7 Great Management Lessons You Learn as a Product Manager

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Great product managers must function as part entrepreneur, part general manager, part process expert, and part diplomat in their very challenging roles. They bridge the various functions to bring their products to life and they make the key feature, function and pricing decisions throughout the lifecycle of their offerings. At the end of the day, they are accountable for the results of their products, even though they don’t directly manage the development, marketing or selling of their offerings. This is one tough and important job.

Here are great management lessons you can develop in this role.

You Learn to See Customers as Unique People

Everyone in an organization talks about customers often referencing them generically. In reality, not all customers are the same. Product Managers work to develop a specific profile for each distinct customer group they serve or desire to attract. As long as the distinguishing characteristics of each persona are meaningful, the product manager can guide the various functions to develop unique offerings and tailor marketing approaches.

You Develop as a Strategist

Part of the excitement of this role is your immersion in helping define and execute your firm's strategy. From assessing and selecting markets to enter to identifying potentially profitable customers to serve, product managers are often involved in many of the core strategy decisions of a firm. After selecting markets and customers, the detailed work of identifying unique offerings and guiding critical pricing and positioning decisions are part of the product manager’s responsibilities.

You Learn to Lead Across Functions

Similar to the role of project manager, the product manager has the challenging task of leading others and being accountable for results without the luxury of direct authority. Any role where you learn to drive results through others without formal authority is a great teaching role.

You Develop Diplomatic and Political Skills as a Matter of Survival

Spend a day shadowing a product manager and you’re likely to participate in customer calls, field inquiries from salespeople, run a meeting with engineering, meet with customer support to hear about quality issues, and participate in a webinar with your marketing friends. At every encounter, you’re faced with issues and people demanding decisions or commitments. Your diplomatic skills allow you to navigate these challenging encounters in the best interests of your firm and your customers.

You Learn to See the Entire Experience

Customers evaluate your offerings for the entire experience, not just the physical product or actual service. If the product is great, but customers struggle to understand the documentation and cannot reach support for answers, this will reflect poorly on your product and sales results and reputation will suffer. Product managers are accountable for the “whole” offering, including the physical product or actual service and all of the customer touch-points surrounding the offering.

You Cultivate Great Communication Skills

From your first day on the job, you’re engaged with customers and colleagues in other departments, and after some time on the job, you’ll find yourself serving as a frequent contributor at executive meetings. You learn quickly to adapt to different audiences and you learn that your ability to communicate effectively is your most critical asset.

You Learn to Make Profitable Tradeoffs

In your role, you are choosing where to invest your firm’s money in developing new and enhancing existing products. Every decision has a cost and an implication and product managers are constantly called upon to make priority tradeoffs.

  • Engineering might have limited resources to work on your offering and instead of your top five feature requests, they might only be able to deliver three in the time-frame you specified. It’s up to you as the product manager to select the features to be left behind.
  • If you want more time to train your sales team on your latest offering, you’ll have to negotiate for time on the schedule with the sales executive.
  • Need to drop your price due to a competitor’s action? You’ll be spending time convincing your finance department why they should make less money on every product they ship.

These tough decisions are daily issues for product managers, who become masters of managing tradeoffs.