On the Qualities of a Good Product Manager
It is far more impressive when others discover your good qualities without your help.—Judith Martin (Miss Manners), etiquette authority.
According to Wikipedia, “a product manager investigates, selects, and drives the development of products for an organization.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t really tell us much when we’re looking for the qualities of someone well-suited to the job of product management.
A product manager is a marketer, a negotiator, a demographer, a liaison, a researcher, an innovator — it can entail so many jobs that two job descriptions reading “product manager” may read quite differently depending upon the product and the company.
Given such a diverse range of duties, what exactly qualifies someone to be a good product manager? In short, it requires a firm grounding in the present and a creative eye toward the future.
If you’ve set someone to manage a product, they should manage that product from top to bottom. Moreover, they should be its biggest advocate. Your product manager should love that product. Yet, that love cannot blind them to any flaws or shortcomings; it’s not only the product manager’s job to make that product even better than it already is but also to address the needs of the customers.
When the time comes for your product to be put out into the world, it’s the product manager that ushers it out the door, rallying marketing teams and sales teams and getting feedback from the public so that the cycle can begin again toward making improvements.
Visions of the Future
To manage a product, the product manager needs to have some idea of where the product should go. Sometimes, the market does not cooperate with these plans, which means product managers need to be quick thinkers and able to alter their plans to compensate for unexpected changes.
It’s not enough to just have that vision, however. A good product manager must also be able to communicate that vision and even show it to others through sketches, storyboards, prototypes — whatever is appropriate and necessary for everyone involved to understand what comes next. A bit of that love for the product is appropriate here as well, because the product manager should be able to make the teams they work with feel enough of that enthusiasm.
Qualities of a Good Product Manager
The details listed above are only the beginning. You may find someone who loves the product and has the vision and drive to push it forward, but what exactly does that entail? Here are a few things to look for in your ideal product manager.
- Leadership: It’s a vague term and an obvious one. Of course, someone with the word “manager” in their title should display leadership qualities. But the product manager is a special kind of leader. Whatever decision they make is final, but the process of getting to that decision should belong to everyone. Developing a product is very much a group effort, and a product manager who doesn’t know the opinions or concerns of everyone involved is not going to have the information needed to propel their vision forward. Look for someone who encourages the interplay of ideas in people from every department. It’s always a good idea to get a different perspective, and it may even lead to a completely new innovation.
- Communication: This is another generic term that needs clarification in the case of the product manager. People need to know what’s going on in order to get things done, and it’s the product manager’s job to make sure everyone is kept informed. This does not mean sending out a bunch of emails every day. There should be an accessible designated workspace (digital or otherwise) where schematics can be posted, graphs displayed, plans listed, and comments made.
- Responsiveness: There’s going to be feedback. None of it should ever be ignored. Moreover, it should always garner a response, because getting an idea and never replying is effectively the same as ignoring it. If the idea is good, it should be incorporated into the plan, and the one who suggested it should be told so and given credit. Most of the feedback, however, will be unfeasible for whatever reason. A good product manager is also a good diplomat. They should be able to explain why a certain idea can’t be followed and defend that position. In fact, in the process of defense, their critics may even find that the idea has some merit after all.
- Passion: It’s been mentioned before, but it warrants further mention: product managers need to love their product in the kind of way that makes others want to love the product. Not only that, but they need genuinely care about the concerns of the product’s users. If they don’t understand your customers, they’re not going to be your best product manager.
The qualities listed above are only the beginning of what makes a good product manager. You know your product and you know how you would like the world to see it. You know the value of what you have. What you need is someone else who sees that value and knows how to communicate it to others, both to your employees and to the world at large.