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Key Skills for a Product Manager

Key Skills for a Product Manager
Bitrix24 Team
May 24, 2022
Last updated: May 24, 2022

To succeed as a product manager, you need to have a set of certain hard and soft skills. Some of them can be acquired at any age, others depend on your inborn traits of character. In this article, we'll list the most important product manager skills that should enable you to land a well-paid and exciting job. It would be wise to mention all of these skills when compiling your CV.

Product Manager: Who Is It?

It's a professional who oversees the development of a product for a company. They act as an intermediary between consumers and developers. The former want to receive a helpful and user-friendly product. The latter are geeks whose perception of the product might differ drastically from that of customers'.

A product manager should be able to see both the big picture and the small details. They should constantly remind the developers that they're building a product for the market and not for the sake of creating something incredibly advanced. Product managers collect consumers' feedback, structure it and send it to developers and the company's management.

That was just a very brief description of this job. Now, we'll focus on the hard and soft skills that a professional should have to succeed in this occupation. When reading this text, you'll better understand the specifics of a product manager's work.

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Which Hard Skills Does a Product Manager Need to Have?

Hard skills are also known as technical skills. They are important for developing and designing products. To acquire them, you need to complete courses of training.

Basic Understanding of Web Development

An ideal product manager should have coding skills, even if they're only basic. They won't need to write the code themselves — but they should be able to understand what engineers and data scientists say and do. Plus, managers who know how to code can set more realistic timelines for their teams, create better roadmaps and budget time and resources more efficiently.

Young specialists who would like to become product managers often ask which coding language they should learn. If you don't know yet which sector or company you'll be likely to join, it would be wise to stick to JavaScript for these free reasons:

●      You can learn it online for free

●      It's an easy programming language

●      It is very popular among developers

To find out which language is required for the field where you're planning to work, you should glance through job offers. An understanding of data science and Microsoft SQL Server could also come in handy.

If you can't code, you might be able to land a product manager position nevertheless. When you start working, you can tell your supervisors that you'd like to get some technical skills. They should be impressed and they might recommend to you some courses or maybe specialists from the company who could mentor you.

Writing Technical Specs and Requirements

Even if you lack coding skills, you can learn how to write technical specs by analyzing the documentation of the organization you're working for (such as product briefs or spec sheets). It's vital to know the terms as well as understand which requirements are compatible with each other and which ones contradict each other. You'll need to help the engineers to improve the products that they're currently working on, based on consumers' feedback and the remarks of the company's management. Besides, you should be ready to come up proactively with new product ideas and optimizations.

Conducting Market Research

Every time the company is about to start building a new product, it should conduct market research to answer the following questions:

●      Will there be enough demand for the product?

●      Which pain points of its target audience should it fix?

●      Which features should it have?

●      How much will people be eager to pay for it?

A product manager can team up with marketing specialists and the representatives of the SEO team to conduct the research, surveys and consumer interviews. That would be a formal approach to investigating the market. Your supervisors can recommend professionals with the relevant expertise to you. Over time, you can master various research methodologies to get user data and ways of using that data to improve the product experience.

Talented managers don't limit themselves to just their products. They look at the wider world and try to see the product in a larger context. They keep an eye on their competitors and the overall market trends. They follow the news of their industry and read profile blogs. They join discussions at professional forums and take part in offline and online networking events. They monitor people's response to their product, brand and business. That is an informal approach to market research — and you should combine it with the formal one to achieve the best results.

Knowledge of User Experience Best Practices and the User Life Cycle

A product manager should be able to put themselves in the shoes of their final user. Typically, a product team already includes UX and UI experts. But the manager should see the product from a fresh perspective and convey their opinion to the UX product team using the same language as this team speaks. This skill enables the manager to communicate product requirements more effectively as well as create better wireframes and other product documentation. To hone the understanding of user experience, the product manager should stay in close touch with UX and design teams.

