Tuesday, 22 July 2014 13:08

Making the Leap from a Good to an Excellent Product Manager

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“If you are going to succeed, it’s going to take everything you have.”
-Anonymous

A product manager wears many hats. Depending on the firm you are employed with, you could be involved in a highly technical role or have an equal say in marketing the product. It may involve project/program management or engineering management as well.

For the purpose of this post, however, we are going with the traditional definition of this role. A product manager typically “investigates, selects, and drives the development of products for an organization.”

This is an all-encompassing role and requires you to marshal many of your resources. By this we don’t necessarily mean it’s a tough job (which it is, though that is a different blog post altogether), it means that you need to employ an overall intelligence to do your job in the best possible way.

You will need to draw from multiple disciplines and employ all your skills, not just the technical and business ones. And herein lies the key to excellence.

If the idea of undertaking the road to excellence interests you, here are a few ways in which you can get started.

Learn All You Can about Your Products

First things first, you’re a product manager and while it’s a multi-dimension role, it’s primarily about product management.

Brush up your technical skills to know about the products your organization has chosen to build. Learn all you can about them.

What makes an excellent product?

  • It should be innovative.
  • It should have a specific function.
  • It should carry out this function very well and reliably so.
  • It should be easy to use.
  • It should be marketable.
  • It should be profitable.

At the heart of all this, however, is the user experience. If you get that right, you will likely get everything else right too. Your aim should be to create products that lead to an immensely satisfactory user experience, but you won’t be able to build or invest in products that tick all these boxes unless you know what you are dealing with.

A thorough understanding of the products that have been chosen for your company to invest in is the first step towards gaining excellence as a product manager. Not only will this improve the resultant user experience of your products, a deep understanding at an early stage may well pre-empt problems before it is too late. You may even get better ideas for future designs and processes.

Make Research a Priority

It’s very important to know what your competition is up to, but it’s equally important to keep yourself abreast of the latest developments in not just your field but in all the prominent fields. Why? Because it’s all inter-related.

Take for instance technology. It touches all aspects of our lives. If you work for a food manufacturer who is planning a new health-food range, and you have just read of a beta app that gives its users a breakdown of the micronutrient content of food items, you know you have a great marketing idea right there.

On top of work-focused research, also engage in wide reading. Politics, economics, psychology, it will all help by broadening your understanding of the world we live in.

Build Better Interpersonal Skills

A product manager needs not just great technical and business skills but also excellent people skills.

Here’s why:

  • Product management is all about communication and execution of ideas.
    Communication, whether written or verbal, involves words, empathy, and good listening skills. If you lack any of these, you won’t be able to understand what your customers want.

  • You also won’t be able to effectively convey to your team the ideas bobbing around in your head. Presentation of new ideas requires the speaker to exhibit a degree of clarity and passion. The impact of rightly chosen and spoken words is such that it can win over anyone. If you are bad with words, you’d be selling yourself way short in the presentation room.

  • You won’t be able to deal with objections or skepticism, nor will you be able to understand the skepticism of others. It will also be difficult for you to gauge whether your own team has understood your ideas well or not.

  • A product manager spends a lot of time running back and forth between departments and team members. There is a lot of scope for misunderstanding every step of the way, which means the possibility of conflict is ever present. You’d need good conflict resolutions skills as well as good mediation abilities to do your job even better.

Set Your Team Up for Success

Subordinates thrive under the good attention and care of their immediate superiors. Since product management is team work, it will aid your goals tremendously if you actively invest in building a successful and competent team.

Be constructive in your criticism and lavish in your support. Train your team members in best practices and instill a strong work ethic in them. Be supportive of your team and empathetic towards their problems. Work with them to come up with good solutions to pressing problems instead of criticizing your team members for their shortcomings or failures.

To succeed as a manager you need to have the good of your team at heart. And you’d need all-round skills for that.

Finally, make a decision not to settle for mediocrity.

You’d agree with us that no matter how well things are going there’s always room for improvement?

Well, make use of this room then!

No one stumbles onto excellence. It’s a path one consciously takes and keeps laboring on.

Excellence can mean different things to different people, but if we were to simplify it somewhat, it would basically mean doing everything you do to the best of your ability.

Whether it’s about understanding the technical details of a product, expressing doubts over a process, or conveying a new idea, it has all to be done with a degree of finesse.

Attention to detail is a great trait to cultivate. Each and every one of the processes that a product manager is a part of presents you with the scope to go above and beyond your call of duty and bring an element of excellence to it. Question is, are you willing to go all the way?

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Stan Roach

Stan Roach is the Chief Customer Officer at Agiliron Inc. - a SaaS solution provider for omni-channel commerce. He has over 30 years of experience with a track record of launching several B2C and B2B software products.

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