Product Manager's Role and Skills

Product Manager's Role and Skills

There are many articles explaining product managers and their career paths, but to me, a bunch of articles is just partial optimization. It usually doesn't cover the big picture of them. Therefore, I listed up articles about product managers' roles and career paths.

The first part is about the product managers’ roles and responsibilities. The second part is about the skills of the product managers.

Don’t just read this article or the attached product management articles. Instead, highlight where you resonate with and leave your thoughts and learnings with Glasp so that you can look back at them anytime and we all can get smarter at the same time ;)

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Table of Contents

  • Product Manager - Role (What is Product Manager?)
  • Product Management – Start Here
  • A Product Manager’s Job
  • The Product Management Triangle
  • What Product Management Is Not
  • Product Manager - Skills
  • Product Manager Skills by Seniority Level — A Deep Breakdown
  • Product Managers and Technical Skills…What’s The Deal?
  • What It Takes to Become a Great Product Manager

Product Manager - Role (What is Product Manager?)

Product Management – Start Here

By: Marty Cagan (@cagan)

Great products solve real problems for our users and customers, in ways that our customers love, yet work for our business.

As a product manager, you're in charge of making sure that what's developed is both valuable and viable. And the product discovery is to discover a solution that's valuable, usable, feasible, and viable. This is the core of product management.

If you don't have a right to discover product features or aren't entitled to update the product, you would be in a feature or delivery team. If you want to be a true product manager, you’ll likely have to move to a company that knows the difference and why it's important.

A Product Manager’s Job

By: Josh Elman (@joshelman)

The job of a product manager is to help your team (and company) ship the right product to your users.
Source: A Product Manager’s Job
Source: A Product Manager’s Job

Product management is to find a solution that's valuable, usable, feasible, and viable. And a product manager is a person to spends all of their time on the highest priority things that help their team and company. Product managers should understand the company's overall goals and objectives precisely as well as how to fits your team in the vision.

1) Help your team: The greatest product managers devote all of their attention to the tasks that are most important to their team. These include basically (a) coordination — ensuring that the team is planning, making decisions, and working together successfully with a clear goal and focus, and (b) communication — ensuring that the team is communicating effectively with one another and (b) communication – ensuring that everyone understands what is happening, when it is happening, and why it is occurring, especially as things change. The greatest product managers receive input from all team members and are responsible for surfacing disputes, breaking ties on occasion, and achieving consensus (or at the very least ensuring that everyone commits to a plan) when choices are made.

2) (and company): As a product manager, you must be aware of the company's general aims and objectives, as well as how your team fits into the bigger picture. And they saw their team as serving the firm in collaboration with other teams, rather than delivering on what they thought was vital to them.

3) ship: Nothing is more important than delivering stuff to your customers. Great product managers are aware of the delicate balance that must be struck between getting it perfect and getting it out the door. Teams with defined goals and objectives, as well as a good understanding of the user and what they want the user to be able to achieve, may force the ultimate tradeoffs. It is typically excellent product management that aids in the fulfillment of this task.

4) the right product: While delivery is important, the greatest product managers work with the team to ensure that the product is the appropriate one. Great product managers have a solid sense of what seems to be correct or incorrect, and they're also effective at listening to early input from testers and others who try it out. More importantly, after a product is shipped, the best product managers can assess if it is the correct product.

5) for your users: The most difficult part of creating any product is expressing your primary use case, or delivering the story of who should use it and why. The best product managers act as an advocate for their consumers, speaking up for them in practically every interaction regarding the product. This necessitates a thorough grasp of your target consumers, their problems and difficulties, and how your solution should provide the value and joy they want.

The Product Management Triangle

By: Dan Schmidt (@danielfschmidt)

Product management responsibilities include "filling white space" or "act as the glue" between cross-functional teams. To ship the right product to users, a lot of team members are related, so there would be gaps between their roles.

The below diagram is called "Product Network" that depicts the fundamental elements of a software product’s context. In a company, it leaves white space that connotes missing links in the product network. If it's filled, it leads to a better functioning product network and resulted in a more successful product.

