What are the most important soft and hard skills Product Managers can build to become successful in their field going forward?
Having worked in Product in completely opposite contexts, the most valuable soft and hard skills depend on several factors, including product maturity, organizational maturity, availability of supporting functions (e.g., Product Operations, Product Analysts, etc.), and company cultural norms.
At WooCommerce/Automattic, the expectations I set for PMs are:
- Drive the creation and execution of product strategy for your focus area.
- Lead multi-disciplinary teams through the development process.
- Cultivate direct connections with our customers.
- Increase our success in aiding our customers’ success.
- Contribute to good business unit leadership decisions.
With this context, I would say the most important soft and hard skills for PMs at WooCommerce are:
- Proactive internal communication – up, down, sideways (to peers and cross-functional collaborators).
- Spearheading cross-functional collaboration – from defining an inspirational "why" to project-managing a variety of stakeholders toward getting things done.
- Deep listening to customers – this includes taking a genuine interest in their feedback, and sometimes hearing what is not said but implied between the lines or in non-verbal cues.
- Functional expertise – most PMs come from marketing, engineering, or design backgrounds; being able to draw from an area of mastery will inform your POV (and give you one less area to ramp up on!).
- Goal setting and accountability – this one is a bit operational, but being able to translate product into measureable impacts will be essential to prioritization and making a solid business case with your teams. This has, implied in it, analytical skills, or at least confidence in quantifying outcomes.
- Industry or subject matter expertise – Another thing that will inform your POV and reduce ramp time.
- Soft skill: Great product managers can seamlessly adjust their communication to match their audience. As a product manager, you'll speak with people in different roles and varying levels of expertise in your subject area. It is essential that you can communicate your ideas and exchange information with everyone! I really love the perspective shared by Camilla Boyer in a recent talk at GitLab about communicating with emotional intelligence https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3pZoNORrDjU. Product managers should approach conversations with the mindset of providing the information their audience needs instead of focusing on what they need to say.
- Hard skill: Iteration is one of the hardest things to master, but it is essential for providing value quickly and getting feedback to improve your product. GitLab has great resources to help improve this skill. Check them out https://about.gitlab.com/handbook/values/#iteration! One thing that has really helped me improve my iteration skills is to think of my product as ever-evolving and that what we release is not the final version. If a set of changes are an improvement to the current experience and there's a clear roadmap to build upon that experience, then we should release it even if we are not done!
Apart from being a good product managers, natural propensity to build epic stuff, passion for impact, data-driven, ability to execute , great collaborator and communicator along with wide combination of skills - from software engineering, product development to monetization and growth is something that helps product managers be successful in their field.