Product management sets companies apart

What makes a good Product Manager (PM)? The role requires balancing both the micro and macro aspects of product leadership while nurturing relationships with customers, employees and stakeholders – there’s a lot to juggle.

Exceptional product managers put people first, both as a leader and a collaborator. They create a community to solve a series of problems and bring their company’s product vision to life. But how do you develop your skills?

“Necessity is the mother of invention” is an apt saying here,” said Paul Bork of XSELL Technologies. “Where you direct your learning will depend on the needs of your team and a PM must be prepared to adapt to those changing needs.”

Finding resources and a company to fully support you on this journey can be tricky. While strong project managers excel in most product roles, a lot of success in product management requires finding the right organization, and that can unfortunately be a rather vague benchmark.

With so many balls in the air, it can be hard to know what qualities to look for in a top product manager — or how to embody them to land your dream role. Luckily, Built In Chicago sat down with three industry leaders to discuss their views on the subject, as well as how they’re personally developing their professional product management skills.

Jayanthi Srinivasan

Director of Product Management

What are the top three traits a person needs to be a great PM?

Being a great PM is both an art and a science. During my own decade-long premiership, I would choose three big “rocks” necessary for success, while adding that there are many “pebble” traits that are equally important.

The first rock is to be in love with the problems over the solutions. It’s so easy to see a problem and find a solution – that’s what most PMs want to do. Instead of obsessing over the solution, what if you learned to love problems? That way, you’ll find a steady stream of innovation opportunities. We build better products when we’re open-minded and let problems drive our solutions.

The second rock is to have an eye on trends. It can be difficult, but it’s important to keep your eyes and ears open to catch the trends around you – trends in consumption, deployments and people’s behaviors all dictate the next big disruption. The most successful PMs are unabashed mavericks looking to catch the next wave.

The third rock is to be obsessively engaged and communicative. As a project manager, never allow disconnects or gaps between you and your customers, or the engineers and designers who make your products. Constantly communicating with both is essential to the success of a product manager.

Personally, I think it is extremely important to stay up to date on the technical field in which one works. »

From a technical perspective, what skills have you found most important in your role and what steps are you taking to continue to develop those skills?

Product management is both an art and a science. The science is about requirements – customer needs, market dynamics, growth metrics, analytical thinking, OKRs, etc. Cultivating the art of product management is what I consider most important. This includes all aspects of the emotional quotient of product management, such as empathy, leading without authority, having difficult conversations, telling stories, making decisions when you don’t have all the information, inspiring others, and care deeply about the people around you. I develop these skills every day by interacting with different teams and this is the most fascinating part of my job here at Meraki.

I also find that domain expertise for product managers is greatly understated. While it may not be a requirement for a PM position, I personally think it is extremely important to stay up to date with the technical field one is working in. Data accessibility can be very high these days, but I make sure to stay informed about what’s going on in my space by reading tech news, reviews, and updates every night.

Nicholas Sundberg

Main Platform Director

What are the top three traits a person needs to be a great PM?

Great product managers excel at guiding others in pursuit of a common vision. The main characteristics required to do this effectively are being an excellent communicator, having a passion for facilitation and remaining objective.

Communication and facilitation make up the majority of a PM’s job. Whether talking to users to elucidate their needs, reporting progress to stakeholders, or marketing your roadmap to customers, good PMs need to be clear and effective communicators.

Being a PM also means working with and through others. It’s not a solo show and it’s not up to you to find all the answers yourself. A good project manager knows that defining and achieving a product vision is a team activity and as such, having a talent for facilitation is essential.

Finally, great project managers embrace an agile mindset. You must be adaptable to changing customer needs and business priorities. You must be able to identify and distance yourself from misconceptions, even if they are your own. Another important aspect of being a PM is knowing when and how to say no to customers and stakeholders. All of these require the ability to remain objective and make data-driven decisions, especially in the face of your own ego.

You must be able to identify and distance yourself from misconceptions, even if they are your own.

From a technical perspective, what skills have you found most important in your role and what steps are you taking to continue to develop those skills?

Having a basic understanding of cloud architecture concepts is essential for those working more closely with development teams, as it allows you to better engage in the resolution process and better define and communicate requirements. We use AWS and they have a lot of educational and training content that I use to continue my learning in this area.

For any PM, being able to manipulate and understand data is important. This is how you know what your users are doing with your product and how well your product is doing what it was designed to do. As the person at the center of your users, your stakeholders, and your product vision, PMs are best equipped to understand and act on your product data. Having the skills and willingness to get your hands dirty with your data is essential. Whether you’re manipulating data in a spreadsheet, learning SQL, or creating visualizations in a BI tool, having the access and ability to analyze data is important for a good PM.

Paul Bork

Group Product Manager

What are the top three traits a person needs to be a great PM?

The first trait is a problem-solving mindset. For me, this is the most important trait – not just in terms of the features being built, but how to approach conversations with stakeholders and customers. PMs need to think critically to tackle the real problem – not just the symptoms – and have the creativity to find solutions.

The second trait is empathy. Knowing how to put yourself in the shoes of your users or customers is essential to understand what problems they are facing, what frustrates them with your product and what provides moments of pleasure.

The third trait is communication. The ability to communicate effectively is essential as you might have amazing ideas for the future of the product, but if you’re not able to get buy-in for your vision, none of that matters. .

A big part of a PM’s job is to deliver bad news and if you don’t do it right, it’s easy to become the bad guy. Repeating the issue to the speaker is essential to demonstrate that we are actually listening and understanding their issues – it’s easier to be on the same page when all the cards are on the table.

You have to be comfortable not having the answers at first, but you also have to push yourself to learn.

From a technical perspective, what skills have you found most important in your role and what steps are you taking to continue to develop those skills?

The first skill is being able to understand and work with data. The technical aspect of this role is being able to write queries in SQL or equivalent, but the other aspect is understanding how to interact with data, rather than just being an expert in a specific language. This skill is essential for a PM because we need to understand how features are used and how widespread issues are in order to create metrics to inform decisions. This is especially important when planning how you will measure the success of a new feature.

Along with this skill, you also need to get as close as possible to what your developers are working on. PMs must be prepared to pitch in to fill gaps in their knowledge. For me, that meant asking my machine learning as many questions as possible, including book recommendations. You have to be comfortable not having the answers at first, but you also have to push yourself to learn. In some teams, that might mean reading about email scripting languages ​​so you can update an email template yourself, or researching an API to make sure it provides the dots. data you need.