6 Qualities of a Great Product Manager

greatproductleaderI 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:

Strategic Thinker

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.

Keep Score

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.

Collaborative leader

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.

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Fun social media infographic on student social media attitudes

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!

Student social media attitudes

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Product management books that every entrepreneur should read

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:


Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan

inspiredlgIf 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.

Agile Product Management with Scrum by Roman Pichler

Pichler_MECH.qxdIf 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.

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Cool new blog series

I’m starting to think that Alex from Groove is a pretty savvy guerrilla marketer… he’s just started a cool new series of blog posts about his journey to $100k in recurring monthly revenue. And he’s got a ton of high quality comments already on the piece. Check out the blog series, it looks like it will be a good one!

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Startup marketing is about purchase intent

I’ve been thinking about channels a lot recently – where potential buyers/users come from, what were they doing when the ‘showed up’ and how did they even start thinking about making a purchase? When it comes to practical execution I find that understanding about purchase intent is a great way to cut the chase and efficiently decide on marketing actions that will result in either sales or learnings with data on what didn’t work.

By purchase intent, I mean the moment when a potential customer expresses interest in paying for a solution to a problem.

For a startup, there are at least two critical moments when you want to ‘exploit’ a potential customer’s purchase intent: a) when the person is forming purchase intent and b) when a person is expressing purchase intent. (I don’t like the word exploit, but it gets the point across.)

The funny thing is that now that I’ve run marketing at two different startups, I’ve found that the exact same channel could be in the formation phase for one company and at the expression phase for another.

For example, at my last company national press would drive a large number of new users into our purchasing funnel. Small business owners would read about us on a respected news site and decide to give the service a try, with many of them putting down their credit cards to begin using the service. Choosing to read an article about, say scanning receipts, shows that a person is already interested in the solution; nobody reads articles on b2b solutions for fun! Formation is triggered when the title the of the article is read “hey I have this problem,” and leads to purchase expression when the reader clicks to OfficeDrop’s website “this sounds like a great solution!”

At Boundless, national press does drive a lot of visits, but doesn’t covert in the same way. This is because students don’t make textbook buying decisions based off of news articles; students express intent during specific times of the school year. While they may be intrigued by an article on a way to save money with Boundless textbook alternatives, reading the article only helps them form purchase intent. It doesn’t directly lead to the expression of purchase. Instead, they (hopefully) remember to check out Boundless at the start of the next semester when they are looking for books. So news articles help the potential user form the desire to try out our solution when the time is right, but won’t directly lead to purchasing.

Supporting both sides of purchase intent is important. The Boundless press helps with branding (hard to measure) but also drives increased on page and in funnel conversion (by providing third party proof of quality.) So we can quantify the benefit beyond the hard to measure branding and awareness. However, my main point is that the exact same channel influenced different parts of purchase intent for two different startups. And if you don’t measure your channels you’ll never know if you are positively impacting anything, so careful tracking is critical to success.

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