The Great Great Product Manager

Image of a chessboard

Great product managers are visionary leaders. They’re the people for whom and with whom we want to work. These people have figured out how to blend great communication, an openness to new ideas, and decisive leadership in a way that has us angling to be on their teams. So, how do they do it?

I think great product managers are like lots of other high performance achievers. But their role as the CEO of their products means that they need to do more than just outwork everyone around them. They need to captain their product and motivate lots of folks who they need to build, market, sell, and support their products.

My experience working with SaaS products in multiple software companies and talking with hundreds of product teams at Aha! (product roadmap software) has led me to believe that there is, in fact, a “secret sauce” involved in being a great product manager.

Those secret ingredients include:

Goal first
A product manager isn’t there to tell engineers how to do their jobs; rather, the product manager is there to tell them why the features on the roadmap are right for their customers and business. Great product managers always keep one goal foremost in their mind: the successful painting and sharing with their team of a vision for why what they’re asking for matters.

Know the customer
The first responsibility of a great product manager is to be the customer and the market advocate. Product teams want to be inspired and know that what they are working on matters to the customer and ultimately to the business. Great product managers know the customer, product, and business better than anyone on their team (and likely better than anyone in the company).

Be open
Great product managers know that they don’t have all of the answers. They remain open to new ideas from their teams and even from other, unexpected places. They listen carefully so that they don’t miss meaningful insights and suggestions.

Take blame
A great product manager is a leader for both success and failures. Great leaders accept responsibility. This doesn’t mean that they don’t follow up to figure out what went wrong when necessary; they do. They just don’t throw anyone under the bus during that process.

Throw credit
Good leaders share credit, and great product managers seem outright selfless. It is never wrong to throw credit to a team that executes. Product teams rise and fall together, and saying, “You did a good job” goes a long way.

Product management is an apprenticeship. No formal education gets anyone there. And great product managers get there faster by listening to the wisdom of others while building their own experience and point-of-view.

What do you see as hallmarks of a great product manager?

About Keith and Aha!

Keith is a product marketing pioneer. He is the VP of Marketing at Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software. Previously he blazed new trails in customer acquisition strategy at RealPage [RP], a top 10 SaaS company with more than 60 products worldwide.

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