What Makes a Good Product Manager: 7 Most Wanted Superpowers
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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.
Learn How Budget App Design Works (From People Who’ve Just Designed One)
“Money? I don’t know where my money goes. On payday I have cash, then, one moment it’s just… gone.” That’s an endless circle of bad money habits, and it sounds familiar to most humans on planet Earth.
Just recently, a significant number of people decided they want to break the cycle.
The world-shaking pandemic made us seek security (which includes financial security). In a time so volatile and unpredictable, people want to get proactive about their financial futures. A third of Americans say they got better with money during the pandemic. 83% of respondents claim they either created, revisited, or adjusted their financial plan during the pandemic.
We want more control over our financial situation. And since a spreadsheet is not enough anymore to get financial stuff together, this demand means nothing else than a surge in the personal finance app market.
A while ago, Eleken UI/UX agency helped Habstash to jump on the bandwagon of the personal finance trend with its budget app. While the memories are fresh, we want to tell you about the nuances and challenges of building a user experience and user interface for a budget app.
Consider narrowing down your apps’ features
The budget software market is a pretty crowded red ocean — there are some superstars like Mint or YNAB and dozens of smaller apps. Entering such a space you probably want to beat them all with more innovative features and bite off a part of their audience.
The experience of Pageonce shows, however, that less is more for an underdog.
Pageonce is a financial management app that in 2009 was one of the top 20 apps in the App Store. In 2012, Pageonce’s user growth plateaued with 1M due to fierce competition — Mint started dominating the space with its stronger brand and greater resources.
Pageonce had to do something, and the decision came in zeroing in on the one feature that Pageonce had that Mint didn’t: bill pay. Soon after the feature cut, Pageonce broke out of its growth plateau and hit 10M users.
Our client Habstash is using the same principle. It hasn’t got an ambition to become the best budgeting app — that sounds hardly possible with Mint still on the market. Habstash wants to become the best app focused on savings for house purchases. Eleken can help with that, but first things first.
Personal finance app design starts from building trust
When people use a budgeting app, from the first moment it bombards them with a number of personal questions, asking for sync with their bank accounts and various credit cards. Design is critical at this first step because no one is going to trust their sensitive information unless you convey your sparkling legitimacy.
Let’s see how Mint solves this design puzzle during its onboarding process. It all starts with a not-so-scary customization question followed by a nice little bit of trust-building copy that enhances the main value proposition.
The next screen prompts users to connect their bank account. A more scary step requests more trust-building copy, and Mint handles it:
- The three-step sequence in the picture below shows people where they are and where they can go. It helps them to feel solid ground under their feet.
- Reference to the Norton brand and security certification process helps to resolve common fears about account safety.
- Mentioning that over 300 million people use the app adds to social proof.
Track where the money goes in your money-saving budget app
After users have connected their bank accounts, the app can automatically track the income. But as for spending, there still can be some non-trackable transactions when people pay in cash or use unlinked bank accounts.
For such cases, a budget app should provide options for easy input of missed payments. Expensify, as shown in the picture below, allows users to take photos of their receipts. The app will transcribe all of the expenses, dates, and times so you don’t have to put any data manually.
Maintain simplicity and actionability
The financial industry likes to overcomplicate things. Just look at what the typical stock trading apps looked like.
First-time investors stayed away from such apps:
- The unknown scared people, and they didn’t want to risk their money.
- People wanted to feel educated so they would feel comfortable about investing money.
- They also wanted to start small with investing.
Robinhood created a clutter-free product that corresponded to user needs. Simplicity revolutionized stock trading and brought investing to an incredible number of people.
If you want to build a budget app, remember about simplicity. If your product can do a thing, even a useful and complex one, there’s no value in it until users don’t understand how to use it. They will just ignore it.
Speak the users’ language
Another aspect of simplicity is the ability to master the language. You should obviously decode financial terms that may confuse your customers. The one way to do it is to look at your terms and ask yourself: “How would we describe these things to someone we were sitting next to?”
That’s what the YNAB budget app has done recently, and with just a couple of wording changes, they helped users to understand the interface better.
However, it is not always possible to get rid of confusing words. When designing a budget app for Habstash we saw that money slang is inevitable evil in some cases.
In those situations, tooltips came to the rescue. We knew that four weird financial buzzwords in a row may paralyze people. So we added supporting explanations that may be requested in a single tap.
Features of budget app include setting goals
One of the budget apps key features is setting saving and spending goals. A goal-oriented approach keeps users focused on their goals rather than on how much money is being deducted from their accounts, which is good for long-term motivation.
