3 surprising traits of top product managers

Every product manager wants to be the best in their field. Some tackle the technical aspect so fiercely that they become experts in the field.

Other product managers want to become the best by knowing all of the psychological strategies that can engage the development team. However, few of those product managers know what traits truly make up a top product manager. To help find and define top product managers you need to know what skills to keep an eye out for.

Here are a few of the most surprising traits of top product managers.

1. They aren’t afraid to say “no.”

What comes to mind when you think of the perfect manager? Do you think of a hyper-organized and polite facilitator? Do you think of a product manager that can make anything happen, no matter how lofty a goal may be?

Unfortunately, product managers aren’t magicians or genies. Just because you wish something doesn’t mean they can fulfill that request with no problem and no questions asked.

The best product managers won’t lie to you about what is possible and what is impossible. Even if a client requests a feature, a good product manager may offer another functionality in order to avoid scope creep.

The best product managers have the experience and the courage to say “no,” even when that answer will ruffle a few feathers.

2. They don’t mind cutting features.

You may think that a robust product is the best product. However, time and time again we have seen robust, feature-rich products fail.

The Microsoft Zune is one infamous example. While the Zune MP3 could do much more than the iPod, the user experience was decidedly lackluster. What’s worse: the Zune had a steep learning curve.

Why do feature-rich products fail? Producing them is often costly and time-consuming. In addition, the average user is not going to care about additional features, they will care about the overall user experience.

Product managers know a lot about their target customer. During their market research phase of creating the product plan, they got to know the customer’s likes and dislikes. As such, they are able to cut features without skimping on overall quality.

3. They aren’t keen on rigid expectations.

Top product managers don’t participate in draconian environments and never just say “no” outright. Instead, they are balanced team members that provide much-needed guidance and use communication to come to agreed upon conclusions. There is no room for strict or rigid expectations or communication.

The best product managers know when to allow and when to deny. The same is said for technologies. They don’t expect a rigid set of guidelines for platforms, tools, or off-the-shelf components.

The top product managers know when a tool or piece of software will help growth or slow it down. They don’t mind using the latest technologies to stay ahead of the competition. However, if a product will only confuse or inhibit growth, then it is denied. It is a delicate balance of structure versus flow.

In conclusion, the top product managers operate with a delicate balance of technical and personal skills. They use their presence as a guide to provide greater clarity to the developers and gain their trust as a worthy adviser.

Top product managers know when it is time to say “no.” Whether it be to the members of the administration or the developers, the top product managers know when to draw a tight line.

However, when needed, they can also act the part of a trusted adviser to the developers. Someone that the developers can come to with ideas and receive a comprehensive “yes” or “no” response. The same for the executive suite. Top product managers can tell the executive suite “no” if their request is out of the scope of the product or outside of the time constraints.

They also stay abreast of the new methods and strategies that are on the cutting edge. Top product managers will keep things flexible with technologies so that developers can find the best way forward.

They operate with an open mind so that they might find the right tool or trick to give their team the advantage. Moreover, they do not keep rigid expectations or guidelines for that very reason. Strict environments are stifling and they are all about flourishing. Top product managers are the best at being human.


By Donna Howard for CW Observer