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7 Areas Every Product Manager Should Focus Their Learning On To Get Their Career Kick-started

Uncategorized Jun 09, 2020

As the role of a Product Manager continues to evolve and become more and more demanding, PMs also need to hone their core competencies at the same time.  These soft skills that can be developed over the years of working and through coaching/mentoring, could actually spell the difference between launching a product that will disrupt the industry and a mediocre one.


There are seven areas that I believe every Product Manager needs to understand and develop to become outstanding in their field.  Consider these as your building blocks or your stepping stones on your journey to excellence.  Let me share the seven areas with you:


  1. Critical Thinking: it is the ability to explore all aspects of an issue in an exhaustive manner without being exhausted yourself. As a result, you are able to say something so profound that you are able to change the perception of others.  
  2. Communication: is having the three C’s of good communication: clear, concise and compelling. 
  3. Influence: it is getting the right decision made collaboratively so that the team feels fully bought in behind the decision. 
  4. Customer insights mastery: without this, you haven’t really begun as a strong product manager. 
  5. Strategy: to be taken seriously as a product manager you have to build a mastery of strategy
  6. Productivity: a lot of PMs are learning skills but they’re never able to put them into action because they’re completely drowning in the day-to-day.  So, be super productive.
  7. Managing yourself or mindset: You can pick up all the other skills but without a strong mindset, nothing outstanding can happen.

What from this list stood out for you?  I’d love to hear from you.  Have a great day everyone.



Hey everyone, it’s Shobhit.  Hope that all of you are doing well and we are here live to talk about the 7 areas, not the 5, the seven areas that I believe every product manager needs to work on to excel in, to become that outstanding PM that product leader, the person who gets promoted to general manager.  The person who’s eventually going to become the CEO of the company.  And what you might hear from me today, it’s not a list of every single skill you need to have as a product manager but I believe these are the building blocks that make for PMs that are completely outstanding as compared to just PMs that sort of just like, you know, they’re doing okay.  So, with that, grab a pen and paper, whenever you’re watching this live or later and start writing things down because I’m gonna talk through the seven areas but I”m also gonna give you some perspective on which ones are really, like what are the things within that that really matter.  So, let’s get going.


Okay.  So, the number one skill you must master as a Product Manager is critical thinking.  Critical thinking is taking the same topic and having a depth of thinking that other people just missed.  You know, when you, when somebody comes in and says something so brilliant about an issue, you know the reason is because they have been, they’ve just been able to think about it much more deeply.  While others give you a surface level answer  that was like okay, this person comes in and says so profound, comes and says something so profound that suddenly your perception of this person changes.  So, critical thinking is the number one skill which I believe you must master and a lot of it comes from, you know, if you’re looking to get started in this, go look up things such as decision trees and how they help you make decisions and think through various aspects.  Go look up, I think Teresa Torres calls it the solution opportunity trees or something like that.  If you Google the term, you’ll start to find things.  What they are is they’re enabling you to explore all aspects of an issue in an exhaustive manner without being exhausted yourself.  And then you are able to also present that thinking to others which makes other people feel like yeah, this person’s smart and I can trust them.  So, that’s skill number one, critical thinking.


Skill number two which you must master, this will not be a surprise because I talk about this all the time.  Communication.  Communication is key as a product manager but look, when we talk about communication most people assume that it’s about giving presentations.  Right.  It’s about standing  on stage and delivering that outstanding talk but really it’s not.  That’s the least of your worries, to be honest. What is important for you to do is to have two things.  So, one, in general you need to be these three things: clear, concise and compelling.  The three C’s of good communication: clear, concise and compelling.  If you’re not clear, people don’t follow you, they don’t perceive you as smart.  If you go on and one, you know a lot of people communicate as if they are, you know, in the same manner that they’re thinking then that’s not great.  And number three compelling.  You gotta have a point of view and you gotta go bam and the other person’s like, yeah I can follow that.  So those are three things that strong product management communicators do.  That was one aspect.  The other aspect is that you gotta learn how to communicate well in conversations and difficult situations.  It’s not about you going on stage and doing the presentation.  It’s about right in the moment when you’re faced with the situation that let’s say you need to apologize, you did something wrong, or let’s say somebody asked you for a status update on something and it’s not as far along as you would want it to be.  How do you communicate there in a way that you still come out ahead.  Their perception of you is still much higher even if the things is not, you know, not as far along as you would want it to be.  So, don’t get associated with the progress of that thing, the market reality.  Get associated with the way you present your brand.  You gotta own your brand.  That is as much a part of communication as anything else.


