Product Management Skills: How to Build A Career (2023)

Good product managers reliably ship features, avert major miscommunications between product design and engineering, and generally get things done on time and within budget.

Great product managers are change agents—they go above and beyond to create products that generate customer delight, boost revenue and profitability, and are in demand on the market. The best product managers are always looking for opportunities to learn, grow, and upskill.

To move up the ranks and overcome product management challenges, you’ll need to develop a strong product management skillset. This article will tell you how.

Why product management requires a unique blend of skills

The same things that make product management an exciting career path also make it a challenging field. Product managers often need to move swiftly between different roles to lead cross-functional collaboration between technical engineers, marketing and sales departments, company executives, and users.

They work at a fast pace and juggle a broad range of responsibilities and demands, from writing product specs to managing product team people ops to conducting in-depth user interviews.

To succeed in the industry, product managers need to develop a varied range of skills. These include both concrete, technical competencies—what we traditionally think of as ‘hard’ skills—and communicative, emotional, and personal skills—what we traditionally think of as ‘soft’ skills.

Many product managers push back against the terms ‘hard skills’ vs ‘soft skills’, though, arguing that these represent outdated concepts that often devalue interpersonal abilities.

In a recent article, Katie Salley urges product managers to "stop calling your skills soft!"

"As PMs, we’re often most valuable because of our 'soft skills,'" she says. "Skills like data interpretation, decision making, communication, strategic thinking, being a good negotiator are all qualities that are teachable, repeatable, and valuable. Don’t think of these skills as 'soft'. Think of them as SKILLS."

The message is clear: to succeed in product management, you need to cultivate personal and interpersonal abilities as well as technical core competencies.

The 5 most important technical skills in product management

It’s critical to develop the technical know-how to perform key product management tasks well. Excellent product managers need to hone their abilities to:

1. Conduct effective product, user, and market research

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of research in product management. The entire product development process should be data-informed to drive product-market fit and profitability and ensure that the products and features you work on are really meeting user needs.

You can use formal research techniques—like running a competitive analysis—to acquire knowledge of similar technologies on the market. But you should also keep up to date with the latest tech informally. Stay connected through tech magazines, blogs, and podcasts by product influencers. Drive a culture of cutting-edge tech knowledge across the whole product team by setting up structures for different team members to share tips and news.

Effective user research techniques include developing a solid customer interview process with clear objectives and using continuous discovery methods that keep you constantly connected with what your customers want. Many product managers also recommend creating detailed product user personas to help you understand your customers as real people with real preferences and needs.

Using product experience insights tools like Hotjar can connect you with your customers’ needs and give you key product feedback on how they experience your product.

(Video) How to Advance Your Career as a Product Manager

Today’s successful product teams go beyond being data-driven and using solely quantitative data to guide their strategy. Instead, they become data-informed and use a mix of quantitative data, behavioral insights, and intuition to understand the larger context, avoid micro-optimization, and develop a product vision based on where they’re headed, not where they’ve been.

Andrei Beno

Growth Product Manager at Hotjar

2. Build brilliant product strategies and roadmaps

Great product managers turn research insights into actions by learning how to distill and organize insights, decide what’s most important for product development, and communicate this via the strategy and roadmap.

The key to developing stellar skills in creating these documents is finding a balance. You should include stable, unchanging product aims and values that are linked to the company’s overarching goals—but leave space to adapt to new information or market changes, especially in the early stages of drafting.

Regularly reviewing your strategy and roadmap documents will help you to ensure they’re relevant and effective.

3. Setting and measuring metrics

Product managers need to be literate in a broad range of statistics. It’s crucial to measure product success against objective measurements of how the product is meeting user goals, business goals, and technical goals.

You’ll need to set high-level targets for new product or feature releases and track how statistics like user retention, active users, conversion rate, and customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores stack up with your goals and expectations. You should also set smaller goals that are clear, specific, and measurable, like having at least 75% of new users click to try a feature by a set date or increasing the number of average weekly logins by a defined percentage.

