Six top skills for a product manager

The increased demand for product managers has meant that many people are considering it as a career. To be successful, you’ll need to possess a host of necessary skill sets

 

The business landscape is ever evolving and one area that is changing the most is the way that consumers interact with products. The foundation for the creation of exceptional products relies on product managers having a finely-tuned set of skills in their armoury.

These include product analytics software, development tracking tools, and design and roadmapping software. The latter being must-haves for any product manager as they form part of the discipline of building, implementing, and managing software or digital products. It is a crucial part of the business process, driving product development from the start to when it is physically delivered to the customer and serviced thereafter to increase revenue.

What is a Product Manager?

In layman’s terms, a product manager is that highly skilled individual who works backwards from identifying customer requirements to then setting the organizational objectives that will deliver that product or service to the intended target market. Then, to ultimately make sure that the magic happens, this person needs to be able to assemble a crack team that will deliver on what success will look like for that product. Product managers are truly relevant in the product development and management teams as more often than not, they are tasked with disseminating information and making sure everyone knows what they need to do and what the objectives are.

Sounds simple enough, but if that were the case there would of course be a lot of product managers kicking around earning lots of money, as a typical salary for a product manager can range anywhere from $63,000 to over $200,000. Of course, that’s not always the case as what separates an average product manager from an exceptional one is their mastery of a range of necessary top skills.

 

Dr. Troy Abel, visiting professor at Nexford University maintains that the technical skills for a product manager to possess includes top-level expertise in project management software, cloud-based software, and digitizing tools. Design skills required for a product manager to be familiar with include UI and UX design and web development. To be an excellent product manager doesn’t mean that you must be an expert in user interface or user experience, it just means you need to be familiar not only with the discipline, but also with the vernacular and develop an understanding of how to communicate with other stakeholders in those areas as well.

That’s the technical skills for a product manager, but there is also a mix of soft skills for a product manager to possess, such as being able to communicate exceptionally well, stay up to date with market trends, lead diverse teams, remain on top of market research requirements, and last but not least, be a strong strategic thinker. What needs to be borne in mind though when you set out on your journey toward enriching your career as a product manager is that growing your skills set is not just all about knowing all about the ins and outs of the product. It goes much deeper than that.

Product managers can make themselves more employable and climb the corporate ladder by upskilling. Technical skills and soft skills for a product manager to learn can be broken down into a top six. How to improve product management skills can start with earning your Nexford Certificate in Product Management. There you will discover product design best practice, implement product management principles, draw on software, and learn to communicate your ideas to a range of audiences.

Technical skills for a product manager 

 1. A solid understanding of how to interpret data 

Okay so you are not expected to be a budding Pythagoras or a top-level statistician, but you would be expected to have a decent understanding of how to read and interpret data if you want to hold your own as a product manager and rise through the ranks. People say, ‘trust your gut’, but that certainly doesn’t hold true here. The devil is truly in the data and that understanding of its importance should be used to make solid data-driven decisions for positive and calculated outcomes.

If you want to get to know your customers and create product experiences for them that will ultimately lead to sales, you need to accurately mine the data to get to know what their wants, needs, and aspirations are, and then be able to communicate that information to your team so that you will all have an end goal in mind and are pulling in the right direction.

2. Writing technical specifications and relating to requirements 

Time waits for no man or woman. The business playing field changes from week-to-week, let along month-by-month. If, as a product manager, you are not producing fresh ideas and/or optimizing the value of existing products, you’re dead in the water. But it’s not as easy as scanning the market and scribbling some fresh ideas on a piece of paper, you’ll need to master specific technical requirements. Ignore that, and your product development will derail and cease to exist.

Your ability to create technical product specs, detailed requirements, and product features for upcoming products will deliver a specific direction for your engineering team and designers to work off and will stand you in good stead and help boost your career.

Design skills required for a product manager 

 3. Knowledge of design and user experience best practice 

The dictionary defines a user experience as the overall experience of a person using a product such as a website or computer application, especially in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use. People don’t expect, they demand an intuitive user-centric experience when interacting with a product or a service, and if they don’t get it, they vote with their feet.

Generally, a product team will come hard baked with either a UX or UI expert or a handy combination of both. To make sure that as a product manager you are getting the most out of them and their invaluable experience and skills, it is helpful for you to have some technical knowledge in user experience best practices as well. This will help you communicate on the same level and in the same terms as your UX product team and ensures everyone is on the same page when it comes to understanding how time-consuming a task could be.

If you are an existing product manager, it is of critical importance that if you have not done so yet that you make a determined effort to create a relationship with your UX and design teams. If, however you are new to the game, it would prove useful to read up on how to do it, and how to do it well from articles like this.

4. A top-level understanding of web development 

Relax, you don’t need to be a coder or a back-end specialist, but the modern product manager needs to have at the very least a basic understanding of web development. It can also help them get on the same level as their engineering teams, as well as improve their inter-team communications when developing timelines and a roadmap. That might be good and well, but what if you don’t possess even close to the necessary skills? Best to discuss things with an engineering manager who will often be able to put you on the right path. Otherwise, the swiftest course of action would be to register for a simple coding class specific to your technology area.

Soft skills for a product manager 

 5. Industry insights and KPIs 

Pretty much all employees these days have pre-determined KPIs that they must live up to. Product managers are no different. It’s not just one or two. It can be several. The most common KPIs that seem to crop up repeatedly are the cost of acquiring customers, how many prospects have been converted into paying customers, daily active users, what product features customers are most likely to use, user churn, Net Promoter Score, levels of customer satisfaction, and what the customer lifetime value is determined to be as this will reflect on actual levels of profitability.

That’s the need to do part, now what about the how to do part? This is where a vital product management skill is to be knowledgeable about industry and market trends. This allows product managers to set and track KPIs. Getting to know the customer and the market that the product operates in, is not just the domain of sales and data teams. Product managers must roll up their sleeves and delve deeper in more granular detail to glean those vital industry insights that can be make or break for a product. This can take the form of exploratory research, competitor analysis, and segmentation research.

6. Critical thinking and analytical skills 

Being an exceptional product manager is not all about learning the tricks of the trade and then going off and applying those to your daily tasks. Connecting the dots has a lot to do with how you think, and how good you are at end-to-end problem solving. Making precise decisions and thinking down strategic lines are the fundamental responsibilities for product managers. Without those skill sets, making intelligent product decisions will be like pushing water uphill.

Product managers must be able to look closely at the information and data at hand and then provide all the invaluable insights that their team needs to get the job done. In so doing, product managers will be certain that if they have provided them with all the information to ensure that a product will provide value to the business and its customers.

How to improve product management skills 

Even if you’ve been considering product management as a career for a while, you might still wonder how you can become a product manager. What do you study for that? What kind of experience do you need? What should be your first step?

As always, these skills can be taught rather than just picked up as you bumble along. There are a great many ways to build them, but it is widely proven that the most effective way is finding the appropriate course at a reputable university. Then, the rest is up to you.

 

Ready to take the next step? Download our brochure or book a call with our Nexford Advisors!

About the Author

Mark Talmage-Rostron

Mark is a college graduate with Honours in Copywriting. He is the Content Marketing Manager at Nexford, creating engaging, thought-provoking, and action-oriented content.

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