Leading a product team is invigorating. As the CEO of the product, the product manager has one of the best jobs in the company as well as one of the hardest. Make the wrong decisions and you are a failure. But, define the right product for the right customer at the right time and you are a star.
Becoming a master product manager takes time, practice, and perseverance. It is an apprentice-based profession and you still cannot study to become one at school. It is not like becoming a doctor, accountant, or lawyer. But, for those who master the skill, the rewards are great.
Leading your product and company to greatness is a perfectly balanced creative and analytical feat of strength.
It is the best job in the world when you know how to do it. At Aha! (which is product roadmap software) we communicate with over a thousand product managers and their teams a week. Here are our suggestions based on the ways we have learned that master PMs lead their products to greatness.
Use your product
The only way to understand the customer experience your product delivers is to use it every day. If you work in a high-tech company developing business-to-business applications, ask your engineers to give you access to a demo or staging environment where you can tinker with it yourself. There is no better learning experience than through hands-on use.
Talk to customers
Speaking directly with customers is the best way to understand how they engage with your product. In most cases, customers who are actively using your product will want to tell you what they most enjoy (or hate) which gives you insight and power to make decisions and trade-offs as you set your product roadmap.
Know the market
A large part of being the CEO of the product is clearly understanding the market dynamics and anticipating the changes, moves, and shifts before they happen. Of course, no one has a crystal ball, but a product manager should have a thorough understanding of the market research, trends, and leading indicators in the market and be up-to-date on the latest information.
Partner with sales
Meet with your sales team regularly so you know how they are selling your product, the feedback they are receiving from customers and the value the product delivers from their point of view. Identify the sales team members who are willing to provide guidance and feedback on how the product could help them be successful, then prioritize those features as well.
Understand your competitors
Understanding the competition is powerful. If you do, you will start to anticipate the various directions the competition will take. Identify how they position their product to the market as well as how they build their product for actual customer use. Do not base your own strategy on what you learn, but it should inform it.
Product managers should be the happiest people on earth, but with all of the pressure to succeed it can become overwhelming. If you step back and return to the basics, you’ll master the role.
Technology companies are driven by the products they sell and the product manager is the product czar who drives them. Lead with mastery and enjoy the ride.
Do you know master PMs? What do they do?