Knowing how to manage quantitative data also helps you communicate with a range of organizational stakeholders in other departments and get buy-in on your product plans.

You’ll also need to develop skills in understanding the numbers most important to business and executive teams. Product managers with a robust knowledge of profitability, revenue modeling, and other financials—including pricing—can stand out by translating their product goals into the language of organizational stakeholders.

4. Managing the technical aspects of product development

Product managers need to cultivate a deep understanding of the mechanics of product development to lead the process from design to development of prototypes right through to launch.

Technical expertise is also needed to produce key documents like product specs, technical specs, and product requirement documents (PRDs) that guide the process.

As Erika Gemzer, Founder at Pocket Board, comments, “product managers who lack technical skills will often spec out a product that is hard (or impossible) to engineer.”

At a minimum, you’ll need to know how the major programming languages—HTML, CSS, Javascript, Python, C++—work, and be familiar with SQL and data structures.

(Video) PRODUCT MANAGEMENT FUNDAMENTALS

Product managers without a technical background—and there are plenty!—can upskill by taking online courses with Bubble.io, CS50, or Codecademy to better understand the world of code, product engineering, and design. To guide the technical aspects of execution, many product managers also advise familiarizing yourself with the principles of agile design and development sprints.

Erika Gemzer recommends Jake Knapp’s book Sprint as a guide. To plan an effective sprint, she recommends “collaborating with the engineering manager and team to define work practices that are a win-win for users (i.e. how quickly do they want new features showing up) and the engineering team, since there are tradeoffs to all of the development cycles.”

5. Manage the backlog

For effective product backlog management, you’ll need competence in decision-making practices to help you prioritize. Learning how to prioritize product features or bug fixes in the right order is a critical skill.

Use research and your product vision and strategy to inform backlog decisions. It’s also useful to get familiar with decision-making tools and frameworks like:

  • The value/effort matrix, which helps you visualize which tickets will produce the most impact with the least effort.

  • The RICE scoring method, which involves grading tasks according to reach, impact, confidence, and effort.

  • The MoSCoW method, where you divide features into must-have, should-have, could-have, and won’t-have categories.

  • A cost-of-delay analysis, which compares tasks based on how much revenue they’ll generate and how much time they’ll take to complete.

5 key non-technical skills to develop

Product managers with stellar interpersonal and emotional abilities stand out. They’re better able to build user-centric products, connect stakeholders with different interests, and motivate the product team. Here are the top five non-technical PM skills to work on:

1. Deep user empathy

Great product managers make sure the product team isn’t just a feature factory—they create a product culture based on deeply understanding and meeting users' needs.

You can cultivate empathy by staying connected to your users at every stage of the product lifecycle. Don’t just map out user behavior—understand it. That means going beyond quantitative research to hear your users' thoughts and feelings through regular customer interviews, surveys, and feedback systems.

Keep reading to learn how product experience insights tools like Hotjar can help you understand your users’ experience by letting you see what users see—and ask them about it.

2. Product storytelling

Compelling product narratives convince users to use your product, convince organizational stakeholders to back your product, and convince engineers to put their all into building your product.

Learning the skill of product storytelling involves weaving user experience insights and market data into emotionally persuasive narratives that motivate your product team and justify your product decisions to the rest of the organization.

The best product storytellers keep user needs at the center of the narrative. Centering your product story on your users will ensure it resonates at emotional, business, and technical levels.

3. Stellar communication

With a mix of different personality types and perspectives on the product team, product managers need to be excellent communicators and mediators to resolve conflicts and keep everyone aligned. Rather than taking a top-down approach, create a culture of two-way communication and encourage team members to open conversations at the early stages of a potential disagreement.

It’s also important to develop strong communication skills in contexts outside the product team. Product managers need to lead cross-functional communication between engineers, marketers, executives, sales departments, and more.

(Video) 6 ESSENTIAL Skills to get into Product Management (in 6 months)

To improve your cross-functional communication skills, tailor your message to the person you’re speaking to. Hold back on giving every stakeholder every piece of product information: you may overwhelm them with an influx of data they don’t understand or may not need.

