Thursday, September 28, 2023
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What makes a great product manager

Key skills that differentiate great product managers from good product managers

What makes a good product manager a great product manager. What makes those superstars stand out against the crowd? Before we answer this question, let’s first align on a definition of a product manager:

Product manager definition: “The Product Manager represents the voice of the customer and is responsible for building the products (physical and virtual) that meet their needs. The product manager outlines the product strategy, specifies product requirements, monitors development, launches products to the market and supports these products until they retire. The product manager radically accountable for the business success of the product.” 

So, now we know what is in scope, let’s look at some of the traits that make great product managers stand out from the rest.

Product Managers master Goal Setting and Prioritization

Great product managers set their own goals and live by them. They define the activities that need to get done in order to achieve their goals and prioritize on a day to day basis. Every day they get a step closer to their goal.

Why: The product manager is a jack of all trades. He or She is the one in charge of the product. Everyone wants a piece of the product manager all the time: issues in production, customer calls, marketing activities, development priorities. Getting stuck on day to day activities prevents the product manager from moving forward. The only way forward requires the product manager to put a dot on the horizon and work towards it

They are getting things done with a Laser beam focus

Great product managers focus like a laser beam on achieving their tasks. When they have set their goals, they will complete these tasks, no excuse. Great Product Managers are able to ignore every distraction and get things done. And while they are at it, they are keeping enough time for urgent and critical disasters that happen all the time as well.

Product Managers actually talk to the customer

Great product managers understand the importance the customer plays in their life. Many products are conceived in an ivory tower by brilliant people who believe they know what customers want. Ending up with features and capabilities that are never used. Others listen extensively their customers, ending up with swiss knife like products that completely defeat the purpose.

Understanding the customer means the product manager engages in a continuous dialog with customers to feels what their needs are. They are able to seek commonalities between the needs and translate this into future business requirements.

Rockstar Product Managers value downtime

Work, any type of work, swings from peaks into valleys. When deadlines are zooming in, pressure goes up and attention is focused on shipping the product. Following the peak naturally a period of downtime arises. Great product managers use this downtime effectively to get their house in order. They take stock of their goals – are they still the right ones, or do we need to define new goals. They use the time to catch up with industry news and competition. Then they create new plans and start the cycle again.

Great Product Managers know when to focus on details and when not

The idea behind the product is to ship it and deliver value. Great product managers know instinctly when the time is right to make the move and launch. Yes, there is a chance the product will fail, but the extra time spent on working out every tiny bit of detail is probably also not worth it. Many product managers get obsessed with quality which results in a super long time to market. Lean startup is right – go to market fast and learn.

At other times though it’s important to spend the extra mile and work on the details. Is there really no data issue with the product. Does it do exactly what we want the product to do, can we skip this feature or does it need to get done.  The great product manager has a good feel for situations when the product needs extra attention.

Product Managers walk the walk and talk the talk

Great product managers are passionate about their domain. They love the domain they work at and say yes when they are asked to speak at a conference about their product. Tricky tricky – as many subject matter experts are not great product managers. Great product managers do need to be a light SME though. They don’t need to be rocket scientists, but they do need to be able to explain the workings of a rocket.

This will differentiate the product managers from the project managers. Those who create plans and follow their plan towards execution. They do a good job, but the risk arises to consider is that when there is too little love for the product, the passion is not transferred to the sales droids and the customer.

Great Product Managers have many side adventures

Great Product Managers get inspired every day by many things. They engage themselves in different activities and find ways to get a fresh stream of ideas coming their way. These are not always work related – and can also by hobby’s, side projects, school or pet projects. They need time to reflect, build connections and then magic happens. All this inspiration forms new and fresh ideas that will help the company do great things. So as a boss of product managers, make sure you don’t push the product manager to the limit as the fresh thinking will fade.

What else to read?

There are quite a lot of good articles on the topic ‘what makes a great product manager’. Here are a few:


Know when to say no



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