Characteristics of Exceptional Product Managers

Editor’s note: the following was written by a guest blogger. If you have product management/tech industry experience, and would like to contribute to the blog, please contact [email protected]

If you feel a deep-rooted calling to be a product manager (PM), you have indeed queried on your own this crucial question: what exactly is it that makes exceptional product managers who thrive at people management and product leadership. The answer, they build people and products. 

Great PMs recognize that the people they work with should come first, they invest in them by nurturing their development and growth, they make it of importance that their teams are recognized before they are, in essence they build a community around their cross-functional and partner teams. As a corollary, what you have are motivated individuals who want to help bring the organization ‘s product vision to fruition.

Great PMs think from the outside in, they continuously plan for other segments even if their organization is not there yet, they build from a platform approach. They create products that are invaluable to their customers and their companies. They generate products with sturdy client adoption that successively increase revenue growth and perhaps become an industry disrupter. 

Exceptional product managers embody leadership abilities in their professional and personal lives, motivating other people to take actions and setting a course for success in the future. Great PMs put emphasis on developing their emotional aptitude which consequently enables them to be even more adaptable, resilient, and open to receiving of constructive feedback from their cross-functional teams and leadership. They are efficient listeners, and they are accessible to change.

The Traits of Great Product Managers

woman in front of wall

In my many years of experience in product management, outstanding product managers flourish because they epitomize the attributes necessary to build people and excellent products and therefore, excellent businesses. These exemplify the following traits: 

  • They are customer obsessed
  • Over communicate strategy and vision
  • Partner and influence
  • They are both strategic and tactical
  • Utilize data and their intuition to make decisions

Let us dive into each one in more detail.

Customer obsessed

Exceptional product managers are customer obsessed. They believe in forming an enhanced customer experience commencing with the customer’s perspective. They incorporate into their product management culture a commitment to having a customer-centric approach. For great PMs and their cross-functional teams, this means the customer remains at the core of everything they construct. 

An example of how I make customers the heart of our product culture is pre-covid, when I worked for a much small organization, I would invite our local clients to our office for lunch, I would take them on a tour of our headquarters, if our CEO were in the office that day, they would have a chance to meet him.  I would then introduce them to the scrum, design, product marketing and leadership teams and we would all have lunch together.  

During this time, I would lead the discussion trying to understand at the time of purchase, of all the vendors they were evaluating why did they pick us, what was the deciding factor, how many people at their firm use our platform, what are their roles and responsibilities, what other tools do they use and why.

Concerning our product what features do they use and not use and why, what are the top five functionalities we could add that would change the way they do their jobs and save them time. In my experience these sessions transform, align, and inspire the customer, the feel valued and heard. For the cross-functional teams they go through a transformation, they feel empathy because they better understand pain points and the stresses of their customers. 

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Great PMs employ customer-first approach. They want to solve their customer problems by providing them with what they need, want, and what they will see as value. Because they preserve these facts at the forefront of their thoughts, as a natural consequence it powers their communication with an irrefutable objective.

To get everyone on their team to see and appreciate the story of their product, the problems it solves for customers, its marketplace distinction, and how it ties to the overall strategical goals and objectives of their organization they have to over communicate strategy and vision. They are indeed evangelist. 

Communication

For every project, after research is completed, I begin with what I have come to call the communication tour which is done in five acts.  Act one begins with a working session with my first 3iab (product manager, design lead, content lead). We discuss the product or feature, pain point we are solving for, the customer value, business value, market distinction and what KPIs we want to measure.

The outcome of this meeting will help us determine if additional exploration is essential. Act two will be a discussion with the second 3iab (product manager, design lead, tech lead).  We review the first draft of the experience and answer all queries, if there are architecture, technical debt or scalability concerns we will know from our discussion as the tech lead will confirm if any research or proof of concept will be necessary. 

Act three will be a meeting with the leads of the customer facing and non-customer facing teams. This would be our teammates, in product marketing, sales, customer service, technical support, relationship management, data scientist, billing department and pricing. Our 3iab (product manager, design lead, tech lead) will walk them through the experience for the new product or feature we plan to build, the objective, customer benefit, and benefit to the business. We collect their feedback and iterate on the experience if needed so can indeed ascertain we are solving the right customer problems. 

silhouette of man and woman sitting on ottoman

Act four will be a workshop with the leads of our cross-functional teams. Our partners in these group will encompass risk, compliance, legal, policy, and the architect teams. Our 3iab will make a formal presentation that will comprise of the customer problems we want to solve, benefit for the customer, business value, product roadmap and product strategy and vision, how everything connects back up to the organization’s strategic objectives. From this workshop we will know if additional investigation is needed and if there are any setbacks that will impact, delay, or prevent development. 

Act five will be a shareout with leadership and collaboration with our research team to conduct usability studies and creating a learning plan. Great PMs are responsible for managing the success story of their product(s) by giving voice to value, setting context, becoming influencers, translators, and being customer advocates. In order to galvanize, transform, align, and inspire their organization exceptional product managers when needed must over communicate strategy and vision. 