A product manager's responsibility is to keep the healthy function of all four regions in the Product Network. So, when product manager must recognize the important white spaces and keep these essential links by acting as the link or finding a way to fill them. To do that, product managers have to be able to take all roles related to product management such as web analytics and project management.

Source: The Product Management Triangle
Source: The Product Management Triangle

Region A is the white space that exists between developers, the product, and users. The mental models of products are different between developers and users. Users can see the product only through a user interface, whereas developers can look into the code. Designers can fulfill this white space.

Region B is the white space between users, the product, and the business. In this space, the value that people find using the product is converted to profit. Depending on the business model, the complexity of this area varies.

Region C is existing between the developers, the product, and the business. The focus of the company's resources and effort can be determined in this area.

What Product Management Is Not

By: Marty Cagan (@cagan)

As described in the article above, product management is to discover and ship the solution that's valuable, usable, feasible, and viable. But for many companies, the job of product management itself is ambiguous. So, people ask a lot for product managers, but what you're asking wouldn't be the job of product managers. Let's look into the lists.

Product Management is not defining the business case. Some product managers define the business case, but it doesn't contribute in any way to the actual creation of the product. They do it because management will utilize it to make investment choices.

Product Management is not defining market requirements. Many businesses believe that the product manager determines market requirements and the engineers create a product to satisfy those criteria. But the person who will be responsible for defining this product must speak with these individuals personally. And the goal is to find a product-market fit, which necessitates a thorough grasp of both market demands and technological capabilities, therefore, product managers should not consider product requirements and market requirements separately.

Product Management is not requirement gathering. A product manager is not documenting requirements for a product through customers' needs. True product organizations understand that consumers have problems that need to be solved, but they are unable to dictate product specifications. To put it another way, you can't confuse a client requirement with a product requirement.

Product Management is not project management. In some companies, a product manager is considered to be a person who collects and documents the requirements and organizes them from conception to delivery. But what makes product management from project management is a product discovery process which is to discover a valuable, usable, feasible, and viable solution.

Product Management is not product marketing. People expect product marketing things such as pricing, promotions, positioning, and message, or product launch activities. But these things are actually NOT the responsibilities of product managers. Instead, they are responsible for discovering a product that is useful, usable, and feasible.

Product Manager - Skills

Product Manager Skills by Seniority Level — A Deep Breakdown

By: Brent Tworetzky (@tworetzky)

XO Group has broken the six product manager skill areas management.

Below are the options of product managers' career paths for an individual contributor (left side) and a manager (right side).

Source: Product Manager Skills by Seniority Level — A Deep Breakdown

Skill 1: Strategic Thinking

Source: Product Manager Skills by Seniority Level — A Deep Breakdown

This is an "ability to lead to answers for increasingly large problem and product areas, with corresponding internal thought leadership. Includes: brainstorming, structuring thinking, driving strategy, becoming go to expert."

For associate product managers, a skill of "Brainstorms constructively with others" is required. As shown in "What is the Product Manager Career Path?" above, at this level, a higher level of strategic thinking is not required but you need to show empathy with users.

Skill 2: Communication

Source: Product Manager Skills by Seniority Level — A Deep Breakdown

Described as "clear written and oral communication to larger and higher stakes audiences. Includes: writing clear emails, communicating clearly in person, writing and providing presentations."

Communication is important for all levels of product managers, but the higher the level, the more group meeting, and presentation skills are required.

Skill 3: Collaboration

Source: Product Manager Skills by Seniority Level — A Deep Breakdown

This means "increasingly more facilitation and getting things done with others within and across teams. Includes: actively participating in meetings, leading meetings, running squad processes, solving problems with other squads, appropriately avoiding and diffusing conflict."

Higher-level product managers are required to have skills of leading and facilitating, and collaborating with executives and broad teams in the organization.

