What Makes a Great Product Manager?
It's a question I get asked often by my students, clients, and people in the community. What is it that separates the good Product Managers from the best? What qualities in my potential candidates will let me know this person is the real deal? To me, there's one thing that stands between a good Product Manager and an exceptional Product Manager. It's not wireframing. Not coding. It's not communicating with developers, or sizing markets.
It's the ability to kill feature ideas before they are built.
Wait, what? Shouldn't it be the opposite of that?
Too many people think that a great Product Manager is the idea man. The visionary. The Steve Jobs. The feature god. This is just wrong.
Ideas are dime a dozen, and anyone in a company has the ability to come up with a great idea. The biggest problem we face at software companies is that we have too many ideas. More often than not, we end up building most of them in hopes that something will stick. We spend countless hours creating feature after feature, and releasing it to customers with our fingers crossed. Then no one uses it.
It's not hard to build things. It's hard not to build things. It's so hard to stop ourselves from getting overly excited about a potential feature.
A great Product Manager is the destroyer of bad ideas. She filters out the good ideas from the bad ideas by testing them early with customers. Then, she needs to be able to look the person who came up with the idea in the eye and say, "I appreciate the feature idea you came up with, but we have tested it and we should not build it. It would be a mistake to build it. Here's why."
This is not an easy skill. This idea person could be the CEO, the CMO, or the developer sitting next to you. More often than not, it's yourself, which is the hardest thing of all. She needs to be ruthless, yet compelling and understanding. She needs to be a focused experimenter, who can test an idea cleanly. Then, she has to communicate the results to a wide array of people who came up with these ideas in a way that is easily digestible.
When a Product Manager builds everything that comes her way, the product ends up feature heavy and complicated. Yet, so many Product Managers do this because they are afraid to challenge their managers. Managers, if you want to hire a game changing Product Manager, you need to be open to the fact that your feature ideas are going to be dissected and questioned. And most likely, destroyed. This should be built into your culture, so that no one feels like they cannot disagree with you. Otherwise, you will end up with a worthless product, and some very unhappy and frustrated people.
Product Managers - if you want to go from being good to great, take a lesson from Grumpy Cat. Get comfortable saying, "No".