8 Key Skills of a Great Product Manager

by Sean Boyce

If you’re building or managing a software product you need a product manager.  If your project isn’t quite ready for a dedicated product manager then whatever your current teams consists of needs to have certain skills to make your product successful.  Whether you’re looking for a product manager to join your team or just hoping to make your existing team stronger, use this list of 8 key skills that a great product manager should have and get started.

1. Business Expertise

As is so entertainingly identified in the famous operations management book The Goal by Eli Goldratt – the purpose of a company is to make money.  The business purpose of your product is the same.  Either you are successfully generating enough revenue from your product or you have a path to get there.  Without it your product will fail.  A great product manager always has the revenue generating potential and goals of your product in the back of their mind.  

2. Industry Knowledge

A major responsibility of a great product manager is to understand the customer and their needs.  This makes it incredibly important for a product manager to know the industry.  It is not necessarily a requirement that they join your team with intimate industry knowledge, but it is imperative they get it as quickly as possible.  

3. Technical Knowledge

While your product manager doesn’t necessarily need to be able to write code themselves (more on that here) they absolutely need to be able to understand how technical work gets done.  Your product manager will be blending many areas of work together to create outcomes and a few of these include operations management and business expertise.  Without thoroughly understanding what it takes (time & resources) to get technical work done, those other projections will be highly inaccurate.  A great product manager shouldn’t just be familiar with tech, they should be borderline obsessed with it.

4. People Skills

A great product manager is a great motivator and great motivators have excellent people skills.  They need to be able to create a vision that few can see and turn it into a passionate motivator for rowing in the right direction to achieve accomplishments.  The better they are with people the more effective they will be as a product manager.  Conversations with them should roll smoothly and feel comfortable, but not too comfortable because there’s work to be done!

5. Decision-Making Ability

Someone needs to be in charge of making executive decisions regarding your product.  That person would be your product manager.  Oftentimes there are gaps in the information you can use to pick a direction for your product.  You need someone intelligent and assertive enough to make an executive decision when others would remain indecisive.  An effective product manager makes intelligent decisions with confidence.  If they believe in a path the rest of your team should as well.  This level of confidence in your product manager will increase as your team observes them making decisions that turn out to be successful.

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6. Problem-Solving Skills

Problem solving is something great product managers do all the time.  It isn’t a job requirement for them – it is something they almost cannot turn off.  Problem solving can be challenging for a lot of people.  There is fear of the unknown and how well you will perform under pressure.  A great product manager longs for these situations because it is the ultimately learning challenge.  If you ever wanted to test your ability to perform under pressure, there’s no better opportunity than trial by fire!

7. Leadership Ability

Motivating people is challenging.  Anyone can tell someone what to do, but few can motivate effectively by inspiring others.  Great leaders have always had exceptional capabilities in getting others to share their vision.  They believe what they are doing 100% and cannot be convinced otherwise until they have data to suggest a different approach.  This quality is especially important for product managers as most do not have executive authority over their team.  Great leaders make great product managers.

8. A Calming Demeanor

Above all else a product manager deals with constant threats and challenges to the success of your product.  Not just challenges of their own, but everyone on their (sometimes large) teams.  When people are freaking out about every little thing a calm demeanor from a product manager can mean all the difference between your product achieving success and crashing and burning.  The best product managers can handle anything you throw at them with a cool head.

Product Management is challenging, but incredibly important work.  I’ve seen countless projects that had great ideas, teams, and funding fail because of lack in one or more of these areas.  Make sure your product manager has the right skills to ensure success for your product.

If you’d like to learn more about product management or talk more about the services I offer as a product management consultant please feel free to reach out to me at sean@nxtstep.io.  Keep disrupting.

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