I transitioned from a software engineering profession to become a product manager almost a decade ago and since then I get questions like – What is the role of Product Manager? What are the great Product Manager qualities? How can I transition to Product Management? How do you become a great product manager?
During the last decade, I have formed many opinions about the role of product management. Some of them I have refuted over time but some of them still hold true.
A lot of companies and people alike sell a Product Manager role as “CEO of the Product“. I disagree with this for the simple reason “Product Managers don’t have any direct authority over anyone other than themselves and they alone can’t make a product successful“
In my view, Product Managers are not the CEO of the product, and their roles spread over a wide horizon depending on the stage of the product, company maturity, their own experience level, etc.
So, what factors should be considered if you want to become a great Product Manager? In this post, I’ll give you my perspective on the role of Product Manager and Great Product Manager qualities
What is the Role of a Product Manager?
The product manager’s role varies with a lot of factors but in a nutshell, they are responsible for the product. The PM is responsible for doing market research, competitive analysis, creating and prioritizing the product roadmap, user testing, pricing, product launch and communicating with various stakeholders.
There are companies spread over a wide horizon when it comes to a PM role and over the last decade I have experienced quite a few of these:
- Product Driven companies – These companies are led by product and engineering pretty much follows the directives from the Product Managers. As a product manager, it is a pleasant environment to work in but you have a constant battle of balancing tech-debt with customer requirements. This kind of culture is found in consumer-facing companies where “PM knows about customer requirements” is a well-established belief.
- Engineering Driven companies – These companies are more technical nature like (cloud, networking, big data, AI and ML). The role of the PM is to validate the new enhancements made by the engineering team and to drive the adoption of the new technology. As a new PM, this can be frustrating at times as it feels PM is just taking orders from Engineering or trying to prove their value in the team.
- PM-Engineering partnership – This is an environment where PM – Engineering work like partners in crime and are sort of tied to the hip. This kind of setup can slow down the delivery speed but in general results in a higher quality product which is much closer to the customer needs.
The role of PM can also vary based on the stage of the company. In a startup, the PM role wears multiple hats and has a very wide scope while in mature companies PM role is much more defined with a narrow scope and lot of support built into the system.
In a Startup world, a PM is usually doing things outside the scope of defining the product requirements like pricing, marketing, sales, and support. To become a great product manager in a startup world you need to enjoy a scrappy environment and be comfortable with frequent re-pivoting in company direction while figuring out a product-market fit. One word of caution – If one or more of the founders are involved in product strategy that would potentially mean the PM taking more of a support role which could result in frustration.
On the contrary large mature enterprises have a very well defined PM role where the scope is typically narrow and well established. They also have a large support system to help with the skills that are outside the core skill set of the PM. If you like a bit more process and structure and don’t want to deal with a lot of ambiguity you might be a better fit for large mature companies.
If you’re thinking about how to become a great product manager – you’ll need to understand that PM’s role has a lot of ambiguity and requires a lot of context switching which can be frustrating especially for my software engineer friends as they are used to having large spans of focused time.
Learn how to crack the PM Interview.
Core Competencies of Great Product Manager
In order to be successful in a Product Manager role you need to hone in on the following skills:
- Gathering Customer Feedback – Interviews and user testing
- Ability to speak different languages
- Ruthless Prioritization
- Art of Resource Allocation
- Defining and Tracking Success Metrics
- Pricing and Revenue Modeling
- Product Launch and Marketing
- Communications to stakeholders
- Delve into data and create meaningful insights
Without these competencies, you can’t be successful in a Product Manager role and the great Product Managers excel at continuously developing these skills with experience, observing other Product Manager, and learning from mentors. The Great Product Managers also run a periodic self-retrospection cycle where they reflect on what worked and what didn’t work and then laying out a plan to improve next time around.
While the above skills and competencies are a must-have for every Product Manager. There are several soft skills that differentiate a good Product Manager from a great one.
Product Managers don’t have direct authority over anyone other than themselves so they have to rely on the power of persuasion. Great Product Managers deploy their persuasion skills along with building authentic and trustworthy connections with all stakeholders both internal and external alike.
In my opinion relationship management is a vital attribute of a great PM. Often times Product Managers have to balance between the customer needs, company goals, and resource constraints on engineering teams and having great relationships with stakeholders help a PM navigate the difficult conversations.
These skills can help you negotiate the resources with management, or set expectations with a customer if their requested feature is not going to make it, or getting customers to test half-baked features.
In order to become a great product manager, I recommend investing time in nurturing the relationships with your stakeholders sooner rather than later.
Self-awareness and Self-management
Begin self-critical and constantly reflecting on your decisions is a critical skill to become a great product manager. One of my first mentors said – “As a PM never get married to your ideas”. It took me a while to understand his statement. As a PM you are a superuser of your product but don’t get trapped in the fallacy of infallibility.
You are not the customer and you don’t know it all. Don’t be afraid to be proven wrong. When you are user testing most of your ideas will not be the dial movers that you are looking for? This is the process of searching a needle in the haystack so just keep churning ideas till you find the next dial mover and once you find that start building on it.
To become a great product manager divorce your emotions. Managing tight deadlines, customer demands. conflicts, constraints, revenue targets are not for the faint of heart. As a PM you’ll find yourself in many stressful and conflicting situations and if you can’t maintain your cool you’ll lose credibility really fast. The great PMs know how to push really hard on the right priorities, without causing a panic. They also understand when to step away from the situation and take a breath and get right back in.
Myths about Product Management Role
- PMs need to be technical – while it is good to have a decent understanding of the technology but it is not essential to become a great product manager
- PMs need to have an MBA – a lot of companies hire MBAs out of schools as PMs but it is not required to have an MBA to become a PM. Don’t get me wrong an MBA certainly helps but is not essential. You can start reading Decode and Conquer to prepare yourself
- PM is a scrum master – PMs role is not Scrum Master rather they need to collaborate with the scrum team to unblock the team’s questions
Good luck with your journey to becoming a great product manager. I hope this article will help you in understanding the role of a product manager and what it takes to become a great product manager.
Do you have other suggestions for becoming a great product manager. Let me know your thoughts and suggestions via comments?