For instance, Digit saving app encourages users to save for specific goals, such as “traveling to lands near or far” or “having an emergency cushion”.
With Qapital, you’re not even allowed to just “save” money in their mobile app; you must save toward a specific goal. Thus, there’s no way for users to lose track of what they want to save money for.
You can even create a budget app around a single goal, like in the case of Habstash. All its users are focused on saving for a house, and the mobile application provides them with all tools and information needed to achieve that goal.
Introduce shared goals
Big goals are something that you usually set with your partner or family. We have discovered this after another user research and suggested our clients add a “Save with your partner” feature to the Habstash budget app.
The team of Habstash liked the concept and now the first question in the sign-up process is “Are you saving on your own or together with your partner?” Saving with a partner is a hallmark of the app since most competitors focus on personal savings.
The human mind is exceptionally bad at interpreting large numbers. And finance is all about numbers, lots of numbers. A good way to reduce a cognitive load is to turn numbers into pictures.
Mobills budgeting tool is especially good in visualization. It represents all the account activity with categorized graphs and charts that provide at-a-glance insights about what is going on:
- Positive balances are displayed in green.
- Negative balances are displayed in red.
- Expenses categories are shown in an easy-to-understand pie chart.
Notice how Mobills saves users from information overload. On the dashboard, it doesn’t give you all the data at once — only those needed for headline takeaways. All the other information, like month-by-month spending comparisons, is also available, but in a few clicks away.
Now, how to create a budget app?
Let’s summarize what we’ve learned about the UI/UX of a budget app:
- Consider narrowing down your apps’ features. Examine your scope — chances are you don’t need all the budget features in the universe. Cutting your features list down can make you more competitive.
- Personal finance app design starts from building trust. Unlike most SaaS startups, budget apps require people to share their sensitive information already at the onboarding stage. It’s a designer’s job to raise the users' confidence and trust so that you don’t scare people away with such requests.
- Track where the money goes. Connection to bank accounts is responsible for automatic income tracking, but tracking expenses is more complicated than that. Think of how users will monitor non-trackable transactions.
- Maintain simplicity and actionability. Sweep all the clutter out of your app. Money itself is stressful enough. Don’t make things even more complicated with an overloaded user experience.
- Speak the users’ language. Every time you need to put a financial term into an interface, ask yourself: “How would I describe these things to someone I was sitting next to?”
- Help users set goals. Don’t let them lose track of what they want to save money for.
- Introduce shared goals. Allow users to share an account with partners or family members.
- Visualize results. Make your best in displaying abstract numbers with graphs and charts users can grasp at a glance.
There’s more information on developing a money management solution in our fintech UX design post, be sure to check it out, too.
Principles of Pragmatic Design: Why Does Your UI/UX Need to Be Pragmatic?
UI/UX design is not about drawing pretty images and playing around with fonts just because why not. A good UI/UX design lets users interact with the product in a simple manner, while product owners can achieve their business goals without any issues. Pragmatic design is the approach that gained significant traction precisely because it keeps these goals in mind. But what exactly does pragmatic design mean?
We at Eleken pride ourselves on being a pragmatic UI/UX design agency. That's literally one of the first things you see on our website. And it's not just a fancy phrase, but rather an approach with its own philosophy and design principles. So let's talk about pragmatic design, its meaning and principles in more detail.
What is pragmatic design?
When it comes to UX/UI design, the pragmatic approach is a mindset that focuses on delivering practical solutions to users' needs, on the one hand, and business needs, on the other. A designer has a goal to create the most plain and straightforward solution which will serve everyone equally, without adding any unnecessary bells and whistles. A pragmatic designer ensures that the final product is efficient and intuitive, solves real business issues and fully meets user expectations.
Pragmatic web design, as well as UI/UX, places great emphasis on usability and functionality. Instead of chasing after fancy aesthetics or overcomplicated features, it prioritizes the core functionalities users truly need. Pragmatic approach recognizes that users come to a product or service with specific goals in mind, so it aims to support those goals in the most effective way possible.
By keeping the user at the forefront, pragmatic design minimizes the cognitive load on users and reduces friction in their interactions. It focuses on simplicity, clarity, and intuitiveness, allowing users to accomplish tasks with ease and without any confusion. A pragmatic UI/UX design considers the context of how the product or service will be used and to make sure that users can achieve their desired outcomes quickly and effortlessly.
The other side of pragmatic design solutions is that they align with business objectives. By streamlining the user experience, it enhances customer satisfaction and engagement, leading to increased conversions, loyalty, and, ultimately, business success. A pragmatic design approach acknowledges that an efficient, user-friendly interface has a direct impact on a company's bottom line, making it a worthwhile investment for any organization.
