The T-Shaped Product Manager 2019 (Part 1 — Core Competencies)

Main skillset

Methods and knowledge areas tapped by product specialists in their practice every day.

User Research (Customer Development)

Creating products is about creating value, that is — making products that solve someone’s problems. Assumptions about other people’s problems PMs come up with need testing as scientific theories need empirical evidence. And testing these assumptions requires Customer Development or User Research — frameworks for working with people that is basically sociological (+anthropological) method applied to business: interviews, surveys, questionnaries, etc.

The edge of it — sociological scientific journals (or articles about CustDev).

Product Ownership

This point is about being able to makes use methodologies (SCRUM and others) and technologies of managing product work. It’s a day-to-day process of deciding “what’s the most important thing to do at the moment” for your team. It’s also a mindset of advocating for your product, representing it.

Look for books about specific subsets of product owner’s work like this one from O’Reily or this one about value proposition design.

UI / UX Design

Designing experiences and interfaces that allow for seamless interaction with the product is an art, and a PM should be as good as a UX designer at least in this art’s theoretical part to envision great products. Product Manager should work together with the designer to ensure product goals are met.

UX is an integral part of user’s interaction with the product, and a product specialist without UX competencies will not be able to assess and design this (very important) part of user’s journey.

Here’s a book, another book, and one more, and this one for lean UX.

Product Marketing

Product Marketing makes for a market optic in the product work. Aiming for specific markets, using approaches suitable to these markets, overall — making your product with a market in mind. Tools of Product Marketing include many regular marketing methods (funnels, positioning/messaging), but also adopt user-centered approach, competitor strategy and are done product-wise.

Here’s a good explanation of Product Marketing, and 9 core functions from Intercom.

Analytics / Product Metrics

Quantitative analysis is not a magical device that solves every product problem, but it can be very useful (especially when talking profits). Tinkering with metrics and working with quantified important features brings efficiency to your product. It’s about going abstract and theoretising, and it’s a vital tool for generating insights. One of the main “selling points” of a product manager is her ability to take a particular metric and boost it.

A research article on SaaS metrics , a case study of Salesforce’s evaluation metrics


Every specialist should be able to conduct research, but in product-management research methods are used on another level. Researching users, researching markets, researching for possible product solutions. Most of the time a PM has to do research and study, because value creation is impossible without having full information on the environment.

These materials might help in getting a grasp on research: wikibook on research methods, methodology website, paper on case studies in research.

Product-Market Fit

The process of finding big markets with enough consumer demand and tracking down unmet demands on that market. Arguably the most valuable knowledge area for a PM to be proficient in, as it determines the product’s growth. Keeping in mind that companies always need to adjust and rethink their product-market fits, a product specialists does this a lot.

Some basics from a Stanford lecturer Andy Rachleff, and the original article from Mark Andreesen.

Hypothesis Testing

That’s a product manager’s scientific method. One can make hundreds of seemingly realistic assumptions, but testing them against practice is what will prove whether they can bring benefit to anyone. After testing one hypothesis a PM goes on to test others and continues this in an iterative process.

A case study of ProductPlan, and a simple course to statistial hypothesis testing on Udemy.

Business Lifecycle

Ways to efficiently lead a product through every stage of it’s life are necessary to know if a PM doesn’t have intentions to waste resources and potential. It’s a whole practical field studied in business schools, but it has it’s specific aspects in product management.

There exists a dedicated website just about product lifecycle management and a 2018 book by John Stark

Backlog Prioritization (ICE/RICE Score)

Assessing priorities of tasks builds on all other product’s competencies, but the technical part of it is an important area in itself .Prioritizing tasks — deciding what needs to be done first and what later — is what a product manager does in a team. ICE/RICE score is one of the frameworks for prioritizing, and there are useful methods to quantify this process.

A good wrap-up by Paul Mcavinchey, Scrum also recommends “ordering”, not “prioritizing”.

Lean / Continuous Delivery

Main methodology of modern management is not something a product manager can avoid. Two principles — remove things that add no value and try to ship and improve in short cycles. The key takeaway is not to produce anything until you have validated that it’s needed. Having a good knowledge of lean methods is a must for a product specialist to manage effectively.

Here’s a podcast on how to adapt lean in your team, there’s also a 2018 book by Mangalam Nandakumar about lean in product management.

Funnel Marketing

Funnels are usually considered a marketing tool, but PMs use them almost as often as marketers do. Adjusting particular steps and finding errors on a funnel where metrics are off helps improve the product in small steps, working your way towards more value for the user. Some product specialists acquire especially novel insights when using advanced data analysis on a funnel. Conducting salesmen training also provides important feedback.

A step-by-step technical guide using Google Analytics can be useful for practice. There’s also a course from Udemy

Business Theory

A product manager is the internal entrepreneur of the firm. And, as any entrepreneur, she got to know management, economics, finance and legal aspects of business. This may sound trivial, but not having a reliable foundation in these areas (tacit or explicit knowledge of business and markets) leaves a product specialist without a clue.

Check this fine-structured website with case studies and fundamentals. Also there are business courses from University of British Columbia on EdX (just open them separately), and many cases from them, too. For economics, I recommend Paul Krugman’s student book.

A/B Testing

A/B Testing is often used by product managers as a product method and when working with funnels. A/B testing in product allows to test product hypotheses and compare the impact of different product features. The same methods when used with funnels allows (like in marketing) to test different parts of a funnel. Both of these use scenarios help bringing the product closer to perfection.

This guide is pretty concise and is tailored for PMs, and there also is a book by Siroker, Koomen and Harshman.

MVP Design

Designing MVPs, MAPs, MUPs and other minimum products is another thing essential to profession. A PM doesn’t necessarily have to develop a product to test it, she can start by testing a funnel and then, if the funnel proves succesful enough, start the development. Key to making an MVP is stripping off all features that don’t contribute to the hypothesis being tested.

There’s a Udemy course on designing MVPs, and some case studies on Forbes.

Team Leadership

Product management involves theoretising and using abstract thinking a lot, but in the end a PM has to work with and manage people. This requires vital leadership skills. It’s hard (close to impossible) to learn leadership by reading a book, and a strong PM usually has lots of practice solving problems in teams. Leadership is not only about personal qualities of a manager, but also about how she structures the teamwork process and works with culture.

Take this review of current leadership theories and some books on organisational culture.

That’s it for part 1 with core bread & butter competencies and essential skills of a product specialist. In the next piece we will introduce second- and third-tier knowledge areas with boundary-crossing competencies and other important disciplines and systems a successful product manager employs.

For now, what do you think? Have I forgot to mention some key skills? Or maybe the chart has skills that are not important? Just comment under this post.

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