​Building Up Skills to Become Product Manager

For those interested in a job that offers a lot of flexibility, variety and challenge, a project manager job could be an excellent career choice. The fact that you'll be in charge of building products means you'll be using a lot of creativity and rationale. You also get to lead teams and interact with people on a regular basis. Once you finally deliver a product that people love, you'll enjoy the satisfaction that comes from pleasing not just your company bosses, but your customers as well.

Product managers (PMs for short) are often referred to as "the CEO of the product." As a PM, you get to work in varying fields such as marketing, software, branding, etc. It's a high paying job, with an average base pay of $108,978 per year. What's even more enticing is that PMs who are good at what they do often move on to executive careers, even founders of their own companies.

The thing about product management is that it isn't a course available in colleges or universities - you simply can't attend school to become a product manager. So how do you get into and then succeed in a career in product management? Here are the conditions that must be met.

Be Grounded in Core Competencies

There are core competencies inherent to becoming a PM. Many of these can be developed in the classroom, but more often than not they can be acquired with experience and good mentoring. With that, here's a list of 10 core competencies for aspiring PMs:

  • Conduct effective customer/user surveys and interviews
  • Perform market assessments
  • Conduct successful design and analysis experiments
  • Run design and facilitation meetings
  • Allocate resources
  • Build pricing and revenue models
  • Have a keen understanding of usability, user experience, and testing
  • Communicate well with team regardless of method (verbal, visual, written)
  • Defining and monitoring success metrics
  • Translate business-to-technical requirements, and vice versa

The best PMs hone these skills through years of repetitive learning and adjusting, with constant reflection on how such competencies contributed to the success or failure of their products and adjusting accordingly based on results and feedback.

Take Specialized Training

Specialized training is the fastest path to becoming a PM. You can take specialized training from online product management courses, such as the ones listed here. This can be a great alternative to an MBA program, which is costly, not to mention that not everything taught you directly applies to the product management job. Other benefits of specialized training are that you become well-versed in the essentials, and you grow along with other future PMs. You'll also have a product portfolio that can help you stand out at job interviews.

Manage Your Emotions

As mentioned, communication skills are an integral part of a PM's job, as you'll be communicating regularly with developers, CEOs, designers, customers, and more on a constant basis. You need to be tuned-in to their emotions and body language of the people you interact with. In an interview with Harvard Business Review, Rutger University instructor Daniel Goleman and Case Western Reserve University professor identify four key competencies of emotional intelligence that are integral to the responsibilities of a PM:

  • Self-awareness - PMs must have emotional self-awareness to remain objective and avoid pushing their personal preferences onto their product and its users.
  • Self-management - means you can control your emotions and adapt easily to the demands of the situation. A positive outlook, conflict management skills, influence, and inspirational leadership will also be useful so you won't lose the confidence of the people you work with.
  • Social awareness - along with its relative competencies such as empathy and organizational awareness-is necessary so that the product is readily adopted by users.
  • Relationship management - product management jobs require the formation of genuine and trustworthy relationships with both internal and external stakeholders, as these can significantly influence the success of the product.

PMs need to strike the ideal balance between these four emotional intelligence metrics. When this happens, optimal business results follow.

Know How to Lead

PMs have to pay a lot of attention to customer concerns, sales team concerns, engineering concerns, support team concerns, budget concerns-and so those who hold the position must have a keen understanding of how the organization operates to effectively build social capital to facilitate collaboration between teams of different backgrounds and talents. That's why 'manager' is part of the job description. As a PM, you need to take a leadership mindset and rally people toward a goal that they may not be enthusiastic about. As the saying goes, 'leaders are made, they are not born,' so don't expect to be a good leader from day one. With experience, hopefully, you'll develop the leadership skills that the product management job calls for.

Place Great Value on User Experience (UX)

A PM must prioritize the needs of the end user throughout the design and creation process. As the term user experience (UX) suggests, the product that you develop must eventually be usable and user-centric. This requires developing empathy for customers, who will ultimately use the product. Aside from empathy, curiosity and the ability to express ideas with clarity are other competencies essential to becoming a UX expert.

Practice Critical and Analytical Thinking

Accomplished PMs know that their success is founded deeply on their ability to think critically and analytically. Such a capability allows you to base your judgments on factual information and use logic to deliver the right solutions. On that note, developing critical thinking requires you to:

  • Listen intently to the questions and concerns of your stakeholders
  • Plan carefully
  • Persist in completing every task, no matter how difficult
  • Find the best compromises to situations that require them
  • Apply logic and reasoning to facts and draw conclusions from them
  • Self-correct when needed
  • Recognize impractical solutions and replace or modify them as necessary

When you practice critical and analytical thinking throughout the design and creation process, you'll be able to collect information, examine situations, resolve problems, and identify potential risks more efficiently.

These pointers can help equip you with the qualities you must inherently have before you take on a product management role. Once you develop your skills and core competencies, you'll find it easier to prove your worth to everyone involved, from your CEO to your technical teams, and most of all, to your users.

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