10 skills you need to succeed as a product manager
Product managers build the future. You are responsible for managing products that make a real difference in people's lives. You set strategy, build the product roadmap, and prioritize the work that brings it all together. And you do this while coordinating a cross-functional product development team of engineers, marketers, salespeople, and customer support experts.
This impactful work directly contributes to the success of your organization. And it requires a broad skillset to do it well. If you are new to product management, it is normal to feel intimidated by the weight of this responsibility. But do not get discouraged. Most product managers are stronger in some areas than others. And it is rare for product managers to have formal training — you learn and sharpen your skills on the job.
The key is to familiarize yourself with the skills you need to succeed in product management. And to focus on incrementally improving. Over time, you will gain confidence in your ability to make a greater impact on your organization.
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Important skills for product managers
Product management roles can look very different at each company. Many product managers have responsibilities that overlap with product marketing, program management, and user experience. No matter your job description, there are essential skills that every product manager needs to excel. Chances are, you already stand out in many of these areas:
Strategic thinking skills
Strategic thinking is critical when defining product vision and the direction you will take to achieve it. The success of your product ultimately relies on your ability to think beyond the day-to-day tactical work and deliver a Complete Product Experience (CPE). (Tip: Roadmapping software can give you a single source of truth that connects strategy to plans.)
Delivering a lovable product requires genuine empathy for those who use it. And learning how to relate to customers' pain is a skill. You need to know how to effectively engage with your customers and then translate their emotions into real solutions.
Behind every successful product is a team that is aligned and working towards common goals. As the product manager, you are at the helm. But you have to lead the team without formal authority. Great product managers lead with conviction, compassion, and diplomacy.
Keeping your cross-functional team in sync requires exceptional communication skills. You need to translate critical information to executives, developers, marketers, and salespeople. The better you understand the details each team needs to do their jobs well, the better you can communicate with them. Here are some examples of what each team will need from you:
Great product managers deeply understand their customers and market. It is important to know how to untangle and interpret all the information that comes your way. Part of conducting this research is compiling it into shared documentation (e.g., business models, user personas, competitor analysis) that the team can reference and learn from.
You may not write the code, but you do need to understand the technology behind your product. You also need to know how it is built. Familiarize yourself with the methodologies, processes, and tools that the engineering team uses. This will make it easier for you to estimate features, define requirements, and commit to release plans.
In many ways, you are like an accountant for your product. You need to understand how to analyze financial information — pricing, operational costs, and recurring revenue. Work with colleagues in finance, sales, and business development to deepen your knowledge.
As you carry out your strategy and product plans, you need to measure your progress. You will have plenty of product usage data to work with. But numbers only give you a partial picture. With great analytical skills, you can find patterns and dig into the "why" behind the metrics.
Project management skills
Launching products and features to market takes tremendous coordination. An endless list of tasks, dependencies, and important due dates can seem overwhelming. Strengthen your project management skills to get organized.
Product managers give a lot of presentations — to the product team, executives, and even customers. You might also be responsible for giving demos, leading webinars, or presenting at conferences. A successful presentation is concise, engaging, and tailored to the audience. Challenge yourself to get better with each presentation you give.
Traits of successful product managers
Successful product managers are intrinsically motivated — you are always looking for ways to improve, fill in the gaps in the organization, and continually deliver a better product.
That is why most product managers have a mix of personality traits that are especially suited to this role. See how many of these traits you relate to:
Product managers have a desire to constantly learn — about your customers, market, competitors, and industry. You are relentless in identifying the right solutions to meet customer needs.
You always give your best effort. You push yourself to deliver on time and you help keep everyone focused on the future.
You have self-assurance and you make decisions boldly. But you balance decisiveness with humility. And when you do not know the best path forward, you seek input from others. Your confidence animates the team.
You are sympathetic to time constraints and other frustrations your broader team faces. And you find ways to alleviate their stress — like communicating key information as early as possible and working to set realistic deadlines.
You do what you say you will do. Teammates trust your ability to get things done — for the good of your customers and the organization.
Of course, you may find that you need to flex additional traits and skills to grow into your role. Each organization defines its product roles differently — it is up to you to strike a balance that helps you succeed.
How to develop product management skills
You cannot get a degree in product management just yet — but many undergraduate degrees can prepare you for this work. Product managers have backgrounds in all sorts of fields, including marketing, engineering, and economics. Many earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. You can also enroll in product management certification programs, such as those offered through Aha! Academy.
Preparation aside, you will do your best learning on the job. It takes time and real-world application to develop as a product manager. You are entering an exciting and fast-growing field. What matters most is your drive to reflect on skills and continually enhance them.
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Additional product management resources
How to become a product manager
Responsibilities of a product manager
- What is a product?
- What is product development?
- What is product management?
- What is portfolio product management?
- What is product operations?
- What is the product lifecycle?
- What is a product management maturity model?
- What is product development software?
- Why product teams need virtual whiteboarding software
- How to build a business model
- What is customer experience?
- What is the Complete Product Experience (CPE)?
- What is product-led growth?
- What are the types of business transformation?
- What is enterprise transformation?
- What is digital transformation?
- What is the role of product management in enterprise transformation?
- What is a Minimum Viable Product (MVP)?
- What is a Minimum Lovable Product (MLP)?
- What is product vision?
- How to set product strategy
- What is product-market fit?
- How to position your product
- How to price your product
- What are product goals and initiatives?
- How to set product goals
- How to set product initiatives
- What is product value?
- What is value-based product development?
- Common product development methodologies
- Common agile development methodologies
- What is agile product management?
- What is agile software development?
- What is waterfall product management?
- What is agile transformation?
- Agile vs. lean
- Agile vs. waterfall
- What is an agile roadmap?
- What is an agile retrospective?
- Best practices of agile development teams
- What is a burndown chart?
- What is issue tracking?
- Introduction to agile metrics
- Agile glossary
- What is scrum?
- What are scrum roles?
- What is a scrum master?
- What is the role of a product manager in scrum?
- What is a sprint?
- What is a sprint planning meeting?
- What is a daily standup?
- What is a sprint review?
- Product release vs. sprint in scrum
- Themes, epics, stories, and tasks in scrum
- How to implement scrum
- How to choose a scrum certification