What Makes a Good Product Manager?

by Alton Zenon III
November 27, 2019

The brains behind the strategy, execution and user research of a product rollout, product managers require a unique blend of hard and soft skills. PMs must take into consideration the needs and limitations of everyone from engineers to end-users when attacking a project roadmap, so a knack for collaboration and communication is key.

For product leaders at GoSpotCheck and AdAction Interactive, the ability to wrangle data and practice empathy are two traits they deemed invaluable to finding success in the field. But don’t take our word for it; they shared more advice for PMs hoping to level-up in the workplace, below. 

 

GoSpotCheck team members chatting
GoSpotCheck

Just as GoSpotCheck's technology helps coordinate a mobile workforce, its Executive VP of Product and Engineering Laura Sellers coordinates among a myriad of stakeholders. According to Sellers, the day-in, day-out work of a product manager means listening to the (occasionally competing) needs of engineers, customer success, sales and users. 

 

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

The first trait is exemplary communication. Many new product managers believe the job is about having a vision and figuring out how to execute it. In reality, it is about the ability to understand requirements from within your organization and from customers. It is critical that a product manager is able to effectively communicate the trade-offs they are making with key stakeholders and keep them informed on the progress of the product roadmap. 

The second trait is empathy. It’s important that product managers are empathetic to both customers and co-workers. A product being built has an impact on everyone in the company. Therefore, the product manager must be empathetic to the hurdles faced by salespeople, customer operations and engineers. They need to help lead the engineering team with empathy for the users so they are building products and features users love.

The final trait is strategic thinking, which is often learned over time. Great product managers make products that are built to last and create long-term value for their customers; they don’t just add the latest feature request. It’s also important that product managers clearly understand the users that the product is serving. 

It’s critical that product managers are making decisions based on data.”

 

What technical skills are most important in your role and how do you continue developing those, or other, skills?

It’s critical that product managers are making decisions based on data and not just instincts. Along with that, product managers need to be decisive in their decisions. Sometimes there isn’t enough workable data and the product manager needs to make a call and be willing to fail fast if necessary.

It’s important to have a core understanding of product complexity from a code perspective. Product managers that don’t have a technical background should be willing to learn about the architecture of a product and new trends in technology. There are also great training programs for product management and numerous PM podcasts and blogs available to help refine skills.

 

AdAction Interactive team in group photo
AdAction Interactive

When you’re a product manager at a company that builds mobile marketing solutions for Fortune 100 companies, there can be a lot of pressure to address every piece of feedback.

Meghan Quirk said this is the norm in her role as a product manager at AdAction Interactive, so prioritization is key. Quirk said product managers have to be able to hone in on what’s most important for products in development to make it over the finish line.  

 

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

Being empathetic is invaluable to a product manager’s success. Understanding the emotions, motivations and goals of others is useful in many aspects, from deciding what to solve for and build, to selling ideas and features to various people or teams. 

Curiosity is essential because it drives the data collection processes that are necessary for PMs to build successful products. Relentlessly probing for more details and data points enables a PM to understand problems and constraints, then effectively strategize and formulate a solution. 

Being focused is also fundamental to a PM’s success because we are constantly getting new information, requests and feedback that need assessment, filtering and prioritization. Prioritization becomes easier when you can stay focused on the challenges you’re solving. 

The most important technical skills for my role have been learning SQL and data analysis.”

 

What technical skills are most important in your role and how do you continue developing those, or other, skills?

The most important technical skills for my role have been learning SQL and data analysis. They have been core to understanding product performance and identifying product optimization and growth opportunities. I continually work on developing these skills by putting them into practice everyday. 

 

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