Traits of a Great Product Manager

Before we discuss tools for assessing the competency of Product Managers in the following chapters, let’s address general traits, i.e. aspects of personality that we have found valuable when building product teams.

Learning Skills

Have you ever felt that you’ve completely tanked it? Shipped a feature that was perceived terribly by customers; did an experiment that didn’t yield any actionable result; didn’t think through a solution which led to unreliable effort estimation and a Sprint disaster, etc. Were you able to pick yourself back up and tell what you’ve learned? If so, you have the learning skills that a PM needs.

Did you have to shift to a new domain in a short period of time, say, like a gardener learning how to cook? Did you have to back someone up in an instant and decide things that you aren’t familiar with? Were you more thrilled than nervous? If so, you have the passion that’ll help you to learn.

Product Management is an exciting job. There’s something new every day. To fully enjoy this job, one needs to fully enjoy learning. It could be learning new things, could also be learning from mistakes.

There are many academic and pragmatic structures for learning new things, but in the Product Management context, if we first dissect the “new things”, we are actually learning these usual suspects:
  • Who are we doing this for?
  • What are they trying to achieve?
  • Why we are doing this and not other things?
Namely, answering the above questions gives you a solid picture of the personas, the user journey, as well as the value proposition the product carries.
It’s also meaningful to ask, what other jobs (JTBD) these personas may have that aren’t covered in our product? Back to the gardener learning to cook example, a chef typically owns the menu, the cooking, and the provisioning. In the meantime, the chef also takes care of the sous chef, who may ask questions and require guidance. This helps us paint a 3D picture of our target personas and help us understand their pains and desires deeper and better.

Learning from our own mistakes is celebrated in Agile frameworks in the form of collective Retrospectives and Post Mortem for instance, where the Engineering team, UX, and PM sit together and reflect. Yet on a daily basis, PMs would encounter plenty of small and meaningful self-reflecting opportunities:

  • Do a debrief. We’ve all had those noticeably unproductive meetings. It’s normal to burn in frustration a little. But it’s more helpful to think about how can we do it better the next time: ensure the right attendance, emphasize more on the goal, prepare better prior to the meeting, etc.
  • Ask open questions. When a stalemate happens, try to understand the causes by asking open questions. You’ll learn that with the highest motivation, quality tools, and an outstanding team, the reason that a chef couldn’t deliver dinner was due to the lack of ingredients. You’ll learn to double-check provisions the next time.
  • Ask for feedback. Although commonly we sit in hours of meetings every day, communicating and collaborating, we rarely talk about ourselves. Ask the people who work most closely with us what they think of our way of working, e.g., communication, team spirit, and problem-solving. You’ll learn what you did well and where to improve.

After all, it’s more about doing and getting better, than getting it absolutely right from the start. Having the aptitude and attitude to learn is enough. The rest will come in time.