ProductPower009: PM skillset

Olga Lustsik
6 min readSep 19, 2022

This post is based on Inspired and Empowered, by Marty Cagan, with my personal comments and examples.

Product Manager (PM) skills should cover the following 3 dimensions:

According to the seniority level, a person should possess a certain experience level in these dimensions. The higher you are in PM seniority level, the higher expectations there are towards you on these dimensions.

Product knowledge

User and customer knowledge

As a PM, you have to know your target user group: what are their problems, issues, pains, desires, how they think, what is their profile, what are their expectations, and what are their worries. There are multiple ways to learn about your customers:

  • if your company has a user research team, this is an excellent place to start learning — they probably have multiple research conclusions that can help you go get to know your customer.
  • your company probably has customer success or a service team. From them, you can learn who their favorite customers are, who their least favorite is, and why.
  • meeting real customers, and initiating your own user research projects with your UX research team with detailed customer interviews.

Once you are sitting down with real users and customers, with every interaction, you are looking to learn: Are the customers who you think they are? Do they have the problems you think they have? How do they solve that problem today? What would it take to get them to switch?

Getting to know the customer requires both qualitative learning (to understand why our users and customers behave the way they do), and quantitative learning (to understand what they are doing).

Data knowledge

There are multiple data types, that can help you to analyze your client and your product:

  • user analytics — how the user interacts with the product
  • sales analytics — data on the sales cycle of the product
  • data warehouse analytics — how data is changing over time, holistic view of the client

As a PM you have to get familiar with data analysis tools and you have to become friends with reports — you should be interested in trend changes, gaps, inconsistencies, and divergence from expectations.

That is great if you have a data analyst on your product team. But if not, then it is your sole responsibility to dig into the data yourself. Most product managers start their day with half an hour or so in the analytics tools, understanding what’s been happening in the past 24 hours.

Industry and domain knowledge

Some products require PM to have specific industry knowledge (think of the surgical devices industry, taxation, or compliance). Industry trends are valuable information for PM when planning directions for the next product discovery activities.

Successful products are not only loved by your customers, but they work for your business.

Marty Cagan suggests PM conduct competitive analyses on his product: evaluate the top 5 players in the space, analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each player and highlight the opportunities.

Business and company knowledge

PM has to understand various dimensions of the company’s business, including marketing, sales, finance (including costs, revenues, lifetime value of the customer), services, legal, compliance, and privacy. In order to achieve that, PM needs closely communicate with stakeholders from other divisions on a regular basis.

Marty Cagan recommends PM fill out a business model canvas for their product. This method will help PM to realize how many gaps he has and need to work on more.

I recommend digging deeper into analyses of your product's Profit and Loss (P&L) statement and trying to understand what are the costs associated with your product:

  • direct costs — fees that you have to pay to other counterparts to keep the product running, your product team expenses, your product marketing costs, your product acquisition costs
  • indirect costs — part of costs from other support units in your organization, that helps your product team to function (your HR, your infrastructure, part of customer support serving your product, your Finance department, your management board)

I am a big fan of Activity Based Costing methodology, which allows you to calculate a true product cost in a service organization, that is dealing with multiple products at once.

When you will combine full costs and the revenue you get from the clients, you will get product profitability.

Product operational knowledge

Every PM should be an expert user of her own product in order to be trusted. It can be easy with consumer products, but tricky with products for business, where you will need domain knowledge to help you out.

I would suggest all product team members (PM, designers, developers) use themselves on a regular basis the product they build and develop.

Process Skills and Techniques

Product discover techniques

I strongly suggest every PM read Marty Cagan's book Inspired on Product Discovery techniques.

In essence, product discovery is needed to evaluate and assess 4 primary risks in the product discovery phase, before any actual development will start:

  • value risk — will the user or customer choose to use or buy this?
  • usability risk — can the user figure out how to use this?
  • feasibility risk — can we build this?
  • viability risk — is this solution viable for our business?

You should know how to use prototyping and idea testing both qualitatively and quantitatively.

Product delivery techniques

In general, this is the responsibility of the engineering team. Still, PM needs to understand the core basics of delivery techniques (e.g. continuous integration) and in some cases, such as release planning, take a more active role.

Product development process

PM should also be the Product Owner of her product team. Depending on a development process that the team has — Scrum, Kanban, etc — PM should act accordingly.

People Skills and Techniques

Team collaboration skills

Modern product management is all about true collaboration between product, design, and engineering. PM does not need to be personally skilled in either design or engineering, but they do need to understand and appreciate their contributions to the point where they know what design and engineering bring to the table is just as essential as what the PM brings.

PR needs to establish the relationships necessary for true collaborations, which are built on trust and respect.

Try to look at you team meeting once from a distance:

* are your team acting like they are empowered to solve the problem, or like order takers?

* is the designer and engineer bringing potential solutions to the table or just pointing out issues with whatever PM is proposing?

* are the team spending too much time talking (e.g. planning) and not enough time trying (e.g. prototyping)?

Stakeholder collaboration skills

Many of the points regarding team collaboration skills also apply to the stakeholder's skills, but it is more complicated to build a trusted relationship with someone external from your team.

Very often key stakeholders accompany executives and PMs need to spend a lot of effort to build a mutual trust relationship with them. In order to do that, PM needs to understand what each of the stakeholder’s constraints are and bring this knowledge to the product team.

The key technique for building a trusted relationship with stakeholders is to spend one-on-one time with the ley stakeholders. Sit down with them and listen. Explain that the better you understand their constraints, the better your solutions will be. Ask a lot of questions. Be open and transparent.

One of the most common mistakes product managers make with stakeholders is that they show them their solution after they have already built it. Whenever you will identify something that might be of concern, you have to preview the solution with that stakeholder before the team starts building.

Evangelism skills

PM should be able to effectively share the product’s vision and product strategy, motivate and inspire her team and various stakeholders and others in the company who must contribute to the product in one way or another (customer support, sales, marketing, etc).

I recommend PMs to take presentation courses, where you do presentations that are filmed on video and you get comments by professional coaches on points to improve.

Leadership skills

PM is not actually managing anyone directly, but she needs to influence and inspire people. PM has to be an effective communicator. Her team and stakeholders will look to her for leadership, especially in stressful situations.

Learedship must be earned, it does not come with the title.

Reference: My favorite books of all times: Inspired and Empowered, by Marty Cagan.

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Olga Lustsik

Writing a blog on ”The Power of Product Management”