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What do you see as the most important hard/soft skills to be a successful product management professional?

Natalia Baryshnikova
Natalia Baryshnikova
Atlassian Head of Product, Enterprise AgilityNovember 9

My personal acronym for the skills that make product managers succesfull is H.A.C.K.

H for Humility. There are two particularly important benefits of humility. First, humble people better navigate the emotional roller coaster of being wrong and having to admit it. They quickly recover from situations where their ego might have gotten hurt and move on to the next experiment or iteration. Product managers make a lot of decisions and the ability to course correct quickly without dwelling produces a huge advantage in retaining velocity over time. Second, product managers need to will things into existence by leading people who do not work for them. The list of stakeholders is often long and involves different personalities. While all leadership styles have their merits, humble, servant-leadership style product managers tend to deliver better outcomes thanks to their ability to get along with others, and drive teams toward a goal.

A for Analytical Skills. One of the most underrated quotes from Ben Horowitz’s iconic Good Product Manager / Bad Product Manager: “Good product managers err on the side of clarity.” Clarity of vision, clarity of spec, clarity of progress tracking. Behind all of that is clarity of thinking, which is driven by exceptional analytical skills and the ability to dissect complex systems into core elements. Unlike the whimsical “technical” skills, analytical skills are easier to spot and evaluate regardless of their variety. For example, someone who writes or speaks clearly and concisely, or organizes information well in other contexts, is likely analytical. Product managers with strong analytical skills can quickly master any syntax or context they need to have a productive conversation with engineers, or to communicate the value of technology to the market.

C for Creativity. I have observed that a person’s ability to understand and articulate what makes a user experience great often comes from their creative skills. What I mean by creativity is an ability to produce objects or experiences that users enjoy. Whether it’s painting, improv, woodwork, writing or managing a running community, there is something special about product managers who can produce things others enjoy. They understand how to create value not only on the rational, but also emotional level. I have noticed that people with a pronounced sense of aesthetics tend to have strong creativity as well. A strong sense of aesthetics can manifest in how they dress, how they organize their desk, and even how they choose tools to use They all have a style. It’s less important what the style is, but that it is present. This is a clue that a person can produce an experience that at least one user (themselves) enjoys. The best part of creativity is that it is contagious. Having at least one such person on a team helps their teammates develop similar skills. I would argue that without creativity, one can become a good product manager, but never a truly great one.

K for Knife. My favorite product management quote is attributed to Michelangelo (the sculptor, not the Ninja Turtle). “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. Understanding and deciding what not to ship is the most important decision a product manager can make about product development. Spotting a future "master carver" PM during interviews isn’t as straightforward as assessing candidates for other skills. Asking a candidate about hypothetical scenarios where they have constrained resources, especially time, certainly helps, but it doesn’t simulate the high pressure that product managers will have to operate under. One approach that I use in interviews is asking about non-product related experience that involve decision making and execution under pressure. For example, you can ask a candidate how they would pack their bag, and what they would pack, if they would have to go on a two week long trip to Europe tomorrow.

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Natalia Baryshnikova
Natalia Baryshnikova
Atlassian Head of Product, Enterprise AgilityMay 4

Thank you for asking. Here is my answer to that from an earlier Sharebird AMA: https://sharebird.com/h/product-management/q/what-do-you-see-as-the-most-important-hardsoft-skills-to-be-a-successful-product-management-professional?answer=BPd1U65Lna

One thing I would add to that answer is that hard vs. soft skills is not a dichotomy I personally use. There is a "hard" and a "soft" side to every skill. For example, being "analytical" as a skill does not only require a sheer ability to reason and use logic to drive good judgment, but also to be able to communicate your thinking in a way that is understood by others, and the latter part requires empathy, EQ and so on.

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Sandhya Rao
Sandhya Rao
Vera Solutions Director of Product ManagementFebruary 8

In one of my early interviews with a potential candidate, I asked the person what he thought makes a good product manager. I believe his reply aptly summarizes a key attribute to become a successful Product Manager irrespective of the sector, type or geography, and I quote, "a good Product Manager knows all that he does not know".

For a PM, hard skills include core product management skills like roadmapping, prioritization, forecasting and measurment, user story telling and effective idea presentation, as well as key technical skills like analytical proficiency. These hard skills can be learned and acquired overtime. Soft skills, on the other hand, are innate qualities tied to a person's personality and are inherent to the person making it more challenging to develop without concsious efforts and practice.

I believe there are five core soft skills that all good product managers have in common -

  1. They are emotionally intelligent - emotional intelligence is a much talked about quality and encompasses everything from interpersonal skills, empathy, self-awareness, humility and ability to remain centered even in the most pressured situations. Emotionally intelligent Product Managers realize that most of their role is essentially getting things done from people who do not report to them. They are self-aware of all the things that they do not know and the need to constantly seek information or lean on other teams to be an efficient PM. These PMs have the ability to stay calm in the most chaotic times and manage to bring clarity by asking the right questions to the right set of stakeholders. These PMs have value diverse opinions which may be different to their own. Emotionally intelligent PMs are also great collaborators and excel at navigating stakeholder dynamics.

  2. They are great observers/ listeners - Successful product managers also possess strong listening skills. And by listneing skills what I mean is they have an innate ability to grasp implicit information. They are great observationalist by virtue of their listening/comprehending skills. Most often than not, they seek experiences, feedback or cues which are opposite to their own.

  3. They are adept at rationalizing - Good product managers possess enviable rationalizing skills. They have the ability to analyze information, ask the right questions, evaluate options, and make logical and timely decisions based on data and insights.

  4. They are futuristic or possess a forward-thinking mindset - In my opinion, there is no PM without the power of imagination. Likewise, being able to think futuristic and imagine the outcomes of product deicions made today is essential for product managers. Constantly envisioning how the product can evolve, how and why the market is shaping, what potentially will the client need next, ideating on hypotheses to visualize the future of the product are all skills that bake into a good PM mix.

  5. They know 'how' to say a 'No' - Lastly, a key skill for product managers is the ability to say No. They understand the importance of focus and prioritization, and are not afraid to decline requests or initiatives that do not align with the product vision or strategic objectives.

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