Instead, cherry-pick the most relevant information for your audience and frame it in terms that make sense to them. Keep the information flow between the product team and other departments open, aligning stakeholders around how your product contributes to a shared organizational vision.

​​While technical and product knowledge is important, what matters most is how effectively you communicate these ideas. Product managers typically work with engineers, designers, and marketers who all speak their own language. PMs need to know how to go about communicating these ideas so that all of these people quickly understand the full picture.

Michael Hamelburger

CEO at Sales Therapy

, Sales therapy

4. Motivational leadership

It’s natural for different team members with different priorities to get so focused on their day-to-day goals that they stop seeing the big picture. But a team that’s disconnected from the overarching product vision will end up pulling in different directions.

That’s where product managers need to cultivate their ability to step in as leaders. Strong leadership keeps the product team working together towards clear, shared objectives.

Link team goals with the overall product and organizational vision and keep your team connected with user needs. Instead of creating tons of different goals, define your North Star objectives and use these to align your team.

Part of leadership also involves empowering your team to own their work, set their own goals, and resolve issues themselves when appropriate. Learning when to offer clear guidance and when to step back is key.

I find that once a PM can quickly discover and concisely describe the outcomes that customers are looking for, it really drives their team too. Developers want to know why they are building something or what problems they are trying to solve. Driving for outcomes gives more autonomy to their teams as well in terms of building the solution.

Scott Knowles

COO at Hirebook

, Hirebook

(Video) Top 10 Skills Of A Product Manager | Product Management | UpGrad

5. Sharp decision-making

The best product managers make informed decisions based on extensive data. But they don’t get stuck in the research loop. They use research to take action. That means product managers should get used to being decisive—you’ll have to accept that you can’t please every single user and get comfortable marking some features and tasks as out of scope.

Excellent decision-making skills aren’t developed in a vacuum. Seek feedback from all stakeholders before and after making a decision, and build time to try, review, and adapt your priorities.

Using product management skills to navigate challenges

By developing a robust technical and non-technical skillset, you’ll be able to differentiate yourself as a top product manager and overcome common challenges in the role.These include:

Product challenges

Product managers have to meet deadlines, manage scarce resources, navigate technical debt, and ensure their product stays relevant. Decision-making and prioritization skills are critical to meeting these challenges. You’ll also need to ensure you have robust technical capabilities to design a product strategy and roadmap that can be used as a North Star when things get tough.

Team challenges

Common obstacles that arise on the product team include conflict between team members, a lack of alignment, and loss of motivation. You’ll need to exercise leadership and communication skills to smooth over conflicts and keep your team on the same page. Use your product storytelling abilities to get your team excited about the same goals and involve them in decisions as much as possible.

Organizational challenges

Juggling competing priorities, seemingly endless requests from different stakeholders, and clashes with executives are all part of day-to-day product management.

This is where your product storytelling, communication, organizational awareness, and research skills will shine. Show stakeholders clear data to back up what you’re saying and use your research to evangelize your product—craft user-centered product narratives to keep different departments engaged with your customers’ needs.

Career challenges

The skills you develop as a product manager can also be applied to your career challenges. Typical PM career issues include finding the right position and not progressing towards the roles you want.

Think of your career as a product to be managed and exercise your research and planning skills to find a perfect company fit for your skill set, passions, and ambitions.

Think deeply about what kind of PM role you’re best suited for—at a startup, you’ll likely do a bit of everything, while at larger orgs, you may be able to focus on one particular aspect of the product development process. Just as you change course if the product-market fit is off, you should change course in your career when there’s a mismatch between your role and your abilities or ambitions.

Use your storytelling and communication skills to be your own evangelist.

Whether you’re just starting as a PM or looking to move up in the field, make a case for yourself on your CV and LinkedIn profile by grounding your narrative in data on your concrete achievements and abilities.

