One of the most sought-after roles in the industry is that of a Product Manager. Not only does it combine various functions, but also packs a great potential for growth into higher leadership positions.
Forbes states that “The role sits at the intersection of business, technology, and design, combining strategy, marketing, leadership, and other skills with the end goal of launching an amazing product.”
5 Qualities of a Product Manager
Thou Shall Know Thy Customer
A product manager is the key to identifying the intersection between customers’ value and what they are willing to pay. It needs to fit back into the organization’s product plan. Josh Elman, a widely acclaimed product manager said, “The job of a product manager is to help your team (and company) ship the right product to your users.”
Unless the right segment of customers and their latent needs are identified, building the right product is never going to take off. To better know the customers, young management trainees are often advised to tour client locations. Having attentive ears, an open mind and a ready notebook help. Make a quick note of customer pain areas as you interact. These are inputs for the product engineers.
Solve Through Innovation
The product manager is the entrepreneur within the structure of an organization. Once the customers and their problems are known, the product manager needs to come out with an innovative solution that solves the problem, yet is technically feasible. The solution must also be commercially viable and must make business sense. Marwan Soghaier, CPO of SteelHouse says, “Product managers are problem solvers with vision.”
A good starting point is to think from the customers’ perspective. Often the product manager imbibes a bias from the engineering team by thinking of quick-fixes or what is readily buildable. In reality, the product should undergo as many build iterations (even at the cost of angry engineers) till it meets the customers’ requirements.
Lead From the Front: Communicate Effectively
By design, a product manager is at the center of all action. This means that there are multiple people to deal with. A good product manager is a people’s person. It is one thing to assign tasks and drop emails, quite another to get those done. On the one hand, the product-in-charge needs to be able to break down technical information in a way that can be explained to the customers, who may not always be technically inclined. On the other hand, he/she needs to understand technical conversations well enough to convince the stakeholders to get behind the agreed design.
A budding product manager must start with listening well, summarizing lengthy meetings and discussions into crisp action points and getting them done.
Drive User Experience
So there’s a great idea, the development team is rallying behind it, and in theory, it does what it is supposed to do. Or does it? Would a customer use the product after committing to the sale? If not, that’s an end to the product roadmap. The answer to the question lies in User Experience (UX).
The more pleasing the visual and overall experience of the product to the customer is; higher are the sales. The product manager is uniquely positioned to interface between the design and build teams. Through providing inputs on everything from color schemes to product logo, the end outcome is noticeably well managed. For young professionals, this doesn’t come easy. They may start by shadowing senior product guys and learning from the marketing and communications team.
Decide like a Boss
In a perfect world, all customer requirements are addressed in a single launch, well within the timeline and in conformity to the proposed budget. But in reality, none of it is possible. There are multiple solutions, designs, customer requirements, feedback and steep timelines. Effective decision-making is the true essence of product management. A good product manager has to cut through the clutter of conflicting interests and prioritize a list of immediate to mid-term deliverables. In the product management world, it is often said that “There are no right answers, only intelligent choices.”
Rajiv Srivatsa, the former senior Product Manager at Yahoo, believes, “Best PMs would say NO more than 95% of the time. The products are always built with limited resources, limited time and a barrage of ideas come from the PM, engineers, users, management, etc. They must have the conviction to say NO many a time instead of meekly succumbing.”
In conclusion, it may seem that the product management is a gray area, with no clear tasks or key responsibility areas. However, in more than one way, a Product Manager is the CEO of the product/ brand. The more time product managers spend in executing the job well, the better placed they are to take up positions in the top echelons of management.2