1. Know and grow your lens.
Product management is all about how you frame up problems and bring solutions into focus. Unlike some roles, a product manager’s success is not primarily based around growing a particular skill set, but instead by maturing their lens.
If your background is primarily technical, it may be easier for you to focus on the solution first, perhaps getting too bogged down in the technical details or the implementation. Conversely, if your background is more on the marketing side, it may be more natural for you to focus more on the PR for the launch than the launch itself.
2. Be curious.
Always be learning. If your background is in engineering, challenge yourself to study great design. If you’re coming from a creative background, try to build a one-page web app in a week. Either way, learn how to identify what your users will love.
3. Work somewhere that values product management.
Find a company that understands that a product manager is not a project manager or simply a bridge to the technical team. Find a company that honors goals over projects, so you can do what a product manager should be doing: Finding the right problems to solve to hit your company’s goals.
If your company is new to product management, show them how valuable a product manager can be by delivering growth, revenue, and happy users.
(Bonus: Find a company that values product management and you’ll most likely find yourself a seasoned mentor as well.)
4. Volunteer to interview candidates.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a designer, engineer, or product manager. Learn what to look for in candidates. Build a set of your own interview questions. Observe how seasoned interviewers engage with candidates and how they make hiring decisions and build teams.
5. Be humble.
You’re not the engineer building it and you’re not the salesperson selling it. Know where and how you add value to your team. No one likes dictator leadership — especially when you’re depending on your team to deliver your vision.
6. Understand the data.
The only way to know what problems to prioritize for your team is by knowing what your goals are. And data help you make those decisions and then enable you to measure your team’s success. Learn some SQL or become best friends with your company’s resident data nerds. Get fluent in analytics tools. If you can’t measure it, it didn’t happen.
7. Never make excuses.
Your engineering team expects you to understand the implications of their technical implementation. Your design team expects you to weigh in on pixels and the user experience. Your marketing team expects you to understand the benefit of going big on social media vs SEM. On top of that, your CEO demands that you have a clear, long-term vision of your product and how you’ll differentiate from competitors.
Instead of going deep on one thing, you’re spread across everything. It’s a lot. But you don’t get to make excuses and you don’t get a pass for shipping late. And you certainly don’t get to blame your team when you hit bumps in the road.
The best product managers own the failures and pass the successes along to their team. You’re only as good as your team. Earn and keep their trust.
8. Talk to your users regularly.
Did I really have to call this out? You can’t build a product for someone you’ve never met. Ensure that you’re always bringing the voice of the user to the table and that your entire team is focused making your users’ lives better. Otherwise, what’s the point?