Two years ago, Productboard, a leading product management platform, declared that we have entered the “Golden Age of Product Management.” Demand for product managers in the software and technology industry has continued to grow ever since.
Product manager ranks #3 on Glasdoor’s 50 Best Jobs in America list with 14,515 current job openings. This is an almost 20 per cent jump from 2020 when there were 12,173 job openings for this role and it ranked #4 on the list.
This growth is due to the accelerated pace of the technology industry, our increasingly digital world, and the digital transformation that many companies are embarking upon. With their understanding of business, technology, design, strategy, delivery, and customer needs, it goes without saying that product managers are among the best candidates to lead companies through periods of rapid digital transformation.
But while demand for and interest in product management is increasing, many business professionals are still unclear about what exactly product management is and how to get into the role.
In this article, I will share the most in-demand skills for product managers. These are the key skills that aspiring product managers need to gain and new product managers need to hone to succeed in their careers.
Before we get started, let’s briefly go over what product management is and what exactly product managers are responsible for.
What do product managers do?
While product managers are seen by many as a jack-of-all-trades, they do have key roles and responsibilities that they fulfill.
A product manager acts as the champion for their customers within their business. They work with multidisciplinary teams to define and build digital products (websites, mobile applications, APIs, etc.) that provide value to their customers and assist their business with reaching its goals.
A product manager’s job boils down to 3 key responsibilities:
- Remaining customer focused
- Making data-driven decisions
- Managing stakeholders
Every single task that a product manager does falls into one of these three activities.
These activities are important because they enable product managers to effectively perform their job. With these they can understand their customers’ needs, define and launch the right solutions, and make the right improvements to the product post-launch to reach customer and business goals.
The most in-demand skills for product managers
There are a set of key skills that product managers need to perform their jobs well and succeed in their careers. If you are interested in becoming a product manager these are the initial skills that you should focus on gaining and ensure that they are reflected on your resume when applying for roles.
Product managers are problem solvers. They understand the problems faced by their customers and business, prioritize them, and solve them with the right solutions.
Of the many items that a product manager can work on for their product and the many solutions that they can build, how do they determine what path to take? They do this by always tying their work to the objectives of their business.
Doing this effectively involves a strategic mindset; understanding where you are now, where you want to go, and methodically defining the steps to take to get there.
Problem solving and strategy are key skills needed for product managers because it is ultimately the product manager that defines the end solution.
The key challenge for many product managers is being able to define and articulate why they are pursuing one course of action over another.
A product manager needs to have the mindset of a problem solver and a strategic thinker to solve the right problems for the right stakeholders to accomplish specific goals.
There are many frameworks and tools that product managers utilize to accomplish this. For example, the Jobs to be Done Framework, a framework that helps product managers understand their customers and ensure that they are defining the right solutions based on customer needs, pains, and desired gains.
Product managers do not have to know how to code, but knowing how to code is definitely an asset.
Product managers work closely with developers to bring digital solutions that solve customer problems to life.
The more technical they are, the more effective their conversations will be with their development teams, and the better their product decisions will be. Especially around technical trade-offs.
How much technical knowledge is enough for product managers?
Enough that you have a solid understanding of how software and technology work and can comfortably communicate with your development team. So, when the words library, API, database, and algorithm are brought up you know exactly what they mean.
The tools that product managers use to work with and manage their teams centre around project management, communication, and metrics. Common tools are JIRA (planning work with developers), Roadmunk (roadmap management), Slack (communication), and Mixpanel (analytics).
Product managers act as the glue between their various departments. Their business counterparts rally around them as they work on products that help their business reach its goals.
As leaders they rally their company around a particular vision. They train and support their stakeholders to enable them to perform their jobs to the best of their ability. They also identify problems and work on addressing them for the betterment of their product, stakeholders, and company.
One of the benefits of being a product manager is that the role teaches many transferable skills. Both Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo, and Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, are former product managers. The leadership experience they gained as product managers has no doubt helped them in their roles as CEOs.
Product managers can not accomplish anything without their team.
Product managers rely on product designers to define the look and feel of their product, developers to code the product, marketing to communicate the value of the product to the world, and sales to sell it. And let’s not leave out customer support that addresses customer issues and feeds this information back to the product team in a virtuous cycle.
Effective teamwork is vital for product managers because they rely so heavily on their team. Communication, conflict resolution, persuasion, reliability, and more are all important.
The more a team trusts and works well with its product manager, the better the product will be and the more enjoyable everyone’s work will be as well.
5. Interpersonal skills
This is one key skill that product managers must have. Interpersonal skills include communication, empathy, listening, and conflict management.
Communication does not simply refer to writing user stories, acceptance criteria, feature specification documents, and giving presentations to a board. It includes the ability to tell a great story that rallies everyone around a mission that inspires everyone to work together.
Telling a great story is one task that product managers do constantly and should never tire of.
Empathy plays a role as well for product managers because product managers do not build solutions for themselves, they build them for their customers and users.
Product managers are able to accomplish this by regularly putting themselves into the shoes of their end users and understand their struggles and thought processes, prioritize their concerns, and define the solution that will meet their specific needs. Solutions that enable them to accomplish their goals, solve their pain points, and delight them.
These are some of the core skills that are needed to become a product manager. Some other important ones include:
- Design and user experience skills
- Business skills
- Analytical skills
- Marketing skills
- Project management skills
- Prioritization skills
- Delegation skills
Where to gain these skills?
The key challenge people face when pursuing product management careers is figuring out how to secure their first role. This is partly due to their lack of experience with some of the key responsibilities that product managers have.
So how does one gain these skills?
One way is to learn by doing. Find a problem that people are facing and follow the steps of the Product Development Process while working with a team to bring it to life.
The Product Development Process defines the process that all products go through from defining the problem through improving the solution post launch. The 5 steps are:
- Define the problem
- Prioritize the problem
- Design the solution
- Build the solution
- Ship & measure success
Following this process with a defined problem will allow you to learn while gaining valuable skills along the way.
Another alternative, of course, is to sign up for a product management course. Save yourself the time of scouring the web to learn what you need to know about product management. A product management program will give you the information that you need to begin a career, with ample opportunity to gain hands-on experience.
Product Hall, for example, provides a 10-week program that teaches the A-Z of product management. And of course CourseCompare maintains a digital catalogue of product management programs for learners of every skill level. The important thing is to obtain the knowledge and tools that you need to ship digital products while learning from experienced practitioners, and finding rich mentorship opportunities throughout your career.