What types of skills are needed to become a Product Manager?

First and foremost is called “critical thinking”. You’d be surprised at the number of people with titles of Product Manager (or, even, Senior Product Manager!) who are lacking this skill.

Another good skill to have is what recruiters like to call “business acumen”. Not sure if they know what it means, but in the classic sense – as in “keenness and quickness in understanding and dealing with a business situation” (source: Wikipedia – Business Acumen) it’s an amazing skill to have. Among other things it allows you to quickly evaluate your own product from a market’s perception and understand if you have a “solution for a problem” or a “solution looking for a problem”. You want to have the former and avoid the latter.

Being able to question everything. Especially – do question the set ways to do things – this is mostly where most of the problems are. Failure is a journey too. If a “user” experiences a certain “pain” – he/she will definitely try and resolve it. When they fail – at least a couple of times – they will hire someone passive enough to “do as they told” and “be quiet” and “not to argue with the boss”. That’s how “ways to do things” are set. That’s how you get people running hundred rep call center from a spreadsheet. That’s how you get people to stop question their commission payments because “no one can analyze hundreds of thousands of rows each month in a single Excel spreadsheet”.

Because “reasons”.

Knowing your technology, what is possible or not possible, or having subject matter experts available. I had a lot of experience developing regular software so I could easily anticipate what can be done and what cannot. When paired with the questioning of the “ways to do things” – it may seem like magic to your customers. A real-life anecdote: “No one was ever able to reconcile these commissions automatically and we can’t do it manually either – these Excel files are huge and have to be downloaded monthly by hand from a password protected portal”. – “What if I can automate the download and import the data into a database. Can I match this against that automatically?” – “I don’t see why not” – “Then we can 100% automate your reconciliation”. – “Wait, what?”

Learning skill. This is probably the most important. In your journey as a product manager, you inevitably will end up with a problem which will not be solved using your existing skill set. You will need to learn something new. This will happen constantly, the more areas of your customers’ lives you will touch. Within 2 years of my previous job, I’ve learned a ton of new stuff. How informal negotiations work. How salespeople talk to customers behind closed doors. What do CEOs talk to each other about and how when they’re partying. How partners in a business fight and how they find ways to resolve their conflicts with minimal impact to the business – and how they fail to maintain the resolution. And, ultimately, how each of these factors affected my own product and its journey.

All others are important too – a product manager is a CEO without a company, so in almost all cases you can’t just delegate the task to someone else. Especially in early stages of building the product you get to do EVERYTHING yourself. Marketing collateral, managing developers, juggling projects, negotiating resources and timelines, hell – sometimes you end up building your product website in a spare time because no one else can build a website for something that doesn’t exist.

Last, but not least that I wanted to mention is the ability to go on. “It’s the courage to continue that counts” and in the world of product management it is the only way to build useful and successful products. Within one year I have tried to create at least a dozen products that solve one problem or another. Nine of them failed completely. One produced a freebie that was great for retention but didn’t make any money for the company directly. One failed, but from the salvaged parts the company was able to build a completely new line of business that became pretty successful. Another one (potentially – as I am not with the said company anymore) is another new successful line of business. What if I had stopped after the first three failures? What about six? If you think you need to draw the line – you don’t. You just keep going.

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