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How to Be a Great Product Manager

Being a great Product Manager is as tough, if not many times tougher than breaking into product management. Certainly, there are many great distinct qualities that set an effective Product Manager apart from his/her peers. During our classes, events and even when speaking with our members, we are always asked this question: “How can I become a great Product Manager?”
5 min read

We would be doing an incomplete job if we only teach you how to become a Product Manager and ignore everything else. This profession requires focus, patience, teamwork, empathy, intuition, and creativity. While technical skills are a must, we all know that the factors that make a great Product Manager are the soft skills that could only be acquired through experience (not just as a Product Manager) and experimentation. As we are dedicated to bringing you the best of the Product community, we interviewed Nicole Lenzen, a former Senior Product Manager at BCG Digital Ventures, to learn more about effective PM qualities from the perspective of a seasoned Product Manager. You can read the complete interview here.

Nicole isn’t the only one who talked to us about the qualities of an ideal Product Manager. Our alumni, some of which have already received multiple promotions or took better opportunities since working with us, as well as our instructor and influencer partners, have been contributing to this discussion ever since we started Product Gym. In fact, our curriculum and core values are centered around these principles.

Let’s take a look at the top qualities that will set a great Product Manager apart from an average product manager:

Goal Prioritization

As a Product Manager, it is your duty to oversee all of the functionalities, and the inner machinations of your product, as well as the work of the teams helping bring your product to life. It is for this reason that you should have a vision set for the product, and the general direction that you’d like for it to move towards – an end goal for how the product should be. It isn’t your job as the Product Manager to tell people how they should be doing their job and their role, but why they should be doing what they’re doing. Express how critical their roles and responsibilities are when it comes to ensuring the full success of the product

In our classes (as well as our discussions), we do our best to emphasize the fact that prioritization goes beyond giving points to user stories or having endless meetings with stakeholders to decide where to place tasks in the coming iterations. Prioritization is figuring out which feature realistically answers the user’s needs and how it could be shipped, given limited time and resources. It’s about intuition, research and most importantly, knowing your users.

Even as an experienced Product Manager, keeping your focus and trying to understand what feature comes first can be a challenge. Be sure to check our guest blog post by Andre Remati on how to use Kaiten, an interactive dashboard system, to make calculated decisions on what features to ship first. 

Actually Doing the Work

We know, it sounds silly to add this point here. At the end of the day, how could you be a great Product Manager if you don’t know what to work on? Well, as we discussed in the previous section, it is quite common for PMs, or any division, to be honest, to lose their focusMeetings, client requirements, bugs and/or internal issues could really hinder your team’s productivity.

This is a real problem and we are doing our best to bring the best and most practical solution. Our longtime friend and partner, Shobhit Chugh, a Google PM and founder of The Intentional Product Manager, defines the importance of this quality. He uses the term deep work, an uninterrupted period of time in which you do the work that has to be shared with the rest of the team. Making POCs for the rest of the team to understand the vision and delivering something tangible is probably the number one quality that will set you apart as a great Product Manager. We know that the PM of any team should be the most responsive and most social member, although he/she has to know when to stop putting others first and focusing on the work sitting in front of him/her. You can read more about how to practice this here.

We want you to remember this: Senior leadership looks at the numbers more than anything else when determining the success of a product. And those numbers, or KPIs to be exact, won’t deliver themselves if you don’t put in the actual work and lead the team in the right direction.

Consideration and Openness

A Product Manager is still a human being. Even the greatest Product Managers don’t have all of the answers, so they are always open to new ideas and suggestions from their fellow peers. Remember the lines, “open to new ideas, innovative, curious” from the PM job descriptions you read? Yes, those qualities are there for a reason. This profession requires the correct amount of intuition to understand when and how to take risks and to try new ideas. Considering a single idea or merely looking at the pros of a solution isn’t something that great Product Manager does. We always say this: a great idea is never a great idea if it has no cons – it is simply an idea that we cannot reach with realistic conditions and therefore should be dismissed immediately.

You can take ideas from the technical team or the marketing team. Anyone who is contributing to the product should be taken into consideration. Great Product Managers always consider alternatives brought up from their coworkers and know that they may not always have all the answers and solutions to an issue.

Credit and Blame

Great Product Managers will share the credit of their final products and give credit where it’s due. At the same time, they’d take the blame if a product fails or if something goes wrong;  they wouldn’t put the blame on anyone else specifically. The Product Manager is a team player and will rise and fall with all of the teams throughout the course of the product life cycle.

When the job descriptions include the word “team player”, you shouldn’t take that for granted (i.e. assume that you are a good team player by default). Being a good team player means having the nerve to accept your mistakes and come clean when you make one.

At the end of the day, product management is the central mechanism that connects all of the functions that participate in the development of a product. If this mechanism fails to address what’s wrong or right about the product, then it will lose its credibility and authority. So, this principle can either make you or break you.

Customer Knowledge

A great Product Manager will know the customers and the audience. This means that they have full knowledge of what the customers want, what the customers need, and how to get the customer that point. The Product Manager is the bridge between the customers and communicating what they want to the team, so they could get it out. 

This trait is often known as “empathy”. Nicole, in her interview, also underscored the importance of empathy and defined how a great Product Manager practices it:

“I would say empathy is a pretty common trait of good Product Managers that ties back to the point of not being the only one defining the requirements and features. You are open-minded and understanding of user needs, different objectives, and various perspectives that are coming to the table. You’re able to basically approach something through all of those different sets of eyes.”

With increasing complexity in products, empathy might be a big challenge to overcome. It is a common to have clients that don’t really understand what they actually need. Therefore, it is essential for a great Product Manager to be not just creative enough to see the problem from the perspective of the users, but also be articulate enough to explain to the users what they really need.

 

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