How Hotjar supports product management skills

Hotjar’s product experience insights software is a gamechanger for developing key product management skills. Hotjar helps product managers to:

Develop user empathy

Use Hotjar Heatmaps and Session Recordings to understand the user experience from the users' perspective. Feedback tools like Surveys and Incoming Feedback widgets help you connect with your users’ needs through their own descriptions of what they’re thinking and feeling as they use your product.

Craft compelling product stories

Hotjar’s tools let you quickly and easily add quantitative user data to your presentations and product narratives, making it easier to get buy-in. Crucially, Hotjar also unearths qualitative VoC data that helps you build an emotional case by connecting your product with the users behind the screen.

Prioritize decisively

Hotjar makes data-driven decisions easy, meaning you can stop determining priorities based on gut instinct or what the loudest voice in the room thinks you should do. Having clear statistics and VoC data to back up decisions means product managers can feel confident in their prioritization skills.

Motivate the product team

Hotjar’s tools are easy to set up, so the whole product team can directly and immediately see the impact of your product. This keeps engineers and developers—who often have little contact with the end-user—connected with customers. Product team members who understand how their actions affect users stay motivated throughout the product development process.

Keep learning and improving as you go

The best product managers have a growth mindset: they constantly seek ways to upskill and learn new things. By focusing on developing and upgrading the most important technical and non-technical skills, PMs can forge successful careers and make a real difference in the industry.

(Video) How to become a Product Manager?(ft. Jackie Bavaro & Sugandh Rakha) | How to Crack the PM Interview?

FAQs

How do I grow my career as a product manager? ›

To get to this point on the product manager career path, you'll likely need to come in with some experience. You don't necessarily need direct product management experience. But you'll need to have had some professional experience that demonstrates particular skills.

What are top 3 skills for a product manager? ›

Skills Required to Become a Product Manager
  1. Writing Technical Requirements and Specs. Coming up with product optimizations and new product ideas is an integral part of a product manager's role. ...
  2. Conducting Market Research. ...
  3. Strategic Thinking. ...
  4. Excellent Oratory and Communication Skills. ...
  5. Excellent Negotiation Skills.
22 Apr 2022

Why do you want to pursue a career in product management? ›

In short, a product manager's job is all about solving problems for people. If your life has led you to creative thinking, problem-solving, and curiosity, it's quite possible product management is the perfect career choice and you'd be a perfect fit for a role where you can practice, learn and grow a ton.

What are your career goals for product manager? ›

Top 5 Goals for Your Product Management Career
  • Seek a marked improvement in customer satisfaction metrics. First and foremost are the customers. ...
  • Never stop learning. There is always more to learn and room to improve what you know. ...
  • Research other relevant products and market influences.
12 Jun 2017

How do I break into product management with no experience? ›

6 Different Ways to Get a Product Manager Job With No Experience
  1. Study and Research. ...
  2. Internal Transition. ...
  3. Apply for Junior Product Manager Roles. ...
  4. Start a Company. ...
  5. Join a Startup. ...
  6. Get Product Management Career Coaching.
13 May 2021

What is your strongest skill set as a product manager? ›

Soft Skills
  1. Critical Thinking And Analytical Skills. This is a must-have for any PM. ...
  2. Leadership And The Ability To Take Initiative. As with any management position, leadership skills are important for supporting and motivating your team. ...
  3. Flexibility. ...
  4. Problem-Solving. ...
  5. Time Management. ...
  6. Communication Skills.

What are 3 characteristics of a high performing product management team? ›

The Traits of Great Product Managers
  • They are customer obsessed.
  • Over communicate strategy and vision.
  • Partner and influence.
  • They are both strategic and tactical.
  • Utilize data and their intuition to make decisions.
7 Aug 2021

What are the 3 major areas of product management? ›

It identifies the three primary areas of focus for product management, namely: Product discovery. Product Planning. Product Development.

What inspires you to be a product manager? ›

Delighting customers

“Solving someone's problem, making them enjoy their job, and making their day,” said a product owner for a process management firm.

What is the most important role of a product manager? ›

One of the most important skills of a product manager is communication. This is because they need to convince the stakeholders, design teams, clients, and everyone involved in the product's lifecycle. Good communication skills of a product manager can be a big help in the entire lifecycle of a product.