As for the user life cycle, it's not synonymous with the product life cycle. All the consumers can be classified into four categories, depending on their interactions with your product: evaluators, beginners, regulars and champions. Their behavior toward your product can be characterized by the following verbs: activate, adopt, adore and advocate, respectively. To boost sales and maximize revenue, you should accelerate the customer journey through these four stages. A good product manager should know how to onboard new users and turn them from evaluators to beginners and further through the cycle.

Being Familiar with Product Management Software

Product management software enables you to achieve the following goals:

●      Automate business processes

●      Coordinate the work of your team

●      Distribute tasks among professionals

●      Track the progress of each task

●      Ensure everyone meets their deadlines

●      Assess the productivity of your team

●      Communicate to your team within the app's interface

●      Share and edit documents

●      Spread knowledge about the product

Dozens of product management apps are available on the market and their functionality might differ considerably. We'll try to explain the necessity of using this type of software with the help of the Bitrix24 example.

Bitrix24 is a large and powerful system that over 10 million organizations from all over the world rely on. Product management is just a small part of its functionality. You can also use this software to manage projects, build and host sites, carry out email marketing, generate reports about your team's productivity and so on — but we won't be talking about these functions in this article.

With Bitrix24, you can create an unlimited number of tasks, add subtasks to them, delegate tasks and create task dependencies. The system allows you to distribute the tasks among team members and check whether their workload allows them to accept new duties. You can make repetitive tasks and task templates.

The product management functionality of Bitrix24 includes time tracking tools and a calendar where you can create an unlimited number of appointments. You can benefit from a free CRM, built-in call center and invoicing. The interface of this solution is highly intuitive and its tutorials are very comprehensive.

Bitrix24 is available in the cloud, on-premise and mobile formats. Its mobile app is compatible with iOS and Android devices. Businesses can try the basic functionality at no cost and then upgrade to a paid plan. The cheapest plan costs $39 per month and accommodates 5 users. The priciest plan costs $159 per month and accommodates an unlimited number of users.

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Soft Skills

Skills of these types are essential for leading the product team and getting products through the product life cycle efficiently. Soft skills can be honed but they tend to depend on the person's character more than their hard counterparts.

Critical Thinking and Analytical Abilities

That's probably the most important soft skill for a product manager. At work, you should be ready to:

●      Analyze information and data

●      Provide actionable insights to your team

●      Ensure products provide sufficient value to both your company and your clients

You should be able to read lengthy documentation, get the gist of it and explain this gist to other team members so that they don't have to glance through the text themselves.

A product manager needs to process the data very quickly and make informed decisions. For instance, you might need to determine which product features should be prioritized. Or, you should decide which of two high-priority bugs needs to be fixed first. These decisions will be used for building short-term and long-term goals for the product strategy. You'll be required to back up your opinion with facts and figures, keeping in mind the overall company objectives and user needs.

Some young specialists might be not sure whether their critical thinking and analytical skills are strong enough. Most likely, you already have them if you got good grades at school and have previous work experience. Without these skills, it's impossible to succeed in nearly any occupation that requires intellectual effort.

To hone these skills, you can practice them in everyday life. When talking to your friends and relatives, try to think critically about what they say. Think of your past experiences and analyze them. Plus, it would be wise to reread your prior communications with the team. Think of which parts of your messages you could have improved and how.

Leadership and Readiness to Take Initiative

It would be a mistake to think that only senior product managers need to be leaders. Middle and junior product managers also need to take initiative because it's the very essence of their work. They should motivate and support their teams to boost their productivity. It would be great if these professionals also had some project management skills.

Rather often, product managers need to lead cross-functional teams that may include representatives from:

●      Development team

●      Product team

●      Engineering team

●      Marketing team

●      Sales team

●      Other teams

A talented leader should help all these teams find mutual understanding and work toward the same goal.

To hone leadership skills before you land a product management job, you can read books or blogs. You can volunteer to conduct training sessions or manage teams at charitable projects.

