13 Essential Product Management Skills

Product managers are jacks of all trades.

They are tasked with conceptualizing, strategizing, researching, developing, implementing, and marketing products. They also act as representatives of their ideas, collaborating with and “selling” their visions to other important teams and departments, such as engineering and design. They also see their ideas through the entire product lifecycle, something that sets them apart from some other technology professionals.

Because their roles are so varied and demand many different types of specialized knowledge and competencies, product managers must possess skills in an abundance of areas. Both hard and soft skills, including technological ones, are mandatory for product managers to do their jobs and do them well, including the following 13 essential ones.

1. Storytelling

You don’t need to have a degree in creative writing to be a successful product manager. You do, however, need to know how to tell a compelling story. Your audience isn’t just your clients or customers — it’s also your internal team: the engineers, the UX designers, the sales representatives, and others.

Product managers must weave together a story that resonates with the engineers so they build the product according to your vision. They must develop a narrative that speaks to UX designers so they create a compelling experience for users. And they’ll have to sell it to the salespeople so they, in turn, can sell it to consumers.

Customers, of course, will need to understand how the product will benefit them, so your story will need to speak to their needs, wants, and pain points.

2. Research

So, what do users want in their products? You’re not a mind-reader, so you’ll need to do research into your prospective audience to find out. This involves studying trends and competitor ideas, as well as receiving guidance directly from the source: your would-be customers.

Market research might involve surveys, interviews, focus groups, and other methods of gathering intel from your target base. You’ll not only find out what they’re looking for, but you’ll also learn what about your product is working and what’s not.

3. Interpersonal

Part of being a jack of all trades means, for better or for worse, that a product manager will be working fairly directly with pretty much every department in the organization, depending on the size, type, and number of products and services it delivers. Although the role is different from that of a project manager, they’ll still act as somewhat of a liaison for departments like engineering, marketing, sales, and finance.

This requires strong interpersonal skills. No, they don’t have to like everyone, but they do have to be able to successfully pitch ideas in order to have a productive working relationship with them. Product managers have to understand their needs so you can provide the right information to them. They’ll also need to be able to empathize with the needs of your customer.

4. Analytical

What does the data say? This is where your analytical thinking comes into play. A product manager doesn’t just need to be able to gather data — they also need to be able to interpret it. Having analytical skills will allow them to devise plans and solutions based on concrete information about what your customers want and what’s feasible for your business.

After all, it’s not enough to have innovative ideas — you also need to back them up with real data and results. And the ability to interpret your research and other information will prove invaluable in this role.

5. Communication

As a product manager, every day, you’ll be tasked with communicating: your ideas, your findings, your research, and your knowledge of the product.

From daily emails and Slack conversations to presentations, you’ll need to be able to have strong verbal and written communication skills in order to explain your requirements, put your thoughts into words, keep everyone up to date, and so on. You’ll also need to be able to listen to others — really listen — to ensure everyone is on the same page. This is another facet of effective communication.

Without clear explanations and guidance, your product plans can derail very quickly resulting in incorrect execution and lengthened timelines.

6. Strategic Thinking

As a product manager, it’s imperative for you to always have your overarching strategy in mind during each phase of the project. You’ll need to be able to understand how the market will view your product and how your product, in turn, fits into and responds to user demands. You should be able to identify potential flaws and questions and figure out how to address them, as well as create strategic objectives for your product and team.

Strategic thinking is also important for mapping out your product lifecycle, from conception to launch to updates, and how different team members fit into the overarching plan.

7. Business

Business acumen goes hand in hand with strategic thinking. Product managers need to understand business principles and the overarching mission and strategy to conceptualize products that fit in with and help the organization meet its objectives. They should also be able to predict how their products will affect the bottom line and bring in profits, as well as how to effectively work within a budget.

That doesn’t mean you need to have an MBA to be a successful product manager — it just means you need to have enough understanding of business basics to develop and market products for your organization.

8. Creativity

Your creativity and curiosity will push you to come up with and develop innovative products and projects. As cliche as it sounds, this is the magic behind your ideas, the thing that enables you to have a vision and execute it.

Your passion for creating will also encourage you to keep striving to improve and refine your product. You’ll be able to develop ideas for building new and better products, while also keeping in mind that the product life cycle is ongoing and requires constant updates and tweaks.

9. Marketing

Product management is about more than just conceptualizing products. It’s also about understanding your audience and packaging your product correctly for them to identify with it. Product managers don’t replace marketers, of course, but they work with them to provide a vision digestible and appealing to prospective and current consumers.

As you develop your idea and the product itself, you should leverage your marketing skills to consider how to position them for your internal team and external users.

10. Technical

While you’re probably working with software engineers who will be responsible for executing your ideas, you should still have at least a basic working technical knowledge.

For example, you should be familiar with the programming languages, libraries, and frameworks your company uses in order to work together with the engineers to ensure the process is running smoothly. This will also allow you to come up with ideas that are realistic and within the boundaries of possibility.

The level of technical skills a product manager should have varies according to the specific role, but it’s a good idea to understand at least basic coding and other technical fundamentals.

11. Prioritization

As a product manager, you’ll have to juggle a lot of different responsibilities, objectives, and projects. In order to meet your short- and long-term goals for your products and overarching business strategy, it will prove imperative to hone your ability to prioritize. This will also be beneficial to your entire team because part of your job is to show others how your products and ideas fit into the larger picture and which tasks deserve the most attention at any given time.

Another piece of prioritization is managing expectations and knowing when it’s appropriate to say yes or no to different demands — because there will be plenty of colleagues vying for your time.

12. Collaboration

As is probably clear from the other key skills on this list, collaboration is one of the most critical competencies you’ll need to have as a product manager. You’ll be collaborating with most or all departments within your organization to ideate, bring your product to fruition, and market, sell and refine it. You’ll work closely with engineers, designers, marketers, financial professionals, and others, and your ability to collaborate effectively will prove essential.

If you’re working on behalf of clients, you’ll also need to be able to collaborate with them in order to ensure you’re accurately reflecting their vision and requirements.

13. Industry Knowledge

Ultimately, you must remember that you’re conceptualizing and building products for a purpose. That’s where a knowledge of the industry in which you work will come into play. While it’s not critical that you’re an expert in the field, you should understand broadly how the industry functions and its major purposes for existing. You should also go deeper to understand the niche your organization has carved out within it.

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These skills impact many aspects of the product manager’s job, such as the compliance laws governing the sector, the existing products within it, and the ways products are marketed.

Product management is a multi-faceted career that requires deep knowledge and skills in many different areas. It’s hard to define because the job intersects with so many diverse specialties and niches. While the role will, of course, vary, depending on the organization and individual, these skills will serve product managers well no matter the specific path they choose.

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