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What Separates the Great Product Managers from the Good?

ScrumWhat separates the great product managers from the average ones? Several in the field recently weighed in on Quora, and in the past, we at Jixee have mentioned some ideas of our own about what makes a truly great product manager as well. Across the board, there seems to be agreement on a few key traits. Here are the characteristics that transform an average product manager into one who stands out from the crowd.

Great Leader

First and foremost, a product manager is a leader. To be a great leader, a product manager must:

  • Possess Emotional IntelligenceGreat leaders, according to Daniel Goleman (writing has shaped business and leadership since the 1990s) possess all five key traits – self-awareness, self-regulation, social skills, empathy, and motivation. A great product manager possesses all five of these key E.I. characteristics, and has probably read up on emotional intelligence to boot.
  • Take Risks: A great leader is not only unafraid to take risks, but can pose risks as advantages to get the company on board.
  • Admit Mistakes: Transparency is important within a company and without. Good leaders admit when they make mistakes; great leaders learn from their mistakes to better grow their business.

Understand Customers

Product managers should always be curious and asking questions, especially when it comes to customers. Talking to customers, and more importantly, truly listening to customers is an important part of a product manager’s job.

As Matthew G. Trifiro put it on Quora:

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 10.49.27 AM

An excellent product manager understands the incredible value of customers’ input and will not only listen to feedback from customers, but will know what customers need before they know they need it.

Exceptional Communication

One of the most important things a product manager does is communicate across teams and different levels of management to turn a vision into reality. To do that, a product manager must be a concise and clear communicator.

To be the best, a product manager must have a deeper understanding of psychology to better draw out the greatest potential from everyone and create an environment where they work well together. Understanding how to communicate with and manage clashing personalities alleviates tension and gets the job done more efficiently. In addition, building relationships with individuals on all levels is essential to gaining the trust necessary to make decisions and guide the development of a product from start to finish (and beyond).

Big Picture and Detail-Oriented

All product managers need to be able to visualize the “big picture” and then break it down to make it happen. Great product managers must truly excel at both the big and the little. Not only must they have the vision to forecast and innovate for the long term, but they must be able to simplify the complex steps and processes that will get the company there. Without simplification and prioritization, a product manager won’t be able to move the company forward toward its big goals.

Cross-Functional

Product managers aren’t necessarily experts in any one field, but to be effective at the job, they must know enough in design, programming, engineering, statistics, marketing, copy writing, and even history to be able to communicate effectively across fields and understand the time and effort needed to accomplish various tasks and goals.

Truly exceptional product managers are curious. They never stop learning and integrate their knowledge effortlessly.

Kristina Simmons says it best in her Quora post:

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Good product managers excel at a few things on this list. Great product managers excel at all of them. Not only that, but they never stop asking questions and learning more, continuing to push themselves to new levels of greatness.

Candle Photo attribution: Vincent Lock

Eye Photo attribution: mind_scratch