What makes a Good Product Manager, and what makes a Great Product Manager!

Experiences and Insights into the role of a Product Manager

So one question that I frequently get asked is “Please can you share with us some insights on how Product Managers can be most effective at their role?”.

As a Technical Director having played the roles of a Product Manager, Engineer Manager, Customer Success Manager, Engagement Manager and Business Analyst, I’ve had the opportunity to work as a Product Manager and also with Product Managers.

Following are some of my thoughts and insights into this question.

A great Product Manager is one who has a holistic view, It’s not just about the Product!

Good product managers focus on the product, they obsess about the product, think of creative ways in making the product better; can this design be made more contemporary, will this feature delight the user, what can I do to increase user adoption/retention etc. They take full ownership of the product.

Great product managers go beyond and think not just about the product, but about the product ecosystem. They think about the business strategy around the product. They think about the productivity of teams that are building the products. They are equipped with the necessary technology understanding to leverage the best and optimal solution for their product. In short they view the product not just as a narrow entity, but more as a startup venture; a venture that has many moving parts, where each have to be synchronized to ensure maximum output and the biggest bang for the buck. They ensure that the product roadmap is strategically focussed and tactically aligned.

Strategize, Build, Quantify, Repeat!

In my experience in order to be an effective product manager, the role requires contemplation and cultivation of some tangible and intangible skill sets. A Product Manager should view themselves as a mini-CEO of the product. In order to be that mini-CEO, the Product Manager must view the product ecosystem and themselves through the following lenses.

  • Customer Focus
  • Business Strategy Alignment
  • Technical Lexicon
  • Leadership
  • Keeper of the Vision

Customer Focus

Great Product Managers understand that the success of the Product ultimately depends on the users of the Product. To this end great Product Managers obsess over the following,

User Experience

A great Product should be seamless and easy to use, but it should do something more. It should delight the customer! User experience is paramount; convenience of use is important, however that last mile of the buttery smooth UI/UX is what drives users to using your product over that of a competitor.

Being One with the Product users

To this end Product managers should put themselves in the shoes of the Customer, they need to understand their audience base, they need to “walk a mile in their moccasins”.

As a Product Manager, spending time understanding your audience base is critical. They must repeatedly ask themselves the question, “How does the customer use the product?”; Is there specific times when the customer usage peaks? Is the customer typically carrying a bag in one hand when using the mobile app? Is the customer frequently in areas of low-network reception while using the app (eg. Subways)?; These questions are essential as they help the product manager really understand the audience base.

While focus groups for UI/UX are important and data collected from focus groups can provide qualitative direction and quantitive metrics on fine tuning the UI, great Product Managers need to go beyond! They need to be One with their Product users.

Business Strategy Alignment

Product Managers need to ensure that they are aligned with the business strategy and mission statement of the venture while developing the Product Roadmap. To this end they need to ensure that their product roadmap is strategically focussed and tactically aligned.

Understanding the business landscape

Great Product Managers obsess over understanding the business; they work with the strategy teams to understand the market needs, trends and data metrics. They collate the data metrics from the business strategy teams to understand things like; what phase will the product launch, what will be the projected scope and reach, market impact, user adoption, time to adoption, product monetization etc.

Creative Use Cases

Great product owners are creative, and practice/cultivate creativity. They align with the business strategy and exercise their imagination to creatively come up with the most effective and efficient solution to the business problem; be it product features that fulfill the customers need in the most efficient seamless way, or a smarter UI/UX flow.

Great product managers constantly ask themselves, “What is the use case that the product solves?”, “What are the ancillary use cases that it touches as a result of solving this problem?”. “Is it seamless to use?”.

Building a product is a highly creative process!

Great Product Managers go beyond the business need, and experiment with different ideas and creatively model use cases. They test these ideas and use cases, and identify the ancillary side-effects. They steal the best ideas, creatively collate, and think laterally to provide creative and effective solutions to the businesses.

Technical Lexicon

When it comes to technology lexicon the learning never ends. Great product managers constantly update their technical lexicon, so that they are able to leverage the best and optimal technology resources into their product.

A strong technical foundation allows product managers to assess what is possible and what is not feasible in terms of technical implementation of a business idea.

Leadership

Products are ultimately built by people and great product managers realize this. A great product manager needs to cultivate great leadership skills.

The servant-leader

Great product managers have the attitude of a servant-leader. They must view themselves as collaborators and enablers, instead of managers. 
Also, as Product Managers works across cross functional teams of engineering, strategy, dev-ops and business SMEs, they must be keenly aware of the nuances of effective people-to-people interactions. Since in most cases, the cross functional team members do not report to the Product Manager, the great product managers are able to cultivate the intangibles, and work with the different teams, through collaborative leadership, and personal exemplary hard-work, and establish trust with the different groups. This translates to working effectively with teams, to prioritize and orchestrate work, and ensure timely product delivery .

Self starters

Great Product Managers are self starters. Great Product managers take full ownership of the Product and drive the dependencies between the different teams to align them with the product vision. They require minimum or no external supervision and are guided by the business strategy and venture requirements. They proactively recognize the venture needs and align themselves and self-manage their workload to best fit the venture needs.

Keeper and Reiterator of the vision

Each of the great product managers take complete ownership of the product are the keepers of the product vision. They hold the vision of the product, and prevent it from getting distorted due to multiple inputs from different parties. They reiterate the product vision to all members of the venture and ensure that all teams are aligned with the product vision. The Product Managers bring the product to life; from conceptual ideation to a tangible product in the real world.

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