What Makes a Good Product Manager Great?
Tagui Manukian · January 26, 2023 · 6 min read
To answer that let’s start from the basics by identifying the role of the product manager and the set of skills that is necessary to succeed. But let’s not stop there, let’s take it further to the qualities that take a good product manager to the next level.
WHO IS A PRODUCT MANAGER (PM)?
There are plenty of definitions out there and too many opinions on which of those are correct. No need to argue, they all hold truth in them. It is just a matter of what we choose to focus on.
Traditionally a PM role falls in the intersect of the User Experience, Business and Technology. But what skills does that intersect require us to have?
- Definitely an understanding of the technology and how it works, how the product is made, and the internal processes that take to deliver that product to the customers.
- Business knowledge that includes having a deep understanding of the market, current trends, innovation and competition.
- And very importantly, a feeling for the customer, his / her needs and pains, wishes and complains to be able to deliver the best experience possible.
Many times I have been told that the product manager’s role looks like this.
Juggling all the components of the 3 spheres within the intersect is a very intense and demanding task. Product manager develops a set of skills that allows for an optimised production process to meet internal and external expectations. What are those qualities?
Since I am working as a PM, I have to admit — many times it really feels like being that man on the painting. But with time I learned how to balance myself and how to keep all the items in my hands. I learned to use the time efficiently and perform the best within the given hours. The more I practice, the happier the audience that consists of internal stakeholders (such as developers, UX designers, analysts, other product managers and leads) and external stakeholders (customers).
With practice certain skills are developed: communication skills, prioritisation tactics, decision-making, being a team player, having a product-centric or user-centric approach. I learnt that our speed can be adjusted depending on the external expectations even when the objects that we juggle become very heavy at times.
In fact I was curious to ask the community of engineers what they find the most important quality of a product manager. For that reason I created a survey and more than 100 people participated in it. The results were interesting to dig deeper into.
More than 27% of respondents think the most important quality of the product manager is being a good communicator, followed by decision making skills (23%) and product-centricity (13,6%). This indicates that communication and transparency play a vital role in creating a healthy environment where parties involved feel informed and certain about their daily tasks and to-dos.
More interestingly I also asked what irritates developers the most in working with PMs. The top-3 were the lack of understanding of technical details of the product (25,2%), taking decisions without consulting with the developers (25,2%) and the lack of confidence in decisions made (18,4%). This illustrates how much engineers want to see a PM being aware of the technical side and how much they want to be involved in the initial phases. Although the PM doesn’t need to have a technical background, but it is a fact that developers appreciate a better understanding of the technical part of the development process. And trying also counts!
Furthermore, the thing that engineers value the most in the collaboration with PMs is open-mindedness to listen to each other and improve (61,2%). That is clearly indicating that they wish for an open dialog where both can come with their concerns and opinions and have an honest talk. And here I’d love to mention that (for all the PMs reading this article) — avoid going around the topic and trying to be nice. In most of the cases developers want us to be direct, laconic and concise.
We learn while acting the role and it shapes a good product manager. But let’s go further than that and find out what can make a good product manager great.
The survey shows a set of qualities that each of us can develop and elevate. They are required to get things done with a high quality making the management happy and contributing in the business being a strong market player.
To be great in what you are doing is more than what you study in the books, online courses and trainings. It is something bigger than that, something requiring a different characteristic that stands out.
Here is the thing. We are all given the same hours and it is up to each of us to make the most out of them. Many of us come to work to fulfil our duty of being a social animal, earn money, pass the time, self validate, keep ourselves busy. Some of us come to work to learn and expand our horizons. Very few of us come to work not thinking of ourselves first.
Certainly, we are egoistic and selfish creatures and we are used to putting our needs first which is very much how we are programmed — to survive. But life is bigger than that.
Product manager is great (as any other role in the professional world) when the purpose of the work is not the self.
When the drive and motivation come from creating great products for customers, improving people’s lives, making hard decisions easier.
A great product manager equally cares about the development team because the mood in the team and the way engineers are feeling about their work (through the mission and strategy) makes the delivery more successful. And as you see — it is a loop. It works from inside out. The more mission driven the development team is, the better the product, the happier the customer.
It is not a big deal to study the basics and practice them on a daily basis. But it takes inner work to really develop a feeling for the customer, to believe in the product and be a great team player by not putting ourselves first.
I strongly believe that people that are responsible for the product cannot be indifferent to the product, the people who are using it, and the people that are building that product
We all want to trust and enjoy the products that we are using. So think of that in a way that you are capable of giving that feeling to someone through your work. Be a little more selfless and aim to help others. Only then becoming great is not the main focus, your mission is shifted towards those who use the product. Greatness comes as a result of it.