Skill 4: Technicals

Source: Product Manager Skills by Seniority Level — A Deep Breakdown

Technical skills are "using Product Management and partner function (Engineering, Design) tools to partner well across the team. Includes: writing stories, performing analytics, building prototypes, understanding SEO."

Technical skills are important for product managers, so even middle-level product managers are required to construct prototypes successfully.

Skill 5: Details & Quality

Source: Product Manager Skills by Seniority Level — A Deep Breakdown

This means "driving results and catching mistakes across the increasing scope. Includes: writing clear specs with use cases, delivering products small and large on time and with few bugs, navigating options to deal with bumps in the road, achieving outcomes."

For associate product managers, skills in writing specs for features and delivering them are required. But they are in charge of small areas of the product.

Skill 6: User Science & Empathy

Source: Product Manager Skills by Seniority Level — A Deep Breakdown

Described as "mastering the User Science toolkit to better understand users and fit products to user needs and behaviors. Includes: succeeding with survey, interview, prototyping, A/B testing, and analytics tools, understanding and representing different user types and their needs, synthesizing user science into insight."

As shown in the grid, we can understand that empathy for the user is fundamental for product managers.

Skill 7: Management

Source: Product Manager Skills by Seniority Level — A Deep Breakdown

This is "growing people and organizations successfully. Includes: mentoring, managing, growing teams, and growing organizations."

For associate and product managers, this skill is not required because team members such as designers and engineers are not working under product managers. But if you're a senior product manager, you need to lead other junior product managers.

Product Managers and Technical Skills…What’s The Deal?

By: Product School (@productschool)

You don't actually need to have technical skills to become a product manager. There are many articles or resources to reassure you that you don't need them. But newcomers are afraid of not having technical skills. Of course, it's a plus for you to have technical skills. The core technical skills can be in coding and programming;

  • Coding/Programming languages: HTML, CSS, Javascript, C+, and Python. These are the most common for beginners.
  • SQL: Utilized for data management and manipulation.
  • Data structures and algorithms.

Product management exists between design, business, and technology. If you’re skilled at any one of those three and have a willingness to learn the other two, it'd be a big plus for you to become a product manager. Here's the Q&A about product managers' technical skills from Product School.

Q: Do Product Managers need to come from a technical background?

A: No. All roads lead to product, and the strongest development teams have professionals from all backgrounds.
Q: Do some Product Manager roles have technical requirements. A: Yes. Some roles will require a CS degree, or demonstrable knowledge of the tech skills needed for the job.
Q: Do Product Managers need to code? A: Having an understanding is helpful, but your job isn’t Software Developer. Technical Product Managers will be expected to know code of course.
Q: So I don’t need to go back to college and get a CS degree to be a Product Manager?

A: No. Most of the jobs that ask for CS degrees will have similar counterparts that don’t. For example certain teams at Google will ask for a technical background from their Product Managers, but others won’t.

As shown in the Q&A, for product managers, technical skills are unnecessary. The relationship between product managers and technical skills is similar to that between product managers and design skills. Product managers manage a product that needs design. While the product manager will not be conducting the actual design work, they will collaborate with the designers to make the product a reality. Their contributions will be of greater quality if they have a deeper understanding of design.

One of the main important characteristics of product managers is curiosity. Curiosity takes you to success in the tech world.

If you want to learn technical skills, here's the place you can learn;

  • CS50: You can learn the foundation of computer science. It's a free online course provided by Harvard University.
  • Codecademy: To get started, taking this course is recommended. It offers a variety of learning paths and projects for free.

What It Takes to Become a Great Product Manager

By: Julia Austin (@austinfish)

When you want to be a product manager, you should think of three major factors when evaluating the role: core competencies, emotional intelligence (EQ), and company fit.

Core Competencies: There are core competencies that every PM must have;

  • conducting customer interviews and user testing
  • running design sprints
  • feature prioritization and road map planning
  • the art of resource allocation (it is not a science!)
  • performing market assessments
  • translating business-to-technical requirements, and vice versa
  • pricing and revenue modeling
  • defining and tracking success metrics

Great product managers keep brushing up these skills by defining, shipping, and iterating on products for many years.

