What would you say to a Product Manager that is worried about building a career with no “Hard Skills”?
Being a Product Manager is great and you learn almost every aspect of business and Product Development, in short having all the product manager key skills.
However, sometimes I do see others becoming better at Software Development, Data Analysis, Design etc.
I get a bit jealous that I can’t always directly point to things unless I were to have famous products under my belt.
The longer I am in product, the more I realize the job is about relationship building and driving alignment. IMO these two are the most important product manager key skills.
@AlbertChappel, Cannot agree more - if you have a great team, you are ‘free’ to focus on relationship building and driving alignment and buy-in.
@CathrynCui, Can you expand a bit on what you meant by “driving alignment”?
I see what you did there. Lol. Classic move to get someone to speak more… total PM move.
@Ahmad, Not that I should be speaking for him but driving alignment just means getting everyone together and ensuring that the whole team is working towards the same goal and that everyone understands that goal.
Driving alignment between teams - it’s absolutely critical in large organisations to get anything done and not step on toes.
A critical skill to have in companies with a lot going on.
If you want any semblance of success in the business world it’s the only skill set that matters.
Sure, making things is cool but you can only do that for so long before wanting to drive wider impact. If all you want to do is make things for the rest of your career, then maybe you chose the wrong field. A mid-level individual contributor role in a “maker” field would be a better fit.
100 percent this.
Throw in some humour and maintaining moral and I’d say this is what 99 percent of what product management should be.
Sometimes, but mostly no. Especially once you realize how much needs to be done in the big picture and how little one particular area of expertise can accomplish without leveraging all areas of expertise.
It’s liberating to know what needs to be done, in what order, by what type of expert and how to talk with them…how much it should cost…how long it should take.
As a current product manager at my full time and a recent small business founder, I feel I can add a lot of value when it comes time to getting stuff done,period, just by asking the right questions. I’ve seen subject matter experts stall on similar products/projects because they just don’t know what to do outside or their area of expertise as they’ve not had the exposure or don’t have the communication skills.
Sometimes people want hard skills so they can measure how depended on they would be as a part of the sum but forget that all that matters in the end is the sum of the parts.
Really well said, thanks for that. That’s a great perspective!
It’s so much less about hard skills in those areas than it is about understanding what can be done and how these things work together. I’ve been in product orgs at multiple Fortune 500 tech companies. It more often, and especially at the executive level becomes, about driving alignment and building relationships. I now manage PMs and this is what I train them on. Product Manager Key Skills. Yes, be able to build your roadmap and write FRDs/BRDs, but the most important thing is having good relationships with your users and other people in the organization. Knowing how to socialize your roadmaps well, hear feedback, and adapt is critical, as is knowing how to manage expectations and gaining enough trust that people know when you say no to something it’s because you’re doing what’s best for the product and not because you’re lazy or don’t value their input. If you can do all that stuff well and really understand your product, screw hard skills. They won’t matter!
On the surface, sure, it can be a concern, but the reality is that the companies that get it value the skill set an experienced PM brings to the table
I have been through the whole cycle of building things as an engineer, selling things, doing strategy, then becoming a PM and now a founder.
Product management has a flavor of all the other areas and except for Founder, it was the most versatile role. But, I had this itch that I was actually not building on my own and getting my hands dirty. So I decided to build things on my own again and it feels great. It’s hard but the sense of accomplishment is worth it.
I bring this up because “hard skills” are necessary to build almost anything. Want to write a book, you got to know how to write well. That’s hard skill IMO. Coding, data analysis, design are more obvious hard skills. Any type of creator requires hard skills and as a creator it is easy to show what you have done. That’s hard to do as a PM as majority of your time goes in lining up all the ducks.
If you really have the itch, I would encourage you to take a side project and build something. May be going through that creative process would give you satisfaction and help you decide if you want to stay as a PM or not.
@MichaelYoffe, Interesting. I guess if i was to look why I became a PM is that I’m genuinely more interested in the strategy side of things than I was coding or cleaning data
So far I haven’t learnt much other than building relationships and driving alignment to quote another comment. But I’m also currently at a bank so that doesn’t help.
I’m not sure if being a founder is what I want as yet, I kinda like having responsibility without financial risk
@AnaRodriguez, I am not suggesting you become a founder my friend. That’s a big leap and clearly not for everyone. You can do things on the side to build hard skills and see if you like them. Having said that, if you are a PM and working with rockstar engineers, they would respect you a lot more if you had some level of technical skills.
I also think strategy is overrated. Executive team comes up with strategy at most of the companies and everyone else executes. Also, even if you define the strategy - that’s the easy part. The hard part is to “do” strategy. That’s where the rubber hits the road and that’s where hard skills help PMs to operate more efficiently and get things done.
No no! I didn’t think that haha. Starting my own thing is an end goal I have in all of this, either that or consulting. I was just typing out my thoughts while replying to you.
Yeah no kidding >> even if that strategy is based on no data and the project/product largely ends up wasting millions.
Yep fair point!
All in all you gave me stuff to think about so thanks for that.
Just because you are in product doesn’t mean you can’t invest in improvement in hard skills. Obviously don’t force it, but it never hurts to have muscles in data analysis, design, growth marketing etc. as a PM.
Think about a wedding planner/coordinator as a PM. You are not good at flower arrangements, you’re not good at photography, you suck at MC=ing and Cant even DJ. Yet It’s a career. The product won’t come together without their soft skills to get everyone to work together, for the first time, and navigate the “bugs” that lead up to the ultimate “launch”.
Hard skills are easy and “replaceable”. You can go to a course, and learn SQL. (Generalization)
Soft skills are acquired, and more valuable and have to come through self-reflection and experience. Your end to end view of the product is what gives you value and the soft skills to align teams to make it happen is all you.