As product managers, we juggle many roles and take on a variety of tasks. With this, it can be difficult to identify our strengths. Similarly, it can be even tougher to figure out where we need to improve. In my experience, I’ve found that the T-shaped model for building skills is very applicable to product managers. This may be the first time you’re hearing about this concept, so I’ll start with the fundamentals.

The Fundamentals of Being T-Shaped

If you wanted to highlight a single figure who represents being T-shaped, I tend to think about Leonardo da Vinci. He was the ultimate “renaissance man” and became an expert in many fields (art, science, etc.). Funny enough, da Vinci did not consider himself a creative person. Instead, he viewed himself as a logical person who inevitably developed creative curiosity by crossing over into a variety of disciplines. By doing so, he discovered that every skill inevitably connects to one another in some way.

At its core, becoming T-shaped is all about developing a diverse skill set that balances a variety of core competencies. If you think about the shape of the letter T as a representation of your skills, here’s how they fit into becoming T-shaped:

Base of the T = The “I-Shape” or “Depth.”

  • As product managers, we have to remain nimble in taking on a variety of tasks. However, we all have one foundational skill that enables us to “go deep” on a given topic. For example, engineers and PhD-level scholars are perfect archetypes for people who push the limits of possibility within a specific field. When you start your career as a product manager, you need to expand your base to become more T-shaped and diversify your skills. However, as you progress in your career and become a leader, you’ll find that zeroing in on your personal “I-shape” becomes more important. More on that later…

Top of the T = “Variety of Soft Skills.”

  • To become truly T-shaped, product managers must develop a number of skills and techniques to connect with customers. In other words, we always need to have customer empathy at the forefront of our daily routine. For example, the ability to exercise “micro-empathy” through user interviews will enable you to connect on a human level with your customers. Furthermore, you gain additional insights through “macro-empathy” by looking at metrics to make informed decisions. Simply, your soft skills should enable you to connect with customers and work well with others.

About the speaker
Christophe Gillet Skillshare, Chief Product Officer Member

Christophe is the Chief Product Officer at Skillshare - where he runs product, design and engineering. Prior to joining Skillshare, Christophe was GM & Head of Product at Vimeo, where he led the product vision for the overall brand experience and development for Vimeo’s creator platform tools. In addition, Christophe has held product roles at eBay, Fan.TV, and iPreo.