So we covered two things right now.  We covered critical thinking, communication.  Number three, related to communication is influence.  


Now, everybody has about influence and what you might perceive it as is something that you just need to do as a way of convincing others of your point of view.  I have a very different take on it.  In my mind influence is getting the right decision made collaboratively so that the team feels fully bought in behind the decision.  So you’re matching up all these things.  You’re helping the team think critically.  Critical thinking.  You’re communicating what are all the alternatives you’ve thought through and why the one that you landed on is critical and now you’re influencing them by getting their buy-in and it’s a very collaborative, facilitative process.  It’s not about you.  You’re coming up with tricks to  influence people.  It’s about you helping the right decision being made.


I remember talk, hearing this venture capitalist and what he said was that, you know, he was arguing for a course of action and everybody else on his team said no so he was like “yeah, that’s okay.  Go for it”.And then later they found out that he was absolutely right.  And what would have been thing number one for him to say is “Yeah, I told you so.  I was right”.  But he also said that “It doesn’t matter that I was right.  What matters was whether the right decision was made”.  Influence here is all about making sure your team makes the right decision and then is bought in to acting out that decision and not just revisiting it over.  So, we’ve covered three so far.


Number four: Customer Insights Mastery


Learn how to get customer insights using data and using conversations.  Learn how to control the flow of the interview and ask good questions.  To use silence as a way to get more insights.  Whatever it is that you need to do, get to that next level of insight is really what you must do as a product manager.  Now, the number one reason why when I am interviewing product managers, why I might reject them, why I might say no is because when I’m working with them through a problem, I ask them about how they might get customer input on something and they come back and say “Oh, I’m just going to ask the customer if they want to do that thing or not.  If it’s a need or not”.  That is like junior varsity level customer insights, asking a customer whether they want something or not.  And so what is critical is that you get to that next level of customer insight mastery.  Without that, you haven’t really began as a strong product manager.  You’re just, you know, super early stages.


Number five.  So we’ve covered four so far.


Number five is especially if you’re getting more senior, strategy.


What is strategy?


If I ask ten people this, I am sure I’ll get 10 different answers.  This is the whole reason why I started this new program called Product Thinking Monthly.  Because I’ve seen such a lack of knowledge of what strategy is and the thing is that even if you get to like an intermediate level of understanding, suddenly you’re so far ahead of the competition.  You’re so far ahead of other product managers.  Your narratives are better, you’re able to influence more.  You’re able to communicate well.  All those things start to fall in place once you understand strategy. And then you can also stop being that victim who says look we have no strategy as a company, we don’t have a strategy as a group and so I can’t do anything well.  You take the ownership of mastering strategy.  Don’t blame others.  That’s skill number five, strategy.


I would recommend, if you want to get started on it, number one join my monthly program.  Number two, read good strategy, bad strategy.  Read stuff from, you know a bunch of HBR, Harvard Business associated authors.  Who’s the famous one?  Michael Porter.  You know, not just read his stuff but internalize it.  Start to apply it to different products.  Start to understand reverse engineer other products.  And by the way, once you do that, you can also kick ass at interviews.  So that’s what you need to do for, if you need to master, er, if you want to excel as a product manager, get good at strategy.


So, we’ve covered five so far.  Critical thinking, communication, influence, customer insights mastery and strategy.  


Number six.  This one is going to be counter-intuitive.  This one is not what you would expect.  Productivity.


