Being a product manager is a bit like being a jack of all trades, but there are some key skills every product manager should have in order to bring products to market successfully. They are applicable regardless of what market you're in, or what products and services you represent. Hone these skills and you'll be well on your way to product management stardom...if only there was such a thing.
Expertise in the Market
Product Managers need to be experts in the market their products serve. More than anyone else, they're relied on as the go-to-person when others are looking for insights into what the market needs. In this regard, the product manager represents the customer in aggregate. What are the trends? What is no longer "cool," and most importunely, what does the market value the most.
This one is sometimes controversial. Some organizations think of product managers as marketing people, and therefore have no need for real technical expertise. "Leave that to the engineers," they'll often say. This may work in some industries, but in my experience it's very important that a product manager be completely comfortable with, and knowledgable about the technology in their product space.
It's important for several reasons, the most important being a) understanding the technology is critical to interpreting market requirements and translating them into product requirements, and b) it's just about the only way to win the respect of the engineers you work with. This latter point is critical to the success of any PM. Most engineering teams only work well with people they respect -- and most of them only respect those with the technical chops to keep up in a lively discussion about what to build next.
A good product manager will know nearly as much about the product and the technology it uses as the engineers who built it.
This skill set comes from understanding the discipline of the product's domain. Products in technical and science domains require that the product manager know the relevant science and standards and can intelligently discuss the theories the product is build upon. For example, product managers in the medical industry often have a working knowledge of science an medicine, in addition to their technology and market expertise.
So there you have it. Three areas of expertise that every product manager needs to have -- or develop. The diversity of skills required is why theres so much variation in the educational, vocational, and practical experience between product managers. Most start with a strong base on one area, and develop the others in order to excel in their role.
Developing product managers spend a lot of time interacting with industry experts, using their products, and keeping abreast of the latest technology until the entire space becomes ingrained in their daily lives. It's kinda fun. It's kinda exhausting too -- but in a good way. The best product managers I've known consider themselves product owners and that's a good thing.
Is it time for your company to have a product management function? One staffed with people that are experts in the skills we've discussed and who will passionately shepherd your products to market? Could be. If you need help deciding, get in touch with us. We'd love to talk more about this with you, and help you decide on the best approach to product management success. Feel free to Contact Us here. Thanks.