What It Takes to Become a Great Product Manager

Aspiring Product Managers should consider three primary factors when evaluating a role: core competenciesemotional intelligence (EQ), and company fit. Beyond shipping new features on a regular cadence and keeping the peace between engineering and the design team, the best PMs create products with strong user adoption that have exponential revenue growth and perhaps even disrupt an industry.

Core Competencies

There are core competencies that every PM must have — many of which can start in the classroom — but most are developed with experience, good role models, and mentoring. Some examples of these competencies include:

  • conducting customer interviews and user testing
  • running design sprints
  • feature prioritization and road map planning
  • the art of resource allocation (it is not a science!)
  • performing market assessments
  • translating business-to-technical requirements, and vice versa
  • pricing and revenue modelling
  • defining and tracking success metrics

These core competencies are the baseline for any PM, and the best PMs hone these skills over years of defining, shipping, and iterating on products. These PMs excel at reflecting on where each of these competencies have contributed to the success or failure of their products and continuously adjusting their approach based on customer feedback.

Emotional Intelligence

A good PM may know the dos and don’ts of a customer interview, but the best PMs have the ability to empathize with customers in that interview, are tuned into their body language and emotions, and can astutely suss out the pain points that the product or feature will address. A PM with a high EQ has strong relationships within their organization and a keen sense of how to navigate both internal and external hurdles to ship a great product.

Relationship management. Probably one of the most important characteristics of a great PM is their relationship management skills. By forming authentic and trustworthy connections with both internal and external stakeholders, the best PMs inspire people and help them reach their full potential.

Self-awareness. PMs must be self-aware so as to remain objective and avoid projecting their own preferences onto users of their products. If a PM is in love with a feature because it addresses their own pain points — PMs are often super-users of the products for which they are responsible — they may cause a user to say they love it too, just to please the PM (“false positive feature validation”).

Self-management. Being a PM can be incredibly stressful. The CEO wants one thing, the engineering team another, and customers have their own opinions about feature priorities. Managing tight deadlines, revenue targets, market demands, prioritization conflicts, and resource constraints all at once is not for the faint of heart.

Social awareness. The competencies associated with being socially aware are empathy, organizational awareness, and service. PMs must understand customers’ emotions and concerns about their product as much as they understand the concerns of the sales team on how to sell that product, or the support team on how to support it, or the engineering team on how to build it. PMs have to have a deep understanding of how the organization operates and must build social capital to influence the success of their product, from obtaining budget and staffing to securing a top engineer to work on their product.

Company Fit

If the best PMs have well-developed core competencies and a high EQ, does that mean they are destined for success no matter where they work? Not necessarily. In fact, taking these skills and personality traits and applying them to the right company is what will ultimately guarantee success.

There is no real standard job description for a product manager, because each role is ultimately defined by the size, type of product, stage, industry, and even culture of the company. If you possess the core competencies and high EQ needed to be a successful PM, the next step is to unpack who is hiring and what they are truly looking for.

There are, of course, many other factors to consider for any role, such as the type of product you are building (B2B, B2C, industry), the people with whom you’ll work, the overall company culture (diverse, inclusive, flexible work hours, remote culture), and, of course, the compensation and benefits.” However, if you are striving to be a great product manager, consider all of the above before signing on to your next gig. Developing core competencies will be an ongoing activity throughout your career and leveraging EQ will ensure a more positive experience. But where you work, how they work, and who you work with and for will ultimately determine your long-term success.

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Source: Harvard Business Review / Julia Austin – Abridged version

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