Partner and influence

Exceptions PMs partner and influence, they recognize it is vitally important because they lead cross-functional teams from development to launch of new products or features.  Subsequently, they need to develop deep-rooted connection with their partner teams.

Product leaders are at the heart of their organizations, they are the link between what their customers are requesting and what exactly is introduced in the marketplace, thus they have enormous stake in their partner teams who develop their product vision. Because these teams are critical to the success story of their product. They evangelize the following: 

  • Product roadmap and vision
  • They network 
  • Solicit observation 
  • Malleable and open to constructive feedback
  • Communicate updates effectively

At the beginning of the year when our product teams have defined our product strategy. I put together a working group that consists of our 3iab and cross-functional product team leads, and we walk them through our product roadmap, the reason is to align with them early on so that we can influence their roadmap and eliminate surprises.  This process enables them to plan their roadmaps with our projects included. 

Additionally, we continue to engage by reviewing the first iteration of our product or feature experience with them. We do this to solicit their feedback and to determine if there is a dependency team they need to coordinate with and if they foresee any problems that might thwart or hinder development. 

When it comes to networking, I have been known to invite cross-functional team members for coffee pre-covid and virtual lunch since we have been working from home. I do this to form better relationships and connections. This affords me the opportunity to know what to look forward to and how to communicate with our partners, so things do not get lost in translation.

In addition to forming my own relationship with the product leads of our cross-functional teams I also lead the networking of our scrum team by putting together monthly lunches with engineers from our partner teams such as risk, compliance, and etc. I plan these events so our scrum team can meet and get to know their counterparts, this matters because if there is a relationship in place, it makes it easy to conduct project technical deep dives, create proof of concepts, inner-source code, test, and fix high priority bugs, 

Being malleable and open to feedback is imperative. I strive to always create a safe space where our cross-functional teams can communicate their opinions, ideas and be able point out if there is a problem with our experience or project even if the reaction is not favorable. Our teammates express concern because they care and are invested. Being open means I can sort out early what kind of experience or technical challenges we might face during and post development of our product or feature.    

Communication of updates is essential; disruptions and unforeseen alterations can and do transpire. I make it a priority to regularly provide up-to-date information to the scrum team, partners, stakeholders, teammates, and leadership.  I do this via meetings, in person(pre-covid), and email.  This is very important because they need to know if and when key dates need to be amended if the extent of work are modified, then all the teams involved can adapt new timelines. Communicating early and often builds trust. 

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Strategy and tactics

Exceptional PMs know they must be strategic and tactical. They are adept at achieving the appropriate balance between making determinations at the strategic level and on the field with their cross-functional teams, tackling the little details.  The rule I follow is to safeguard that strategy takes precedence and this is paramount because the strategic plan for the product delivers the roadmap to resolving the tactical-level detail queries from the scrum and partner teams during development. 

I long ago recognize that I must be both strategic and tactical to achieve success.  During execution of a product’s strategy, the cross-functional teams will reach out to me to manage tactical specifics, they will have comprehensive questions concerning what will be encompassed in Minimum Viable Product (MVP) or Minimum Viable Experience (MVE), adjustment to schedules, and discussions over the tiniest particulars of the product.

I am able to answer these questions if there is a product strategy solidified that the scrum team, partner teams, stakeholders, and leadership have all agreed we would implement. To be successful our strategy should typify all of the tactical determinations we make everywhere in the development process. Devoid of a strategic plan for our product, we will be unable to find a solution to the tactical-level details that will come during development. 

Data and intuition

Exceptional product managers employ data and their intuition. They know through experience that they will have to make challenging decisions. They are often faced with how much information do they consider before making a pronouncement when things are not obvious, not distinctly explicit.  These leaders recognize that they will need to utilize data and their intuition.

While data is well-defined and extremely useful, it does not paint the whole narrative. This is where product leaders have to use their intuition. Intuition is the result of deep-rooted experience in a particular space. Such experience is exactly what allows exceptional product managers to take a look at a complicated problem and then make a quick fortitude that does not have require explanation or divulging lots of evidence.

As a product leader with several years’ experience in Fintech I use both data and intuition. Nevertheless, there exists a balance which comes from my experiences. My mantra is to never ignore my intuition, but it is not enough. When I join any new organization one of the first things, I do is seek data and any artifacts about my product. It helps to understand the story of my product.

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I then seek out all the custom-facing and non-customer facing teams to help me understand the history of the product. Data and the comprehending the historical context of my product both will help me when I need to make quick decisions. 

Exceptional product managers are successful because they build people and products. They develop meaningful relationships with their scrum team, partner teams, teammates, and leadership.

In my experience the upshot of investing and nurturing people produces driven individuals who work together with every part of their organization to bring their product vision to fulfillment. When it comes to building products, these product leaders think divergently and avoid complacency. Essentially, they foresee each part of their product’s success story as their responsibility.

Meet the Author

Ronke Majekodunmi

Ronke Majekodunmi is a Senior Product Manager with a mission to ensure immense enterprise satisfaction accessing payment-related information. At PayPal, she leads a web-based payments portal, develops the strategy of roadmaps, brings solutions to life by executing in an agile environment, and measures product solutions’ impact on key performance indicators.

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