someone that was responsible for the strategic direction of a product.
That has led me to spending the last two and a half years as a product manager for Liquid Web. During the holiday season I found it fitting to reflect on what traits make a good product manager.
I personally struggle at juggling all of these, all of the time. But I think that over time you always try to continually improve how you do your job.
Strategic Thinking and Decisiveness
Some people like to call a product manager the mini-CEO of sorts. I hate this analogy. I don’t think that it really speaks to what you are currently doing. A product manager needs to understand and develop the product strategy and how it aligns with the overall company strategy, especially if the company has multiple products. The product manager is responsible for the overall product vision and thus needs to understand the competitive landscape and understand how to go to market to attract the customers they are building the product for.
A product manager typically doesn’t have the authority to tell people what do to. So it’s important that you collaborate and help various teams make the decisions they need to make. Generally you need to invite key stakeholders to join workshops, review meetings and actively listen to their ideas to concerns, and see consensus on important decisions. Sometimes that means you even need to have the courage to make the decision. You shouldn’t be afraid to shy away from the tough calls that you may need to make.
Passion for Building Solutions
Many product managers were perviously creative types, either from the development/engineering teams or design teams. Most creatives realized where pain points were for their customers and enjoyed finding solutions to those pain points. I remember laying awake late at night thinking up how to tackle certain problems.
You should be able to recognize and respect great products. You like to try new products and provide feedback. As long as you have a passion for innovation and the love of whiteboards, you’ll be a great product manager.
As developers, you might lack in this department from your designer counterparts. But that’s not what I’m getting at here. You don’t need to draw well (I make really rad stick figures sometimes!). I’m talking about the ability to draw well enough to explore and communicate your idea to the team.
Often it can be some chicken scratch in your favorite moleskin of an idea you came up with on your ride home. Sometimes it’s even transposing those notes and images to the whiteboard for your whole team to see.
The most important part of all of this is that you want to provide as much clarity to your team as possible and a lot of that comes from your visual communication skills.
Empathy for Customers
Customers are what pays your salary. Someone in the leadership position needs to understand be provide empathy to your customers. You want to have deep empathy for your target customer. So how does one get that? Well the easiest is to hire someone that fully understands your target customer.
If you can’t find someone in your target customer segment, then you want to find someone that can find empathy and they recognize the importance of talking to customers. You want someone that is able to strike up a conversation with them and gather insights into their needs through the conversation. A good product manager is always prepared.
Active Listening / Interviewing
Like Empathy, active listening is a big requirement of the job. It’s important to understand how to persuade and influence the stakeholders and to really get to the root of the problem. In the product team, it’s easy to be ego-driven. But remember, it’s more less about you and more about the customers that use the product.
Data-informed / Analytical
There is this famous saying by Edwards Deming, “In God we trust; all others must bring data.” If you want to succeed as a product manager, you need to use the data you have available to test assumptions and generate new insights rather than believes and opinions.
Data can only go so far though. In the end you may need to use your intuition and imagination to come up with new ideas; test them and then collect relevant data to see if they hold true. This really goes along with the idea of a MVP, Minimum Viable Product. We’ll talk about that in a future post.
Are there others?
Are you a product manager or part of a product team and think that there are other skills or traits that a good product manager has? I’d love to hear what you think I missed. Leave them in the comments.