The One Trait Every Great Product Manager Needs
What makes a product manager exceptional? I believe it comes down to a bit of rebellion — your ability to question norms and push against the status quo. You see the future differently. And you are full of hope. Whether you are bringing a new offering to market or enhancing an existing one, you cannot be afraid to challenge established ways of thinking. This means having the courage to confront assumptions, take action when others do not, and solve problems in a novel way.
Boldness is a differentiator — both in your product and in your career. The best product managers dare to deliver.
Product development requires boldness. But when do product managers need the most courage? I recently posed this question in a poll on LinkedIn and nearly 800 people responded. All four of the poll's options (talking with customers, defining user stories, reporting on KPIs, and launching new functionality) received a significant number of votes. I believe the lack of a clear winner reveals a deeper truth: Product managers really need to be daring at every stage of product development.
This is not news to most product managers. But knowing you need to take risks and actually doing so in earnest can be difficult. The blockers come in different flavors yet taste the same. Perhaps you are already stretched thin, struggling with a lack of resources or organizational support. Maybe you are hamstrung by a sales team that continually overpromises features to close a deal. Customers are relying on you to help them — the chance of making a choice that does not pay off may seem foolhardy. Or maybe like most high-achievers you simply do not want to fail.
It takes audacity to imagine a new way to solve an old problem. You have to be confident to lead a team down a radically different path — especially when others cannot yet see the future you envision.
Most product managers have an innate sense of adventure. It is easy to gather that inner fortitude when you are launching something new. But being daring is not always high stakes. Sometimes it is as simple as encouraging your colleagues to see alternate perspectives or confront inefficient processes. Or pushing yourself to understand your customers more deeply, so you can internalize their pain as your own. See if you can channel a gutsy attitude in your daily product work. Here is where I suggest you start:
Dare to realize your vision. You must strongly believe in the value of what you are building. Cross-functional teammates, executives, other internal groups, and even customers each have their own priorities and perspectives. It is your job to evangelize what you are trying to achieve and why it is important. Once everyone understands the strategy behind your thinking, they will be more willing to support your efforts.
Dare to say no. It is painful to frustrate or disappoint the people who use your product. This might mean you decide not to launch new functionality or even cancel features that might bring short-term gains but do not align with longer-term product goals. You cannot bring every idea to market — it is your responsibility to choose what will bring the most value. But you can be prepared to explain your reasoning with clarity.
Dare to shift course. I have heard folks reference their product as "a big ship to turn." This line of thinking always depresses me. Even large organizations can be nimble if you prioritize it. When market changes, new data, or customer feedback indicate that you need to rethink your approach then you should be ready to do so — especially when the project has obviously become a sunk cost. It can be humbling to admit, but changing direction when warranted will ultimately protect the product and company.
Dare to avoid planning for the unknowable. Consider what I call a "success disaster.” This is when you deliver a feature or introduce a new service that results in much more demand than you anticipated. It is a very rare occurrence. Yet many product teams spend precious time planning for edge cases and pressures from high usage. Focus on delivering real value and be confident your team will rally if a success disaster strikes.
Be wary that unfettered boldness can start to veer into recklessness. To stay grounded, rely on strategy to keep you on track towards your goals.
Do not be afraid to be the one who challenges assumptions or pushes teammates to adopt a different perspective. Leading by example can empower others on the product team to be more daring in their own work. Embrace a little healthy competition to encourage more breakthroughs. The more you push yourself, the closer you will get towards achieving greatness together.
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