Past couple of weekends, I’ve been reading a lot of different sources about Product Managers. I found that this is a really difficult and multi-facetted role. To become a better one, I’ve compiled a list of things I think a great Product Manager (PM) should have or do. Here we go:

Formulate and breathe product vision and define product success

A good PM is able to step back and look at the bigger picture of the product. While day to day tasks, interruptions and questions never seem to stop coming, the PM keeps the team lined up towards a shared goal. In The Everything Store by Brad Stone about Amazon we get to know Jeff Bezos a bit better. He literally breathes his product vision by lines everyone at Amazon knows. When he starts one of his famous sentences everyone is able to finish them, because they know his vision.

Take responsibility for either success or failure of the product

While a PM should mostly be concerned about execution and shipping and not about specific technologic things (see “Able to focus on the why and what, not the how”), he should take responsibility for things that go awry, as well as the things that are successful. While this should release some of the unwanted stress from the team, this surely shouldn’t and doesn’t affect individual responsibility of the programmers and designers.

Deep understanding of target users

To be able to be a good PM and build the right product for the intended audience, the PM should have a deep and growing understanding of his users. He is responsible for creating a tight feedbackloop and he is always looking for ways to get a deeper knowledge of what works and what doesn’t work for them.

Listen to feedback

There is no better way to improve than to receive feedback. Although you should always “read” feedback from the senders perspective, treat feedback like you’re receiving a valuable gift. There’s always something to learn and improve.

As a PM, you’ll receive lots of signals. From the Product Owner(s), team members, other co-workers and from end users. A good PM know how to filter and prioritize feedback and take successful actions to become a better version of himself.

Know what makes a great product

The primary goal of a Product Manager is not to keep everyone happy, to build something he really loves himself or ship as much features as possible. A good product manager constantly thinks about the product and knows how to make it better. At any moment in time he’ll be able to come up with things he hates about the product and need to be improved or added. He knows the weakest parts of the product.

Know what not to build

A good product manager is a focussed one. He asks critical questions and is constantly aware of the fact that things that don’t matter will come up and need do be actively dismissed as soon as possible. The PM helps teammembers to focus, keeps things away from them.

Ability to think from different perspectives (user, technological, business)

The really good PM is able to switch hats. How does this feel like when I’m a user? What things are important or difficult from a technological perspective? How does the business benefit from the changes you’re about to make? A product serves business goals. The PM matches the product with each goal and is able to make strong decisions based on what he finds.

Know how to balance between getting it right and getting it out the door

Getting things perfect is great. Shipping is better. Striking the perfect balance is one of the hardest things in managing a product. The nature of the feature and the product matters a lot, because if you’re shipping a physical product or have to submit your code to Apple, you need to be way more thorough than a blog or other easily changeable parts of your product.

Able to improve the rate of execution

Speed of moving forward, velocity. In this case: improving rate of execution doesn’t always mean a higher rate. Maybe you need to step it up in terms of number of changes shipped, maybe you need to be more focussed on quality. A good PM helps the team to improve by asking questions, making sure everyone receives feedback and keeps an eye on quality-related metrics. An organized and structured PM is the backbone of a smooth running team of developers.

Able to improve the rate of experimentation and idea validation

Speed of inventing. Again, doesn’t mean number of experimentations, might cover the depth or quality of experiments conducted. Making space for experiments. Taking the time to talk over ideas and correctly validating them.

Able to focus on the why and what, not the how

Being a great Product Manager does involve breathing the vision, helping the team to focus and stimulate experimentation. However, a good PM focusses on the why and what. Set clear goals and define outcomes. He doesn’t try to define the how. Not defining the how is especially hard for PM’s who come from an engineering position. You’ll fail spectacularly if you do.

Has at least a technical background

A good Product Manager has at least a good understanding of technical difficulties. This way he builds trust with the engineers because they know what the PM’s talking about.

Actionable steps

I’m creating a plan to get better at this, and to do this, I’ve created a list of actionable steps to take to become a better Product Manager:

  • Write down a clear list of different products you manage
  • Write down a clear vision of the each product
  • Write down a clear definition of success for each product
  • Compile a list of sentences you ‘breathe’ to the team
  • Schedule a ‘vision’ session to get everyone on the same page
  • Define what responsibility for success and failure means to you as a Product Manager
  • Compile a list of target users for each product
  • Create a list of actions you can schedule to get a deeper understanding of your users
  • Create a flowchart of your current feedbackloop and create actions on how to improve them
  • Ask 3 people for at least one thing you can do better
  • Ask someone how [insert some document or proposal you wrote] can be improved
  • List the first 5 things that come to mind about each product that really need to be improved
  • Write down 3 choices you’ve made where you chose people over product
  • What are the 5 most common objections against using or purchasing your product?
  • What is the 3 best products you currently know? Why?
  • Make a list of all features you shouldn’t have built. Did these features align with your current vision?
  • Write down 5 critical questions to ask your teammembers about your product
  • For every member of your team, write down one or two things you can do to help them focus
  • List at least 5 different perspectives to look at your product(s)
  • List 5 features you’ve shipped too early
  • List 5 features you could have shipped earlier
  • List 3 things that could improve your rate of execution
  • Schedule time to work on experimentation and idea validation
  • Come up with at least 5 experiments to try for each product
  • Tell the members of your team that you are going to focus on the why and what, not the how
  • Ask one or two members to specifically warn you when you’re focussing on the how
  • List a couple of things where you want to change the how. List your reasons. Come up with the whys.
  • List 5 technical topics you need to get a deeper knowledge off. Schedule time to have members of your team teach you about it and/or research the topic yourself for 15 minutes.