Last week, I shared the three things that aspiring product managers should do to get real product management experience without being a product manager.
In today's post, I share the top three skills that aspiring and new product managers should focus on, and practical suggestions to acquire these skills.
I used Twitter and LinkedIn to ask my network what they think are the top three skills for aspiring and new product managers. Links to my posts below:
This is my list of three essential skills for aspiring (and first time) product managers:
- Excellent communication.
- Develop a "Keep executing fast" mentality.
- Curiosity and willingness to learn.
Typical product managers spend at least 70% of their time communicating.
Unfortunately, not many of them do it effectively.
It is vital to understand that effective communication is critical to a PM's success, as it enables them to share ideas, get buy-in, drive alignment - all exercises that are important to ship products successfully.
You already knew this, didn't you? I am confident that despite this knowledge, most of you have not put in much effort to become better at communication.
The two things that you should do to get better at communication:
1. Write, a lot. Rewrite even more.
Writing and rewriting sound easy. They are not. But they are effective ways to become a structured communicator.
- Find a topic that interests you or a problem that intrigues you, and write about it.
- Before writing, answer the questions in the below tweet by Shreyas.
- After writing, challenge yourself to rewrite the same message in 30% fewer words. Repeat twice. Do this for every email, progress update, user story, launch announcement, presentation and document that you write.
Doing the above will make your messages brief, to-the-point, yet impactful - an essential milestone in the journey towards becoming better at communication
2. Get feedback
The only way to measure how good (or not) you are at communication is to ask for feedback. The only way to get better is to act on the feedback.
- Volunteer for every opportunity that needs you to share important ideas through written or spoken communication.
- Identify a subject matter expert, or a communication expert, or both. Seek feedback from them before you present your ideas.
- Incorporate their feedback. Seek feedback again.
The more feedback you receive, the more methods you uncover to make your communication better.
Develop a "Keep executing fast" mentality.
At every level of your product management career, you will need to execute well. And the only way to learn to execute well is by executing and failing fast.
- Work on a side project. A side project is the best path to experience the life of a product manager without being a product manager. Read this article to learn more about starting side projects.
- Find products and product managers who have displayed excellent execution in the past. Study them in detail, learn from their success, and apply the learning to your life.
- Shadow a PM. Connect with product managers, request them to outsource their project management tasks to you or to let you shadow them once a week for a few weeks. Once you find a willing PM, use the opportunity to experience how they typically execute.
- Hustle like an ambitious (and desperate) college student looking for work. Do whatever it takes to find assignments, which make you better at execution. The two options that often work: try to get freelance assignments on Upwork, Freelancer, etc. Second, participate in relevant communities. Communities are a fantastic source of ideas, success stories, side projects, and potential partners and mentors. (List of my favourite communities here)
The last thought before we move on to the next section: do not do things just for the sake of it. Do it only if it is meaningful.
Curiosity and willingness to learn.
The chances of your success are minimal if you are not willing to learn.
- Understand the "why" behind everything you do. Doing this helps you learn more and do better. The easiest way to do this is to ask a lot of questions, even the stupid ones.
- Read, research, analyse. Study relevant documentation and analyse all available data to internalise what others already know. Something that I do every time I join a new team is to read product releases, scrutinise past roadmaps, browse recent announcements, and dissect dashboards to get the context that others might miss sharing during onboarding.
- Identify subject matter experts, and obtain relevant knowledge. If you are joining an industry you're not familiar with, find at least one industry expert in the company. Set up recurring meetings with them. In every session, talk in detail about a new topic. If there are no experts in your organisation, find and connect with them on LinkedIn.
- Be well prepared. Always. Preparing for a meeting or a discussion will drive you to read about the subject and become more knowledgable. Do this well, and everyone around you will notice and appreciate your efforts.
I hope you apply the practical suggestions I shared today.
In the next post, I will share the typical paths that aspiring product managers can take to land their first product management job.
Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter and get one practical guide every week.