You’ve got to be super productive.  And you know why?  It’s because a lot of PMs are learning skills but they’re never able to put them into action because they’re completely drowning in the day-to-day.  So, they are never able to actually spend time on strategy, to actually spend time with customers.  They’re just, you know, making sure, you know, the fires are put out.  They’re not able to build a system by which they’re not in the middle of all the fires.  They are never able to really figure out what are the things that they need to do to get ahead in their career, for their products to get ahead and then really do something about it.  That’s the sixth thing, productivity.  It is so crucial that’s why I spend so much time on it in the Intentional Product Manager.  Like literally everything is leading up to that productivity.  You’re streamlining your meeting, everything is leading up to productivity.  You’re setting up your top priorities leading to productivity.  You’re improving your presence, your mindset is leading up to productivity. Another thing that is important here, don’t fall into the victim mindset. It is very common, as I start working with clients that they’re, that they say “Look Shobhit, here’s the problem.  My company doesn’t do product management well so I have no time for strategy and so, I can’t do anything about it.  You know, if I was at Facebook or Google or MIcrosoft or Netflix whatever the thing, Amazon, then I’ll just be doing well because my company will know how to do product management.  That’s only partially true because the reason is that you can get just as overwhelmed being at Google, Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and become known as the firefighter as you can at a small startup.  So, don’t assume the circumstances will change.  Let us not ask for our path to be easy.  Let us not ask for our circumstances to be easy but let us ask for us to be so good that we can make it look easy.  All top achievers in the world, they face countless obstacles.  You’re gonna rise above them, you’re gonna be so productive and that doesn’t mean just doing tons of shit that doesn’t matter but you’re going to be so productive on things that really matter, that move needle.  That’s number six, productivity.


Number seven, I kinda said that in the last one.  Some people call it managing yourself, some people call it mindset.  I sometimes call it presence but this is about managing your own psyche.  This is about, this is about a lot of things but ultimately it’s about your point of view.  I’ll give you an example.  Just yesterday I was in a coaching call with my coach, awesome coach and I was telling her about like all these different tasks that I need to do that just suck, I hate them.  And she said “Well, okay, let’s talk about these tasks.  What is the, what’s the thing that you will look forward to if you finish that  or what would you have done.  It was setting up time with someone.  I said “Well, I would have come across as a good friend” and she’s “Well, isn’t that a more positive way of looking at this thing? You know, you’re not setting up time with someone and trying to find that one slot that works.  Those are the mechanics.  You are working towards being a great friend.  Finding time with them.”  I said “Yep, I feel so much enthusiastic about doing this”.  All mindset, all perspectives for you product managers where, you know, that sometimes the profession is not well understood in the company, that you have to fight a lot of battles, that you have to work with a lot of people and a lot of difficult personalities.  You know, if your mindset is right, if you are focused on the right things, if you can keep changing your perspective, if you can keep changing your story, there is no stopping you.  You can pick up all the other skills.  You can build everything.  But without a strong mindset, none of those things are going to happen.


So, to summarize the seven things that make for amazing product managers.  The seven areas every product manager must master.  Not five, but seven.


Number one, critical thinking

Number two, communication

NUmber three, influence which is not about convincing other people of your point of view.  It’s about getting to that point of view that everyone can gain buy-in can act on.


Number four customer insights mastery.


Number five strategy.  An area that everybody loves to talk about but few people really understand.


Number six, productivity.  Counter-intuitive but you are likely to get overwhelmed.  If you can rise above it, take ownership and be productive on the things that matter, you will kick ass as a product manager.


And last but not least, the foundation, it’s your mindset, it’s managing yourself.  It’s changing your perspective so that you’re not stopped by the first difficulty that comes along but you can go past it and become that PM that product manager, that product leader, that general manager, that CEO, that entrepreneur that you’ve always wanted to become.


That’s all I got folks.  As usual, if you need my help, I’ll drop a link below to set up time to talk with me and have a breakthrough session. You know, you’ll find an hour with me but also must complete an application.  If you don’t, then I cancel that.  I got to make sure you’re the right fit for us to have a conversation and build a step-by-step plan for you and possibly work together in the future.  So, that’s all I got.  I look forward to hearing from you, at another point, I’ll be posting this video on LinkedIn and other places so wherever you are, always feel free to reach out to me.  I’d love to hear from you.  Have a great day everyone.





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