When digital transformation and innovation are front-and-center in so many major industries, businesses are more desperate to find and train the best product managers available.

Product managers are cross-functional leaders who can work and communicate across departmental lines to ensure all team members work together to create the best product possible. 

Product managers are generalists who possess diverse skills to communicate with different team members and champion the product. They are expert communicators that understand the needs of a product’s customers and can make sure their colleagues prioritize those needs.

Since product managers are often jacks of all trades and masters of none, many managers are unsure what to look for in a product manager or what skills are most important. Let’sLet’s break down the steps needed to guarantee successful product management.

1. Cross-Functional Leaders

Product managers should be leaders in an organization that can see the big picture and holds a diverse but complementary skill set that allows them to communicate the vision for a product to their coworkers.

Product managers who don’t understand marketing and sales challenges will fail to consider those challenges when making product-related decisions. 

Product managers who don’t understand basic programming concepts won’t understand software engineering challenges and communicate with engineers.

Product managers who don’t handle the legalities and regulations surrounding a product might lead their team to create a product that produces legal challenges for its firm.

Product managers who don’t understand an organization’s finances and monetization strategy might fail to build features into a product that enables it to make sufficient revenue.

All of this is to say that product managers should be the epitome of well-rounded employees that can look at problems from many different angles. Business owners who fail to find product managers with a broad range of skills set up their companies for an unsuccessful product. This guide from Digital Authority breaks down the specific skill sets product managers should have.

2. Communication Skills

Perhaps more important than anyone specific skill that a product manager possesses is communicating effectively. Product managers should be master communicators that also bring powerful interpersonal skills to the table.

Product managers with complex skills are likely to fail to make the different moving parts of an organization smoothly. Good product managers understand human psychology and convey their product insights in an easy-to-understand and difficult to ignore.

Bad communication skills can lead to interdepartmental conflicts and to confusion about the vision of what the product should be. This confusion can produce costly mistakes. This piece by the New York Times breaks down why communication skills are becoming increasingly valued by many companies.

3. An Agile Development Process

Agile software development is a business strategy in which digital products are created using a constant feedback loop between users and company team members. This is distinct from the so-called waterfall model of development in which systems are sometimes planned, developed, tested, and deployed without incorporating feedback from customers. 

The waterfall model of development has fallen out of grace in the software industry because it can often produce perverse incentives that lead to bloated budgets, delayed timelines, and software being out of touch with consumers. 

Product managers are a crucial part of the agile development model because they act as the intermediary agent between the customer-facing components of an organization and its company-facing components.

In this way, product managers can prevent designers and engineers from working in a vacuum and are instead in touch with client-facing departments such as sales, marketing, and customer service.

They serve an essential role in ensuring different departments don’t become siloed and disconnected from the customer experience. This article by the BBC explains the agile development process and its unique benefits, and where product managers fit in.

4. Product Managers Must Be Thoughtfully Positioned in an Organization

How product managers fit into a company’s hierarchy can vary, and it’sit’s essential that careful attention is paid to making sure that they have the institutional power they need to look out for the needs of the product. Some organizations choose to organize product managers by product.

In this model, one product manager is responsible for one development. Currently one of the various famous organizational structures, and it has many benefits.

Assigning one product manager per product can prevent disputes and conflicts between product managers working on the same product. It also makes it easier to present a unified vision of the product to other departments. On the other hand, it can prevent the amount of input and expertise given to each product.

Other organizations choose to have several product managers work on different parts of the product. This structure is often necessary for larger companies that offer more complicated products with many additional features.

It is often impossible for one product manager to oversee all of the features of such a product, and what is required in this case is a team of product managers that are responsible for different product features.

This article from the LA Times explores some additional challenges in organizational psychology in the modern workplace that leaders can keep in mind when working with product managers.

5. User Experience

No product manager can succeed without accurate data about the customers that will be using the product. Product managers can speak directly to customers about features they enjoy or pain points they experience while using the product. 

However, it can be beneficial for this feedback to be gathered in a more formal, procedural way that presents the most accurate picture of customers’ views of the product.

It’sIt’s often best if this feedback is anonymized and a recurring set of questions is asked to different users. These crucial steps limit psychological or cognitive biases that might otherwise skew the input of customers. 

Product managers should work with user experience professionals to ensure the customer-related data is as accurate as possible before presenting findings to the design and development team.

Keeping up with tech trends and news can also help product managers tap into the zeitgeist of what customers value. Product managers need intuition to make product recommendations, but they also need accurate data gathered meticulously and scientifically.