15 Feb 2021
Often dubbed as the “CEO of the product”, product managers are responsible for defining the “vision” of the product. They lead cross-functional teams regardless of the size or the industry of the organisation they work. While a technical background almost appears to be a prerequisite for this role, it is often born out of existing roles in digital marketing, UX, and software engineering. Since this is a versatile role, there is no standard job description, and it usually depends upon the product, industry, as well as the company culture and size. However, there are some core hard and soft skills that are required by companies. In this article, we’ll look at some of these skills so that you know what it takes to become a successful product manager.
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To begin with, it is critical to understand the difference between a product manager and a project manager. While there might be an overlap when it comes to the skills required, these two roles are distinct. The key difference between the two is their core responsibilities.
While a product manager sets and owns the overall direction of the product, a project manager follows that direction and brings it to completion within the set budget, time, and quality. It is the product manager’s job to decide the scope of the launch, while the project manager makes sure there is no scope creep. In other words, a project manager takes care of the execution side of the product launch and analyzes its results. Here are some of the responsibilities of product managers:
Define product strategy
Define metrics and track its success
Prioritise features and plan the product development roadmap
Understand target customers
Find product market fit
Translate business-to-technical requirements, and vice versa
Define product revenue model
The most successful product managers hone these skills by spending years defining and shipping products. With years of experience, they know when each of these responsibilities should be used to define the fate of product launches.
A product launch is as important as creating a new product. It is a planned process to introduce a new product in the market so that everyone in the company, its affiliates, as well as target customers and prospects, know about it. A mismanaged launch can negatively impact the company's revenue and profitability goals.
Product launches usually involve 5 steps, including:
Reviewing and agreeing on that plan
Driving internal awareness
Generating partner awareness
Driving market awareness
They come in different sizes and types, such as soft launch, minimal launch, and full-scale launch.
Data to product managers is what water is to fish. No product manager will make any decision without backing it up with data. But the problem is that it can be difficult to get data when you require it the most.
For this reason, the first technical skill that all product managers need to have is data competency. Product managers need to know how to acquire, extract, and analyze the data to prove their theory. A product manager who is adept at dealing with the large dataset can probe their theory without nagging other team members by requesting copious reports.
Most companies expect them to confidently wrangle a dataset like a data scientist. Therefore, knowing popular database languages would be a huge advantage. The most popular database language is SQL. Product managers should know how to run their SQL queries, as sometimes it is a prerequisite in job descriptions. While SQL gives access to a lot of raw data, product managers also need to be fluent with data visualization skills and tools, for example Microsoft Excel and Tableau, which brings to our next technical skill.
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As obvious as it may sound, knowing advanced Excel is a popular tool for product managers to interpret and visually represent data. It is best that they are familiar with pivot tables and macros to create dynamic filterable charts or graphs. By using pivot tables, product managers can see critical statistics like how many orders were for the basic vs. premium product, what is the demographics of product users, etc.
With mastery in macros and knowing VBA coding language, product managers can use it for just about every task in Excel. Macros are best known to automate repetitive work in a spreadsheet, such as extracting data from several files, thereby saving time and pulling accurate insights from various sources.
Many product managers are also fluent with technologies such as Tableau, a data visualization tool that is commonly used for Business Intelligence but not restricted to it. By knowing such tools, product managers can build interactive graphs and charts using the existing data and present them in the form of dashboards to gain valuable insights.
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A couple of decades ago, launching a product in the market required luck, experience, and some educated guess. There was no method to determine if a certain way was better than the other. So, it was a gamble that one had to take. But since then, things have become better, with the coming of options to test a product launch in a controlled environment.
Today, product managers can introduce several options among a sample audience to prove which one works the best. This new concept is known as A/B testing. A/B testing allows product managers to divide a sample of the target audience in Set A and Set B and then launch it for the selected audience. By analyzing the performance of both the sets, they can then determine the best method and use that for the launch.
A/B testing can be done on anything, including marketing campaigns, pricing models, UX elements, etc., and it gives data-based evidence to justify the business decision and align all stakeholders. Although A/B testing doesn't require technical per se, product managers should be adept at executing these tests. They should know tools like Optimzely to experiment on live websites or apps, and randomly segment the traffic to know which experience resonates with the visitors.
A/B testing can also be used for product designing. Testing variants of the product can provide insights into what the audience likes. But this plan has to be bulletproof since it would involve the development of products that would eventually be in the bin. Therefore, product managers need to socialize it with all the stakeholders and determine the data needed to analyze the results, the sample size, and the goals.
While product managers are not expected to write or master UX design, they should have skills to create a simple prototype for testing or discussion. Building prototypes help to visually convey the product vision to stakeholders and make things tangible. It also helps the implementation team understand the idea better. A prototype is also the best way to provide a frame of reference and collect reactive feedback from anyone who sees it.
To be independent and spare UX designers and engineering teams from being dragged into the preliminary stage of conception, product managers should know tools like Adobe, Figma and Sketch to build passable prototypes. These easy-to-use tools can help upload mockups to create interactive prototypes.
Read Also: What is UX Design and How It Will Help Your Business?
The last but not the least important technical skills that a product manager should have is coding. It doesn’t necessarily mean learning how to code or reviewing codes, but understanding the technologies that are used and what they can do.
Understanding the coding language helps with the communication with engineers and the development teams. Product managers, therefore, need to know the tech stack, including servers, databases, types of code, and apps. They need to know the pros and cons, limitations, and capabilities of popular technologies.
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While there is no standard job description for product managers, these are some of the prerequisite technical skills that companies expect. These skills are interrelated and acquired over time. For instance, for a product launch, product managers can create prototypes, run A/B tests, and then analyze the data and present it in an Excel pivot table.
Acquiring more technical skillset is the key to becoming less dependent on engineers, UX, and development teams. Technical skills are important, but so are soft skills such as interpersonal skills and communication skills. Successful product managers have a toolbox of these skills that not only adds value to the organization but also builds trust and credibility among all stakeholders.
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