Becoming a Product Manager requires a firm grasp of several hard and soft skills. These hard skills are arguably more straightforward to learn, but will require dedicated study; the soft skills, on the other hand, may take time to hone, but can be practiced across a range of disciplines.
Product Manager Skills
In that first category—hard skills—are the techniques and methodologies specific to product development, user experience, and design thinking. While you don’t necessarily need to be a Product Manager to gain experience here (you can pick up that experience working in other areas of the product development cycle), they do typically require training, either on the job or as a part of your coursework.
These hard skills include:
- How to conduct customer research, interviews, and testing
- Pricing and revenue modeling
- Design sprints
- Roadmapping and ranking your features list
- Assessing market conditions and opportunities
- Translating between business and technical requirements
- Quantifying and measuring your success using clear metrics
But in addition to these core competencies, which effectively characterize many of the steps in the product development cycle, Product Managers must also have a series of strengths that skew much more toward the interpersonal.
Traits of Successful Product Managers
Some of these attributes will directly affect a project’s performance, others are also an advantage to the Product Manager in the course of their own career, but all contribute to success over the long term.
You can call it social awareness, emotional intelligence, or “good people skills,” but there’s no way around it: whether you’re conducting an interview with a customer, maximizing the user experience, or building authentic relationships within your own team, empathy is vital to the role of Product Manager. Product development is ultimately about real human beings—your coworkers, your users, your company’s leadership—and being in tune with all their needs and desires is the foundation of successfully bringing a product to market.
For Product Managers, vision is a big part of the job. But it’s not enough to have a clear sense of what needs to be done—you’ll also have to share that vision with your teams and motivate them to reach it. And often, because they work cross-departmentally, Product Managers don’t have direct authority over the teams they need to inspire. In these cases, they need to rely on influence, persuasion, and even charisma, and lead by example to keep everyone focused on achieving a common goal.
This underlies all the things a Product Manager needs to know—the technical aspects of their field, the changing landscape of their marketplace—and the constant learning required to stay up to date. Curiosity also drives Product Managers’ interactions with users at the early phase of development, when open questions are under discussion. In a sense, it’s like a Scientist’s love of learning—what motivates research, in-depth analysis and A/B testing, and the experimentation with new ideas if not curiosity?
It goes without saying that Product Managers solve problems—in fact, that’s a good shorthand for the entire job description. But especially as it applies to the design thinking method, problem-solving isn’t just a knack for sorting out practical issues; it’s also an important step in product development, making the leap from identifying and defining a need within the marketplace and being the first to innovate a product or feature to address it.
Virtually nobody works with unlimited time and resources—and even if you were lucky enough to find yourself in such a position, you’d still need to weigh zero-sum options within the product itself. That is, not only does a Product Manager need to prioritize which problems the team will attempt to solve (and in which order), they also need to prioritize the features of the product itself. The first consideration comes down to product flowcharting and an ability to make appropriate business decisions and allocate resources where they’re needed most—while the second comes down to understanding the user’s needs and how the product features will function in the real world. In both cases, you’ll be facing tradeoffs, and it will be up to you to decide which course will lead to the best results.
Product management typically comprises multiple projects running in parallel, all of them following a given process to see them through, whether that’s design thinking for UX or Agile for feature rollout. A Product Manager’s ability to effectively build processes like these, devising and administering the systems that will guide the different stages of development, requires a high level of organization and a great deal of familiarity with each step of the process.
Product management is collaborative by nature. You’ll be leading a team, or possibly several teams, as well as liaising with company leadership, presenting to investors and other stakeholders, and even sitting down with test users and clients to gain a better understanding of their needs. In fact, as a Product Manager, you’ll be connected to virtually everything the company does, from sales and marketing to product implementation, essentially acting as the hub between market, development team, and business—and routing information between all three. Obviously, an ability to listen, understand, and convey what’s important back and forth is paramount.
As if it wasn’t hard enough to manage a product’s journey, you’ll also have to manage your own, both on and off the job. You’ll need a cool head, an ability to work under pressure, and a clear sense of both your own priorities and your company’s. This isn’t just about short-term performance, or even self-care; it’s also the skill that will guide the trajectory of your career as a whole. Nobody else is going to motivate you to keep learning and growing—you’ll need to be a self-starter outside the office in much the same way you’re leading your own team members inside of it.
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recommended product management courses
The part-time Product Management course was designed to introduce the very latest product management techniques and best practices.
The Design Thinking training course gives you the skills to solve complex business problems using design thinking methodologies.
The part-time User Experience (UX) Design course was developed for professionals with an interest in UX design.