When I first started in product management, I had no idea what I was doing. I had just barely managed to land the job and now that I had gotten my foot in the door, I wasn’t sure what skills I needed to contribute tangible value to the team. Through the past year, I’ve learned a lot and I’ve managed to synthesize what I believe are the top 3 skillsets you should develop to be a great product manager.
I’m a firm believer that you cannot succeed in this field if you do not have the capacity to understand the emotions of others around you. As a product manager, you simply deal with too many different stakeholders and having the empathy to understand everyone’s motives will allow you to cut through the noise, make the right trade-offs, and set a clear vision for your product.
The first major use case for empathy deals with your most important stakeholder: your customer. Keep in mind that your development teams rarely (if ever) get the time to go out and understand your customer base. You will generally be the sole representation of your customers during internal decision making and you need to develop the empathy to understand exactly how your customers are interacting with your product and what they need so that you can effectively guide your team towards developing the right product features.
Your second use case for empathy involves your internal teams who are all helping to make your product a success. You’ll quickly find that every single team has their own agenda and motivations for getting particular product features onto the roadmap. As the product manager, it’ll be up to you to take in everyone’s thoughts and arrive at a decision that everyone deems satisfactory. For example, your sales team might request an admin tool that will allow non-technical sales people to easily change product prices and your marketing team might request that you build in a feature for a cross-product rewards program. Meanwhile, your engineering team is scrambling to complete a feature that has already been delayed for the past 2 weeks. Having the empathy to understand each team’s agenda will allow you to parse through all these requests and prioritize the right feature to ship.
2) OPC (Organization, Prioritization, Communication)
Product management is like a never ending fire drill with countless tasks to complete every single day.
Good product managers are extremely organized and know how to keep track of their tasks so that nothing falls through the cracks and gets lost in the e-mail twilight zone. I like to use a combination of Evernote (to take notes during my daily meetings / scrums) and Google Docs (for schedules / lists / tasks) to keep track of what’s going on.
After a product manager has managed to organize everything, the next step is prioritization. Product managers need to prioritize everything, from their daily tasks, to the product roadmap. Establish a system that works for you: for personal tasks, I use a low, medium, high priority system and for the product backlog, I use a various criteria like importance, urgency, and cost to prioritize features. This one’s a bit subjective depending on your work style but as long as you are following the Pareto principle (80-20 rule) and prioritizing your important tasks, you’ll be fine.
Lastly, there’s no use in doing all of the above if you aren’t communicating with the rest of your stakeholders. Be consistent and clear and remember to exercise empathy when communicating with different parties to ensure that everyone is on the same page. If you need a system for communication (like weekly 1 on 1 meetings) then get it set up to make sure there are constant feedback loops with the rest of your teams.
As you can see, OPC is a triangle that requires all 3 sides to function in order to remain stable.
3) Driving Analysis and Insight
The final skillset great product managers should have is the ability to get your hands dirty with analyzing data and providing recommendations for the rest of your team. For every feature you push or course of action taken, there should be measurable results that can determine success or impact.
From a quantitative standpoint, this means that you should be getting familiar with Excel and SQL so that you can dig through available data and let your team know how the feature they’ve helped ship has made an impact. And if there was no impact, they should be aware of this too so that you can all re-calibrate and decide on next steps. From a qualitative standpoint, this means spending time with your users and getting insights on how new features have affected their use of your product.
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