Program Manager Skills and Attributes

There are important contributions PMs will have to make:

  • Great design sense.
  • Strong strategic thinking.
  • Technical acumen.
  • Dealing with ambiguity.
  • Leading collaboration.
  • Excellent communication.
  • Creating impact and influence.
  • Understanding and acting on the global landscape.

The following PM skills and attributes are becoming more important given the current operating and cultural environment:

Ensuring Customer Success

PMs have always channeled the “voice of the customer” into product development, and that doesn’t change. PMs should be committed to customer success:

  • Develop customer relationships and really understand what will bring them from being unaware of our solutions to being deeply engaged and delighted with them
  • Deeply understand customer problems through, for example, problem hypothesis validation, and consistently choose the best solution to those problems that balances cost, risk, and benefit
  • Understand the customer’s requirements both in terms of the functionality they require but also the expected fundamentals (reliability, support experience, security, etc.)
  • Evangelize customer needs in the product development process backed with tangible data as decisions are being made regarding feature investments.


Turning Data into Insight that Drives Product Investment

We have access to more data than ever, but it’s easy to be overwhelmed or to find ourselves asking questions out of curiosity rather than questions we will act on. Being data-driven means understanding the impact of the data on the customer and the business, knowing the kinds of questions to ask, and also knowing when we need more data and when we can just make a call with the data that is available.

  • Focusing on the why (customer requirements) and what (product functionality).
  • Creating strong customer feedback loops.
  • Developing both broad and deep insights that guide product requirements and design.
  • Bringing the customer scenario to the table, and being able to personally determine (for example, through data and direct customer feedback) if the solution meets that need both in terms of functionality and fundamentals.
  • Setting product goals and measuring impact through data.


Growing and Applying Business Acumen

The PM is a critical stakeholder in business objectives and sets product direction with understanding of the expected business impact as a critical metric. That means

  • contributing to business strategy
  • understanding and/or shaping the business metrics
  • understanding the market and market opportunities
  • deriving insights
  • identifying the key levers for product growth
  • understanding how and when to create partnerships with other companies
  • performing competitive assessments
  • contributing to and amplifying how we land our products with customers


Rallying the Team and our Customers around a Point of View

“Point of view” is shorthand for how we bring together a cohesive, compelling story that makes sense, is internally consistent, supports the business and customer, aligned with the company strategic priorities, and that is anchored in customer insight and data. “Point of view” is where the previous three areas – business, customer, and data – come together to form a cohesive, consistent narrative. It’s a tool to help us understand and express the “why” and “what” that can be consistent and enables us to communicate our desired outcomes and behaviors. Sometimes a point of view may be manifested as a bullet list of principles, sometimes as a UI mockup, sometimes as a document. As it evolves into the external communication, it takes form in blogs, presentations, trainings that communicate the product and messaging. Once created, a great point of view aligns the team and the customer on a compelling goal.

  • Identifying gaps (in technology, quality, process, and marketing)
  • bringing teams together as appropriate to resolve them
  • Aligning investments across the company
  • Optimizing globally, not locally
  • Evangelizing products internally and externally


Driving Team Culture and Promoting a Growth Mindset

One final skill that all great PMs have is that they approach the world with a growth mindset. This is different from thinking about how we grow our business (which is also important). It is about being open to learning, to risk taking, to experimentation and to being willing to fail sometimes. It’s about understanding that things aren’t fixed – they can and should change – and that just because something is some way today, it doesn’t have to be that way tomorrow. It is about thinking in terms of a world of abundance and opportunity rather than constraint and limitation. Finally, it’s about bringing all of that and making it practical so we can execute and create great products.

Across all of the above areas, PMs bring a strong culture of observation, hypothesis, experimentation, learning, and of course, pivoting when we need to. PMs no longer need to be right about everything – we do need to be flexible and speedy about getting to decisions that enable us to proceed, learn and iterate.


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