The skills product managers need in a changing environment
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The role of product manager is shifting, and you can position yourself for future success if you know how it is shifting. Our guest has some unique insights about this as he is the founder of Product School, a large community of product managers. His name is Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia, and he’s here to share the shifts that are emerging and how you can prepare.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[3:22] What are some of the shifts in product management you’ve seen in the last year or two?
When I started seven years ago, product management wasn’t well-understood. Now, there’s more understanding about what product management is. Many companies have a chief product officer who reports directly to the CEO. More and more companies are hiring product managers, even though many companies are downsizing because of COVID. They still need product managers to make their products and sell online, and with remote working, they need more efficient collaboration. Product management isn’t just for high-tech companies anymore; all industries need product managers.
[5:05] What changes have you seen in product managers’ influence?
The power dynamic is definitely changing. Product managers now have more influence because they’re in the middle of the organization, connecting the dots between engineering, design, and marketing. They create the roadmaps and vision. Product managers feel empowered because many CEOS are coming from a product background, setting up a product culture in their organizations.
[6:22] Why is the cross-functionality of product management important?
Product managers are generalists. They understand the company’s different functions and the customer. Product managers connect everyone under a common vision, similar to what CEOs do, which is why many product managers become CEOs and many startup founders and CEOs later become product leaders.
[7:26] How can product managers be more effective at relating to different functions?
Learn about functions you don’t have a background in. If you are trying to move toward a product manager role, and you have experience in marketing, take a year to learn about design and engineering. Become more complete by picking up skills outside of what you’re really good at.
[9:04] What are the key capabilities a well-rounded product manager has?
- Technical acumen: You don’t have to be an engineer, but you will be working with engineers, so you need to speak tech and be able to earn engineers’ respect.
- Industry domain or business acumen: You don’t need an MBA, but you need to understand your customer, market, competition, and product, so you can be passionate about the problem you’re solving.
- Communication skills: Be comfortable communicating with different stakeholders, not only in big presentations but also over email, in-person, and online. You need to be there for your team and have time to support and coach others.
[11:54] Tell us about your journey to become an effective communicator.
It wasn’t easy. I immigrated from Spain, so I’m a non-native English speaker, and I still make a lot of mistakes when speaking. I had nothing to lose and no experience at all, so I pushed myself to practice, practice, practice. It’s okay to be uncomfortable; learning is a process. I encourage people to go for it and start practicing communication, even if they’re not native speakers or professional communicators. Non-verbal communication is important too; smiling while you talk goes a long way. Curiosity is also very powerful in making us more approachable and effective.
[15:51] How is the role of product management changing going into the future?
We recently released a report called “The Future of Product Management,” and identified several trends in how the industry is moving. Product management is becoming more data-driven. It’s becoming more of a science than an art. You can’t get away with just having a strong vision and being a great communicator; you need to also look at the numbers and listen to your users.
There’s much more technology available specifically for product managers. These tools are becoming more and more visual, meaning you don’t need technical expertise to use them.
Product management is becoming more collaborative. Product teams now include engineers, designers, and marketers, in addition to product managers, and they all work together to generate ideas and create successful products. Product managers need to learn about others’ work so they can connect with their teams.
The pandemic has accelerated product roadmaps dramatically. Companies may be downsizing, but they’re hiring more product managers. Traditional companies are now investing in digital transformation, creating more opportunities for product managers.
Many people are doing the work of a product manager even though their job title is something else, like project manager or product marketer. If you want to become a product manager, but your company won’t give you the title of product manager, you can still help your product team, build something on your own, design a website, or participate in a hackathon. There are a lot of free resources for product management. You just need commitment.
[24:07] What should product managers start doing now to prepare themselves for the future?
Design is underrated but very important for product management. You don’t have to be a professional designer, but you do need to develop an eye for design. Design is about putting the user in the middle and solving a problem for them based on data and qualitative information.
As a product manager, you’re hired to bring questions, not answers. Make data-driven decisions, but balance that with the intuition developed with experience.
As product managers, we’re there to serve others, make it easier to build the product, and create value for customers. We’re orchestrating the work of our team, not adding more to people’s plates, but providing clarity and direction.
Action Guide: Put the information Carlos shared into action now. Click here to download the Action Guide.
- Learn more about Product School and check out their free resources
- Connect with Carlos on LinkedIn
- Download the Future of Product Management Report
“There’s never been a better time in history to build digital products because the world is moving online.” – Carlos Gonzalez de Villaumbrosia
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it using the social media buttons you see below.