What Makes a Good Product Manager
01/12/2022

What Makes a Good Product Manager?

Table of contents:

    Each product that is manufactured and launched in the market has a predefined purpose: to serve its end-users and help the organization behind it grow. Managing all activities within a product’s lifecycle and achieving set goals is the responsibility of a so-called product manager.

    Product managers deal with everything from market analysis, goal setting, team and backlog management to user interviews, negotiations with stakeholders, and finally collaboration with other departments like sales, marketing, and design.

    If you wish to find out what skills and qualities make a good project manager, this article is for you. We’ll explain the following topics.

    • What a product manager does daily?
    • What are the types of product managers?
    • How the role differs from a product owner?
    • Which competencies are needed to become a solid PM?

    Who is a Product Manager?

    A product manager is a person responsible for defining the strategy, roadmap, and features of a developed product. The role sometimes may also include forecasting, product marketing as well as profit and loss activities.

    Product managers analyze the market and competition helping to develop a cohesive product vision that will deliver the best value in answering customer demands.

    Product managers connect business strategy, design knowledge, and customer needs to develop a product that is valuable, feasible, and relevant. They want to optimize the product to achieve business goals while simultaneously maximizing the return on investment. Product managers act as a bridge between three core product development groups: developers, business (sales, marketing, etc.), and users/customers.

    What Does a Product Manager Do? Key Responsibilities

    Product managers have a lot of different responsibilities. Those will depend on, for example, company size. 

    In large organizations, PMs are a part of specialized teams that deal with research, analysis, marketing, design, and development gathering input and managing day-to-day executions. In smaller businesses, most of their time is dedicated to hands-on work like defining and executing a vision.

    The primary responsibilities of PMs can be broken down into the following areas.

    Strategy Planning

    At the highest level, product managers set the product’s main vision and strategic direction. That involves coming up with the major areas of investment and preparing a product roadmap. Product managers are in charge of determining the immediate work and long-term strategy. They are expected to have a vision of the product’s future and how it aligns with the other products, market trends, and competition.

    Backlog Management

    Managing product feature backlog is also one of the most important responsibilities of product managers. They have to ensure that the team stays on track, there are no downtimes, and that the team focuses on developing the most important features. Backlog management for PMs includes:

    • Defining releases – PMs translate product strategy into planned work and define what has to be built and when to launch it.
    • Evaluating ideas – product managers are often responsible for so-called crowdsourcing and curating ideas for a product.
    • Prioritizing features – ranking features against the value they can deliver to the business and its customers is crucial for a successful product.
    • Building roadmaps – one of the most powerful communication tools. PMs make use of roadmaps to visualize how the product achieves set objectives and ensure the work stays on track.
    • Analyzing and reporting progress – product managers need a complete view of development progress and team efficiency to understand how the process is going.

    Stand Up Meetings

    In an agile-based development process, there are characteristic meetings where the team talks about what they worked on and what they will be working on. It’s also a great time to discuss any blockers hindering the development. Usually, scrum masters are the ones who conduct those meetings, but a PM may also serve as a scrum master if needed.

    Communication With Clients

    Talking to customers helps product managers efficiently plan upcoming product features, gather feedback, and better understand their needs. 

    Meetings With Teams

    Product managers tend to spend a significant amount of their time in meetings. They often meet with sales, marketing, and business development teams to ensure their actions are aligned, as well as business executives to keep them up to date with the progress.

    Data Analysis

    Gathering and analyzing data is crucial for any good PM as it helps to identify the core business values, prepare plans, and apply necessary feedback.

    Documentation

    Since product managers are responsible for ensuring a smooth flow of information they can also be responsible for documentation. PMs are great at gathering information from various sources and teams and sharing the key points with appropriate stakeholders. They often are in charge of documenting meetings, release dates, and user flows.

    Product Specifications

    Gathering comprehensive specifications of new features and products including business goals, user stories, and any requirements can also be a part of PMs’ responsibilities. They can also prepare wireframes and user journeys and iteratively review specs by applying input gathered from other teams.

    Types of Product Managers

    Within product management, there are different types of product managers. Every company defines the role a bit differently according to its offering, customers, and general product strategy. 

    We can say that the bigger the organization the more variety of product leaders it needs. Since product managers often come from positions in other departments like sales, marketing, or software development their skills in the role will differ, which means they can become a PM specialized in a given field.

