Guide to become a GREAT Product Manager
In today's fast-paced and ever-evolving business landscape, the role of a product manager is increasingly crucial. Product managers act as the driving force behind successful products, bridging the gap between various stakeholders and ensuring a product's success in the market. If you aspire to become a great product manager, this guide will help you with the essential skills, mindset, and strategies needed to excel in this dynamic role.
Product managers strategically direct every stage of the product lifecycle (from research and development to testing and positioning) to build technically feasible products that fulfill both user needs and business objectives. Product management is a dynamic role that can vary widely based on type of product manager role, company size, and where you are in your product lifecycle. A deeper breakdown can be found here.
Great product managers do 3 core areas very well
- Shape the product: Harness insights from customers, stakeholders, and data to prioritize and build a product that will have the most impact on the business.
- Ship the product: Ship high-quality product on time and free of surprises.
- Synchronize the stakeholders: Ensure stakeholders are aligned around one vision, strategy, goal, roadmap, and timeline to ensure team-wide buy-in and avoid wasted time / effort.
Guide to GREAT Product Manager qualities
(1) Customer-Centric Mindset
One of the fundamental pillars of being a great product manager is having a deep understanding of your target audience. Spend time getting to know your customers: their pain points, desires, and needs. Conduct thorough market research, engage with customers directly, and immerse yourself in their world. This customer-centric mindset will help you shape products that genuinely address their challenges and provide value.
- Empathy: Put yourself in the shoes of your customers to understand their pain points, desires, and motivations.
- Active Listening: Actively listen to customer feedback, both explicit and implicit, to gain deeper insights into their needs and expectations.
- User Research: Conduct thorough user research to gather qualitative and quantitative data on user behavior, preferences, and demographics.
- Create Customer Journey Mapping: Map out the customer journey to identify key touchpoints and opportunities for improving the user experience.
- Customer Advocacy: Champion the voice of the customer within your organization, ensuring that their needs are heard and considered in decision-making processes.
- User Testing: Regularly test your product with real users to validate assumptions, uncover usability issues, and gather feedback for improvements.
- Continuous Feedback Loop: Establish mechanisms for gathering feedback from customers on an ongoing basis, such as surveys, interviews, and user forums.
- Customer Engagement: Engage with customers through various channels, such as social media, customer support interactions, and user communities, to foster relationships and gather insights.
(2) Strong Communication Skills
- Answer first, then explain: Articulate your perspectives in a clear structure by answering first the answer then supporting reasons; avoiding jargon or technical language that may confuse or alienate stakeholders.
- Always have a perspective. Grow your influence and ownership, have a perspective when an issue comes up. Telling people there is a problem isn't helpful.
- Tailored Communication: Adapt your communication style and approach to suit different audiences, such as engineers, designers, executives, or customers. Tailor your message to resonate with each group and address their specific needs and interests.
- Persuasive Presentation Skills: Develop strong presentation skills to effectively convey your ideas, vision, and strategies. Use storytelling techniques, visual aids, and compelling arguments to engage and persuade stakeholders.
- Conflict Resolution: Develop skills in managing conflicts and resolving disagreements constructively. Foster a culture of open dialogue, encourage respectful debate, and find win-win solutions that address different viewpoints.
- Written Communication: Master the art of written communication, including clear and concise emails, reports, and documentation. Use formatting, bullet points, and headings to enhance readability and convey information effectively.
- Cross-Functional Collaboration: Build strong relationships with cross-functional teams and stakeholders, fostering open channels of communication. Act as a liaison, bridging gaps and ensuring effective collaboration and alignment. Facilitate meetings, workshops, and brainstorming sessions to foster collaboration and generate ideas.
- Own your problems. Don’t be defensive. “Yes; my mistake. Won’t happen again.” “I don’t know. I should know. I will have that information for you by Friday.” Provide constructive feedback to team members, recognizing their strengths and offering suggestions for improvement. Receive feedback graciously, seeking to learn and grow from it.
- My Product Requirements Document Template (copy!)
- Speak with structuring communication like a McKinsey consultant
(3) Master the Art of Prioritization
- Definition of success: being clear on the desired outcomes/target state and how to measure success are critical. Not being clear on this item usually indicates that more research is necessary, otherwise the risk of shipping something ‘on time’ that’s not useful (or needs to be reworked) is high.
- One-way doors vs. two-way doors: without further research, will you need to make decisions that will lock you and your team into an irreversible path for future product/engineering work? If so, it usually makes sense to assess insights further to make sure that this won’t cause issues down the road. Two-way doors on the other hand (i.e., decisions that are easily adjusted/reversed in the future) keep optionality to iterate and might indicate that it’s worth shipping now and use this as an opportunity to gain more direct customer feedback/insights.
