Product Management

What are the most overlooked skills a PM should work on?

You can probably list core skills needed to perform well as a PM: ability to see a big picture, understand user data, perform research, and communicate the vision to different stakeholders. Is this all that makes a great PM? What other skills should you d

  • Head of Product at Memrise

    Two important PM skills that are easily overlooked are
    (i) building empathy with your users, and
    (ii) evangelising the value of your team’s work to them and the company at large.

    Empathy is the ability to see the world through other people’s eyes, and building empathy with your users is critical so that you and your team really understand the problems they have and focus on solving these.

    Without empathy, you’ll find it hard to think about your users as people different from yourself and you may lose sight of what really matters to them, which leads to poor decision making.

    The best way I’ve found of building empathy with users is having a steady drumroll of personally speaking to one user per week, minimum. Although it’s likely that other members of your team (especially designers) will also be regularly speaking to users, having your personal drumroll will help keep your finger on the pulse of your user needs.

    Evangelising the value of your team’s work is also key. This is particularly true when you are working on something big and need to keep your team and stakeholders motivated along the journey.

    Painting a picture of the value you are creating for your users and the company helps remind everyone why you’re doing this work, and prevents fatigue and nervousness from creeping in. Like any vision, I find that you can’t repeat it enough.

    I’d recommend beginning most team meetings with this framing and selling it to the rest of the company at every opportunity.

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  • The Team at JAM

    What draws you into the role of a product manager is probably the fact that you already have some skills the position demands. Maybe you’re a good leader or have built your own product before. But...

    A built-in feature of being a good product person is a self-improvement drive.

    And there is one skill you will never get 100% proficient at—sorry, perfectionists!—that's communication. It's a foundation for many other skills of an exceptional PM, and can be broken down to two essential components.

    Sales.

    A PM is a salesperson. They sell product plans and ideas to all stakeholders from investors to the engineers. Learn to adapt your pitch to the audience.

    • Invest time in learning negotiation skills, take a look at the book Never Split the Difference, by Chris Voss, or the classic How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
    • Improve presentation skills—actively seek out opportunities to speak to different groups, join Toastmasters.
    • Match your communication style to each department—explore the difference between persuading and convincing.

    Explanation.

    Different teams respond better to different communication methods. UX designers click when seeing wireframes, while engineers might prefer to see users playing with their latest prototype and hear "I want to be able to..." (see the list of all muffin shops in the diameter of 2km, for example).

    • Picture is worth a thousand words. Instead of spending hours trying to explain a concept or feature, how about mocking up? Finally a chance to use cool tools you dug up on your latest Product Hunt spree!
    • Make the data speak. You've done all the research, gathered data and insights from users, but how will you make that digestible for your team? Explore the use of visualisations or story telling to communicate your research findings.

    Improving different aspects of communication will help you hone your leadership qualities. translates into getting enthusiastic support, trust from your team.

    It's not about helping you stand out among your peers. It’s about adding an extra edge to your work to turn you from a good PM into a top one.

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  • PM at Workfront

    The skills I think are the most important for a Product Manager are prioritization, empathy and analytical thinking.

    In addition to that, one of the least mentioned skills I have seen is the understanding of the PM role in the team. It’s really easy to focus on the wrong things—there is never a shortage of distractions like all kinds of presentations and video recordings.

    But, the most important thing a team PM can do is to maximize the value the team delivers. They do it through deep understanding of customer pain, communicating that effectively to the team through user/job stories and technical requirements, and supporting the team through the implementation process.

    If you ever need to choose between doing a presentation that your manager asked to get done by yesterday versus answering a question to unblock a team member — your choice should always be the latter.

    You will ship faster, higher quality products that solve real customer problems and both your manager and the team will only thank you for that.

    I'd also recommend you look at...

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