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TransformationMar 14, 2022

5 Traits of a Successful Product Manager

Carlos Rodriguez and Caleb Steidley

The job of a product manager is both difficult and difficult to fully explain. Simply put, a product manager dictates what gets built. At the best product-centric companies, the product manager has the freedom to prove their data-based assumptions and implement features that will improve business outcomes and customer experiences. 

The product manager role is often referred to as a “mini-CEO” operating at the intersection of finance, technology, marketing, and design. For a product manager to succeed, they must not only have a strong backbone, but also know their customers, data, business, market, and technology.

5 Traits of a Product Manager

1. Deep Knowledge of the Customers

An organization should strive to provide value for customers. Successfully delivering value means knowing your customers. This starts as simple as a demographic understanding of your product’s intended audience, leading to full-fledged customer journeys in its most mature state.

To build an excellent product, a product manager must also understand what problem or pain point they intend to solve for their customers. Does the customer desire and prioritize real-time syncing across their devices or a simple and straightforward mobile user interface? Perhaps most importantly, what, if anything, is the customer willing to pay for the product?

It can be a behemoth undertaking to fully understand the customer. No single person could take on this task, but it is the responsibility of every product manager and their teams to work together to build that picture. This task is never fully complete, as customers, very much like products, are living and dynamic. Knowing the customer ties very closely to knowing the data.

2. Deep Knowledge of the Data

A product manager should be able to string together dashboards, trends, past performance, and industry benchmarks to create assumptions for new products. A thorough understanding of data, including wider market trends, should feed hypotheses about customers and strengthen business cases and value propositions for new features. Feature development by decree and opinion is dangerous and can quickly demoralize and unmoor engineering teams. 

Most organizations can and should seek to move quickly by building features incrementally and verifying their efficacy. Volumes have been written about A/B tests, traffic splits, and how exactly to parse the findings of these experiments. However, it should go without saying that understanding direct customer interactions with new products, and the data these interactions create, is worth its weight in gold.

3. Deep Knowledge of the Business

To create value for their product, a product manager first needs to have a holistic and detailed understanding of the business. They must recognize strengths and opportunities to capitalize for continued success. 

They should also look for weaknesses and where improvements are needed for the product. A product manager also should be looking for areas of potential growth, to find the momentum to build the best product for customers. 

A strong product manager will frequently question business practices and assumptions:

  • What are the areas of growth within the enterprise?

  • What are the company’s priorities?

  • What does the relationship/trust with leadership look like?

After digging deeper into these areas, a product manager can confidently cast a vision for their team knowing they’ve got a thorough comprehension of the enterprise. 

4. Deep Knowledge of the Market and Industry

It is just as important to have an in-depth understanding of the respective market and industry. The themes and direction of the market will help identify consumer trends. The more acute the study of the specific market, the increased likelihood of a competitive advantage. An informed product manager can provide customers with exactly what they want, understand what they are missing with other products or competitors, and bridge the gap to push their product ahead in the market. 

Product managers must also be aware of any industry disruptors. Businesses that are willing to take risks and prepare for changes to come are taking a step ahead of competitors who are more nearsighted. In the mid-2000s, Apple sensed shifts within the mobile technology market, while Nokia was unable to pivot away from its unwieldly software platform and unappealing hardware. Apple is now one of the most valuable companies in the world while Nokia had to exit the market entirely.  Gaining this understanding to place you ahead in your market and industry can be tricky. A product manager should ask:

  • What are my competitors doing?

  • What is the theme or desire for my consumers?

  • How can I be one step ahead of the competition?

  • What role does my business and product play in the market?

An innovative and new product that can change the direction of the industry can redefine or reestablish an organization’s dominance in their respective market.

5. Deep Knowledge of the Technology

It is squarely beyond the responsibility of the product manager to understand Kafka topics and Kubernetes clusters, but a minimal understanding of the organization’s tech stack can empower richer, more productive conversations with engineering teams and accelerate time to market. Furthermore, some technological background can inform base assumptions about feature development, lending momentum to any given initiative, whereas tech illiteracy can completely derail a product manager’s efforts. 

Perhaps just as important is the interface of product managers and engineering teams. Software engineers literally speak a different language than the rest of the organization. Their priorities, daily habits, and pain points often contrast with the rest of the business. It is the responsibility of the product manager to translate business needs into executable tasks and approach their engineering teams with empathy and open ears.

The Power of Excellent Product Management

These five pillars are the building blocks of excellent product management. The more in-depth understanding you have in each of the pillars, the more prepared you are to make the right decisions and ultimately succeed in your company or industry. 

Credera has a deep expertise in building products and empowering your organization to leap ahead of the competition. If you’re interested in discussing how to put these five pillars into practice, reach out to us at findoutmore@credera.com.

To learn more, check out our podcast on this topic – Why Your Organization Needs Great Product Managers.

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