8 Essential skills every product manager needs

8 Essential skills every product manager needs

Posted byKatie Marcus on

career growth

So you want to get into product? Or, perhaps you’re a product manager wanting to develop your skills, learn what to focus on in your CV, or plan your next career move? This article’s for you.

We asked our super talented Product Lead Katie to share the skills she thinks every product manager needs as they progress in their career. Katie’s been working in product for over 8 years, both as a consultant and for startups and scale-ups including Depop, Unmade and Mastered — she really knows her stuff!

Over to you Katie.


The ability and willingness to change in order to suit different conditions

Getting the most critical skill out early doors: if you can’t hack change, a career in product may not be for you. Product people need to be welcoming to constant flux at all times, both within the products we manage and in the role itself, and that takes a grounded yet flexible mindset.

We need to continually re-frame and re-assess, always adapting to what we’ve learned and what is most needed to move forward. We’re true chameleons who wear many hats within our team, from do-er to peacekeeper to leader. And we’re the ultimate believers in ‘strong opinions weakly held’.

Three ways to develop an adaptable mindset

  1. Seek and absorb new context which challenges your preconceptions
  2. Master prioritising & managing your own time
  3. Leave ego at home and do what’s needed.

Add the adaptability skill to your Progression framework


The ability to ingest, organise and prioritise data points in order to draw conclusions

As a product person, data is your most valuable tool – and I include everything from product analytics to a CEO brain-dump as useful data sources. To get a regular flow of data to aid your decisions, you’ll need to embed the habit of collecting, sorting and leveraging it.

Then you’ll put it all to use to balance the needs of your business, users and investors. You’ll need to work out what matters most, constantly filtering signal from noise, often at pace. But don’t forget to always ask a deeper ‘why’ and take nothing at face value!

Three ways to develop your analytical skills

  1. See everything as data - capture it all
  2. Lean on learnings from previous experiences
  3. Ask why, and keep asking.

Check out GOV.UK’s analysis skill in our library


The quality of being coherent, intelligible and memorable

Every good product person is a great communicator: to do your job well, everyone needs to be bought along with your thinking and clear on the direction you’re taking the product in. A good acid test is asking your team what your product vision is and how their current work helps: can they do it?

You need to feel confident speaking in different scenarios to get what you need, from aligning stakeholders on strategy to pulling insights from user research calls. You’ll match the medium to the message and master the power of clear and useful documentation, conveying your thoughts both visually in decks or sketches and in concise, accessible written form.

Three ways to communicate with clarity

  1. Focus on what people really need to know
  2. Avoid jargon and unnecessarily detailed context
  3. Listen actively and ask for feedback on how you communicate.

Check out Intercom’s communication for product managers skill in Progression


The desire to collect knowledge and be constantly learning

A product person’s work is never done. We need to stay curious, always searching for more insight and knowledge to help our product meet its goals: be that from users, stakeholders, competitors, teammates, or data.

It’s also important to keep pace on the craft of product itself, as opinions, best practices and tools and technologies continually evolve. You’ll read up on how others do it, seek out new ways of seeing things and lean on communities of practice to learn from.

Three ways to spark your curiosity

  1. Reflect and retrospect to improve your own practice
  2. Explore the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of others
  3. Join communities and expand your podcast playlist.

Add the curiosity skill to your Progression framework


The ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions

In some terms, a critical role of product might be defined as ‘decision facilitator.’ To make effective decisions in uncertain conditions, product managers must draw from their toolkit of mental models, experience and insights — while avoiding the dreaded stasis.

You’ll be able to judge when to lean on intuition or prior art to help move things forward, and make strategic effort-investment calls when confidence is low.

Three ways to make considered decisions

  1. Gather all available information, data and insight
  2. Trust your instinct, but try to prove it right or wrong
  3. Build a mental-model ‘box of tricks’ to apply to scenarios.

Check out the black Box of PM for some judgement mental models

Leveraging others

Best utilisation of what that you already have in order to achieve something new or better

They say it takes a village, and that couldn’t be truer when it comes to discovering and developing products. A great product manager will focus on building knowledge, equity and trust with their team, so that you can get the best out of them and remove any barriers they face.

You don’t want to be a bottleneck or a gatekeeper: share context freely and empower your teams to make great decisions without you. Done well, your role is kind of invisible but everything ‘just works’.

Three ways to effectively leverage the strengths of others

  1. Optimise for high-context, empowered teams
  2. Amplify team strengths and celebrate their wins
  3. Observe what works well and repeat it.


The ability to deal with problems based on conditions that really exist, rather than following fixed theories, ideas, or rules

As a product person, you’ll face many challenges and constraints — team capacity, tech limitations, budget, differing opinions and motivations. You’ll need to work through these to move forward, considering the available levers you can pull and understanding the compromises, risks and barriers. With a pragmatic attitude, you can find practical solutions to problems, and not get hung up on ideals.

Three ways to be more pragmatic

  1. Diffuse stress by being a voice of calm and reason
  2. Find a way: say ‘yes, but’ rather than ‘no’
  3. Let go of perfectionism; progress over process.

Add the pragmatism skill to your Progression framework

Zoom In, Zoom Out (ZIZO)

The ability to zoom in and out of tasks and problems

Finishing on my favourite acronym! Us product folk need to be comfortable dealing with context-switching: from taking care of the tiny details like writing a ticket spec right up to crafting the broad brushstrokes of a product vision — often all on the same day.

A huge factor of growing in seniority is earning the right to a bigger surface area to own and influence, and you’ll only get this by proving your stripes up and down the chain. Your ability to make impact and move towards that lovely shiny vision is only as effective as your ability to ship, so get comfortable punching-down to get things done.

Three ways to practice ZIZO:

  1. Operate at whatever level is needed to make progress
  2. Carve out time for strategic visioning
  3. Delegate the small things where appropriate.

Build your product manager framework in Progression

Ready to get to work on developing your product skills? Create your product manager framework in Progression today, add skills like the ones Katie suggests, and supercharge your career development ⚡

Need some inspiration? There’s a range of ready-made product management frameworks and product management skills available in the Progression Library.

Picture of Katie Marcus

Posted by Katie Marcus

Product Lead at Progression

Katie on LinkedIn

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