There’s no shortage of sage advice for product managers. However, all advice may not be the best advice. To rectify this, we’ve sifted through years of our articles, blog posts, and books to provide you with the top six product management tips.
These nuggets of wisdom—based on decades of experience in this unique profession—focus on what’s essential. While you might disagree with our curated list, we believe you will find at least one of our product management tips useful in your career.
Our 6 Best Product Management Tips
1. Always take a collaborative approach
Probably one of the most important product management tips is to take a collaborative approach. Each individual has a unique approach to accomplishing a task. They have different work styles, communication preferences, and opinions.
Working with others comes with a host of challenges. Yet, though complex at times, those challenges bring a ton of value to the table, especially when working with engineering and design teams.
In some organizations, the three-way relationship between the coders, designers, and product people may lead to teams challenging each other. Collaboration can help each team come to a consensus and find common ground. Contentious environments discourage innovation and risk-taking. Product professionals need to be aware that varying insights and ideas are available when everyone gets a voice.
By welcoming stakeholders from different departments into the conversation, the product and its customers reap the rewards. From assessing an idea’s feasibility to unconventional user experience concepts, feedback helps the product team prioritize better. They can provide optimal solutions that encompass the ideas and solutions from both the engineering and design teams.
The partnership often pays further dividends throughout the product development process as a closer and trusting relationship creates a more open and honest dialogue. Minor issues get raised and addressed before they become big problems when everyone feels like they’re on the same team.
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2. Be confident in your soft skills
Product managers don’t necessarily need to be technical, but they need to work well with others. They have become adept at communicating with stakeholders, listening to customers, and developing empathy, which doesn’t come naturally. Developing your soft skills remains an essential product management tip.
It’s essential to understand why these soft skills are imperative. Practicing and honing these things makes you a better product manager while simultaneously making your job easier.
Let’s start with listening. Addressing your customer’s problems requires a deep understanding of the issues they face. Though, it’s understandable that a lot of us dream about the prospect of reading our customers’ minds. Instead, you find out what really matters by talking to customers, asking them questions, and—most importantly—listening to what they have to say.
The most successful product managers are active listeners who engage in follow-ups and have a general openness to customer feedback, which doesn’t come easily to everyone. Check your impulses, move into “receiving mode,” and take the feedback in with as open a mind as possible.
Empathizing with customers allows you to feel their pain. By placing yourself in their shoes, you can evaluate and appropriately respond to their feedback.
Communication, of course, is a two-way street, so your listening skills should match your ability to convey information clearly. As a product manager, you need to understand their biases and assumptions when framing your message and deliver it via a method that will garner a response. Not everyone has the same communication style or prefers the same medium. The burden then falls upon you to tailor your communication based on the individual or group.
The skills listed above merely scratch the surface when utilizing soft skills to improve your effectiveness and efficiency as a product manager. Serving as a product evangelist, facilitating stakeholder alignment, and leading prioritization exercises are a few other examples where these essential capabilities come into play.
3. Manage your own career
A fatal flaw for any employee is to expect others to worry about their career development and progression. For this reason, we ranked “manage your own career” as one of our top product management tips. While managers and mentors may step up and take you under their wing, your boss may be solely focused on shipping products and keeping things under budget.
Product professionals should always be mindful of their career path with no guarantee that anyone else will look out for their interests and invest in their future success. Successful product professionals build up their skills by getting the experiences they need to round out their resumes. Furthermore, they identify and pursue opportunities for growth and advancement.
Product management professionals face additional challenges in advancing their careers because so much of what they do is behind the scenes. To bolster your image and get on the radar of hiring managers, use platforms such as all-hands meetings to promote yourself internally while participating in industry events to maximize networking opportunities and finding other chances to become a thought leader in your space.
4. Embrace visual roadmaps
In the age of Agile, product managers don’t produce as many requirements documents. Our user stories reside in the tools of the product stack, and our insights get shared in standups and prioritization meetings.
In turn, a scant “paper trail” of evidence of our hard work and an absence of documentation reviewed and referenced by stakeholders. Product roadmaps, however, remain the exception, and their importance has never been greater.
Some product managers cram everything into their roadmaps since it’s the only documentation colleagues will see. Then again, the concept goes against the “less is more” rule of thumb, which guides everything product managers produce.
Instead, leave out the details and allow visual roadmaps to be one of your essential product management tips. Themes tell the story, color-coding ties work items to desired outcomes and goals, and the focus remains on the items of strategic importance.
And, when you use a purpose-built roadmapping tool such as ProductPlan, you’ll spend less time creating and updating these visual roadmaps and be confident that stakeholders are always viewing an up-to-date version.
5. Don’t settle for a stale prioritization framework
Figuring out what to build next and leave out is a key part of product management. To make it collaborative and incorporate multiple viewpoints and opinions, using prioritization frameworks for these exercises gets more folks involved and creates additional transparency to silence the naysayers.
However, we live in the golden age of prioritization methods, so product teams shouldn’t stick with a framework that doesn’t truly fit their business. With dozens and dozens to choose from, each with its strengths and weaknesses, make sure you and your team are satisfied after using them.
It can also help to shake things up now and then and try a new framework. Not only can it turn up some new insights, but it may also reinvigorate the entire prioritizing team by giving them something new.
6. Lead with IMPACT
Our final top tip emphasizes prioritization differently. It’s a mindset universally applicable to every aspect of product management, from who you hire to what you work on to how you spend your time.
Using a consistent lens, product teams can ensure they’re focused on what matters most by assessing how each potential item rates against these six fundamental aspects:
- I – Interesting: Does this address the things our customers care about? Can we tell a story of how we’re creating positive change for them?
- M – Meaningful: Are we moving the business forward toward measurably reaching its goals? Are we providing real value to our users?
- P – People: Who is impacted by this? Who uses it, who sees the benefits, and who pays for it?
- A – Actionable: Are we coming up with ideas that can be implemented and realized? Do we have the resources, budget, and expertise to execute?
- C – Clear: Do we truly understand what we’re trying to do? Can it be concisely articulated so even a child could understand?
- T – Testable: Can you try things out before committing? Are there ways to experiment and measure success on an ongoing basis?
Keeping IMPACT top of mind helps everyone maximize the value they’re creating and keep their eyes on the prize. Download our free ebook to explore how to incorporate it into different facets of your work and career.
Looking for more pointers on excelling in product management and other product management tips? Visit our Learning Center today.