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What It Takes to Become a Great Product Manager

Aspiring PMs should consider three primary factors when evaluating a role: core competencies, emotional intelligence (EQ), and company fit.
Beyond shipping new features on a regular cadence and keeping the peace between engineering and the design team, the best PMs create products with strong user adoption that have exponential revenue growth and perhaps even disrupt an industry.

What should you do immediately to become a great Product Manager?

1. Core competencies

There are core competencies that every PM must have – many of which can start in the classroom, but most are developed with experience, good role models, and mentoring.
Some examples of these competencies include:

  • conducting customer interviews and user testing
  • running design sprints
  • feature prioritization and road map planning
  • the art of resource allocation (it is not a science!) performing market assessments
  • translating business-to-technical requirements, and vice versa
  • pricing and revenue modeling
  • defining and tracking success metrics

These core competencies are the baseline for any PM, and the best PMs hone these skills over years of defining, shipping, and iterating on products.

2. Start thinking like a PM

Although you should be able to work on side projects in your spare time, if you are truly swamped in your current job and are one of those people who usually laugh when someone asks you what you do for fun, then start taking steps and act as a product manager.
Try to get onto new products where you are taking a lead role in managing a few people with different workstreams and where your team is responsible for getting a deliverable completed on a deadline.
Ideally, you should try to get onto projects where you’ll be forced to work with cross-functional teams so that you can learn multiple “languages.” There are many people who started in customer support roles learning the voice of the customer before transitioning into a PM role.

Good PMs know how to understand the nuanced complexities of different teams and convert these into the language of their current audience. For most employers, the next best thing to direct experience is demonstrating that you have relevant and transferable skills.

3. Develop technical skill sets

Developing technical skill sets does not mean learning to code (Check out this post on whether product managers need a technical background for more on that). I truly believe that all great product managers in the tech industry really love technology and will eventually gravitate towards a desire to learn code but it is not necessary to get into product management.

Don’t just be that generic “business guy/gal” who hopes that your passion alone will get you a job in product management. Try your best to learn something technical like design or data analysis (Excel / SQL). Learn about the differences between agile and scrum methodologies. Study up on user stories and jobs-to-be-done. There are so many free resources online that it’d be absolutely ridiculous to at least not have a basic understanding of technical concepts going into the product management recruiting process.

4. Emotional Intelligence

A good PM may know the dos and don’ts of a customer interview, but the best PMs have the ability to empathize with customers in that interview, are tuned into their body language and emotions, and can astutely suss out the pain points that the product or feature will address. A Product Manager with a high EQ has strong relationships within their organization and a keen sense of how to navigate both internal and external hurdles to ship a great product.

5. Self-awareness

PMs must be self-aware to remain objective and avoid projecting their own preferences onto users of their products. If a PM is in love with a feature because it addresses their own pain points – PMs are often super-users of the products for which they are responsible – they may cause a user to say they love it too, just to please the PM (“false positive feature validation”).
If not self-aware, a PM may push to prioritize a feature they conceived even when all the customer interviews and evidence are stacked against it. This lack of self-awareness could derail more important priorities or damage the PM’s relationship with engineers, who may lose confidence in their PM when the feature isn’t readily adopted by users.

6. Self-management

Being a Product Manager can be incredibly stressful. The CEO wants one thing, the engineering team another, and customers have their own opinions about feature priorities. Managing tight deadlines, revenue targets, market demands, prioritization conflicts, and resource constraints all at once is not for the faint of heart. If a PM cannot maintain their emotions and keep it cool under pressure, they can quickly lose the confidence of all constituents. The best PMs know how to push hard on the right priorities, with urgency but without conveying a sense of panic or stress. These PMs also know when to take a breath and step away to regroup.

7. Social awareness

The competencies associated with being socially aware are empathy, organizational awareness, and service. PMs must understand customers’ emotions and concerns about their product as much as they understand the concerns of the sales team on how to sell that product, or the support team on how to support it, or the engineering team on how to build it. PMs have to have a deep understanding of how the organization operates and must build social capital to influence the success of their product, from obtaining budget and staffing to securing a top engineer to work on their product. Finally, social awareness ensures the best PMs service their customers with a product that addresses their jobs to be done, which is ultimately what drives product-market fit.

Here at BDG, we are ready to help you become a GREAT Product Manager. Our professional trainers will help you develop all the above-mentioned skills!