The times when IT departments of companies were left on their own and were engaged only in technical support of various business processes are over. Today's IT teams must adopt Product-Based Methodologies and be truly cross-functional - that is, combine both technical and business competencies. With such organizational changes, the Product Manager - a professional who leads a team and takes responsibility for the result throughout the product lifecycle - takes the leading position in the IT department.
In his/her activities, Product Manager should combine hard and soft skills, organize effective feedback to balance the interests of all stakeholders: key stakeholders, business executives, development units and end users. Business culture is shifting toward product-oriented management, which means CIOs need to have a good understanding of the skills that distinguish an effective product manager. The list of the most important skills and qualities of such a professional is based on the professional experience of market participants. This information will also be useful for employees interested in professional development and career advancement.
1. Excellent communication skills
A digital product is the result of the interaction of many components and know-how. Various departments of the organization and its partners are involved in its creation and market launch: design, production, supply chain, security, marketing, sales, customer support, finance and others. For the product to be successful, it is necessary to create the conditions for the coordinated action of all these parties.
Therefore, one of the main tasks of the product manager is to ensure that the different functional units of the cross-functional development team work together. Communication is the basis of his professional activity. He needs to understand the requirements of customers (sometimes very complex and contradictory), find a common language with the development engineers, and be able to present the product well in front of the CEO and the board of directors, as well as before the professional community at presentations and conferences. The product manager acts as an intermediary who needs to "connect" different audiences and make them communicate with each other.
Accordingly, the ability to adapt information about a product for specific and varied audiences is particularly important: programmers need to explain complex conceptual requirements for a product and prepare a technical specification, while end users, on the other hand, need to be able to present basic functionality and its benefits in a simple and clear way.
Communication skills are so demanded in business development processes that professional communicators with a variety of backgrounds, not necessarily related to IT, can be effective in this area.
Not everyone realizes that the ability to empathize is a business skill, but many IT experts and executives place this quality among the most important ones for a product manager. This again is due to the fact that this specialist has to work directly not so much with the product itself (in the technical part), as with people. After all, the point of existence of each product is to benefit from its use. Can you explain to customers why they urgently need to change their habits, user experience, etc., in order to accept this new product, even if it is technically perfect or aesthetically appealing? What unmet customer needs are you going to bet on to find support from the customer?
Empathy for potential customers is an important but not the only aspect of a product manager's job. In this part, his soft-skills will echo organically with the previous skill. It is necessary to capture, understand and balance the viewpoints of specialists from several functional areas: developers, stakeholders, design and others - and at the same time connect them with the character traits of specific individuals.
Hardened interpersonal skills, according to experts, make a good product manager a genius. At the same time, empathy is not necessarily an innate quality: it is a skill that every professional can develop if he or she wants to succeed. For example, a great psychological technique to make it easier and easier for users to understand a product is to imagine that you are explaining how to use a particular product feature to a good friend or family member. This sets a positive mood and often leads to the realization of obvious things that need improvement.
3. Experience with data and analytics
Hard skills are just as important as soft skills for a professional product manager. In particular, we are talking about data analytics for management decision-making, the ability to perform mathematical calculations and understand marketing metrics. Being digestible in information flows, analytical thinking is one of the factors that allows a specialist to move up the career ladder.
Data, like customers, should always be at the center of a product manager's attention. But it is recommended to approach them creatively - literally, entities that are difficult or virtually impossible to measure can be measured and analyzed.
4. Determination and Flexibility
Armed with psychological and analytical intuition, a good product manager must decisively lead his team to a quick result - and such determination should be part of the development culture. Even if you have to make quick decisions under non-ideal conditions - incomplete information or, on the contrary, its overabundance, the risk of getting bogged down in approvals - you need to observe, navigate, and act.
Accordingly, you should always anticipate the potential need to change plans on the fly in response to new inputs, changes in the business landscape, any challenges and market demands - from global problems to local ones, such as untimely delivery. The built strategy may change over time - and it will undoubtedly change many times. But the overall goal remains the same, and that's what you need to focus on.
5. An entrepreneurial streak.
All of the skills listed above are ultimately used to support a company's business goals. Obviously, these goals also need to be well understood by the product manager: what place does his product and the company as a whole occupy on the market? What will this or that developed product feature do for the market? What problem will it solve for customers and what performance will it bring the company? Where is the best place to invest? The product manager must think ahead and link the company's business strategy and product strategy.
In addition, as the product is developed, the professional must constantly make choices, ensuring some kind of compromise between empathy (customer opinion), business acumen (commercial viability of the product) and technical acumen (technical feasibility of the product).
According to experts, high-level analysis of the role of a particular product in business provides insight into how a company and its customers use that product to exchange value - data, money or something else - i.e. create real value for each other.
6. Enthusiasm in Organizational Management
We found out earlier that a key activity of the product manager is to mediate between customers and the various stakeholders within the company. And it is not so much about the technical component of product development as about the corporate culture that forms around the product portfolio, about the psychological state of the decision makers.
In order to play this role effectively, the specialist needs to keep the team enthusiastic about the individual product and the whole business. In order to do so, he or she must constantly take an interest in areas such as product management, software development, technology and market trends, business strategies, marketing, sales, design, and more. To offer quality solutions to the market, a product manager needs to always be "on-trend": show boundless curiosity about his work and business, ask non-trivial questions, and strive to improve people's interaction with technology and the world around them.
The Long Walk to Perfection
Perhaps all of the above abilities may seem too idealistic and unattainable to some. But if you're determined to pursue a career path to become a product manager, you can combine the skills mentioned in different ways, supplementing and refining them in the process.
Both the product management profession itself and the landscape that forms around it are constantly changing and require continuous development on the part of the professional. The ability to learn and self-learn, as well as the ability to translate best practices into daily work is another definitely necessary soft skill to invest in in order to become the best at what you do.
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