What’s in the Tool Kit of a Product Manager?

min read
Mikaela Thompson

If being a product manager is on your career trajectory, here’s a heads up for getting prepared.

But don’t kid yourself it’ll be a quick route there. Such a role takes years of learning and honing the skills through great mentoring, and hands-on work experience. The good news is that other roles you will probably take on earlier in your career, will in fact be preparing you with related skills since areas overlap whether you’re in e.g., digital marketing, UX or software engineering. Your toolbox as a product manager will vary somewhat depending on the industry in which you’re managing product development along with company size and culture. Don’t expect there to be a one-size-fits-all job description list for product managers. However, there are core skills, qualities, and competencies that any good product manager will have whether they’re responsible for a web, software, digital, fashion, pharmaceutical or foodstuff product.  

Core skills for any product manager.

Fundamental hard skills.

You need the ability to:

1) Create and develop product strategies and plans.

2) Develop marketing programmes e.g., being able to get everyone on board, including company personnel, to agree on the product and its viability; perform market assessments – a basic understanding of coding technologies will help communication with engineers and development teams; conduct customer interviews and user testing like A/B Testing, Optimizely and prototyping; digital marketing management skills; ability to discern product placement within the competitive space and manage product releases, measure sales, set goals etc.

3) Analyze data from multiple viewpoints. Collect, extract, and analyze the data to prove your underpinning product-related theory to stakeholders; know popular database languages, such as, SQL, data visualization tools e.g., Microsoft Excel and tools to convert raw data into visuals, such as, Amplitude and Tableau. These will give you a significant advantage as a product manager.

4) Use tech skills and programmes for business process management software, task management software, workflow management software, project collaboration software for teams etc., and to translate business to technical requirements and vice versa; do price and revenue modeling; define and track success metrics as a baseline competency for product managers.

5) Write competently e.g., to break down complex jargon-laden product details into everyday work language that a board of directors or senior management can follow; write technical features, specifications, and other product details throughout the product lifecycle; take high value facts, arrange them in order of informational importance and organize them into a document.

Essential soft skills.

You need to have:

1) Effective communication and collaboration skills e.g., be able to communicate with colleagues across other departments within the company e.g., engineering, marketing, manufacturing, and sales teams, and keep the peace between engineer and design teams!

2) Interpersonal skills. The ability to establish strong working relationships across all levels of the organization; audience affinity e.g., relate well to target consumers, understand their needs, and use effective customer interviewing skills.  

3) Emotional intelligence (EQ). Customer empathy so that you’re dialed into their body language and emotions during interviews which will allow you to ferret out the barriers that the product or service will mitigate and to understand consumer’s needs to provide a competitive edge. A product manager with a high EQ will be able to navigate both internal and external obstacles to ship a good product. Aspects of EQ that relate to a product manager’s role: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and the ability to deduce company fit. The latter is crucial when applying your well-developed core competencies and high EQ to ensure your success in an appropriate workplace for you e.g., are you a better fit for the ‘jack of all trades’ scrappy startup environment or better suited to an established company where your role will be well-defined? Are the company values and philosophy aligning with your own?

4) Attentiveness to detail and ability to learn fast, have strong problem-solving skills and be adaptable to a rapidly evolving environment.

5) Creativity to develop new ideas and innovate.

At the end of the day, you need a tool kit of both hard and soft skills that add-value to the company while also building trust and credibility among all stakeholders.  

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