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In the competitive world of business and marketing, effective product management is one of the driving forces behind a company’s success.
With huge corporations like Amazon, Apple, and Spotify all relying on product management to run their business operations smoothly, the role of the product management leader has grown to affect every aspect of the process involved in creating a product that customers will love.
Today, product management leadership is often referred to as “influence without authority”. Product management leaders hold the unique position of exerting influence over every part of the product development process without positional authority.
This means that as a product management leader, you need to be able to guide a team of software developers, data scientists, and marketing experts to work cohesively to make a popular product. Rather than rank and command, a product management leader’s role is to make sure these employees are willing and engaged in developing products that sell.
The influence of a product management leader is what makes the role so important. It is also the reason behind companies being so stringent when it comes to choosing a product management leader. In Silicon Valley, the CMO or CPO position (Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Product Officer) ranks higher than the CFO and are second in command.
But despite the increasing relevance of product management leadership, firms often underinvest in training their product management leaders. When there is no substantial effort put into coaching and honing leaders, employees will eventually feel like they cannot fulfill all the responsibilities that come with being a leader.
This is why, in this article, we have broken down product management leadership to its basics, so that you are fully aware of what the role of a product management leader encompasses, its importance, and the skills you need to be a great product management leader.
What is product management leadership and what is the job of a product management leader?
Product management leadership encompasses managerial roles that are responsible for the development of new products.
A product management leader is responsible for creating a development (or product) team composed of different specialists, like data scientists, engineers, software developers, and marketing and finance. The leader ensures that the team operates smoothly and that the customer’s voice is channelled throughout the development process.
Along with putting together a timeline and making sure that it works efficiently, product management leaders are involved in every aspect of the product development process.
A specialist would use their particular skill set to carry out their job but a product management leader needs to have the ability to focus on a range of different activities. These activities include coming up with a product strategy, and looking into competitor products, working on product design, interacting with customers, finalizing the product GTM (Go To Market) plans,.
- Adding on to this, there are some responsibilities a product management leader is expected to meet. Below, we have compiled the major responsibilities of a product management leader. Product management leadership includes gathering information about customer preferences and then sorting through that data to come up with a product based on said data. This process also includes testing the product on users before introducing it into the market.
- A product management leader is in charge of selecting, training, and guiding new members of the development process.
- A product management leader should be well-versed in design. This means being capable of collaborating with the product design team and analyzing the final product design.
- Product management leaders are expected to have excellent management and organizational skills, with the ability to create a road map for the entire production process, as well as pick out the most suitable product management framework to use during product development.
- Effective product management leadership requires a leader to have the capability to prioritize the importance of each component of the product development process and allocate resources accordingly.
- A product management leader needs to have a strong grip on performance metrics. These are essential to assess the success of the product, recognize any weaknesses in product design or marketing, and work to overcome them.
- Keeping track of finances is an essential skill for product management leaders. This enables them to ensure that a product is earning a certain amount of profit, and allows product management leaders to plan their pricing and revenue models accordingly.
As you can see, a product management leader is not constricted to a single job or specialty. Instead, as a product management leader, you will be expected to be well-versed in a range of fields. The company will hold you responsible for overseeing product development and design and ensuring that each team works effectively and cohesively.
Why is product management leadership important?
Product management leadership is essential because it influences every step of the product development process which eventually determines the success of the product. This crucial role is one of the reasons that CEOs and company owners prioritize product management leadership.
Since product management leaders engage with all the teams involved in the development process, they can generate a holistic management strategy that is integral to developing a product that customers will love.
Since effective product management leadership is vital to the success of a product, underinvesting in the recruitment and training of product management leaders can easily deter the growth of a company.
The importance of improved product management leadership cannot be understated because of the benefits it can bring to a company, both in terms of growth and revenue. Improved product management leadership yields improved outcomes such as meaningful differentiation, greater profit margins, and increased NPS (Net Promoter Scores).
Thus, to give the products the best chance to succeed, investing in a good product management leader is something that should be high up on a company’s priority list.
What is the foundation of product management leadership and what are the skills found in great product management leaders?
Since it’s been established that effective product leadership management is crucial for a product to do well on the market, the next point of focus is determining what makes up the basis of product management leadership, and what skills you need to develop to become a successful product management leader.
