Behind every successful product, there’s someone — usually called a product manager (PM) — who effectively combines technology and design to solve users’ problems in a way that is beneficial for business.
Being a good product manager is not easy in any sense. It requires a mix of design, tech, and business knowledge, a mix of competencies and backgrounds, and a mix of technical and soft skills from the strategic to the detail-oriented. Effective product managers sometimes seem to be superhumans that know everything and can handle everything.
Thus, starting a PM career may feel confusing. Where to start from? Which knowledge and skills are essential? What are product manager's responsibilities?
Instead of racking our brains with those questions, we found people who are already in this business and asked them what makes a good PM. Below, you will find the list of most wanted and important qualities of a product manager, according to product managers.
1. Reading your customers’ minds
Product manager roles and responsibilities include determining what gets built and delivered to customers. Sounds simple enough.
What’s hard is to make sure that the product backlog is worth building. That it gives customers something so valuable they consider it worthy of their time, energy and money. Something that overcomes customer pain points.
How to achieve this product-user fit is the biggest business mystery. If there was a working recipe, 90% of startups wouldn’t fail. That's probably why Ibrahim Mehieddine, PM at Peep, calls reading minds the most wanted product managers' superpower.
If you have not yet mastered the skill of reading minds, you may replace it by hiring experienced UX designers that can run user research for you. That’s what Peep has done, basically — the company became a client of Eleken UI/UX agency.
2. Understanding the data
A big part of knowing your customers is understanding what they are doing in your app. The Internet allows figuring customer behavior out with impressive accuracy — thanks to sales analytics, usage analytics and A/B tests. But you can benefit from the piles of data only if you can analyze it, both with the help of algorithms and data scientists, and implement findings to support your product strategy.
According to Arpit, the Founder of Astorik, one of the PM's superpowers should definitely include a good understanding of customer data:
“Every PM needs to own the [analytical] instrumentation for new product features in order to measure usage and impact. Understanding how this data is collected and stored is extremely important.”
3. Imposing structure on chaos
You have collected your cookies, finished research and user interviews. You have analyzed lots of data, and now — what should you do with it next? How do you understand what is important and what is not?
Shreyas Doshi, who built products at Stripe, Twitter, Google and Yahoo, believes that key strengths of a product manager should include turning a kazillion excel spreadsheets full of data into insightful elegant tables or diagrams. “Finding clarity in chaos”, as Toby Rogers summarised it.
Comments under this tweet are full of people who agree with Shreyas’ statement. Alli Rubin, a successful Product Manager at Xpoint, says she feels like 50% of her day is organizing things for people who are content with letting it live unstructured in their minds and just explaining verbally.
4. Knowing your product (and competitor’s product) like the back of your hand
After you learn to read your customers’ minds, it’s time to become an undisputed expert regarding your product and your industry. All PMs we asked agree you can’t move into product management without a deep understanding of your own and your competitors’ products.
A senior person once told Rob Truesdell when he first got into a PM to do the following:
- Know your product better than anyone on this planet.
- Know your competitor's product better than anyone on this planet.
Now Rob Truesdell is the VP of Products at Pangea, so that must have been really good advice.
Another piece of advice that Mr. Truesdell adds himself is to refer back regularly to an article by Ben Horowitz named "Good Product Manager - Bad Product Manager". That’s an iconic PM statement that was published 20 years ago but still remains relevant.
5. Communicating and managing a team
Creating a great team requires a completely different skill set than creating a great product. That’s why many otherwise successful designers and developers never progress to leading a product.
When we asked inhabitants of one product management community on Reddit about PM’s superpowers, people management and communication skills appeared most frequently.
A PM with the nickname Nightrose, for instance, pointed out that listening and making the other person feel heard is what makes a great product manager. Charles-Tupper highlighted the importance of empathy for the customer and team members: the UX designer, the QA, the developers and the stakeholders.
6. Having a strategic product vision
With too many tasks and too little resources, the game for startups is like musical chairs. You can’t implement all the ideas and develop all the features simultaneously, so you need to create a roadmap and prioritize the features for the development team to build.
One of our PM respondents, SamTan007, says: "One of the most important product manager qualities is the ability to prioritize what is a must-have for customers and what is good to have."
If you check out Reddit or Quora, you’ll notice that SamTan007 knows what he is talking about. Prioritizing features and building roadmaps is an all-time struggle for beginner product managers that don’t have a strategic product vision.
7. Writing short and clear
Lucinda Musa, PM at CareRev, is convinced that writing is a PM superpower because writing is a key medium of communication for product managers.
Many PMs are prone to talking, or only write bullets in Jira tickets, but Lucinda believes that’s a lost opportunity. Excellent writing can persuade, inform, and inspire — all things a PM needs to do.
But wait, people don’t like reading long-reads. How would you make stakeholders read a 10-page document?
Lucinda challenges the “people don’t like reading” assumption. Sure, nobody wants to read a 10-page doc, but you increase the chances for success if you:
1. Shorten it.
2. Structure it.
3. Give people time to read WITHIN the meeting.
The third point deserves a particular elaboration:
“Give people space to read *within* a meeting, not on their own. Send the doc out, schedule a meeting, and spend the first X minutes reading it. In silence. Then discuss it. It’s an Amazon thing that works quite well.” — Lucinda Musa
What should I consider as a product manager?
Here we are with seven indispensable PM superpowers. Let’s summarize the characteristics of a good product manager and how to get them:
- Start by becoming a specialist in your target audience. Become your company’s go-to person to understand customers and their behavior, both quantitative and qualitative.
- Learn to analyze user data and make sense of it so that you can share the insights with others.
- Develop a strategic product vision so that you can prioritize product features and build a product roadmap.
- Learn to write clearly and concisely to convey information to your team and stakeholders.
- Become an undisputed expert in your product and your competitors’ products. Again, share your knowledge openly and generously.
- Work on developing strong collaborative relationships with product team members.
- And finally, if you feel that you need quick design support on your product, remember you can always find user experience pros in Eleken agency.