Flexibility

In the product management sphere, priorities can change literally every day (that's not an exaggeration). This might happen because of the results of fresh marketing research, or because the collaboration with a certain contractor stopped unexpectedly, or for any other reasons. In such situations, product managers should know how to avoid stress and prevent panic within the team. They should quickly build a new set of priorities and communicate it to colleagues. Plus, they should ensure deadlines will be met without compromising the quality of the product.

To hone flexibility, you can read blogs where experienced product managers share their real-life cases and experiences. Besides, you should always put your self-interest aside and focus on the business and consumers' needs.

Problem-Solving

Job descriptions for product managers might differ greatly — but this soft skill is mentioned in most of them. Some might argue that it's a hard skill and not a soft one. The truth is that you can learn the techniques for solving problems (such as debugging a digital product or offering personalized incentives to customers who complained about the product). But to be efficient in this sphere, you need to be passionate about it. You should be able to survive all the inevitable ups and downs that are a natural part of the product development life cycle.

Product managers need to solve problems both for clients and businesses. When working on a product, you should make sure it will help consumers to fix their pain points quickly, efficiently and at an affordable price. You might want to learn to make customer empathy maps because it's a highly helpful tool. Besides, you should learn to formulate the essence of each problem as clearly as possible to find a better solution for it.

Time Management

Being a product manager, you might need to oversee several products simultaneously. Most likely, they will be at different stages of the life cycle. They might belong either to the same project or to different ones. The priorities of each product might change at any moment. You should be ready to work in multitasking mode, meeting all the deadlines.

To improve your time management skills, you should compile a list of priorities for every day and week. You should learn to calculate with the highest possible precision how long it will take you to accomplish each priority. Sometimes, your stakeholders might try to impose unrealistic deadlines on your team. In this case, you should hold a meeting with them to explain why acting in a haste can deteriorate the product's quality. Your team should be able to have a voice in scheduling and delivering tasks on time.

Communication

A product manager needs to establish efficient communication with their team members, supervisors and clients. Written and spoken communication are equally important. Very often, you'll need to speak about the quality of the product. Your communication skills should enable you and the whole team to achieve the following goals:

●      Determine what is and isn't working for the product

●      Check how well the product's features or design choices are engaging consumers

●      Leave the features that perform well and eliminate excessive ones

●      Report to stakeholders on product success or opportunities for improvement

To assess the quality of the product, you should rely on valuable metrics and A/B testing but not your gut feeling.

Let's focus on A/B testing now because it's a key part of product-related communication. Here is how it works:

●      The development team creates two versions of the same product that are identical in all features except one (for instance, it can be a CTA or a page layout)

●      You let your target audience use both versions of the product within a limited time period

●      By analyzing consumer behavior, your team determines how it could optimize UX and UI to boost conversion rates, completion rates or other indicators

Google Analytics and Google Optimize are free and intuitive tools that allow you to carry out A/B testing on a website that you can build yourself. To analyze metrics, you can save them in a spreadsheet program like Excel or Google Sheets. At work, your supervisors might give you access to specifically designed product manager software with powerful analytics.

One of the most important responsibilities of a product manager is to write the product requirements document. All the teams will refer to this paper for the deliverables, specs, milestones, key performance indicators and so on. This document will remain relevant at all stages of the product's development, from concept to launch. The product manager needs to make sure that people with different skills and levels of responsibility perceive the information identically and there are no misinterpretations. As soon as anything changes about the product, the product manager needs to inform all the parties involved.

Apart from the product requirements document, you'll need to carry out communication with the help of:

●      Meeting notes

●      Slack conversations

●      Wikis

●      Presentations

●      Training materials

●      Any other formats and channels that your supervisors find relevant

If certain stakeholders prefer certain forms of communication, you'll need to take it into account.

You'll spend a lot of time writing. You'll need to provide clear, comprehensive guidance to your design, engineering and development teams so that they create a product with the right features and don't miss the deadline.

