What it takes to be a great Product Manager

Ruth Ng

Ruth Ng

6 min read

What is a Product Manager?

Of the many tech sector roles, a product manager is one of the least understood, loosely defined and yet, most important. While some like to refer to the product manager (PM) as the "CEO of the product", this implies that the product manager has direct control over all the things that make a product work, such as design, sales, marketing, support and so on. This, however, is not quite right.

In truth, it is better thought of as an organisational role that facilitates different business areas to help achieve a great product. A PM must understand what the customer wants and have a working and achievable vision and go-to-market strategy. To achieve product success, a product manager will have to work with Sales, Design, Engineering and Marketing to build a strategy that works.

Product managers are responsible for the life-cycle of a product. They must interface between stakeholder interest, supplying the engineering teams with the support and technology they need to build a product while also maintaining a connection with the product audience. They are involved in research, design, testing, and the eventual go-to-market strategy.

In his excellent blog, Mind the Product, Martin Eriksson talks about the role being at the intersection of User Experience (UX), Tech and Business.

Business: There is no getting away from it; the PM is a business role that needs to be focused on getting the most from the product to maximise ROI.

Technology: While they may not have to sit down and code the product themselves, a good PM should have a strong understanding of the process, what is possible, and how much effort it requires.

UX: A PM needs to be the advocate of the user, always looking for ways to make using the product more straightforward and more intuitive.

Why is it important?

Because a product is a collaborative project that requires the cooperation of individual team members or departments, the PM plays a vital role in focusing each team on what matters most: the product.

Some of the critical roles a PM performs are:

  • Drawing up a product road map or timeline.
  • Understanding the company's business goals and optimising the product so it can achieve them
  • Understanding what the product user wants and using these observations to drive improvements

Some of the best product managers are visionaries who can unite several teams behind a belief in the product. To do this, they need a deep understanding and expertise of the product, the functions of their various teams, and the ability to make strategic decisions.

However, because a product manager is always answerable to stakeholders, they have to make the business value clear to each team and design a financially responsible and achievable roadmap. To do this, strategic planning must prioritise what needs to be achieved to deliver the product.

Another critical aspect of the product manager role is evaluating the various ideas and features put forth during every product cycle. Again, this requires balancing consumer and business needs and having a deep understanding of the market and the potential for the final product.

Additionally, a product manager must work closely with the technical team to ensure that they fully understand the business vision of the product they are designing and that they have the right tools and resources required to realise the vision.

Essential Skills/Characteristics of a Good Product Manager

Communication

A product manager's role involves communicating with a disparate set of staff and stakeholders who want different things. They need to communicate effectively, manage up and down, and handle all the trade-offs and compromises necessary to get a functional product.

A Metrics and Data-Driven Approach

Product managers need to work with the engineering and data science teams to define the metrics the product team need to succeed. A strong understanding of the numbers — and what they really mean — is vital.

Product Taste

A good product manager should be able to quickly understand the target market of a product. To do this, they should have an almost intuitive feel for why some products work and some don't and have a good sense of what features and functionalities will help the product succeed.

The Ability To Prioritise

Product management involves many decisions about managing resources and teams to deliver an excellent finished product. To do this, they will need to understand what needs to be done now, what features can be cut, and decide which trade-offs should be made in the interest of the product.

Additionally, a product manager should be fluent in pricing considerations.

Ability To Execute

Due to the nature of their role, a good product manager needs to ensure the productivity of several different teams. They need to perform a balancing act that satisfies stakeholders and technical staff, alternating between fighting the corner for a specific feature to convincing staff of any budget restrictions.

Strategic Thinking

A product manager also needs to have a great sense of business strategy, including pricing, when to launch and how to choose the optimal business model for the product.

How Do I Become a Product Manager?

One of the first things an employer will look for in a product manager is past experience. For anyone interested in becoming a product manager but who is light on experience, this can be something of a Catch-22.

However, relevant qualifications can go a long way to assuring prospective employers that a candidate is up for the job. Because the role of product manager requires tying together so many different disciplines like marketing, business, sales and various tech-related subjects, specific courses that teach product management can be advantageous to applicants.

Knoma offers a zero-interest and fee finance solution to pay for courses to becoming a Product Manager. Prospective employees can take a full or part-time course that will teach them the skills required to manage and thrive in this fast-paced and exciting role.

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