Photo by William Iven

Developing skills to be a great Product Manager

Finding a consistent definition for what a Product Manager (PM) role entails is no easy feat, as I have quickly figured out while starting to dip my toes into the product management world.  This is true even when trying to narrow my scope to thinking about product management within tech companies in the San Francisco Bay Area. There seem to be as many definitions for product management as there are roles out there, and a lot of opinions around what makes someone a good product manager.  

At first, I found product management a bit puzzling and disconcerting. How am I supposed to find out what works well? But after some thought, I realized that there is a common thread around most people’s perspective of what is a PM. The variety of opinions about the role gives me the flexibility to explore where I would fit best based on how I would like to define my career.

One way in which people describe the PM role is as the mini-CEO of their particular product or features. Putting it this way, it becomes clear that you are ultimately responsible for making the product successful. This responsibility means that you need to adapt and learn about the different areas across the product development cycle that may need your attention. Depending on the company size, product phase, and team size, your responsibilities and areas of focus will change. Here are a few things that have come up over and over as good skills to have.

Understanding the code

Ian McAllister, and Amazon GM, very succinctly pointed out is that not being technical is never an advantage for a PM. That is, you may do well in the role, but understanding the technical side of how products are built is advantageous.

PMs I’ve spoken to agree and encouraged me to pursue a career in PM nonetheless. However, they suggested that I learn more about the technical side of things. Given this, I am embarking on a journey to learn how to code using a few highly recommended resources.

I was advised to learn to script for data analysis, how to scale products, what levers engineers can use to make products faster, determining the right database structure/schema, among others.

Update 8/22/2020: I wrote an article around this topic which you can read Becoming a Product Manager without a Computer Science degree

Learning about User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX) design

Steve Jobs is well-known for focusing as much, or more, on design as he did on features. He pushed the boundaries of how a product should be thought about to include an end-to-end view that would be not only technically impressive but also really cool. The products delight users through their ease of use. Jobs used graphics and design to create a pleasant experience and remove any layers of frustration with the product. Great UI and UX strongly influence the user’s reaction to the product, regardless of its complexity or how impressive are its features.

I want to continue developing my eye to catch what is it that makes a product fun and exciting to use and look for ways in which to bring this into the development of products.  For now, I am reviewing the products that I love, and determining to what extent I love them due to smart design instead of just technically impressive features.

Understanding user needs

Ruthless prioritization is a critical aspect of successful product development. PMs are most impactful by determining which of the many great product ideas they should implement first, which ones to defer, and which ones not to implement at all. Each feature, no matter how small, introduces complexity to the product. As such, a great product manager needs to determine which features will make the most impact towards achieving the product’s vision and value proposition and resist the urge to implement the features that would delay these from getting out to the users.

Going back to Steve Jobs as a great example, I have included below the transcript of one of his conversations explaining the big difference between having great ideas vs. actually executing on the right things.  That is where the rubber meets the road, as people say.

Steve Jobs on the importance of great execution

Last Updated on August 22, 2020 by Omar Eduardo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.