So you want to be a product manager? I can understand why. It is an exciting path for ambitious folks who want to make a real impact. If I was starting my career over, I would choose product management again and get to it faster. And I would do it with more confidence knowing what I know now.
There is no better time to get into product management. Major industry analysts and research firms including Gartner and McKinsey are releasing reports on the cool tools and forward-thinking skills that tomorrow’s product managers will need. And Harvard Business School, Cornell University, and Northwestern University have all added programs in product management to meet the growing demand.
While you do not have to follow a singular career track to become a product manager, there are a few qualities you really need if it is where you want to end up.
The good news is that you do not have to wait until you are a product manager to begin building these qualities. You can start right now — no matter what your current role is.
Product managers need to be able to:
Can you consider the company’s goals and initiatives as your own? It is important to understand what the company hopes to accomplish, and then channel your energy towards aligning the product and product team to make sure you are serving that purpose. And guess what — sometimes there is no higher level company strategy — so you need to be able to think strategically at the product and company level.
You need to be a logical thinker, someone who can pick out the most important tasks to work on first. This is the same type of work you will need to do when you are a product manager and are prioritizing what features the team should build first. Learn how to think about priorities from your strategic standpoint — what work gets you closest to the goal.
You need to convince others that your ideas are worthwhile — which means working hard to develop them, having the confidence to share them, and having the skills to clearly explain them. And don’t look now, but when you help others see your point of view and they come to agree with your priorities, you need to act.
You must act even under uncertainty. This is true no matter what role you are in. You never have all the data you need to make the “perfect” decision. This is even more true for product managers who are exposed to a constant stream of varied information and feedback.
If developing these skills looks tough, that is because it is. And it’s a career-long journey. But it is also the journey that every great product manager takes!
You will wear many hats (visionary, strategist, cross-team leader, and salesperson, to name a few) and be challenged in more ways than ever before. But a career in product management is a worthy pursuit if you are eager to develop and use the skills defined above.
No time to waste. If you cultivate these qualities wherever you are right now, you will be well-positioned to succeed in a future product management role.
What other qualities do you think product managers need?