What skills can you get from product management? ›

A core product management skill is to have knowledge of market and industry trends and being able to set and track key KPIs, such as customer acquisition costs, customer conversion rate, daily active users, features usage, user churn, Net Promoter Score, customer satisfaction, and customer lifetime value.

What should product managers be passionate about? ›

Product management is for passionate people who want to make a difference. It could be a passion for technology, innovation, solving a customer problem, or redefining the user experience. Or it could be a passion for capturing a market and implementing a winning strategy.

What is a good career development goal? ›

Examples of professional development goals

Improve your professional and networking relationships. Improve your time management skills and productivity in the workplace. Obtain a new certification or degree. Grow your professional network by attending more networking events.

What is the hardest part of product management? ›

What's the hardest part of product management? Our research shows that the hardest parts of the job for many product managers are organizational comms, managing deadlines, team alignment, and balancing different responsibilities.

How stressful is product management? ›

With great responsibility, comes great stress. Due to its versatility, the role of a product manager is extremely challenging. Although this career is also very rewarding and fulfilling, it can often be frustrating for many reasons.

Why product management is difficult? ›

One of the odd things about product management is that you're often strategically directing the work of people who don't report to you. That's why managing your resources is always going to be a challenge: technically, they're never really your resources to manage.

What defines a good product manager? ›

The easy answer to this question — “What makes a great product manager?” — would be a list of skills. A long list that would include: subject matter expertise, outstanding communication skills, market knowledge, leadership ability, innovativeness, strong researching skills, the ability to think strategically, etc.

What are the 5 dimensions of product management? ›

Discover, Design, Develop, Deploy, Deliver TM

This is what we call the “5D vision of Product Management”. Product managers need to consider, plan, and execute in all 5 Dimensions to create great products.

How can I improve my product management skills? ›

How I Improve My Product Management Skills
  1. Strategy & Big Picture Thinking.
  2. Product Sense.
  3. Structuring Problems & Analytics.
  4. Soft Skills & Communication.
  5. Attention to Detail, and.
  6. Project Execution.
26 Feb 2019

What is product management simple words? ›

Product management is the job of looking after a specific product within a business. It's a role at the very heart of an organization that needs to balance the need to deliver value to your company (usually profit) with what customers want and what's technically and operationally possible.

What are the 7 steps of product planning? ›

The 7 Strategic Phases of the Product Planning Process
  • Product Concept Development. This initial phase might be the most fun and creative stage in the product lifecycle, and it's the most critical. ...
  • Competitive analysis. ...
  • Market Research. ...
  • Minimum Viable Product development. ...
  • Introduction and launch. ...
  • Product lifecycle. ...
  • Sunset.

What are the 5 stages of product management cycle? ›

The product life cycle is the progression of a product through 5 distinct stages—development, introduction, growth, maturity, and decline. The concept was developed by German economist Theodore Levitt, who published his Product Life Cycle model in the Harvard Business Review in 1965. We still use this model today.

How do I know if I will be a good product manager? ›

You will love Product management if you are a person with great vision. If you know how to break that vision into tangible chunks and layout a plan to fulfill that vision, you will be a good PM. If you are empathetic and can put yourself into customers shoes every time before you think, you will be a great PM.

How do I pass a product manager interview? ›

5 Kinds of Questions Every Product Manager Candidate Should Ask During an Interview
  1. Ask questions about the product team's relationship with other departments. ...
  2. Ask questions about the product team itself. ...
  3. Ask questions about product strategy and KPIs. ...
  4. Ask questions about the product development process.

Why should we hire you for product management answer? ›

Example Answer:

“I decided to apply for a product manager role with this organization because I'm attracted to the company culture. After looking into the company for a bit, I came to the understanding that you value putting quality products on the market, and you're looking for someone who also values the customer.

What should a product manager do every day? ›

What do product managers do? A day in the life
  • Discover what users need.
  • Prioritize what to build.
  • Rally the team around the roadmap.
  • Deliver the feature.
  • Champion the team.

