What does a person need to have in order to be a good product manager? There are some important characteristics and I’ll talk about them here. But the most important of all is, certainly, the one that illustrates this article, empathy.
Empathy is the ability someone has to walk in someone else’sÂ shoes in order to understand herÂ aspirations, motivations, needs, and problems. This characteristic is important to understand customers and users of the product, to know how they relate to the product, and what problem they expect to be solved, or what needs they want to fulfill. This will help the product manager to better understand his user in order to design the best product along with UX and engineering.
However, empathy must not be used only with the customer or the user. The product manager must use it also when relating with other areas of the company and must understand the impact the product has on their work as well. Did legal problems increaseÂ because a feature of the product was launched or changed? What is the impact on the sales team, on support, operations, finances, and marketing? Regarding the product team, engineers, and UX analysts, how does the product interfere with the work of these professionals?
The second most important characteristic isÂ communication. In order to be empathetic, the product manager needs to communicate with people in several scenarios: in one-on-one conversations and in small groups or making presentations for small and big groups of people, internal (inside the company) or external communication (in conferences, user groups, etc.).
The product managerÂ must also be good in written communication (e-mail, blog, documentation, chats, social networks, etc.) and be able to distinguish about what is the most appropriate way of communication inÂ a given moment, toÂ a given audience and using a specific media; and communicate in a way heÂ gets understood by different audiences: technical and non-technical.
As if all this was not enough, the product manager must also be able to communicate with confidence and believing in what he’s communicating; after all, the product manager is the spokesperson of the product.
However, talking is not the only communication task of the product manager. Communication is a two-way street, in other words, the product manager must be very good at listening and understanding what others are saying, and understanding their aspirations and needs; and this has everything to do with the first characteristic, empathy.
The third most important characteristic is time management. The day-by-day of a product manager can get quickly filled with tasks and he needs to be able to notice and distinguish what is urgent from what is important to guarantee that he will always have time to know more about the customer and the user of his product. It is very easy for a product manager to face his daily schedule full of meetings, with people from different areas to discuss several subjects: product backlog, customer support, marketing communication, operational problems, forecast review, legal matters, collection, etc.
The product manager has to take care of his product as a whole. For the user, there’s no engineering, operations, finance, legal and collection departments. He sees everything as part of the product that the product managerÂ takes care of, and he doesÂ have to care about everything. However, caring about does not mean that heÂ should go to all these meetings. If heÂ does so, he will take the focus out of what is most important to hisÂ product.
As a product manager, he must focus his time on:
Some meetings are important, and I advise you to participate when possible. In spite of that, you won’t have much to contribute in these meetings if you don’t focus on the 7 items I’ve just listed. Do save some time in your schedule to focus on that, and you will see your participation in meetings get more useful and productive.
Aside from these three characteristics (empathy, communication, and time management), there are four other ones that will help the product manager to do a better job:
We can see that this list is a set of characteristics that not all people have. It is common for people from other areas that decide to try the product manager career, but after a while, they realize that they don’t have all that it takes.
If you are a product manager or wish to be one, do a self-analysis on each one of these characteristics. And if you are lagging behind in any of them, then focus on developing it. If you are responsible for identifying and hiring product managers, use this list as a guide to know if the candidate has the necessary characteristics for succeeding as a product manager.
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