two fundamentals you need to know to be successful

There is a growing interest in product manager as a career; based on the Glassdoor report, product management is among the best jobs in the United States and the portal currently has 17,725 listings.

However, product management is a bit tricky. To be a developer, you will probably learn computer science and start coding. to be a data scientist, you will likely learn statistics and math. But there are no college degrees dedicated to product management, so what do you need to learn? What are the solid bases to have to become a product manager? Should I be business oriented? Do I need to know how to code?

There is no single answer to these questions, and many product managers will have different answers.

Although Product Manifesto has made a good attempt to bring together the characteristics of product managers by collaborating with PM leaders from leading companies to create ten principles for creating better products. The manifesto has some great points, but it still doesn’t answer all of the above questions.

My simple answer is that what separates a good project manager from the rest are those who follow two key elements: managing expectations and achieving deep empathy with customer issues.

Let’s break them down a bit further.

Managing expectations may seem lame and meaningless, but I’m surprised at how many PMs fail to do so. It all depends on the ability to execute. A PM must manage expectations with customers to build trust. This trust is the foundation of a great relationship, where customers see that their issues are well understood and the product is moving in the right direction. Over-promising and under-delivering will break that trust, create frustration, damage product reputation, and lead to high churn rates. Aiming too low will not be enough in a competitive market and will likely hurt customer acquisition. Additionally, a PM has internal customers (all stakeholders) such as engineering, sales, and marketing teams, as well as senior management. The balance between setting the right expectations with each group (which in many cases are not aligned) to deliver the best possible product is one of the most critical characteristics that separates great project managers from others.

Now that we understand that managing expectations ensures fast and efficient execution, we need to see that we are prioritizing the right things to execute. Many books have been written about identifying problems to solve, but I would like to focus on the crucial role that empathy plays in this regard. I’ve seen too many PMs visit customers, conduct interviews, document the issues, and then write a detailed PRD about the solution. This is DO NOT the way to create great products. It all starts with the ability to have genuine empathy with clients’ problems, or in other words, to “feel their pain”. To achieve this empathy, a PM must have a deep understanding of the domain. This is a necessary first step to creating a great product that can truly identify and solve the root problem; it is the seed needed to develop a creative and innovative solution. Achieving this empathy is not trivial and, as mentioned above, requires deep domain expertise and a healthy dose of curiosity.

When it comes to domain expertise, it’s easier to divide it into B2B and B2C, whereas in B2B domains, domain expertise is more difficult for “outsiders” to acquire than it would be. in B2C domains.

For example, in one of my previous startups, my company developed a self-service mobile application for radio stations (B2B2C). It is easier to “feel” the pain of clients in such a PM role, as it is more understandable; something we could have experienced ourselves. In contrast, in my current company, we are developing an AI platform for process optimization (B2B). As one can imagine, “feeling” the pain of a process or control engineer in, say, a chemical plant is not so simple.

Achieving this empathy within the product team is not always so easy, and the deeper the domain expertise, the more difficult it is. One way to overcome this challenge is to add a product expert who is part of the product team to work closely with the project manager and engineers to ensure that this empathy is relayed.

Understanding and applying these two fundamental aspects will allow for a smoother and more successful interaction with customers and, no less important, will contribute to the improvement of products and better management of complex processes.

A product manager must possess many characteristics; I thought it was important to focus on insightful key traits that might get overlooked rather than creating a shopping list of traits required for a PM.

Written by Ran Rosin, VP Product Manager at Imubit