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6 Key Traits of Great Product Managers

By Julie Robles, Googler

This September, the community in London met for an insightful panel about product management at London Business School. The goal, highlight some of the key traits that make a successful product manager.

To answer that question, five product leads shared their best practice and advice about how they set their teams up for success. Those leads included:

Xooglers discussing product management best practices in London, September 2017

Top of our speaker’s list were recommendations for communication, diversity and strong internal and user support. Here’s a summary:

1. Key Learning: Communicate

The number one asset and challenge for a product lead is communication.

Approach as follows:

  • Spend time doing an initial product deep-dive. Knowing a product inside-out will help support team communications as you go forwards;
  • Based on your new-found thorough product knowledge, get buy-in from different stakeholders at the start;
  • Keep communication channels open with the wider team (account managers, business developers, marketing managers) — this will help you work more efficiently.

The better your communication and communication skills, the more effective your product management will be viewed and become.

2. Stay Focused, Help Others Stay Focused Too

Remember: every stakeholder in a business has different incentives for contributing to product management. Effective communications, aligned with each stakeholder’s strategic goals, will help keep everyone on board with the product roadmap, vision and help you get your job done.

3. Spend Time With Your Customer

Spend time with customers. Period.

When you do spend time with them, ask unbiased questions: you’ll likely receive different feedback versus what other arms of the business gather. For example, by asking unbiased questions users/customers are likely to feel more comfortable talking about things they want to change or what’s not working. Why? Users/customers know the product team can fix their problems!

Last but not least, feel your customer’s passion! A good product manager will spend a lot of time interacting with users and getting their feedback. The key to that is empathy.

4. Diversity Is Key To Building A Product Team

As a product manager, you have an opportunity to review what’s missing in the existing organization and complement that set of skills and expertise to make it stronger.

If you’re hiring new product managers, look for managers with technical and non-technical backgrounds i.e. with industry expertise. Homogeneity in a product team (technical profiles only, for example) ultimately weakens the team. Also, consider hiring smart motivated graduates and coaching them into the role.

Insight: product managers don’t necessarily need to know how to code to be successful. They do, however, need to show an interest in technology to interact with their team.

5. Your Product Roadmap? Data-first

The best way to prioritize the product roadmap is to collect and analyze multiple data-points, then decide. Don’t make assumptions, validate your plan before you build.

Set key metrics and spot the leaks in the user journey funnel. If properly captured, that data will enable the product team to focus on what matters most. Avoid low-hanging fruit. For example, there’s no point improving the sign-in process when no one stays on the app!

…The Problem With B2B Data

B2B data models can be especially tricky to build, especially early in the startup journey. Early product adopters are a particularly valuable source of information at this point. LinkedIn can be a useful tool here to find connections and key stakeholders to survey.

Earlier on in the startup journey, speaking at conferences is a great way to get in front of potential users and start the conversation. That qualitative information is particularly helpful for early stage product prioritization. The next challenge is to balance scalability and customization as you grow.

6. Execution vs. Contribution: CEOs Empower Product

Product leads in particular have a great opportunity to grow company culture and educate startup founding teams. As the product grows, so does the business.

At this point it’s helpful to support founders as they shift their attention from growing their idea to helping the business grow as a self-sustaining entity. Founders and product should work together to create a roadmap that supports common goals.

OKRs (Objectives and Key Results, a Google method) can help the whole company track progress against the roadmap and support the decision-making process.

These insights were shared with the community in London as part of our global events series. Join to find local events and get involved.

About The Author: Julie Robles

Julie is the Program Coordinator at Campus London (a Google space), where she helps the team run programs such as Campus Mentoring and Campus Residency. As a side project, she’s building Bernard, the Campus chatbot.

Her background also includes founding an IoT startup and event agency. She loves helping entrepreneurs with their business models, user testing and gauging product/market fit.