Product Management as a discipline is still just getting started. The software industry is trying to collectively define the many forms a Product Manager can take. Is a good PM someone who can write a great user story, formulate a clear roadmap, manage Jira tickets, sketch out a wireframe, evaluate a new API… or all of these things?
I run a team of Product Managers here at Postlight. Over the years, we’ve boiled down a baseline of core skills a PM needs to get their job done well. As a PM, you need to bring together excellent communication with some technical know-how, have a design eye for what makes an effective interface, be diligent about planning, and follow through on tasks. Yes, it’s a tall order.
In our project work, we’ve noticed a few more things great PMs do that go above and beyond that already-high bar.
As a next-level Product Manager, you:
- Bring order to chaos when your stakeholders can’t. Within an organization, it can be a challenge to get everyone on the same page about the direction and roadmap for a product. This happens in groups large and small. Exceptional Product Managers are able to help those spearheading an effort get buy-in from outside of their group about what’s happening. It requires great communication–a sense of how to speak plainly about the benefits of the particular chosen path, and a deft touch to redirect decisions to align them with the effort.
- Tell the story of the product with every update. Good Product Managers are able to regularly and clearly communicate a project’s status to its stakeholders. Great Product Managers are also able to contextualize those updates with the why behind the efforts of the team. It’s the difference between saying “4 bug tickets fixed” and “we finally got to the bottom of that issue in a dozen recent customer reports and the fix is going out with this release.” This correlates with another great quality: Keeping the team oriented and focused on the things that matter rather than just a general sense of progress.
- Empower the team to make progress in ambiguity. Part of PM’s job is to define the problem and draft the requirements for the solution to the problem. Very often, those requirements will be incomplete or lacking. It’s the nature of software. The best Product Managers are able to clearly articulate the vision and direction for the product or feature, so that the designers and engineers alongside them are empowered with that knowledge to make good choices every day that fill in the gaps in the requirements. You could spend the time to answer each and every question that crops up, but it’s far more efficient to enable the team to make smart decisions by pointing them in the right direction.
- Get the most out of your team by knowing their work. At minimum, you must be able to capture and track design and engineering tasks effectively. But great Product Managers excel by knowing enough about the design and engineering process to go in even deeper. When you work with a designer, having background on and instincts for good user experience practices goes a long way. Being able to question the rationale behind an architecture decision or critique an API design is helpful to engineers. Knowing the subject matter of the disciplines instead of just managing their work is a hallmark of a great PM.
The makeup and qualities of exceptional Product Managers will continue to evolve over time, but these few things jump out as clear differentiators. To build great products, find a PM who exhibits some of these, and you’ll be well-positioned for success.
Chris LoSacco is the head of product at Postlight. If you’re a PM who was nodding at these qualities as things you do and are looking for your next gig, drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.