What Is Expected of a Product Manager in the Tech Boom?By Maite Muñiz | Wed, 05/26/2021 - 15:30
This is the right time to become a product manager. Every company in any industry confronts the transition to an era of more competitiveness and higher customer expectations. Users now want seamless experiences, with low costs and good value propositions.
A report from IBM Institute for Business Value said in 2019 that, “new technologies enable consumers to expect and obtain more than ever before,” demanding three specific points: improving the response time, understanding individual needs and harmonizing consumer experiences. This means that a company with a clear vision of what to accomplish in the future should focus its efforts in engaging customers in the creation of a product: one of the main functions of a product manager (PM).
Companies are aware of that situation across the whole continent, which is why there is an increase in demand for PMs — a 10 percent rise in entry roles and a 51% increase in senior roles was seen in 2019, according to Product Manager Insider.
That being said, PMs come from varied backgrounds. Some are analytical, others are more people persons. But all of them must perform a job that requires multiple skills, and a great ability for solving problems, in particular. Here are a few “soft” skills that I have found crucial in any PM on my team, no matter their background.
In which soft skills should a product manager excel?
- Understand the user/client problem and communicate it to all stakeholders
The work of a product manager is based on the understanding of customer needs, and defining which ones are most common and most relevant. This will then influence how their roadmap will be affected, and how their engineering and UX team should address issues. It is very different from saying, "which button should the team create;" the approach should be: “This is the problem we should focus on solving” and work together in multidisciplinary teams to find an efficient solution to that problem. The major pain point the PM will always have, no matter the seniority, is prioritizing which problems are the most important.
- Be comfortable working with uncertainty
This is when decision-making skills come into play. You need to evaluate what data and analysis are available and research similar situations but also understand what hunches and risks you can take. At Truora, for example, the product managers consider product metrics, client performance analysis and reported issues when making decisions. But often, they have faced the need to make a decision (new feature, market or industry expansion, how to scale a solution) with little information to back it up. Here is where talking to users and understanding multiple points of view is extremely useful. They have a general context that will allow them to make an “educated guess,” and iterate on it if needed.
Pro tip: When making an uncertain decision as a PM, validate your decision-making process with your engineering team, and have them weigh in with their opinion. You can’t lose sight of how valuable it is that they work directly with your product every single day.
- Fail fast and iterate faster
Be an enemy of: the perfect solution, the most thorough analysis, and the most detailed action plan. Become comfortable with real MVPs, and a friend of fast iterations. Remember that user interviews and clients who “co-build” with you and give you clear feedback are the most valuable conversations. Keep the clients as a source of information for “what are the biggest pain points in the market?” and test it. Of course, you need to think about the problem and plan your MVP, but remember to do nonscalable tests first, and iterate from there. The rule used by Truora engineers: implement what can be (correctly) done faster but later can be reversed if needed. Constant evolution is needed to be able to compete.
- Learn to say “NO”
Prioritizing and always seeing the big picture will make the roadmap a reachable goal. But we all know that (in a startup especially) what you plan for your Q, will most likely “change” multiple times. And that is OK. But to really achieve something, you need to set basic rules that will allow your product to move forward, and keep solving the most impactful problems. Therefore, it is your role as a PM to help all areas stay focused on that problem. New requests must be evaluated, but more often than not, saying no to clients will be necessary.
- Make your life easier, and earn the trust of the team — engineers, sales, marketing and UX
As in any job, this is no different. A team that trusts you, will give you direct feedback and co-build with you. But when working with team members that have a set of skills different from yours, this becomes crucial. According to a publication from the CMO of Airfocus, in 2021 just 5 percent of PMs know how to code. That is why a PM must generate enough confidence in her/his team so that they can generate feedback on the feasibility of the requests being made. An easy way to start the journey of building trust: admit when you don’t know something, and be proactive about understanding.