The absolute must-have skills and qualities Product Managers need to develop early on in their career

Being or becoming a successful and sought after Product Manager goes beyond knowing your product. Technical knowledge and expertise are valuable but not sufficient for managing the full production and development lifecycle of an outstanding product.

Disclaimer: This is not another generic article about the importance of teamwork and leadership. 

 

In this post, I list the most demanded skills by employers, and I explain how they specifically apply to the product management function. Each and every statement here is based on the thousands of conversations and my observations of the evolution of the discipline. 

 

So let’s dive into the latest and most essential must-haves for aspiring Product Managers.

 
 

Agile

Without a doubt, ‘agile’ is a skill that has been exponentially growing in demand to a point where it is now almost non-negotiable in Product Management. However, agile applies in various ways and depending on where in their career journey they are, Product Managers need to adopt it and adjust accordingly.

 

Working in an agile way

In linear projects, the Product Manager is responsible for following structure and final success. He/She guides the schedule and assigns precisely defined tasks to the team members. The Product Manager monitors the implementation and makes sure everything is moving as per requirements and plan. 

 

For agile methods like Scrum, the function and responsibility are shared: The product owner ensures meeting the requirements defined in the product backlog. The Scrum master only takes responsibility for creating the framework conditions for the project and does not get involved in the content. 

 

Agile breaks down the deliverables into small elements so the team can have frequent reassessments. Project planning gets broken down into so-called sprint cycles which is essentially a fail-fast environment where frequent redesign and re-developments are common without them being a huge detriment to the project. 

 

Product Managers involved in agile projects learn the importance of teamwork, flexibility and testing. The skill of communication in such environments is absolutely essential and everyone is aware of the potential of suddenly changing course. Having such experience and skills is in very high demand and I advise all Product Managers looking to advance in their career to wrap their mind around understanding and adapting to agile environments.

 

Leading an agile team

Speaking to clients and hiring managers, we understand that being involved in agile projects is highly valued but having actually led them is invaluable.

 

The ability to communicate across and successfully transfer information between teams that metaphorically speak different languages, such as dev team and sales team, is gold. What employers also look for in Product Managers with such experience is the ability to brief such projects and understand the difference between the main agile frameworks - Kanban, test-driven development and feature-driven development. Team development, task management and timely decision making are also important parts and sought-after competencies in this scenario.

 

Creating agile processes

Product road mapping is the fastest-growing skill among talent in the product category with 262% YoY growth for the past 1 year according to LinkedIn data.

 

A product roadmap is a high-level visual summary that maps out the vision and direction of your product offering over time. A product roadmap communicates the why and what behind what you’re building. A roadmap is a guiding strategic document as well as a plan for executing the product strategy. (productplan.com, 2019)

 

Becoming the creator of the entire agile infrastructure is essentially the goal of an ambitious agile Product Manager striving to master the field. With such intense growth, this skill is surely not a one to neglect.

 

 

Product Design & Development

A Product Manager does not necessarily have to be an expert in design or development, however, they do need to fundamentally understand both. The Product Manager is the glue that holds a design and build project together and even more importantly is the one person that both the design and dev team need to trust. And can you gain anybody’s trust if you don’t understand them?

 

When talking to clients and hiring managers, they are also very interested in knowing the part a Product Manager candidate played in design and development - idea generation, concept, cross-teams presentation and alike. This way they are able to assess their expertise and ability to manage such delicate functions. Another way is understanding which phase they participated in - discovery and analysis, or/and the actual execution.

 

Getting more and more involved in these processes and developing a willingness to better understand them would surely power up your product management career.

 
 

Stakeholder Management

Stakeholders are often considered the investors in the product/project - the ones on whom depends the sign-off, the ones that require convincing, that need to really buy into it. Stakeholders, however, could also be considered the customers and all participants in testing stages, as well as in fact all leaders of teams and functions.

 

In all cases, the Product Manager needs to be able to communicate all, even the most technical information in an accessible, simple but also influential manner. Product Managers need to be able to manage relationships from top to bottom, from developers to directors, from designers to engineers, from investors to end-customers.

 

 

Communication 

Communication is important for almost any profession I know. Besides, I dedicated a section to this skill because it is specific to our topic of discussion in its own way. 

 

Passing a message from an engineering team to sales could be a big challenge. Translating UX language is a skill of itself and synchronizing the understanding between all functions in a project is absolute art. I learned that from clients and from candidates, and I know that questions like ‘Discuss your experience working with engineering teams’ and ‘ What were your biggest challenges working with a sales team? ’ are a must when interviewing and looking for a superstar Product Manager, depending on what Product they will be working on. 

 

 

Business Acumen

Unlike the rest, this skill is desired rather than critical. It has a place in my list for the reason that the desire for it is very strong.

 

A good Product Manager adapts and learns quickly, and it doesn’t mean that experience in a certain field limits them to stay in it for the lifetime of their career. However, when having a new role briefing with my clients, it always gets mentioned that business acumen in the specialist product line would probably be the ultimate USP. The latest conversation I had on this topic was around developing a lending platform and an app, and my client made it clear that such experience would allow a new hire to bring value straight away, facilitate the discovery phase immensely, and save a lot of time, resources and research.

 

Again, there are nuances and different businesses are looking for different things - sometimes new perspectives are welcome, however, my recommendation to Product Manager would be to start gaining experience in their field of preference as soon as possible as later transitions might prove more challenging.

 

 

Final thoughts

The fast-paced digital world and daily releases of new products and features make the demand for and interest in Product Managers rise with it. At the same time, there are over 12,000 PM professionals across London, New York and San Francisco (the key markets I work in), which also shows that competition for exciting projects and roles is increasing. 

 

If you’re a Product Manager interested in a consultation, or you’re looking to hire one, feel free to contact me and my team chrisn@tdacreative.com.