Let's not go too far for pragmatic design examples and take a look at our cases. When we worked on redesigning SEOcrawl, we did not rely on our experience and our partner's vision solely. Instead, we constantly asked SEOcrawl users for feedback each step of the way. As a result, after the UI/UX design overhaul, the product started growing twice as fast.
That's what pragmatic design is all about – making users' lives easier by hearing them out and ensuring they’ll have what they want in the simplest way possible.
But how exactly do we at Eleken do it?
Pragmatic design principles
Now that you get the gist let's talk in a bit more detail about the UI/UX design principles we adhere to.
Keep user pain points in mind
A pragmatic approach to design solves problems and helps users achieve their goals. So, before Eleken designers start working, we have to thoroughly understand the challenges and goals of our clients’ users. By empathizing with their needs, we can develop solutions that effectively address their pain points. Thanks to user research, gathering insights, and identifying user personas, we gain valuable knowledge that informs our design decisions. This principle ensures that the final product meets the specific requirements of its intended users and enables them to achieve their goals seamlessly.
For example, Ricochet360 had a months-long learning curve because the interface was too unstructured, and lacked clear visual hierarchy and clues to let users know when they entered the wrong data.
In such cases you need to design for simplicity. We hid all fields that were not vital into the "additional info," and made sure formatting, data type and required field were very clear for users at first glance. This new page looks quite simple, true. But it ensured the users no longer struggled with the task they used the product for, and that's what's important.
Test and iterate
Any pragmatic designer will pay attention to user testing and feedback. At Eleken, we strive to involve real users in the design process to collect feedback and insights. This approach helps us identify any usability issues early on and refine the design accordingly. By conducting usability tests, A/B testing, and other evaluation methods, we ensure that our designs are not only visually appealing but also intuitive, efficient, and delightful to use. Testing and iterating are crucial to creating a pragmatic UX/UI design that evolves and improves based on feedback from real people.
We've already talked about how we involved users in SEOcrawl redesign. But it's possible even when you're creating a product from scratch. For example, when we were designing an MVP for Prift, a multifunctional personal finances platform, we conducted A/B testing and went with the version the users preferred more (the second one).
Go for realism over idealism
Implementing pragmatic design means we keep our expectations and goals realistic and align with users' natural behaviors and expectations. So before embarking on a new project, we invest time in understanding how users typically interact with similar products or services. This deep exploration allows us to design solutions that feel familiar and intuitive to users, minimizing the learning curve and optimizing their experience. By avoiding overly complex or unfamiliar interactions, we create interfaces that users can navigate effortlessly, resulting in a more engaging and satisfying user experience.
Take a look at HabitSpace design. Gamification, emojis, and simple graphs ensure you know from the very first glance what this app is for and how to use it. Design is not fine art, and a pragmatic designer doesn't need to ensure their creation has a unique style or differentiates from its counterparts. They need to make sure their product is easy to use, that's all.
Trends change. Technologies change. User needs also change. So, in the ever-evolving digital landscape, pragmatic UX/UI design needs to be flexible and mindful of the product life cycle. By staying informed about the latest trends, keeping an eye on emerging technologies, and remaining open to incorporating new features or enhancements, we ensure that our designs remain relevant and valuable to users in the long term. But on the other hand, no design is completely future-proof. And it doesn't need to be. It just needs to have some space to grow.
This is especially important when your clients want to build an MVP product, and you create the design for it. We did that, for example, for Favorably and many other products. If everything works out well, the product will grow a long way both in terms of design and tech, and any design must recognize this.
Pragmatic UX/UI design puts a great stress on accessibility. We recognize the importance of creating inclusive experiences that cater to users with disabilities or unique accessibility needs. By incorporating features like proper color contrast, keyboard accessibility, screen reader compatibility, and other accessibility considerations, we aim to provide an inclusive and empowering experience for everyone.
Allowing the users to customize their primary working spaces, as we did, for example, with TextMagic, is one of the easiest ways to ensure that, for example, people with color blindness don't struggle with your product. It's a simple thing that goes a long way in ensuring customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Design isn't the goal in itself. A product isn't a museum, and designers are not fine artists. Design, no matter how beautiful and pleasing, is not what users come for (except for when they are designers themselves and want to learn and/or steal adopt some ideas from you.) "Media is the message," and design is a way of communication. If you're a SaaS business owner, you should always go for a design that ensures a smooth user experience and for a designer who understands your business goals instead of the one who just wants to make things pop.