The Top 10 Skills Successful Product Managers Have Mastered

best product managers

A product manager is a part of every stage of the product, be it, design, build, test or market. Even if the product is an outsourced product, a product manager has a huge role to play.

Product management has been defined differently over time but what remains same is the output of this job role, ie. product success.

Martin Eriksson of MindTheProduct perfectly illustrates the role of a product manager:

Martin Eriksson product management

In his book Inspired, Marty Cagan describes the job of the product manager as “to discover a product that is valuable, usable and feasible”

According to Josh Elman, the job of a product manager is to:

Help your team (and company) ship the right product to your users

All product managers must deliver a great product. But, that doesn’t happen all the time. Some fail, some succeed, and some just survive. So, what are the qualities which distinguish the top product managers from the rest?

An interesting Quora thread about – What distinguishes the top 1% of product managers from the top 10%, caught our attention which has some great responses. Here are the best pointers and advice from this thread:

#1 Best Product Managers Think Big

Having limited resources is an everyday challenge. But that can’t be an excuse for not building a successful product.

Ian McAllister, Director at Airbnb, hit the bulls eye with his response. He says, “The top 1% product manager‘s thinking won’t be constrained by the resources available to them today or today’s market environment. They’ll describe large disruptive opportunities, and develop concrete plans for how to take advantage of them.’

Remember, many successful products have been built by a single resource.

#2 Best Product Managers Prioritize

There is a new feature request, you need to analyse the customer feedback, and you also need to test the existing features. What do you as a product manager?

You prioritize.

Ian says, “A 1% PM knows how to sequence projects. They balance quick wins vs. platform investments appropriately. They balance offense and defense projects appropriately. Offense projects are ones that grow the business. Defense projects are ones that protect and remove drag on the business (operations, reducing technical debt, fixing bugs, etc.).”

#3 Best Product Managers Talk To Customers

That seems like an obvious one but not everyone is doing that. Talking to customers will give you the best insights about what customers want from your product?

Matthew G Trifiro, an entrepreneur and a marketer, says, “A 1% PM talks to customers all the time, obsesses about them, and doesn’t buy into the bullshit that customers “don’t know what they want.” Customers may not know the ideal solution to their problem, but they are experts in their problem. They can always describe their pain points and they can always react to a proposed solution or prototype. Any PM that leaves the customer out of the equation will never be in the 1% category.”

#4 Best Product Managers Are Cross-Functional

Kristina Simmons, former partner at Andreessen Horowitz, says- “PMs can do it all– gracefully and seamlessly. They can guide the content direction, UI, and development– while also wearing business development, product marketing, etc hats. They think broad AND narrow– they understand and communicate how the product vision ties into the company (and beyond) vision. They know enough in all areas to be dangerous, and have their hands in all areas to make the product and team the best it can be.”

Thomas Schranz, Product Manager at Blossom.io, adds, “They are unicorns. They are holistic. They can zoom out & drill down unlike others. They have a strong background in many fields. Design, Marketing, Engineering, Statistics, Sociology, Psychology, History & many others. Always curious and eager to understand & learn more.”

#5 Best Product Managers Are An Expert At Human Psychology

Even if you are building an AI app, understanding humans will be of utmost importance, because they are your end users.

Kristina says, “The best product managers think about the user in every scenario– how they would think about x feature, how they would react to y design. They constantly ask: what would [muse/user] do?”

#6 Best Product Managers Show Consistency

Rahul Abhyankar, Lean Startup Educator/Mentor, says, “Consistency is about performance, not about the outcome. The outcome is dependent on a lot of other things. For the 1% PM, it is about consistently excellent decision making and behaviors that contributes to successful outcomes. The 1% PM earns the trust of the team and the executive leadership and can be counted upon to take solid judgements and actions over a long period of time.

Consistently solid decisions, for instance, about strategic direction, roadmap prioritization, and tradeoffs, investment cases, etc. The quality of such decisions is reflected in revenue, usage, and market share growth.

#7 Best Product Managers Listen

Lauren Sperber, a software engineer at Etsy, says, “It’s critically important to be constantly changing that same vision or strategy in response to feedback from your users/customers, your ‘powers that be,’ your designers, your developers. This doesn’t mean you’re doing what they say. You’re listening to the concern hidden in their ideas and figuring out the most effective way to address it.

PMs are responsible for making decisions that affect tech, UX, design, and business strategy. It’s doubtful that a single person will be the most knowledgeable in all these areas simultaneously. To make these decisions responsibly, it’s important to ask questions, listen carefully, and humbly accept information that goes against your assumptions.”

#8 Best Product Managers Live And Breathe User Experience

Best PMs wear many hats and one of them is understanding and matching the best UI/UX requirements for the product.

Rakesh Agrawal of reDesign Mobile, says, “A 1% PM is always thinking about how everything can be improved, not just the things in his or her domain. It’s a lifestyle, not a job.”

#9 Best Product Manager Say NO

Rajiv Srivatsa, Senior Product Manager @ Yahoo, says, “Best PMs would say NO more than 95% of the time. Products are always built with limited resources, limited time and a barrage of ideas come from the PM, engineers, users, management etc. They must have the conviction to say NO many a time instead of meekly succumbing. And to do this, they need to be respected. And carry a lot of data and thoughts with them always. For doing this, they need command on business, design and technology (that deadly Steve Jobs combo!) to be able to have reasonable points of view. They certainly need to look at the ideas and keep them in a backlog, but the product strategy and users should determine what features will come next.”

#10 Best Product Managers Forecast and Measure

What’s the point of building when you are not measuring your success/failure?

Ben Horowitz said in his blog, “A good product manager takes full responsibility and measures themselves in terms of the success of the product. They are responsible for right product/right time and all that entails.”

Ian says, “A 1% PM is able to forecast the approximate benefit of a project, and can do so efficiently by applying past experience and leveraging comparable benchmarks. They also measure benefit once projects are launched, and factor those learnings into their future prioritization and forecasts.”

Conclusion

Ian summarizes it perfectly, “The top 10% of product managers excel at a few things. The top 1% excel at most or all of them.” So, if you are a product manager – you might want to start building on these qualities, and if you are planning to hire a product manager – these qualities will help you find the right one.

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Nidhi Shah
 

Nidhi is the head of content marketing at Arkenea, a mobile app consultancy building experience rich apps for startups and businesses.