All you need to know to break & grow as a successful product manager
This collection of product management skills is so comprehensive, we call it a skill book.
5 dimensions and 27 skills to empower product management. If you want to grow professionally as a product manager/ program manager/ product owner (PM) — this is for you! It’s also great if you want to find a scalable way to develop your product organization/team.
This article compiles a comprehensive set of product management skills in a “skill book” with maturity levels. This can enable professional growth from associate product manager to lead product manager.
The skills shared here have been reviewed and discussed with product managers from companies such as Google, Microsoft, Celonis, HERE technologies and many peers from the Berlin startup scene. We built and evaluated it over 12 months and are using it at Forto (>$125m funding so far) where I am VP product. This framework differs as it provides the depth of maturity levels to help assess and self-assess each individual in your product organization. This in turn can empower a much more intentional personal growth journey.
Of course this isn’t complete. Technology changes every day and no company or product is the same. Help me iterate this article! All resources are freely shared for yourself or your company. Just one request, please let me know in the comments if this was helpful or if you have comments and additions.
Note: This article covers product management skills specifically. I have written a separate article on covering the full product management career framework including product management career path, performance review process and personal development journey.
The Product Management Skill Book
1. Solve complex problems
Solving complex problems is the bread-and-butter skill of great product managers. They cut through complexity by applying a hypothesis-based approach, work effectively 80/20 and have a great work process to get things done. To this effect PMs are masters at gathering information & data, analyzing it and becoming experts in their field of calling. PMs develop insightful, actionable output and recommendations.
2. Communicate effectively
Communication is key for a product manager. Communicating clearly and efficiently with stakeholders — customers, users, the team and management — is required on a daily basis. You need to be able to sell ideas in an appealing way, ask great questions, persuade, convince and be able to structure a presentation and understand how you can drive decision-making through effective communication.
3. Build exceptional teams
Product managers have full responsibility without full authority. PMs depend on their teams’ buy-in, skill and motivation to build great products. Therefore PMs have to invest in the evolution of the team as a whole, managing work effectively, engaging and involving others (from engineer to executive) effectively.
This includes the expectation that PMs drive their own self-development as well as being able to develop others.
4. Develop great products
As a product manager you need to learn to “do the right things” (research & strategy) as well as “doing things right” (essential PM skills). You will need to take ownership for your product (usually without authority) and in later stages of your career also build up product lifecycle management skills.
This section acknowledges that there are some “hard skills” developing in product management. This is “craft” that can be taught and learned. The “art” of product management — which results in “great products” comes through applying several skills in the right way to the right situation.
Some of these skills are very important for overall success. E.g. “Think Customer” is first in this category because the importance of building a deep user and customer understanding through customer research cannot be understated. If you don’t “think customer”, whatever else you do won’t matter.
Of course best proof of the ability to develop great products are… great products which solve relevant problems of customers / users. That will come with time.
Example: maturity skill levels for product management
5. The Magic
While developing great products requires hard skills & best-practices, every product manager can bring unique talents or experience to the table. This is recognized as “The Magic”, the special sauce that only YOU possess to make a difference.
→ at Forto we just accept this as a category, there are no skills listed behind. For example in skill-set reviews PMs could highlight some of their special abilities or domain expertise which don’t fall in the “traditional PM” categories above. E.g. we have a rather technical product manager who has loads of experience with integrations, while on the other side we also have a product manager with years of experience in logistics.
Below you will find screenshots of all the skills and maturity levels from associate product manager to lead product manager. You can also directly go to the shared document with all the materials at the bottom. I recommend to continue reading on Medium first due to better readability.
There are maturity levels for each of these skills and sub-skills included in the section below.
1. Solve complex problems
(1/3) Effective Approach
(2/3) High quality analysis, driving knowledge development and results
(3/3) Insightful, actionable output and solutions
2. Communicate effectively
Already a pretty exceptional team to me: Forto’s product team (Christmas 2020). Join us :)
3. Build exceptional teams
(1/2) Extraordinary team experience
(2/2) Develops self and others
4. Develop great products
(1/4) Do the right things
(2/4) Do Things Right — Essential Product Management Skills
(3/4) Do Things Right — Essential PM Skills — Operational Excellence
(4/4) Do Things Right — Essential Product Management Skills (3/3)
This skill book does not cover everything
While very comprehensive, this skill book does not cover all types of required skills for product managers. Forto is a B2B company with a hefty focus on complex problems and building long-term solutions. E.g. if you are a “B2C growth product manager/leader” you probably need additional skills. I’m always happy to learn, let me know what you think is missing.
Using this skill book in performance assessment has limitations
This skill book is very comprehensive. No product manager can or needs to cover all dimensions on all skills. When doing performance assessments at Forto we expect product managers to demonstrate maturity of the next level in some key dimensions of the skill book. This will ensure that they can perform at the next level once they are promoted.
Example: a senior product manager wants to be promoted to lead product manager. For this she needs to show she has “lead PM” maturity on some key skills. For example, if she is already demonstrating the ability to “Collaborate with internal and external resources, users and experts, creating an inspiring and productive team ecosystem”. This is already a great sign toward promotion. She does not have to“lead level skill maturity” on all skill levels.
If you want to understand more about performance assessments including self-assessments and assessor reviews, assessment measurement dimensions or the broader career framework let me know. I might write another article.
Practice makes perfect — you can use this skill book to empower a more intentional growth journey
How to use this skill book as a product manager or product leader
If you want to grow as a product manager, I recommend to start with an honest self-assessment on your level or target level. You should have actual examples from your work to cover your skill level. Just thinking “I’m pretty sure I can do this” is not enough. Ask your peers for feedback regularly. E.g. at Forto this is part of your regular assessment cycle, supported by 360° peer feedback.
If you are doing this for the first time, you will need 3–4 hours. Is it a lot — yes, is it worth it? 100%. This is the rocket-fuel for your skill development as a product manager. If you are honest with yourself, you will discover both strengths and gaps in your skill set. You can actively decide what to work on. If you are lucky, your manager also writes an assessment on the whole skill book (2–4h) contrasting your self-assessment. These learnings can empower you to take a more intentional approach to your own growth journey.
If you want to develop your product organization as a product leader, I suggest you consider your overall career framework first: career paths, assessment process and review, PM skill-set and the personal development/growth process for each product manager in your organization.
Also consider that building a career framework might not be the right priority for you as a leader. Are you sure which problems your team and your company should be solving? Do you have a good company product strategy in place? Do you have a healthy culture? Do you have the right team whom you want to help grow or should you focus on hiring first? Any of those things could be of higher importance than developing your current team.
And again as a reminder, don’t expect your product managers to deliver on ALL the dimensions. You need to identify the skills for your circumstances (company, products, product manager) that matter most and you should discuss this openly with your product manager BEFORE you go into a promotion cycle. Yes, developing your team is a lot of work but also very rewarding.
This article covers a comprehensive product management skill book with 5 dimensions:
- Solve Complex Problems
- Communicate Effectively
- Build Exceptional Teams
- Develop Great Products
- The Magic — each individuals “special sauce”
This skill book differs from other product management skill sets by providing more depth through maturity levels for all 27 sub skills. This can empower a better understanding and then a more intentional growth journey.
You can find the full skill book for your own use under the following link. Please let me know in the comments if you use it, if it was helpful to you or if you have additions or comments!
Technology is one of the greatest levers for positive development in the world — the more and more skilled product managers out there, the better! Share your feedback!