How to Become an Exceptional Product Manager
What it means to be an outstanding product manager in 2023
Product managers are required to wear many hats; part marketer, part engineer, part project manager, part salesperson–a costume-changing montage from an early 2000s rom-com has nothing on a typical day for a PM.
So how does a product manager become truly exceptional? We’ve got good news: You don’t need to be an expert in every field to be a great product manager. Without further ado, here are the top skills a product manager should have in 2023 in order to advance their careers:
10 things you should be doing to become a great PM
Use your people skills
Product management is mostly dealing with people. From managing stakeholders to communicating with engineers to conducting user interviews and gathering customer feedback–PMs have to do a lot of talking. Clear communication is an absolute must for any product manager, but if you want to be seen as more than just competent, you should have impeccable people skills. And it’s not difficult!
Besides writing clear and detailed product documents and ensuring your team and stakeholders are always kept in the loop, you should make an effort to interact with people on a more personal (but still professional) level. Take a moment to greet colleagues in the morning or ask someone about their family or weekend plans before a meeting begins. These things may seem small, but taking the time to truly interact with a person builds a level of care and trust that creates an environment of psychological safety at work–and leaves a good impression on your peers.
2. Develop your product smarts
As obvious as it may seem, you’ll need to know your product inside and out if you’re going to be a great product manager. If you want to impress top decision-makers, meticulous detail and research when developing new features will take you far. Collect detailed use cases, experiment extensively, and present an undeniable customer value-add. If you come from a different background, such as marketing, leverage your experiences and sources in a way that demonstrates value for your next product feature pitch.
3. Take risks
Product managers are undeniably time-poor, which means that they may have to make decisions without having all possible solutions laid out in front of them. That’s why a great product manager isn’t afraid to take risks and occasionally make mistakes. Being an excellent product manager means constantly learning, growing, and adapting so that you become a master at identifying problems that are actually worth solving.
4. Be customer-obsessed
Your product is worthless if your customers don’t like it. As a product manager, you are the customer’s champion; as such, you will need to develop detailed buyer personas, understand complex multi-decision-maker environments, define the customer’s definition of value, and fully outline the customer journey. Clear insights into your customer’s jobs to be done and a deep understanding of their pains, desires, fears, and goals will take you far in product management. Being customer-focused will help you determine value both for them and your business.
5. Promote knowledge-sharing
Information-hoarding will take you nowhere as a product manager. Establish transparency within your own team and, ideally, throughout your entire organization. Sharing knowledge and information not only creates value, but it builds trust and connection–the foundations of successful collaboration and communication between teams.
Better yet, establish a central place to store your information so that it’s accessible to anyone who needs it. Using a connective thinking platform like Collato allows you to connect your team’s initiatives and documents to your goals and your company’s strategy, establishing transparency for your whole organization.
6. Create clarity
Keeping track of all the loose ends is essential for any product manager–from stakeholder messages to value props, to market insights, to competitor analysis, to personas, user interviews…the list goes on and on. Things get confusing–and lost–quickly.
Stay on top of all the moving pieces by having a central place to store your work and information. Prevent confusion, ambiguity, and competing asks by creating a clear structure of documents, initiatives, priorities, goals, and information. Creating a connection map on Collato can help you lay everything out clearly and precisely, so you can minimize blockers.
7. Learn how to say no
You will be bombarded by requests from sales, marketing, leadership, customer success, and everyone in between. A superior product manager will have clear insight into what actually provides value and will not have a problem saying “no” to things that deviate from that strategy. If you know your product as well as you should, and you have a clear strategy that adds value for your customers and your business (backed up by research, experimentation, user interviews, tests, and data), then you should be able to give a firm “no” to these requests backed up with good reasoning.
Writing a scope of work for every project or feature release will also help you dictate what is within scope and allow you to say what is out of scope when requests come in. Keep track of those requests in your doc so that you can come back to them when your project is complete.
8. Learn how to manage scarcity
There will always be more things that need to be done than there are actual resources to do them. That’s why a great product manager knows how to manage their time and resources effectively. Measure your time spent against the expected payoff, and compare alternatives. If you have a certain amount of dev time available, make sure that it’s spent in a way that lines with your business goals.
At the same time, you should educate your stakeholders on scarcity. They may or may not realize that you have only an allotted amount of time to spend on solving their problem, which may mean other things get deprioritized. Before taking on a stakeholder request, make them aware of the exact amount of time you have to offer and what will get pushed back in its place so that they’re fully aware.
9. Recognize your team’s effort
Unfortunately, it’s often the case that product management is a thankless job. But that doesn’t mean that you should also be thankless. Give recognition to your team members’ contributions, especially if you’re sharing that work done in a meeting. This small bit of recognition can go a long way to building relationships between you and your colleagues. A simple “thank you” or “much appreciated” makes people feel valued and seen–and can make collaboration go much smoother.
10. Focus on outcome rather than output
When you’re making strategic product decisions as a product manager, you should be able to determine if the decisions you make are output or outcome focused, which tends to get mixed up more often than not. As the product manager, you’re the gatekeeper of the product vision, which means you should be intimately familiar with your North Star: why are you building what you’re building?
If you’re starting to get stuck in the minutiae of product development and losing focus on your why take a step back and reassess. It may mean spending less time on feature development and more time on onboarding or user experience.
Trust yourself to do a good job.
Most product managers don’t have formal training in product management, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t know how to do their job well. If you’re just starting out, take the time to ask questions, learn from your peers and superiors, make mistakes, and figure out what works best. With time comes experience, and you’ll soon learn to trust your instincts.
Keep a clear head by staying organized and on top of all the information you need to juggle by creating a connection map. Stay true to your strategy, and what you know for sure will add value. Be patient and communicate clearly with your team and stakeholders. With these skills in hand, you’ll be well on your way to becoming an exceptional product manager.