    • Product manager – handles the entire product lifecycle and product roadmap. PM collaborates with internal (sales, marketing, engineering, etc. departments) and external stakeholders (customers, end-users, partners).
    • Product owner – supports the development team in creating user stories and prioritizing backlogs. PO works closely with internal stakeholders (developers, designers).
    • Growth product manager – is responsible for the identification of any potential problems in the product closing the gap between supply and demand.
    • Technical product manager – works on technical products by defining the needs of the product and taking care of its functionalities.
    • Platform product manager – creates and optimizes technical components while collaborating with engineers.
    • Business product manager – is responsible for determining the future of a product and helping marketing, finance, and operations teams.
    • Designer product manager – strategizes and designs the final look of the product. A designer PM deeply understands the end-user needs and improves the product accordingly.

    Product Manager vs Product Owner

    If a team is following scrum methodology, the position of product owner also comes into the picture. Product owners can be hard to differentiate from product managers, but there is a general task breakdown that might help with that.

    Comparison table product manager vs product owner

    Top Qualities and Skills of a Good Product Manager

    Product managers are responsible for finding the balance between the tactical side of project management and the strategic one. They can’t overlook the details but simultaneously lose sight of the big picture. 

    They are team players but have a firm hand as they’re the ones accountable for the success or failure of the product. PMs know exactly when to push their teams to work harder and balance their gut feeling with where the hard evidence leads them.

    If you’re thinking about becoming a product manager, you should consider 3 factors that make up a good PM, which are: core skills, emotional intelligence, and company fit.

    Core Skills

    The core qualities of a good product manager often come with experience. The most crucial ones include:

    • The ability to define and track success metrics.
    • The ability to transform business requirements into technical tasks and vice versa.
    • Knowledge of how to run design sprints and conduct customer interviews.
    • The ability to prioritize and plan.
    • Research and analysis skills.
    • Superior organizational skills to define and track metrics and revenue.
    • Communication skills to be able to talk to customers, business executives, and team members.

    Empathy and Emotional Intelligence

    PMs should be able to empathize with customers as well as team members. If they fail to do so, they likely won’t be able to build the necessary trust. Apart from that, they should also have:

    • Relationship management skills to form authentic connections with both internal and external stakeholders. This is the key to successful negotiation and conflict resolution.
    • Self-awareness to remain objective and not prioritize features only because they feel personally connected to them.
    • Self-management to handle tight deadlines and revenue targets, and deal with stress and emotions.
    • Social awareness to better understand customers’ emotions and concerns and have a deep understanding of how the organization works.

    Company Fit

    If the company fit is not in place, even the most skillful PM can fail since all the skills should be applied in the right company. A job description for a product manager can differ from company to company and is often defined by its size, the type of product it sells, and the industry it operates in.

    6 Tips For New Product Managers

    Older generations went into product management from other departments including finance, marketing, design, and engineering. 

    Nowadays, younger generations often start their career with product management in mind. Let us give you some tips and tricks if you wish to become a product manager.

    1. Prepare a well-researched strategy – each of your decisions should be a direct representation of a well-researched strategy.
    2. Get to know your customers – spend time getting to know your customers and their problems to come up with the best way to help them.
    3. Build great relationships with your teams and empower them – you won’t succeed on your own. As a product manager, you will rely on the development team, marketing and sales. Build connections with your teammates and empower them giving them the freedom to make decisions on their own. A strong relationship fosters better communication and trust.
    4. Know when to say no and build authority – you most probably get plenty of requests from pushing deadlines to prioritizing one feature over the other. Remember you can’t please everyone, so get comfortable with saying no.
    5. Take things slowly – it takes patience and time to grow into a new role and build meaningful relationships. Give yourself that time and take each failure as an opportunity to learn.
    6. Have a thick skin – some of your decisions certainly won’t make people happy. You have to be able to explain why you did what you did and deal with the possible backlash.

    Summary

    A natural-born great product manager is one in a million. People with amazing vision, aligned skills, strong influence, and charisma are a rare breed. 

    However, most of the skills of a good PM can be learned and developed with time and experience. There are lots of resources that combine theoretical aspects of the job with more practical skills. Relevant books, courses, and videos can help you polish your skills and become a powerful leader. 

    Be open, learn as much as possible and get to work. Good luck!