What is the most important skill for a product owner? ›

What are the key product owner skills?
  • Analytical skills. A Scrum product owner's priorities lie in managing, assessing, and approving the product backlog. ...
  • Communication skills. ...
  • Collaboration skills. ...
  • Technical skills. ...
  • Project management skills.

What is a good answer for career goals? ›

Laying out a list of goals doesn't make for a very convincing answer. Instead, focus on one or two main goals and briefly explain how you plan on achieving them or how they will benefit your career in the long-term. This shows that you have thought these goals through and are clear about what you want in the future.

How do you plan to achieve your career goals interview answer? ›

How to answer, "How do you plan to achieve goals in your career?"
  1. Think about your visions for the future. The first step is to discover the contributions you want to make in your career. ...
  2. Incorporate details about the job. ...
  3. Mention your qualifications. ...
  4. Describe the actions you can take. ...
  5. Emphasize your long-term goals.

Is product manager a good career in future? ›

Not only that, but they also work closely with the sales team in order to train them on the products. So the people deliberating “Is product management a good career?” should be assured that yes, it is, as it provides good leadership opportunities to product managers.

Do product managers have a future? ›

The product management market is expected to reach USD 31.84 billion by 2025. Thus, for aspiring and existing product managers who are planning to climb further ahead in the domain, the future is as bright as the sun, if not brighter. All that they need is the right training and mentorship.

Where do I go after product manager? ›

Most Common Jobs For Former PRODUCT MANAGERS
  • Senior Product Manager.
  • Marketing Manager.
  • Project Manager.
  • Consultant.
  • Product Management Director.
  • Vice President.
  • Marketing Director.
  • Program Manager.
13 Jul 2022

How do you see your career developing in the next 5 years product manager? ›

As a PM, I want to grow new skills over the next 5 years as well as use my existing skillset to add value to the business I am part of. I would also like to establish myself as an SME on the team, helping others to grow and enabling my own career growth.

How old are most product managers? ›

The average age of an employed product manager is 38 years old.

Who is higher than product manager? ›

A Chief Product Officer (CPO) is the most senior product person in an organisation. They usually manage more than one team of product managers and represent product in the C-suite or management team.

Why is product management so hard? ›

Perhaps the hardest part of being a Product Manager is the community-building aspect. A person can have all the qualifications and hard skills needed to be the best Product Manager to date, but without the ability to effectively build relationships across teams and with colleagues, they may never succeed.

Is product manager high paying? ›

Product Manager Salaries

It's been deemed as one of the top ten best jobs in the United States. A job in product management is also coveted because of its high salary. The average compensation for product managers across various positions can range from $61,000 to $200,000+ per year.

What is the toughest challenge a product manager faces? ›

FAQs on product management challenges

Our research shows that the hardest parts of the job for many product managers are organizational comms, managing deadlines, team alignment, and balancing different responsibilities.

Why did you quit product management? ›

Having to constantly check in with your boss is both inefficient and demotivating. Lack of opportunity—There aren't too many product managers content to do their existing job forever; they're looking for chances to advance, take on more responsibility, and expand their skill set.

How many hours do product managers work? ›

Generally speaking, I've noticed that most product managers aim for about 50 hours per week. Now that you've estimated your weekly bandwidth, block out your time over the next week with “free” calendar events. For each block of time, determine what objectives you will achieve in that period of time.

What makes a product manager successful? ›

The easy answer to this question — “What makes a great product manager?” — would be a list of skills. A long list that would include: subject matter expertise, outstanding communication skills, market knowledge, leadership ability, innovativeness, strong researching skills, the ability to think strategically, etc.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years as a product manager? ›

Or you could offer a response that runs along these lines: “I've enjoyed managing a direct report in my current role. So in the next few years, I see myself enhancing my leadership and management skills, developing as a mentor and supervisor, and putting myself in a position where I can lead a growing team.”

How many years of experience do you need to be a product manager? ›

Typically, aspiring product managers enter a program with three to five years of business experience, so they already have some of the skills needed for product management.

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