Qualities of a Product Manager & How to Grow

The product manager role isn’t meant for everyone. Just as it takes a special type of person to be a programmer or designer, it takes a particular type of person to thrive as a product manager. Here are some qualities that I think are necessary:

  1. Vision. This largely consists of being able to understand the essence of emerging trends and applying them in new contexts. It is not necessarily conceiving new ideas, but it entails connecting existing ideas in new ways.
  2. Understanding how different people think. A product manager must get deep in the heads of many types of people with diverse mindsets; engineers, designers, sales, customers, etc.. Working well with different roles and building products for real people takes a great deal of emotional intelligence.
  3. Visual communication. A product manager must be talented at clearly communicating new concepts, either through user interfaces for customers or through diagrams communicating product strategy. Inventing new visual metaphors is inevitably necessary.
  4. Logic. A product manager must be able to think very rigorously about the design of systems, the tactics of execution, and the analysis of performance.
  5. Passion. A product manager must show great tenacity in pushing things through. You have to love what you’re doing and live for seeing results.

Given those qualities, here are some things a product manager can do to grow:

  1. Build a personal learning network. A product manager’s personal learning network is their capacity to stay current on trends that are relevant to their domain. This consists of following thought leaders on Twitter, connecting with insightful publications, and now Quora is becoming an amazingly valuable learning tool. For more on this, see Howard Rheingold’s article Twitter literacy or George Siemens’ book Knowing Knowledge.
  2. Develop a powerful tool chest. Since learning fast is at the heart of product development, it is essential for a product manager to hone in on a set of tools that allow their thought process to advance rapidly. For example, I’ve recently starting leaning heavily upon usertesting.com as a way to efficiently introduce user feedback into the design process. There could be another question on what tools product managers use to get the job done, but other categories of tools would be project management software or user interface wire framing tools.
  3. Study users constantly. A product manager must constantly remind their self how people really use products (e.g., through watching user testing). Otherwise one will develop conceptually fascinating products that no one will use.
  4. Become a master in the art of iteration. The most concrete thing that a product manager has to do is define an iteration of development, execute, learn, and then define another iteration. This entails developing and relentlessly reevaluating a long term vision and distilling it into iterations that get to the essence of where that vision currently stands. One’s ability to iterate effectively will determine their success. Product managers without vision will be stuck in the weeds of a never ending laundry list and visionaries who don’t know how to define poignant iterations will be frustrated to see their ideas never realized. A product manager can improve their iteration mastery through AGILE training, but I believe it is a lifelong enterprise to continue growth on this front.

This post appeared originally on Quora.

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