To master communication, you should use every chance to deliver a public speech. You'll gain confidence and will learn to better establish rapport with your listeners. When talking to small teams, you can ask them to provide feedback about your speech to identify areas where you can improve. Some people might feel shy to criticize you, so you might want to provide them with an opportunity to share their opinions anonymously.

Diplomacy

Diplomacy is not fully synonymous with communication. It refers to the ability to negotiate. Rather often, you'll need to face competing interests (such as your stakeholders versus your developers or unhappy customers versus your company). To be able to fix the conflcit, you should listen and empathize with both sides and then try to find common ground. Instead of supporting one party only, you should help them to strike a delicate balance. To succeed in diplomacy, you need to be calm and positive-minded. Both sides should trust and respect you. It's essential to back up your words with facts. For instance, you can say that the engineers will fail to meet the deadline that is proposed by the stakeholders because this type of product requires using such and such tools and methodology. When talking to consumers who complain about your products or quality of service, you should let them express themselves and suggest ways out without overpromising.

Persuasion

Product managers sell ideas to people who can bring their vision to life— that is, the engineers. To be able to establish rapport with them, you should be able to think like an engineer. This is what you need technical skills for, as we explained at the beginning of this article. When talking to engineers, you should achieve two goals:

●      Convey the essence of the product to them

●      Make them enthusiastic about this product

This skill resembles cheerleading to a certain extent. To gain support for your product, you can resort to storytelling. Try to combine the results of market research and surveys with anecdotal customer feedback and interviews. Besides, you should convince engineers that you understand their pain points, needs and preferences. They should start perceiving you as a good partner.

Delegation

Even the most experienced and hard-working professional can't cope with a huge scope of tasks alone. The wisest approach is: to focus on what you do best and let others help you with other tasks. Moreover, you should learn to delegate responsibilities. Otherwise, you would hardly be able to lighten the workload. If you delegate only the task, team members will keep asking questions to you. You'll spend too much time on consultations and motivations. Instead, you should appoint a few other go-to individuals, each within its own sphere of competence. Use this chance to empower the people around you!

Self-Management

A product manager should know how to act independently and make decisions without third-party help. In addition to completing your daily tasks and developing the product's strategy, you should self-manage your priorities and deadlines. Here are a few tips that you might want to remember:

●      Don't leave your entire day open for meetings — instead, try to build your schedule around blocks of dedicated work time

●      Be selective about the meetings that you attend — if you strive to visit every one you're invited to, you can easily lose control of your schedule

●      Appoint meetings for other team members only when absolutely necessary and the issue can't be discussed by email or in a messenger

Most important, you should always keep notes. You can do it on your smartphone, or laptop, or an oldschool paper notebook. You should put down key discoveries, decisions and next steps coming out of meetings.

Interpersonal skills

These skills include:

●      Emotional intelligence

●      Empathy

●      Motivation

●      Ability to understand strengths and weaknesses of other team members

●      Skill of reading and managing situations accurately and tactfully

●      Readiness to support and empower others

●      Conflict resolving

●      Clear articulation of a bigger picture

All these talents should enable you to encourage people to work together as an efficient team. This team aims to achieve an important goal that all its members share. A product manager should help everyone realize they are a meaningful part of the collective.

Interpersonal skills should facilitate the process of bringing your product vision to life. To remain objective, you should hone your self-awareness that will allow you to become an effective champion for the consumer.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, you found this article informative and now you have a better understanding of the required product manager skills. The set of the necessary hard skills includes the understanding of web development, writing technical specs and requirements, being familiar with product management software, conducting market research as well knowledge of user experience best practices and the user life cycle. The set of essential soft skills consists of critical thinking and analytical abilities, leadership and readiness to take initiative, flexibility, problem-solving, communications skills, diplomacy, persuasion, delegation, interpersonal skills, time management and self-management. You don't need to have all these skills to be able to land a position as a product manager. But you should be ready to learn and acquire new knowledge continuously.

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