A great product manager is a truly rare thing. They are all parts artist, craftsman, and scientist. They have a highly-trained eye for market fit.
At a startup, they invent the conventions. They have to do every part of product execution. Ideation, launch, marketing, sales – all of it. And they usually have the fewest resources of anybody.
As a result, these professionals tend to be very resourceful with very little. They work closely with engineers and others to make the most of what they have.
The Visionary Product Manager
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford
A great product manager is so much more than a spec writer. Design sense, communication style, user-obsession, and openness are all key. The product manager has a fair amount of management to do, so they know how to treat the team to get the best results, but it always comes back to the product consumer.
Project managers know that the business won’t exist without users so they are highly focused on customer experience with the product. They should have artillery for finding a user’s need. They have the rare mix of empathy and pragmatism that allows them to find what users need – which often isn’t what they’re asking for. They have a sense of what will serve their customers best before the customers know themselves. Just like how Henry Ford knew that listening to what transportation customers literally asked for would have led only to “faster horses” and not the next level.
One major logical fallacy of recruiters hiring a product manager is looking for a “spec writer”. This may be a skill in the product manager’s toolkit, but focusing on this is a recipe for mediocre candidates.
It all starts with vision. Product managers know who their users are, what their story is, and how important it is to share that story with the whole company. When everyone at the organization has a very good understanding of the vision, everyone is aligned. Marketing knows precisely what to say. Customer support knows exactly what their customers are going through. The language is widespread because of strong leadership from the product manager.
Product managers know how to discern which features should move forward on a product with a limited production schedule. Then they work with support to show how to use the features the right way. When they discover something delightful, they make it easy for users to discover it for themselves in a natural way that surprises.
Understanding the Customer
In product management, customer needs are tantamount to every action taken. Creating an experience that meets or exceeds those needs is all part of a product manager’s wheelhouse.
That means that the product manager knows what the product is capable of. Their deep product knowledge allows them to create unique experiences for customers that ultimately creates delight in their customers.
Product managers these days are often working with software, so their knowledge of the technologies behind it all is vital. Software product managers are exponentially more qualified when they have a background building software as an engineer in their history. This allows them to set reasonable expectations with their staff and to have a high-level sense of production costs.
While technical knowledge is very important, the most important thing for a product manager to be asking is “who is this for and why should they care?”. A good product manager can arrive at answers to these questions and leverage their success.
Process is key with product managers. Leadership and technical skills are foundational, but having the right methodology to pull it all off is their greatest feat. They could never do this without a process.
The product manager is nimble regardless of their team’s limitations. Every product team is unique, but a powerful product manager knows how to get the most out of any ensemble.
Ideally, the right product manager hire will be an expert in your domain. It’s not completely necessary, though. If they are strong in other areas they should be able to learn your vertical and get up to speed quickly. Some product managers are effective because of their process alone.
Ultimately, Product managers are part-of-the-whole. They can’t exist at a company that doesn’t have the right talent beneath them. That means the right mix of engineers, support, marketing, and sales should be in place before bringing in a product manager.
These people are leaders. They are not usually the craftsmen themselves. They tie everything together. If the craftsmen aren’t present, then there is no need of r a product manager. As long as the other pieces are in play though, a product manager can greatly amplify the output of a team and rocket your organization to greater heights.