Top 9 Qualities of a Pro Product Manager

I was recently talking to a co-founder of a leading social network and he asked what in my view are the qualities of a great product manage...

I was recently talking to a co-founder of a leading social network and he asked what in my view are the qualities of a great product manager. I could think of three right away but I believe there are more that are equally important.
If you are responsible for hiring a product manager or work with a product manager, here are 9 qualities that make a great product manager:

Strategic Thinker

A product manager is a mini-CEO of sorts. He needs to understand the current product strategy and how it aligns with the overall company strategy. He needs to know the product vision, how it will generate customer value and what is the differentiating advantage over its competitors. Once a product manager gets this and is able to clearly articulate that strategy, you would be surprised how the rest of the team will rally behind it, in order to build a winning product. For the product to be a long term success, he needs to envision how the product, industry and competition is going to evolve and develop a long term roadmap.

Related post: Top 7 free and paid product management courses

Passion for products

Product managers should love products. They should be able to recognize and respect great products. They should be able to tell what makes one product loved by customer and the other not. They should be able to identify what needs have not been met and how they can be improved. If the product manager is truly passionate about the product, it rubs of the entire team and leads to the development of great products.

Empathizes with the customer

It is ideal if you can hire a product manager that has experience in your industry but in reality you won't. It is very rare to find somebody that is good and has relevant industry experience. At the minimum, the product manager you hire should have deep empathy for your target customer.
If it is a consumer product, you have to be extra careful that the product manager is not projecting their needs and ignoring the larger target customer base. Ask them as to who the target market is and how is different from them. The candidate should respect and empathize with the customer.

Interviews customers

A product manager with deep customer empathy recognizes the importance of talking to customers. A good product manager will look for every opportunity to learn from the target customer. Even it were a chance meeting, they are looking to gather insights into their needs and how they solve them today. If you are working on a consumer product, the opportunity to meet a target customer is endless - on a bus, at a party, at the playground and so on. So a good product manager is always prepared.
In order to be an effective interviewer, the product manager should be objective, can put people at ease and get them to answer the tough questions. They are more interested in learning than selling.

Aspires to build great user experiences

In this hyper competitive environment, an amazing user experience is a necessity and product managers should thrive to create it. For which, the product manager needs to know how to identify customer needs, translate them into task journeys, design interaction diagrams, test and iterate on those diagrams and engage visual designers to build emotive visual designs.
In most teams, you do not have the luxury of having an interaction designer and a visual designer. Instead, the product manager plays the role of an interaction designer and have somebody else do the visual design. Even if an interaction designer is present, a product manager should be able to demand the very best. They should be able to tell when a design is good and when a design is bad. They should be able to tell if the design addresses the need in the most efficient way and if all the interactions fit together in an intuitive, self-describing and logical manner.

Keeps Score

In addition to knowing what the game is, a product manager should be able to keep score. Keeping score means identifying the right metrics and knowing when you have won. Winning means identifying the current baseline for the metrics and the goal the team would be shooting for in the next release. Once a product manager is able to accomplish this, everybody in the team will have clear understanding as to how the game is won. The team is rightfully aligned, motivated, inspired and innovative.

Ability to Prioritize

One of the key attributes of a product manager is to be able to prioritize the backlog. Once the product manager and the entire company/team knows what game is been played and how the score is kept and won, prioritizing becomes an easy task. The product manager needs to map the product strategy down to the individual features, and prioritize them in the right order across phases so as to maximize the winnings. If a product manager is able to do this well, all stakeholders within the company will buy into the prioritized backlog even though their pet features have not made the cut.

Collaborative leader

Building a product is a collaborative process and its take a product manager with collaborative nature to pull it off. Even though a product manager is the leader of the product, most of the people development team does not report to him. Moreover, product requirements come from various functional groups and customers and they all are considered important by those contributing them. In such an environment, a product manager cannot be dictatorial. He needs to be able to inspire others to follow him. He needs to be able to negotiate while prioritizing the backlog and appease all stakeholders. He needs to clearly communicate why a particular feature was chosen over an other one for the current release. At the same time he needs to be confident, assertive and at times lay down the law since the buck stops with the product leader.

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