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Secret Skills and Qualities of a Great Product Manager

I was giving some thought to what it meant to be a good product manager. There are many good posts written about the typical analysis skills found in a product manager, so I wanted to think a little outside the normal box. Here’s what I came up with:

  • Thinking on their feet – We spend a lot of time in front of busy users, project managers, and developers, who are smart and know their business well. At times, they are intense. They will ask tough questions of us, and probably even more challenging than that, they will state things that we need to be able to understand quickly and ask questions back intelligently. Too many blank stares, uncomfortable silences, and “uh, I don’t know”s will help us lose your credibility fast.
  • Thoughtful – We are interviewers often, and so with that we must be willing to listen and think about what they say. This is different than quick thinking, but rather truly deep thinking. It will require some skills of empathy and understanding when the teams are frustrated. It will require just being someone that cares (and not faking it!).
  • Likeable – I hate to say it, but we have to be likeable. We work with so many different people through the course of our work, and we really need these people to want to help us get information from them. People enjoy helping people they like, so be likeable.
  • Must like people – Again, we work with so many different people who believe in us, trust us with their products. So complimentary to the last point, we must like the people we are working with. We have to want to talk to them, to tell them how it’s going, to ask them questions – simply put, we must be willing to engage in conversations. While being an introvert is very helpful to the analysis work that must sometimes be done quietly alone, being an introvert all the time will not lead to successful product management.
  • Passionate –We have to love things! It sounds silly, but passionate people can feel things, both positive and negative about products around them. We can recognize and engage passion in the users we are working with. It shows itself as excitement, which can be addictive in a group.
  • Excellent Reviewer – Not only must we elicit and document requirements, we have to self-review and peer-review the work. Being able to find missing items, or inconsistent requirements across volumes of data is not trivial. There are models and tools to help this, but so far, none of them completely take the thinking out of it. I have found that this is one of the most challenging skills to teach someone to do.
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