Emotional Intelligence: In an interview, the top PMs are able to empathize with consumers, are aware of their body language and emotions, and can deduce the pain spots that the product or feature would address. Daniel Goleman defined the four key traits of EQ, then let's look into how they are related to PM roles.

  • Relationship management: Relationship management abilities are one of the most crucial attributes of a successful PM. The finest PMs motivate people and help them realize their maximum potential by building honest and trustworthy connections with both internal and external stakeholders.
  • Self-awareness: To stay impartial and avoid projecting their personal preferences onto customers of their goods, PMs must be self-aware. If you lack self-awareness, it might derail other essential goals or harm the PM's relationship with engineers, who may lose faith in their PM if the feature isn't well-received.
  • Self-management: The best product managers know how to push aggressively on the correct priorities, with urgency but not fear or stress. These PMs also know when to take a step back and regroup.
  • Social awareness: Product managers should be socially aware of empathy, organizational awareness, and service. Product managers must comprehend consumers' feelings and worries about their product as well as the sales team's issues about how to sell it, the support team's concerns about how to support it, and the engineering team's concerns about how to develop it. Social awareness makes sure that the best product managers service their customers with a product that handles their job to be done and it results in product-market fit.

Company Fit: Not only core competencies and a high EQ but also company fits make product managers succeed in their careers. What is required of product managers are different depending on companies.

  • PM drives engineering: PMs gather needs, prepare the classic product requirements document, then pass it over to engineering to spec out the technical requirements in this "throw it over the wall" technique.
  • Engineering drives product: Engineers advance the science in their area, and PMs test solutions or design front-end access points (UIs, APIs) to tap into this new technology in more technically focused product firms (cloud, big data, networking).
  • The PM-engineering partnership: In these circumstances, PM and engineering have a strong yin-yang relationship, with mutual discovery, decision-making, and shared accountability. Engineers participate in customer interviews with PMs, and PMs participate in sprint meetings to assist unblock work and explain requirements.

Also, depending on the company stage and relationship to executives, the role of product managers differs.

  • Startup: Not only discovery, definition, and shipping, product managers may be in charge of the product's price, marketing, support, and even sales. As the firm works toward product-market fit and learns to function at scale, these PMs thrive in a scrappy atmosphere and are fine with ambiguity and frequent changes in direction.
  • Pros: PMs are more likely to be involved in corporate strategy, have access to senior leadership and the board of directors, and be able to take more risks and have a greater influence. They also have more power and control over the company's resources.
  • Cons: Within the organization, there is usually little to no mentorship, role models, or best practices. Budgets are often limited, and project managers may lack the necessary experience to perform some of the tasks they're given.
  • Mature Company: The PM's role may be more limited, with employees in charge of pricing, go-to-market strategy, and so on. They'll almost certainly be part of a broader product management team.
  • Pros: Mentoring and role models, as well as development standards and best practices, are more likely to be available to PMs.
  • Cons: PMs have a limited understanding of corporate strategy and are merely one of several consumer voices. They may become "lost" in the system, resulting in increased politics and financial constraints.
  • Founder/CTO/CEO relationship with PM: It's crucial to know how active the founder/CEO/CTO is in the product development process, especially in early-stage organizations. If they're highly committed, the PM function may be more of a support role, helping them flesh out ideas or validate concepts with clients rather than creating and pushing their own ideas.
  • Pros: For certain PMs who love collaborating on product innovation with founders and C-level executives, this may be a lot of fun.
  • Cons: It might be frustrating if the PM likes to have greater control over the product's direction. If the more technical founders or C-levels prefer to deal directly with engineers, it might be difficult.

Hope this article helps you understand the whole picture of product managers' roles and career paths. If you have any questions, please DM me on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Remember what you should do next?

Don’t just read this article or the attached product management articles. Instead, highlight where you resonate with and leave your thoughts and learnings with Glasp so that you can look back at them anytime and we all can get smarter at the same time ;)

See you next time,



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