What makes a great product manager?
Somebody recently asked me this question and it got me thinking about the traits I’ve seen in the very best product people I’ve worked with (not just PMs, but also designers, engineers, leaders) and what I try to look for when hiring PMs.
You might notice that the default for people is typically the opposite of most of these. Great PMs tend to stand out so clearly among everybody else because of this. Perhaps they don’t master all 10 of them, but they are broadly competent across them and excel in at least a few.
Here’s the TL;DR list, but some of these need a bit of explaining, so more info below.
- Highly context sensitive
- Zoom in and zoom out
- High agency
- Externally focused
- Develop strong product intuition
- Always prioritising
- Great writers
- Great listeners
#1. Highly context sensitive (or, highly adaptive to the environment)
The role of product manager varies a great deal from company to company, probably more so than any other role. This can trip people up. Going from a FAANG company to a b2b enterprise software company or a startup is a massive difference, applying best practices from one place to the other often fails and creates frustration for the PM and their colleagues. There are no perfect templates.
The best product managers are hyper aware of their environment and mentally ask the question: what does the company need from me most in this role? They prioritise adapting to the needs of their particular company, finding ways to leverage their experience without expecting to copy and paste what they’ve done before. This is a lot harder to do than it sounds. Most people like to default to what they’ve done in the past.
Great PMs don’t, and it requires open mindedness, patience, asking great questions and having a beginners mindset.