Five must-have skills for product managers
Today we are talking about the importance of product management and what makes a product manager great. We have the perfect person for this discussion, JJ Rorie. JJ has spent her professional career in product roles, both leading product in internal roles and advising and coaching companies. She teaches a graduate product management course for the engineering school at Johns Hopkins University and hosts the Product Voices podcast. She is the author of Immutable: 5 Truths of Great Product Managers. She is also the founder of Great Product Management, where she provides training, coaching, and advisory services for product managers, leaders, and teams.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[9:04] What makes great product managers? In your book Immutable, you address 5 truths of great product managers. Can you take us through each one?
In the book, I focus on those skills of product managers that are immutable or timeless, regardless of your organization or industry. These 5 skills are not the only things you have to be good at in product management, but if you don’t have them, it’s going to be really hard to navigate the role of product manager.
[12:27] Customer intelligence
Customer intelligence encompasses the voice of the customer, continuous discovery, and all the mechanisms of understanding customers. It’s an overarching understanding and appreciation of your customers and who they are. Understand your customers on four levels:
- Unmet needs
Great product managers move past levels 1 and 2 to levels 3 and 4. If you understand your customers at those levels, you know what’s truly happening to them and what pain points you could potentially help solve.
[17:45] Relationship building
Anybody who’s been in product management for a minute and half knows you have to have strong relationships with stakeholders, because we work with people all over the organization and even outside the organization. There’s no one-size-fits-all to relationship building, but the underlying tenet that is bedrock to professional relationships that work is confidence. The product manager has to instill confidence in each of their team members. Do your team members have confidence in you and do they have confidence in the product?
Figure out the status of your relationships with the 10 people in your organization who you work with all the time and whose relationships are critical for the success of the product. Ask yourself, How confident are they in me? And how confident are they in the product? You can score them on each question and plot them on a quadrant. Some people are champions who believe in you and the product. Some people are detractors who don’t believe in either one. You can’t process your way through relationships, but you can be very intentional. You can understand where people’s relationships sit, and you can plan to nurture a champion and repair a detractor.
[22:03] Effective communication
Communication in product management is about connection and clarity. Connect with your audience through stories and empathy. Adapt to your audience. Product managers communicate all the time with different people, and you have to tailor your communication to each person. Understand when someone wants the details and when they want the big picture. Clarity means being concise and repeating yourself consistently. If you focus on connecting with your audience and improving yourself just a little bit in that area, you’re going to be a better communicator.
[27:06] Good judgement
Good judgement means recognizing we’re all susceptible to cognitive biases and trying to avoid them as much as possible. We’re all going to fall prey to confirmation bias, framing our questions in a way that taints the information we get back. Great product managers also become comfortable with ambiguity. In product management, there are no cut-and-dry absolutes. It’s not absolutely clear which direction is best. We work with incomplete data and have a few different ideas that could all be viable. We’re going to get it wrong quite often, but great product managers become comfortable with knowing they made the decision with the information they had at the time, moved forward, and learned. They put the mechanisms in place to quickly learn and pivot. They don’t fall prey to paralysis by analysis.
Prioritization starts with prioritizing our time. Product managers are often asked to do things that aren’t really in the role. Great product managers are intentional. Understand where your time is spent. Categorize it, e.g., I’m spending X amount of time with customers and Y amount with customers, and I’m putting out fires 50% of the time. We first have to know how we’re spending our time at work, because of a lot of what organizations ask product managers to do should be done by someone else or at least deprioritized from our role. If something comes along that is ancillary to our top priority, we say no or figure out it could go to someone else.
Once we’re doing the most impactful things with our time, we can prioritize features, functionality, and ideas. There are a lot of good prioritization models you can use. Prioritization comes down to asking, Is it going to add value to the customer? Which customer, how many customers? Are they going to pay for it? Is this where we want to go strategically?
We can forget about prioritization, and I still find myself saying, “I didn’t do anything on my to-do list.” It’s not about being perfect. It’s just about making sure you’re focused on prioritization.
Action Guide: Put the information JJ shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Check out GreatProductManagement.com
- Check out JJ’s book Immutable on Amazon or Bookshop
- Connect with JJ on LinkedIn or Twitter
“I either win or I learn.” – Nelson Mandela
Thank you for taking the journey to product mastery and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.