Products and services are the lifeblood of any organization. And the men and women who don the title product manager or product marketing manager must uphold the lofty tasks of creating true value for their target buyers — and delivering on it. It takes a certain person to do this well. And their success, as I have witnessed in my 25+ years of product experience, is often not predicated on typical qualifications such as educational and experience levels or even subject matter expertise. Rather, at the end of the day, for a product or solution manager to be successful, it comes down to what is inside a person’s head and heart — I am talking their:
- Leadership prowess
- Communication effectiveness
- Execution and follow-through
- Curiosity and growth
Let us explore what makes a successful product manager tick >>
The following product management traits all contribute to what it means to be an effective leader in this role. Yet, leadership looks and feels differently for a product manager.
As a product manager, your leadership is tested constantly as you attempt to align and drive the organization toward a set of goals, whether that be a simple enhancement or a major market launch. You did the work to set the strategy and vision — yet you face hurdles ahead because, while you “own everything” and are often “the one butt to kick” you really “own nothing,” as the key players in your success do not report directly to you.
Knowing this is half the battle because your approach to the team will make or break you. Respect your cross-functional team members, engage them often, encourage creativity, celebrate your wins — and, most importantly, learn from your failures because you are all in it together.
Buy-in is at the heart of everything a product manager does. Truly effective communication, though, actually starts with listening. Hear out your customers, your market and your constituents inside and outside of your business. Actually listen to what they are saying and let it sink in. Allow these voices to influence the decisions you make moving forward.
Your ability to effectively convey your strategy, vision, priorities, requirements, value propositions and results will determine your internal and external successes. Most important, though, is your ability to communicate in a manner to address and influence change. It is inevitable at some point your timelines will slip, features will drop out or you will completely change direction from a prior plan. Do not wait until you are hard-pressed. Build influence and trust by communicating often, clearly and with your audiences’ interests in mind.
Execution and Follow-Through
People rarely are able to both effectively set strategy and drive execution. Yet these are the onus of a product manager. I often have said to past teams, “Strategy without execution is just a pile of slides — don’t be a pile of slides.” Instead, we would strive to be team #GSD (get stuff done), and, with leadership driving the follow-through, that is exactly what we did.
Unfortunately, today’s business world is fraught with those who can generate ideas or opinions at an alarming rate — yet who fail to follow-through on the actual work, or even know what it takes. The product manager is responsible for meeting or exceeding expectations, yes. But there is a fine line of setting a fantastical goal and a realistic goal. Ask yourself: What really can be achieved? Set clear goals aligned to the strategy. Measure progress. Hold yourself and others accountable to the plan.
Curiosity and Growth
There is no doubt that curiosity leads to personal growth and learning. But it is also a critical component in relationship-building — which is vital as a product manager. It is impossible to have all the answers or to be an expert in everything.
By being curious you seek to understand. Internally, this curiosity conveys to your cross-functional team that you are interested in them, their expertise and their continued growth — simply put, that you value them. Externally, your curiosity shows your customers that you are listening and open to evolving your offerings to support their changing business needs. This in turn builds trust, and relationships deepen.
Yet the language for being curious is not often in use today. So get used to saying phrases that admit you do not, in fact, know everything. Seek to understand by asking “Why?” or “So what?” or “Tell me more…” to elevate your knowledge and your relationships.
Success is rarely accidental, and this could not be truer for the product manager who “owns everything” yet “owns nothing.” Product managers are often considered “drivers” or type A folks because they generally set high goals, never give up and make sacrifices to ensure their job gets done on time or ahead of schedule. Meeting expectations is never the end goal — a successful product manager aims to exceed them. This all screams accountability, and product managers must also apply this intentionality to holding their cross-functional teams accountable as well.
This unrelenting drive, coupled with the attributes mentioned above, generate exceptional product managers. The risk for all high-achieving product managers, however, is burnout. How can you avoid being the best product manager without suffering this?
- Do not shoulder it all.
- Set realistic objectives.
- Leverage your team.
- Elevate and realign quickly when plans change for whatever reason.
In reality, sustainable revenue performance banks on more than these five traits of a product manager. And not every product manager must be exceptional at each. Yet, you need product managers with a mix of these traits on your team. As a product manager, you must embody these values and characteristics. With a good dose of each of these, your solution management strategy will support sustainable revenue performance.
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