As we have already mentioned, one of the phrases used to describe the position of a product management leader is someone who “influences without authority”. This means that as a product management leader, you need to be able to guide your team throughout the creation of the product even without the luxury of authority granted to a CEO.
So how exactly is a product management leader supposed to “influence without authority”?
The answer lies in developing the skill set required to become an effective leader who can showcase their skills and win the trust of their team members. This results in a smooth and cohesive product development process.
Here we have compiled a list of the skills found in a great product management leader.
1. Soft skills
Soft skills encompass a fundamental collection of abilities essential for leaders across all sectors, including, but not limited to, product management. Key among these are emotional intelligence, self-awareness, disciplined management, teamwork, critical thinking, and adept communication.
For those charting a course in product management leadership, sharpening these soft skills is paramount. Such skills empower you to establish clear communication lines with your product team, ensuring that you not only convey your insights effectively but also remain receptive to the feedback and perspectives of your team members.
Let’s delve deeper into the indispensable soft skills for those aiming for excellence in product management leadership
2. Active listening
An important soft skill you need to master to excel at product management leadership is being an attentive listener. As a leader, it is your responsibility to actively listen to the thoughts and opinions of your team. Making sure that your team members feel heard is the first step you need to take to create a safe and comfortable working environment.
One great way to ensure that your team feels heard is by making project meetings more interactive by including question-answer sessions and increasing participation so that every member has a platform to voice their opinion.
Another way is by noting down significant points of a team member’s speech so that they know you are paying attention. Perhaps one of the most effective measures is holding one-on-one meetings so that every team member feels comfortable facing you as the product management leader.
3. Emotional intelligence
Being an excellent listener goes hand-in-hand with being emotionally intelligent. Emotional intelligence is crucial to the success of a product management leader because it ensures that you can empathize with your customers. This brings you closer to understanding your client and coming up with ideas that they are sure to love.
But having a high EQ isn’t just useful when it comes to communicating with customers. Emotional intelligence is just as important in establishing a healthy team dynamic and creating a collaborative workspace.
Beyond understanding one’s own emotions, it’s about empathetically connecting with others. In the context of product strategy, this translates to being in tune with team members’ sentiments and motivations, fostering a supportive and collaborative environment.
4. Managing Relationships
Another soft skill that is vital for a product management leader to master is their ability to navigate relationships. Having strong relationship skills requires the ability to engage and inspire your colleagues, your stakeholders, and your customers.
Trust and authenticity are some of the most important factors when it comes to building strong, meaningful connections. Along with this, managing your relationships effectively also allows you to tackle any altercations or confrontations with tact, which is essential to being an expert negotiator.
5. Public speaking
Public speaking is another core soft skill that paves the way to your success as a product management leader. Conveying your thoughts to your team members and your customers in a comprehensive manner is an invaluable component of being a good product management leader.
6. Self-awareness and self-management
One of the foundational leadership skills, self-awareness facilitates a genuine understanding of one’s strengths and areas for growth. This self-knowledge equips leaders to make informed decisions and adapt strategies when navigating the complexities of product management.
Being a product management leader involves navigating your way across many different fields and juggling multiple tasks at once. Your job can no doubt be stressful and seem overwhelming at times. This is why to work effectively as a product management leader, you need to have self-awareness and practice self-management.
Self-awareness refers to recognizing your weaknesses and limitations as a product management leader and working to overcome them. It is an essential skill to master if you want to work as a positive force in your team.
Self-management refers to being disciplined and meticulous in planning your events and organizing your calendar. Managing your time effectively is crucial to a product management leader because it allows you to meet deadlines and keep up your productivity. Planning is also the key to being productive in the long run. Self-management helps you make your productivity sustainable instead of working through odd, inspired bursts of motivation.
7. Business acumen
As a product management leader, you need to have a strong foundation in business with the ability to make marketing and finance decisions that lead to the success of the product.
Business acumen involves coming up with an effective strategy that accounts for the product development costs and estimates how well the product will do in the market. Product management leadership also involves picking out appropriate performance metrics that you can use to gauge customers’ responses to your product.
