Tech Skills

7 Skills Every Product Manager Needs to Build a Winning Product

Cole Mercer

Udemy instructor and Senior Product Manager at SoundCloud

August 9, 2017

Product managers play an increasingly critical role at tech companies, but good ones are hard to find. The good news is: most key skills can be taught by corporate L&D.

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Due to a low supply, product managers have recently replaced software developers as the kings of the tech world. They now receive the highest salary offers of any tech role, according to Hired’s 2017 Global State of Tech Salaries. In 2016, product managers enjoyed a 5.9% growth in salaries, averaging $138,000 in annual salary in the U.S. And more and more tech CEOs are hailing from product management backgrounds.

Why the rise of product managers in the tech world?

It reflects the shift from shipping software to shipping the right software for customers. And it’s the product manager’s job to figure that out. According to Deloitte, customer-centric companies are 60% more profitable than their peers.

But finding the right product manager for your company can be tricky. The role is a complex jack-of-all-trades persona that requires mastery of a diverse range of skills from programming, engineering, and user experience design to legal, PR, and marketing. Product managers serve as the communication hub between the engineers and designers and everyone else in the organization. It’s a strategic, decision-making role that touches on just about everything at a technology company.

Unlike software development, there’s no formal degree for product management. What’s more, with the broad skills required and the current scarcity of talent, it’s hard to find the perfect candidate that fits all your needs. As a result, some internal training may be required to mold your product manager to meet all the criteria on your wish list.

So what distinguishes the top 1% of product managers from the top 10%?

Based on my 7+ years of experience in product management in multiple business models, I address the skills that differentiate the top product managers from the rest in my course Becoming a Product Manager: Learn the Skills to Get the Job on Udemy for Business.

Want to develop winning product managers who will positively impact your customers and your bottom line? Here are the 7 skills L&D departments should focus on.

1. Be a future visionary and product evangelist

The one trait that distinguishes the top 1% of product managers from the rest of the pack is the gift of storytelling and evangelism. Product managers must be able to deliver a rousing story on why design decisions were made and ignite people’s passion around the product—both internally and externally. Steve Jobs was a master storyteller and painted an exciting new world made possible by Apple technology. L&D can help product managers brush up on how to deliver powerful ideas with Chris Anderson, Head of TED’s, course on Public Speaking or a Storytelling for Public Speaking course on Udemy for Business.

The best product managers are also visionaries who are full of imagination about the future. Think of Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos—both are modern fortune-tellers who predict what the world is going to look like in 20 years and their company or product’s role in it. While it’s more of an innate talent, reading more, staying on top of industry trends, looking at patterns from the past, and listening to other visionaries are all ways to practice gazing into the crystal ball.

2. Be a jack-of-all-trades

Product managers need to know a little bit of everything—engineering, design, sales, and marketing. The best way to become knowledgeable about these different roles is to actually try them out for bit. Before getting into product management, I held roles in engineering, marketing consulting, design and even sales strategy for a short time. When I was a more junior product manager, I went with the sales team on their trips and watched them doing demos and pitches while closely listening to the potential client’s needs. These experiences helped me understand all the unique challenges and goals related to each specific role—a perspective that helped me succeed as a “jack-of-all-trades” product manager. For junior product managers, L&D can suggest taking online courses like User Experience Design Fundamentals, The Complete Digital Marketing Course, or Crush it! Sales Strategies on Udemy for Business to become familiar with design, marketing, and sales roles.

3. Master technical know-how

Product managers don’t necessarily have to be programmers or engineers, but they should be technically savvy. They need to fully understand what a client server or API is. A product manager’s job is to enhance the efficiency of their team. So for example, if an engineer says something is possible or not due to how the API works, the product manager should know the implications. Essentially, they should understand what’s wrong with a car engine, but they don’t actually need to be able to fix it themselves.

Although product managers often come from a tech background, it’s becoming less common and certainly isn’t a prerequisite. In my course Becoming a Product Manager: Learn the Skills to Get the Job on Udemy for Business, I arm product managers with enough techie know-how on the mechanics of programming and related technologies so they can talk intelligently about it.

4. Master the art and science of syncing across multiple platforms

Today, you can’t host your product on one platform. Usually, your product lives on multiple platforms—your website, iOS app, Android App, Alexa etc. Your product managers need the experience and know-how to manage one product and features across all platforms. There’s whole art and science of keeping your product aligned and synced across diverse platforms. How do you organize the development of the product to match the way users consume it split up across different experiences? In my course Becoming a Product Manager: Learn the Skills to Get the Job, I touch on how to organize this like a pro.

5. Stay on top of new tech like React Native to optimize product development

The tech world is changing rapidly. Product managers should constantly keep new trends and technologies on their radar. They must understand the implications of this new tech on product development. For example, when it comes to navigating multiple platforms, programmers usually have to code in one language for Android, and then another separate one for iOS. But there are new technologies being proven rapidly like React Native. React Native enables developers to code in one language (Javascript) and then translates it into native code for iOS or Android.

However, product managers need to recognize when to use this tech or not. React Native, for example, is a framework that works well in certain cases but not others. If your app or views within the app are of low or medium complexity, it may be a perfect fit. For more complex views and interactions like games or apps with too many moving parts, it won’t be the best fit. Product managers need to consider the pros and cons of new technologies when making development decisions. Keep your product manager up to speed on this new tech with The Complete React Native and Redux Course.

6. A knack for communication

Every product manager must possess strong communication skills. They need to deftly communicate at multiple levels across the organization in order to effectively ship new products. They should ideally be excellent presenters, skillful diplomats, and good listeners. L&D can help product managers continuously hone their communication prowess with online courses like Seth Godin’s Present to Persuade and Advanced Communication for 21st Century Leaders on Udemy for Business.

7. Know their way around metrics

It goes without saying that all product managers must know their way around metrics. They should understand what’s behind a meaningful metric. I recommend every product manager become well versed in analytics and methods of extracting the proper data. A good place to start is the course SQL for Newbs: Data Analysis for Beginners.

Not all product managers are created equal

Finally, it’s important to realize not all product managers at your company are created equal. You shouldn’t treat all product management roles the same, as they are unique depending on the kind of product involved. For example, a product manager working on an internal technical tool or search algorithm would need different skillsets than one working on consumer-facing features. Some product managers need to be creative junkies, while others must be much more technical. When you’re developing your product managers, don’t forget to consider their specific role and background as you nurture their strengths and weaknesses.

Cole Mercer is a Udemy for Business instructor and Senior Product Manager at SoundCloud. He has over 7 years of experience in product management at consumer, enterprise, and e-commerce companies. He is also an experienced instructor and has taught product management to over 24,000 students in 158 countries worldwide, both online and in person. He teaches the course Becoming a Product Manager: Learn the Skills to Get the Job on Udemy for Business, which he regularly updates with the latest technology trends.

Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in the digital transformation of the workplace by offering fresh, relevant, and personalized on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at business@udemy.com

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