- Measure twice, cut once: Bigger sweeping decisions should have more due diligence with data, cross-team alignment, or additional validation.
- “Crawl, walk, run”: sometimes it’s more important to ship small increments quickly to gain traction and learn more about your customers’ needs. It’s worth thinking about whether additional insights/analysis with the currently available information will be faster/give you more confidence in your product decisions than shipping something quickly that will allow you to iterate with customers and get direct feedback that way.
- Time, scope, and resourcing: In most cases, you can only have 2 go your way which informs the third. If you have a team with a given size and you pick a ‘ship date’, you are implicitly making the decision that scope needs to be flexible (i.e., you will have to be OK cutting / adjusting what is getting shipped). If you have a team setup and a clear scope in mind, the time component will be determined based on bottoms-up planning against the required work (i.e., it will be shipped ‘when done’ for the most part)
- User value assessment: Prioritize features or initiatives based on their potential value and impact on the end-user. Consider user feedback, pain points, and desired outcomes to determine priority levels.
- Regularly review and reassess prioritization: Priorities may shift as new information becomes available or the market landscape changes. Continuously review and reassess priorities to ensure alignment with evolving business needs.
- Manage Dependencies: Identify dependencies between tasks and initiatives to ensure that prioritization decisions consider the impact on related projects. Address critical dependencies early to prevent bottlenecks or delays.
- Learn to Say "No": Recognize that prioritization also involves deciding what not to pursue. Be comfortable saying "no" to low-impact or low-priority items, and focus resources on high-value opportunities instead.
(4) Embrace Agile Methodologies
- Iterative and adaptive development: Embrace an iterative approach to product development, where you deliver increments of value in short cycles. Break down work into manageable user stories or tasks and aim to release early and often to gather feedback and make continuous improvements.
- Embrace Change: Agile methodologies value flexibility and adaptation. Embrace change as an opportunity for improvement and adjust plans and priorities as new information or market dynamics arise.
- Time-Boxed Sprints: If adopting Scrum, implement time-boxed sprints for development cycles. Plan and commit to a set of work for each sprint, focusing on delivering a potentially shippable product increment within the defined timeframe.
- Visualize Work: Utilize visual management tools like Kanban boards to track the progress of tasks and user stories. Visualizing work helps teams understand the workflow, identify bottlenecks, and maintain transparency.
- Retrospective Reflection: Regularly conduct retrospective meetings at the end of each sprint or iteration to reflect on what went well, what could be improved, and potential actions for enhancing team performance and product outcomes.
- Conduct pre-mortems when appropriate. Organize your team to imagine your project has failed, and then works backward to determine what potentially could lead to the failure of the project or organization. Helps prevent surprises or preventable issues.
(5) Analytical and Data-Driven Thinking
- Identify Key Metrics: Identify the key performance indicators (KPIs) that align with your goals. Choose metrics that are relevant, actionable, and directly linked to the success of your product.
- Customer Success Metrics: Define and track metrics that measure customer success, satisfaction, and loyalty, and use them to guide product decisions.
- Develop Hypotheses: Formulate hypotheses based on your understanding of the data and business goals. These hypotheses will guide your decision-making process and help you validate assumptions.
- Conduct A/B Testing: Implement A/B tests to compare different versions of your product or features. This helps you gather data on user behavior, preferences, and the impact of specific changes.
- Foster a Data Culture: Promote a culture of data-driven decision-making within your team and organization. Encourage stakeholders to use data as the foundation for discussions and decisions.
- Visualize Data: Use data visualization techniques to present complex information in a clear and understandable manner. Visuals such as charts, graphs, and dashboards can facilitate data-driven discussions and insights.
- Assume the best answer to any question is data: Data first, interpretation second.
- Be precise: Define metrics precisely. Make sure data ties together precisely. Root out error. Provide absolute and percentage values.
- Label your data: Specify the time ranges, units, etc.
- Compare your data point for insights. A data point by itself isn't helpful, compare it over time or to market benchmarks.
- Mixpanel is one of the best analytics tools to better understand your customers (plus easy to setup)
- Learn SQL
- Google Analytics for Beginners (free tool!)
- Looker Studio tutorial (free tool!)
- Objective and Key Results
Becoming a great product manager requires a blend of skills and mindset. By cultivating a customer-centric approach, clearly communicate, mastering prioritization, embracing Agile methodologies and leveraging data, you can unlock your potential as a highly effective product manager. Remember, it's not only about managing products; it's about delivering value, building meaningful relationships, and driving innovation to your customers and business.