I was recently talking to a co-founder of a leading social network and he asked what in my view are the qualities of a great product manager. I could think of three right away but I believe there are three more that are equally important. Since this is a question every person either responsible for hiring a product manager or works with a product manager wonders about, I thought I should share them with you. Here are the six qualities that make a great product manager:
A product manager is a mini-CEO of sorts. He needs to understand the current product strategy and how it aligns with the overall company strategy. He needs to know the product vision, how it will generate customer value and what is the differentiating advantage over its competitors. Once a product manager gets this and is able to clearly articulate it, you would be surprised how the rest of the firm will rally behind it in order to build a winning product. For the product to be a long term success, he needs to envision how the product, industry and competition is going to evolve and develop a long term roadmap.
Passion for products
Product managers should love products. They should be able to recognize and respect great products. They should look at products and be able to tell what is good, what is inspiring and what can be improved. If the product manager is truly passionate about the product, it rubs of the entire team and leads to the development of great products.
In addition to knowing what the game is, a product manager should be able to keep score. Keeping score means identifying the right metrics and knowing when you have won. Winning means identifying the current baseline for the metrics and the goal the team would be shooting for in the next release. Once a product manager is able to accomplish this, everybody in the team will have clear understanding as to how the game is won. The team is rightfully aligned, motivated, inspired and innovative.
Ability to Prioritize
One of the key attributes of a product manager is to be able to prioritize the backlog. Once the product manager and the entire company knows what game is been played and how the score is kept and won, prioritizing becomes an easy task. The product manager needs to map the product strategy down to the individual features, and prioritize them in the right order across phases so as to maximize the winnings. If a product manager is able to do this well, all stakeholders within the company will buy into the prioritized backlog even though their pet features have not made the cut.
Building a product is a collaborative process and its take a product manager with collaborative nature to pull it off. Even though a product manager is the leader of the product, most of the people development team does not report to him. Moreover, product requirements come from various functional groups and customers and they all are considered important by those contributing them. In such an environment, a product manager cannot be dictatorial. He needs to be able to inspire others to follow him. He needs to be able to negotiate while prioritizing the backlog and appease all stakeholders. He needs to clearly communicate why a particular feature was chosen over an other one for the current release. At the same time he needs to be confident, assertive and at times lay down the law since the buck stops with the product leader.
Product managers need to be biased for action. They need to get things done. In order for a product to be shipped there are hundreds of things to get done and a product manager should be able to get down and dirty to get them done. He needs to QA, write marketing copies, edit HTMLs, mock up wireframes, and even do PR. A product manager needs to do anything needed to make the product a success.
At the end of the day, product manager need to make things happen. They should have the ability and qualities to rally the troops, sell them on the vision and march them to victory.
Are their qualities I have missed? Would love to hear your thoughts.
I came across this smart (and cute) infographic on Edudemic. It pretty accurately reflects how people under 21 think about the different social networks. From my work helping students get Boundless textbooks, I’d have to agree that Facebook is much less important than the image creation/sharing networks of Instagram and Snapchat. I’d probably add Tumblr as another network that matters. Marketers who are trying to build brand with students constantly have to keep on their toes since social changes so quickly!
In the last four months since OfficeDrop’s tech and team was acquired, I have been catching up on a backlog of books that I bought but never had the time to read. Here are two books on product management I really like and strongly recommend that every entrepreneur and startup employee read:
If there is one book you want to read on product management, this is the book. This book is not just for product managers but anybody who works with product managers that includes those from marketing, sales, engineering, project management and customer service.
It is an easy read, 200 pages long, one that you could plough through while taking a walk (I read it while walking Copper, our one and only dog) or while commuting to work.
In the first section, Marty talks about the importance of product management in this new world where 100s of new companies are launched every week and many of them fail. He discusses the roles and responsibilities of a good product manager, how they interact with non-product management team members and why great user interfaces play a critical role in product success.
In the second section, he discusses the process, activities and best practices to build great products – everything from product discovery to building a new minimal and marketable product. He finishes the section by presenting techniques to validate and test the product.
In the last section, he discusses what it takes to creating inspiring products by drawing upon experiences and best practices employed by companies such as Apple.
If Marty’s book is about what good product management is, Roman’s book is about how to practice it in real life. If you are an agile product manager or running agile product teams, this book is a must read.
I liked the second chapter of the book where he talks about the techniques one could employ in developing what the next product or the next version of the product should be. One technique that stands out is the Kano model. In the Kano model, you prioritize your backlog items by classifying them as either basics, performance or delighters. I really like the idea of having one or more delighters in each product release, as it makes for a great story and excite bloggers and mainstream media. We employed this frequently at OfficeDrop when we released new versions of our mobile and desktop apps.
The third chapter discusses how to work with the product backlog. Techniques and best practices to groom, estimate and prioritize the backlog are presented. Chapter four discusses how to develop and manage a release plan and chapter five discusses how to run sprint meetings.
I would recommend reading these two books in the order I have listed. But if you are managing a product and have just enough time to read just one book, then you should read Roman’s book.