Competency Assessment

Product Management isn’t for everybody. And even when you stepped in, you may wonder how to further develop in order to build a successful career. On this page, we want to explain how competencies of Product Managers can be assessed.

The Product Management Competency Role Map

To provide guidance toward a long-term career as well as for coaching and developing team members, their tasks, skills, and competencies can be assessed along various dimensions. The following tables depict such a role map as we have been using it for more than a decade. While in any product company-specific aspects need to be added, the role maps below have been anonymized in order to not disclose any confidential information. Still, the overall idea should become clear — specifically how required skills and accountability grow from more junior to more senior positions.

Know the Craft

As the first area of expertise, knowledge about the domain and the product comes top of all. If nothing else, a Product Manager has to know about the market the company is operating in, its customers, and its product offering. Of course, the tools of the PM trade are required, too:

Know the Craft
Know the Craft

Product Discovery Skills

As a second dimension, understanding the Four Key Risks relevant to product development is key, and, hence, Product Discovery brings a number of skill requirements:
Product Discovery Skills
Product Discovery Skills

Product Delivery Skills

After discovery, another set of skills refers to being able to develop ideas and drive implementation of solutions:

Product Delivery Skills
Product Delivery Skills

Launching a Product

Finally, when it’s time to release a product or feature, dedicated skills are required to ensure successful roll-out:

Launching Skills
Launching Skills

Using the Role Map in Career Talks

The PM Role Map is very easy to use in quarterly performance reviews:
  • To prepare for the career talk, the Product Leader distributes an up-to-date version of the role map and asks every team member for their self-assessment.
  • Both the Product Manager and the Product Leader prepare their assessment independently.
  • Laying both assessments side-by-side, discrepancies become immediately obvious and the Product Manager and her manager can discuss opinions, identify gaps and agree on next steps to close these gaps.
  • For both, the employee and her manager, the role map provides a fully transparent tool to discuss about promotions and the skills needed for the next step in the career of a Product Manager.
We have been using this model for more than 15 years as leaders in product and technology. Of course, the actual content of the role map may vary. Often company- or product-specific details will be added which might easily result in 30-40 aspects to be discussed. This isn’t a problem at all if the role map is not seen as a form that has to be filled out pedantically accurately by both participants — but rather as a tool to align on the assessment and trigger discussions on diverging views or growth areas to focus on.

The Competency Wheel

The above PM Role Map is a tool to coach team members through their careers in Product Management. Sometimes, however, a more visual tool is needed that allows depicting the current state of affairs and maybe also map out how different team members compare against each other — or how a candidate compares a target state, say when discussing promotions.

For that, we can arrange the exact same competencies as described in the Role Map as a PM Competency 4×4 Wheel:
PM Competency Wheel
PM Competency Wheel

As can be seen easily, the inner circle reflects exactly the same categories that were used above to group skills and competencies of Product managers while the outer ring lists the respective skills as explained above.

For example, the following are all part of discovery:

  • Market research to find out about market sizes, growth rates, competition, etc.
  • Quantitative & qualitative research to learn from user interviews and data
  • Prototyping & testing to validate ideas
  • And finally, research to ensure business viability

Being more visual than the tables above, the PM Competency 4×4 Wheel allows for some very nice and easy-to-grasp visualizations when comparing a team member against the requirements of the current position — or against those of the next position when a promotion is under discussion:

  • Utilize a simplified scale, such as
    • 1 = Cannot do
    • 2 = Can do under supervision
    • 3 = Can do independently
    • 4 = Can guide others
  • Rate each of the 16 skills in preparation for the career talk, exactly as described for the PM Role Map above.
  • Display the results on a simple radar plot.

For example, the chart on the right does not depict a personal assessment (for obvious reasons) but instead the potential requirements of Associated PM (APM), PM, and Senior PM (SPM) with growing competence levels.

PM Competency as a radar plot
PM Competency as a radar plot

Thus, gaps and improvement areas of a Product Manager become immediately visible, so that objectives and focus areas for the coming months can be agreed between the Product Manager and her boss.

A Step by Step Guide for Using the Model

Update: Upon popular request, we have decided to not only describe our method here but make a ready-to-use template available for free via this resource page.

To benefit from the model the most, we recommend a quarterly cadence of 1:1 performance review meetings which can be run as follows:

Explain the Model

Specifically when the model is used for the first time, the Product Leader needs to explain its structure and content: What are the skills we aim for in the various dimensions, what do we mean, and how do we assess?

Assess the Status Quo
Let both, the product leader and the individual contributor assess the competency of the Product Manager independently from each other. As a result, each of them will come to the 1:1 performance review with their version of the radar plot sketched above.
Discuss and align
During a 1:1, review both assessments, discuss, and align. It is crucial that you block sufficient time for that. This is not a quick 30-minute weekly. According to our experience when running these 1:1 ca. quarterly, you might need 2 – 3 hours for it.
Watch out for Discrepancies

When discussing, specifically watch out for areas where both parties disagree significantly. Do not get obsessed about nuances but when the Product Manager believes she can work on a task completely independently while the Product Leader sees the need for constant supervision – then you have a mismatch. (By the way, also the other way around when the Product Manager does a great job but shows a lot of self-doubts.)

Detect Gaps toward Next Step
Thinking about the next career steps of the Product Manager, look for gaps. Here the radar plot comes in handy as it often displays that gap in a highly visual manner.
Select a Focus Area
Rome wasn’t built in a day. So, select some areas to focus on in the coming period. If that is a period of just a few months, don’t set goals too high but remain realistic. We have made good experiences focusing on one quadrant of the 4×4 wheel.
Agree on SMART Goals

Finally, for these focus topics, define SMART goals so that when you meet again in a few weeks or months, you can track progress.

Further Reading

Product Strategy Canvas

Coaching Tools - The Assessment

This article discusses the technique that Marty Cagan use and advocate for assessing a product manager. It is the foundation for then coaching the person to success.

Marty Cagan | SVPG
Product Strategy Canvas

PMWheel Framework

You are managing product people and are searching for a framework that helps you fostering career conversations with your product managers and assessing your product people in a structured way.

Petra Wille | Strong Product People
Product Strategy Canvas

What’s Your Shape?

A Product Manager’s Guide to Growing Yourself and Your Team

Shaun Russel

Product Self Assessment

A self-assessment tool for Product Owners and Product Managers.

Shaun Russel | Google Doc