Keeping track of your product’s success through performance metrics and financial indicators is something you need to be familiar with if you want to maximize the profits earned from your products.
8. Technical skillset
Product management leaders are expected to be well-versed in the technical aspect of the development process. This involves overseeing product design, coming up with product road maps, and understanding the product’s lifecycle.
As a product management leader, you can approach the technical aspect of product development in several ways. The first approach involves you deciding on the product design and engineering process. You will prioritize the features you want to see in your product based on the data you’ve gathered about customer preferences. This information will then be passed on to the engineering and software development teams, who will work to create a product according to the guidelines you have laid out for them.
The second approach gives the engineering team the platform to come up with product designs and prototypes. These designs are based on their resources and innovation. The role of the product management leader comes in after the engineering team has completed its blueprint. In this case, product management leadership will focus on identifying the demographic that the product will be the most popular with. As a product management leader, you are responsible for matching the finished product to a customer base that has preferences that are similar to what the product’s features cater to.
The last approach involves the product management leader and the engineering/technical teams working on the product design side-by-side. This approach involves equal collaboration between product management leadership and engineering. This collaboration could be in the form of interactive meetings and ‘sprint’ sessions. The approach results in a product that caters to consumer preferences because it has been created with input from the product management leader.
9. Backing your decisions with data
In the ever-evolving realm of product management, leaders must continually circle business strategies, adapting and refining them. Working in product management leadership, you have multiple teams whose work is influenced by your opinions and decisions. If you want to encourage collaboration within the team, you need to present them with data that backs your opinions and validates your decisions.
While they are involved in every stepped of the process, product management leaders do not have the same authority as the CEO. This means that if you want people to listen to you, you need your opinions to be credible and convincing.
This is why product management leaders need to be well-researched on any point they present. Every opinion or decision needs to be backed by data or figures that present its credibility through an objective lens. This is crucial because it helps the team members gauge the value of your decisions, and lets you exercise more influence as a product management leader.
10. Recognizing and operating at the level of your company
As a product management leader, you must recognize the stage at which your company is operating at and ensure that your actions are on the same level.
A product management leader at a startup has a greater chance of being responsible for a diverse range of tasks, while a product management leader at a big corporation is likely to be in charge of a smaller, specialized group of people.
Building on this, product management leadership at a startup encompasses a broader set of tasks because the scale of the company is small. A product management leader can be involved in developing, marketing, and selling the product, and will likely wield more authority.
Business operations in startups are likely to be vague because the firm might still be experimenting and looking at ways to achieve the best market fit. In cases like this, a product management leader has to quickly get used to working in circumstances that demand flexibility and are liable to change at short notice.
A large corporation or a well-established firm is the opposite. Bigger companies already have a framework and a structure in place. Big corporations tend to have multiple product management leaders. With this, there’s an opportunity for every leader to have more specific scopes. In addition, the labor force at such companies is highly specialized, which means that a product management leader has a narrower margin for influencing the developmental process.
This is why, as an aspiring product management leader, you need to analyze the type of firm you choose to work at because your duties will match the structure of the company.
This is not to say that product management leadership at a startup is better or worse than that of a well-established firm. Both types of companies differ in their approach to product management leadership, and each has its own set of advantages.
For example, at a startup, a product management leader is more likely to be involved in the company’s strategy meetings and can establish closer contact with senior employees in the firm. In comparison to this, product management leaders at a large corporation work in a well-established system. They are used to well-defined structure and organization and are accustomed to devising systems that cater to increasing efficiency, while also boosting productivity and profitability. Along with this, product management leadership at a large corporation consists of a team of product management leaders. This means that as a new employee, you are sure to make connections and find mentors that can help you develop your product management leadership skills.
In today’s hyper-competitive world, investing in product management leadership can make all the difference, especially when it comes to innovating, designing, and selling new products.
Product management leadership is a concept that involves all business entities, regardless of the type of company or size of the corporation.
Effective product management leadership is essential for any company that wants to create successful products, and the key to effective product management leadership lies in finding the right product management leader.
In this article, we have described the role of product management, its importance, and the skills you need to master to become a great product management leader. By going through an article like this, you have already taken the first step on your journey to becoming a successful product management leader.