Join me for a review of product management insights from five leading product experts: Marty Cagan, Teresa Torres, Jeff Gothelf, Rich Mironov and Dan Olsen. Each product guru provides their perspective on what it takes to be great as a product manager – including essential skills, management techniques and defining product stories.

Product Management Effectiveness (Marty Cagan)

Effective product management starts with having a broad skill set. First, you need to be comfortable with analyzing and understanding data. Second, product managers must be comfortable with collecting feedback from customers. Specifically, you need to balance qualitative and quantitative feedback to make informed decisions. In addition, utilizing the product discovery process is critical for defining your product vision. This also allows you to evaluate specific technologies to use in bringing your vision to life.

Finally, your top priority should always be to get the most out of your team. You have to work well with many stakeholders – from designers, engineers and everyone who touches your product. In the end, this is probably the most difficult skill to master as a product manager. It’s much harder to learn the complete skill set of being a product manager than it is to learn a particular industry. Ultimately, you should focus on building your overall skills which can then be applied to virtually any workplace.

Product Discovery At Its Best (Teresa Torres)

As product managers, we need to have access to customers and relevant data to start the product discovery process. If you don’t have access to customers, you have to figure out where to connect with them. Furthermore, the same is true for data. If you don’t have a great culture for data or metrics, you have to take time to instrument your product development. Ultimately, this means that your next feature might not be released as quickly. That said, when you release a feature that doesn’t make an impact, you’ll know exactly why because of data-driven insights.

When this process kicks off, our goal is to figure out ways in which we can solve problems for customers. However, many product managers make the mistake of jumping right into creating solutions instead of framing up the overall opportunity. Committing to fully understanding the opportunity is where strategy drives product management. For instance, you think about solving problems that create the most value for the business and your customers.

Product Management = The Nexus (Jeff Gothelf)

Over the years, the product manager role has become the nexus of many functions. Today, we are responsible for straddling business needs and customer needs. First, you have to understand the problem that needs to be solved for customers. From there, you need to figure out how to leverage your organization’s technology and platform to create the perfect solution.

In addition, product managers need to be fluent in many “product languages.” In other words, you have to speak in terms that customers and users can understand. Furthermore, you have to be competent in design language and user experience terminology. And of course, you need to speak the language of business language and understand technology. Clearly, this is not an easy job.

In summary, the best way to balance all of these demands is to remain curious and humble. These attributes allow product managers to evolve and adapt to the needs of their business and target customer.

The Trilingual Product Manager (Rich Mironov)

Product management is a balancing act between various skills and competencies. To me, I think product managers need to be “trilingual” or well versed in three areas.

  1. Technology Language
    • Engineers are the first people to sniff out if you know how to “talk the talk.” For example, you don’t want to be viewed as a product person who is only useful in standup meetings. By learning the language of tech, you’ll have much greater credibility within your team.
  2. Customer Language
    • This involves getting down and dirty with your target audience. Said differently, you have to be able to connect with your customers and articulate what they want your product to solve. Ultimately, you have to be one with your people to create the most value.
  3. Finance Language
    • Understanding numbers and being able to justify your project will prevent finance from shutting it down. From staying on budget to creating business cases with solid financials, this will ensure that your product vision comes to life.

How To Build Great Products (Dan Olsen)

When setting out to make new products, product managers need to solve for real needs that are identified by real customers. One way to think about this process is working in the problem space versus the solution space. In the problem space, you have to start here to figure out your customer’s pain points. From there, you are much better prepared to move into the solution space. With a clear understanding of your customer needs, you can create prototypes or mockups that are much more informed.

Many product teams will blur the lines between understanding customer needs and creating solutions. However, it’s very important to keep these processes separate and be rigorous in your product management. For example, it’s very easy to jump straight into writing code or designing prototypes without any time to understand customer problems. Ultimately, this should be an iterative process that involves several hypotheses about what the solution could be. In the end, your product needs to hit the mark by providing customers with an alternative that provides clear value.

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