One of the questions that get asked the most is: What are the actual skills needed to become a project manager? Product management is a very, very broad domain. It has a strong mixture of hard skills as well as soft skills.
In this article, we will briefly tackle all the skills that any good PM should possess that you should also showcase in an interview to land that dream job. For more information on becoming a PM check out our comprehensive guide at myproductmentor.com/guide-to-product-management-interviews.
Let’s first talk about the hard skills that you really need to become a good product manager and then move on to the soft skills.
1. A Problem-Solving Attitude
This is the first most important skill that you need. It’s difficult to teach, but it’s easy to practice.
When you’re faced with a problem, you try and find a unique, interesting, feasible solution to it or you like it because this is too difficult to begin to solve. That problem-solving attitude is the first thing that you need to become a good product manager.
2. A Passion for Technology
This is the next thing that you need: a strong passion and understanding of technology.
We don’t mean that you need to be like a kick-ass coder or a gadget geek, but you need to appreciate and understand how different products, apps work, how they communicate with each other, and how technology is used to solve problems for users because that will essentially be your job.
Also, if you don’t want to get laughed at by the engineers, you pretty much need to figure this out.
3. User Understanding
The next thing that you need to have is a deep understanding of the users. You’re not building the product for yourself or your friend or your mom.
They may love it, but there’s a good chance if you don’t invest in understanding or users, no one is going to use the product.
For a lot of products, the users might not be someone that you’re directly related to. If you’re working on something that’s not very appealing to you, as a B2B app for enterprises, you may not relate to it, but you need to still go invest, understand the user, and build something that they love.
4. An Eye for Design
The next thing is to understand what constitutes a really good user experience: what constitutes a good way to solve a problem and what is a bad way for the user to solve a problem.
You need to make this distinction clearly: you should look at a product and say this is easy and slick and the way I want to solve the problem vs. just dragging it out into a user experience that does not delight or connect with the user.
Having that design insight and being able to connect to the experience of your users is a very important skill as a PM.
5. Business Perspective
The fifth hard skill that you need to have is a strong business sense. You may build a product that your users love which is getting used a lot, but if it’s not making any money – if it’s not adding to the company’s PnL it will most likely just get shut down.
So remember, just keep an eye out on what your company’s business model is and how your product is furthering that business model.
6. Analytical Skills
The final hard skill that you need is being analytical and being data-driven. Most of the products today are being used by millions of people and so generating huge amounts of data.
So if numbers make you feel wary, then you’re going to struggle. You need to be able to look at all that data and understand why your users are using your product or, on the contrary, why they’re just coming to your product and then running away.
You need to be able to derive that insight on what the next thing is that your users are looking for in your product and just be able to build it
By now you must be thinking that you need a lot of things: you need to be good at math. you need to be good at design, you need to be clear to add problem-solving…
Well, that’s not even half the battle. You need this whole array of strong soft skills, to succeed as a PM
7. Knowing How to Lead without Authority
You need to be able to lead without having direct authority. Product management is a thankless job – you’re working with 10, 20 people and no one reports to you. You have to pass on all the goodwill to your team while all the bad stuff is just going to come to you and people are going to mop the floor with it.
So really, it’s through your vision, through your clarity, through your understanding of the user that you have to combine this team, motivate them and have them going and running in one direction.
That’s a very hard thing to do, but it’s very important to be able to pull off.
The second very important skill that you need is the ability to strongly communicate with your team.
You’ll be working with a lot of people: someone will have some ideas and someone will want to do things differently so it’s important to respect everyone, but it’s also important to rally everyone together behind a common vision.
For that, you are a good communicator. This doesn’t mean that you need to be able to give rousing speeches or rile up the crowd. Written communication is something very, very important.
You don’t need to write like Shakespeare in English, but you need clarity of thought and you need to translate that clarity of thought on paper so that everyone can follow what you’ve envisioned with your product.
9. Ability to Take Feedback
As a PM you need a strong ability to take feedback since there’s going to be a lot of negative feedback.
Your users are always wonderfully dissatisfied, however good your product might be. Everyone in your company thinks they know how to improve the product and you’re doing something wrong, so you need to have this ability to take a lot of feedback, absorb it and not take it personally. You need to be able to see what you can learn out of it and use it to improve their product.
If you’re getting upset by every small thing, people say then you’re going to struggle. Just just be smart about it and remember what to filter out and what to learn from.
Ruthless prioritization is very important. Often you will have many ideas on your plate, some of your own, some from other people so you really need to prioritize what you think your users really want.
Once you’ve done that, make sure that then you’re on top of every detail when you’re building the product. This is where, along with prioritization, project management skills also come into play.
Well, there you have it: these are the real skills that you need to be a good PM and that you will need to showcase in interviews as well, in some form or another to convince your interviewers that not only will you make a good PM but you already are one.