Building world-class products is hard — really hard. The majority of articles about product management focus on the technical qualities that PMs should possess to succeed in this challenging role. However, crafting great products doesn’t just require analytical acumen, killer design instincts, or a technical background. It also requires a combination of specific intrinsic and extrinsic non-technical attributes. In this post, I’d like to share the top six non-technical skills that I believe that every product manager must demonstrate.
For product managers, patience is definitely a virtue. No matter your seniority level (associate, senior, manager, director, etc.), the most effective product pros understand the benefits of patience. Although building products is exciting, it’s also challenging and frustrating at times. And that means things may take longer than expected. All product professionals should be aware that the success of any individual product depends on multiple factors:
Product lifecycle and maturity
The pace at which innovation and launching new features takes place depends on the maturity of the product and where it is in its lifecycle. The development of a new product, for example, will likely move quickly. Your team will want to get that MVP into the market as soon as possible in order to begin gathering data and feedback. In contrast, the pace of innovation for a more mature product may be much slower.
If your product/service depends on cross-functional teams, the level of alignment will greatly affect the success or time for the project to be completed. It’s critical for all stakeholders to have skin in the game and be pulling in the same direction.
Examples include operating in conditions where local government regulations may impact product decisions. Certain products may even be banned from operating in some geographies. And there may be some unexpected red tape that will mean additional time to launch your product/service.
This refers to the ability of your team to rise to the occasion and deliver on your North Star. You may find that you’ll need to invest in specific training or increase awareness of goals and what is at stake.
Programmers can do nearly anything with code. But sometimes, depending on the problem at hand and the ideal vision in mind, technical feasibility may become a challenge, requiring teams to start from scratch or even go backward.
Being aware of such factors can help you be more patient and understand the bigger picture from the very beginning.
Be tenacious when solving technical challenges and dealing with ambiguous problems. Do not settle for mediocrity or make-shift solutions. Be tough and thick-skinned, try to influence your peers and leaders, learn to say no, and strive for the best outcome! You will have many curve balls thrown at you in your journey, but those who can stay on their feet will reap the rewards of tenacity.
Fire in the belly
Also referred to as passion or drive, “fire in the belly” should be at the heart of your product management journey. Being effective in such a critical and difficult role is impossible without inner motivation. Your penchant for solving problems in a specific industry or domain should be at the core of the why and how of the products you’re building. Ask yourself every now and then, “What makes me tick?”
Everyone around you expects you to lead. The teams around you need direction on the product, ranging from the smallest of design details to life-changing experiences for customers. However, demonstrating true leadership is no easy task. In general, this is a skill that is acquired on the job as you gain experience. Look for an awesome mentor if you can. You are in the driver’s seat, seeing both the horizon and the speed bumps, and are expected to navigate, giving your passengers a smooth ride. Aye captain!
Product decisions define the direction of your customers’ success and in turn, the fate of your product. Thankfully, a number of frameworks exist to help guide PMs on how to prioritize and make decisions. Nevertheless, every PM faces instances when they have to deal with unparalleled ambiguity, with no guiding light, data, or customer inputs to fall back on. What would you do when push came to shove, especially when teams around you are breathing down your neck to hurry up and decide? You’re smart — just make a call. Whatever it is, be cognizant of the collateral damage it could cause, inform your leaders of the situation, and go for it. To err is human; you can course-correct later.
Boldness and confidence
This one is for those who have recently started their PM journey. At times, you may hold yourself back from proposing new ideas, wondering how you may be judged by your peers or leaders. However, it’s totally fine to present your thoughts, no matter how naive they might end up being. Little do you know, your ideas might be brilliant and groundbreaking, giving you the opportunity of a lifetime to execute them. And if your team has a great product culture, they might offer constructive criticism. This type of feedback is incredibly valuable since you will get an idea of what works and what doesn’t. Embrace feedback with courage and be bold!