5 essential tips for aspiring Product Managers to succeed

Regardless of whether you are new to the field or elevating your skills, the journey to becoming an exceptional Product Manager begins with understanding the core practices driving success.

5 essential tips for aspiring Product Managers to succeed
Credit: Black Product Managers

When I started my career in Product Management, I felt like I was navigating a maze without a map in hand. Product management has a unique blend of strategic planning, technical know-how, and user empathy, hence playing the role requires a level of versatility and finesse. However, just like me, do not let the complexity deter you from becoming a successful Product Manager and that starts with mastering some fundamental principles.

You will feel like you have magic in your hands when you possess the skills to transform user needs into compelling products, lead cross-functional teams confidently, and make evidence-based decisions with data that propel your product forward. Now, regardless of whether you are new to the field or elevating your skills, the journey to becoming an exceptional Product Manager begins with understanding the core practices driving success.

In this article, we will explore 5 practical tips designed to help you thrive as a Product Manager. We will discuss prioritising effectively, fostering cross-functional collaboration, remaining agile, and focusing on user experience. These points will equip you with early-stage tools to excel. Let’s embark on this journey together to unlock your potential to build user-centric solutions and drive business success.

Understand Your Users

Early in my career, I had the opportunity to develop a learning management system (LMS) for university students. This was communicated by the stakeholders as a new product line to work on. As a Product Manager, before making sense of what problem we would solve, it was necessary to understand who the potential users were.

  • Research and Personas: This is the first thing in a discovery process and a recurring activity to understand your target audience’s needs, pain points, and preferences. It will help you put an identity to each user; creating user personas keeps the team aligned with real user needs and goals.
  • Feedback Loops: Building a digital solution without frequent validation from users through feedback, could lead to a misalignment of priorities. It's akin to you making a dress for a young lady but not having a trial of the dress to make adjustments before delivering the final look. As a Product Manager, you must implement mechanisms that help you gather continuous feedback from users through surveys, user testing sessions and customer interviews.

Prioritise Effectively

In developing the learning management system, it was necessary to decide what modules (parts of a digital solution) to build first based on prioritisation frameworks. Prioritisation helps you manage the capacity available within the team against the level of work to be done and the value it adds to the stakeholders.

  • Backlog Management - It is necessary to maintain a backlog that shows clear priorities of what the team is currently focusing on, and what they will focus on later and in the near future. Frameworks such as MoSCoW (Must have, Should have, Could have, Won’t have) or the Eisenhower Matrix to plan the product backlog items based on their impact on value and the team and urgency. 
  • Focus on Value - It is pointless when value is not the focus of product development. As a Product Manager, it is your responsibility to maximise the value that is developed. One way to do this is to prioritise features and tasks that deliver the most value to users and the business at the said time. For example, in my experience, end-users requested the ability to host video lectures within the LMS. It was imperative to explore this because it was a request of value and it fit into the product vision and strategy. Hence, we integrated the LMS with Zoom, allowing students and lecturers to learn live. It is important to ask “How does this help our users?” and “How does this align with our business goals?”

Master Communication

Just like in every phase of life, we communicate to understand each other’s situation and provide feedback. Communicating in product management is a bit more strategic, in that there must be a systematic and structured way to provide frequent information to key stakeholders. A key skill in being a successful communicator as a Product Manager is “transparency.” Stakeholders will develop trust in you when you are transparent in communicating about the product situations and status. Here are two things to do:

  • Clear and Concise: You must practice and develop the ability to communicate complex ideas in very simple and understandable ways, such that all documentations are tailored to each stakeholder’s style of processing information, whether they are end-users, business-related or technical. 
  • Regular Updates: In my experience, I leverage 3-way chats or calls, status meetings, and sprint reviews to deliver frequent updates on product situations and this has helped me build trust and transparency.

Cross-functional Collaboration

In product management, you cannot achieve all the goals as a one-man team because the expertise of other teammates in other areas are important in achieving maximum value. Collaborating in a cross-functional manner means being able to respect and include the opinions of other disciplines in driving product growth. To collaborate better, you must consider:

  • Collaborating Across Teams: It is inevitable for Product Managers to not collaborate with engineering and design teams, however, going further to work closely with marketing, sales, branding, legal, finance, and others will help you achieve maximum value as you serve these stakeholders with relevant information for them to help you with insight.
  • Shared Goals: For every project being worked on by the product team, there is a common goal which is the responsibility of the Product Manager to ensure that the larger team and stakeholders are aligned towards similar objectives. I have in the past; leveraged OKRs (Objective Key Results) as a framework to keep everyone in check and focused on the common goal.

Be Data-Driven

In product management, making decisions based on “how you feel” will steer the team away from the product vision and strategy. It is important to decide on new features, releases, and problems to solve using clear evidence of data. A good example of this is monitoring user behaviour and experience with the integration of Mixpanel, where PMs have access to analytics that help make key product decisions. Let’s explore two ways you can be data-driven:

  • Metrics and KPIs - Define key metrics that align with your product goals. Regularly track these metrics to understand how your product is performing and where improvements are needed.
  • A/B Testing: Implement A/B testing to make data-driven decisions about product changes and new features. Use the results to iterate and improve.

For lasting improvement, make these practices a daily habit. Consistent application will lead to mastery. Remember that the key to being a great Product Manager is continuous learning, adaptability and being relentless in delivering end-user and stakeholder value. When you have that mindset, you will easily navigate the complexities of Product Management effectively and drive your digital solutions toward success.

This is a guest contribution from Stanley Chileke, product Manager Officer at the Genomic Surveillance Unit (Wellcome Sanger Institute)

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