Want to become a product manager? Don’t forget about the soft skills

To get ready for my first product manager job, I spend countless hours learning about agile, technology, design and so on. I have since realized after becoming a product manager that the soft skills are at least as important as the hard skills. I have learned the hard way how important communication skills are, especially in difficult times. My goal is to share from experience a few different situations where communication is vital and with some general learnings.

Writing user stories

As a product manager, you spend a large amount of time writing user stories. You have to be able to succinctly communicate why this story is important and what has to be done. It’s helpful to stay flexible on how you write your stories, as some engineers like heavy details, while others prefer stories that need to be discussed.

Managing stakeholder expectations

This comes down to the gap between expectations versus reality. Even if the feature or product you are building with the team is progressing fast, if the expectations of the stakeholders are higher, it will cause friction. In technology, it often happens that a deadline cannot be met and it’s your job to keep all stakeholders in the loop to lower the expectations and explain why.

Know how to communicate with different stakeholders

You will often have to talk to engineers, management, marketing team, and others. Each group has its own problems, goals, and terminology. If you really understand each of the groups, it will make it much easier aligning on goals, collaborating and reduces miscommunication.

Build confidence in your team

Just as you have expectations of the engineers, so do they have of you. Even if you have excellent technical and industry knowledge, if you are not able to effectively communicate with your team, you cannot build confidence. Without the trust of your team, it becomes increasingly difficult to get things done and creates a working atmosphere where nobody feels motivated and inspired.

Getting approval for resources

If you have a good idea or been tasked with a certain project that requires additional engineering resources that you don’t have, you need to get buy-in from the management to allocate resources to your project.

Reflections

  • It’s helpful to create a generic structure to write your feature/bug tickets. I usually like to include the user story to make sure you focus on the user, some context for understanding and acceptance criteria to define the ticket as done.
  • Even if a feature ticket is very technical, don’t forget to frame the ticket from a user’s perspective including the acceptance criteria.
  • I would recommend not only to verbally communicate progress/issues etc. but also send out an email to stakeholders. Stakeholders are busy, by only verbally communicating, some vital information may be forgotten. By sending an email you have proof of exactly what you communicated.
  • If you don’t know the answer to a question or not sure about it, be honest and say you will come back with an answer later.
  • When you are assigned to a new team or have a new team member, sit down with each individual, get to know them and on a deeper level understand what do they want to achieve in the current role. This will ultimately help you build a better relationship with your team.
  • Practice active listening skills. In order for really effective communication to take place in any situation, people need to have a desire to listen to you and what you have to say. A good exercise in being present is to listen intently to the person communicating with you, and then play back to them what you think you heard.
  • To communicate successfully with different teams, deeply think if you were them, what would you want. Look to really empathize about their concerns, and ensure to take those concerns into account at a deep level.
  • Mapping the ecosystem of stakeholders will help to visualize the people in the ecosystem and assign qualities to them. Knowing who is a potential roadblock and who is a decision maker allows you to develop strategies to deal with those individuals.
  • To better communicate with upper management it’s important to get to the point and at the same time focus on impact and management’s top concerns.

Head of Product at Sparrow Ventures

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store