Anatomy of a Product Manager

Published May 1, 2018

What makes a product manager great? There’s no single archetype for highly effective product managers, but the best of them are hard to miss. They have impressive breadth, comfortable toggling between qualitative and quantitative, structured and unstructured thinking. They have head for business, an eye for detail, and a nose for opportunity. They’re excellent communicators and skilled multitaskers. They’re firm in certain beliefs but flexible in others. Most importantly, they care deeply about the customer they’re solving for.

ProductCraft is pleased to introduce the Anatomy of a Product Manager, an infographic that we believe captures the essence of the product management role. We hope it stimulates thought and discussion as you reflect on your own skill composition and look to build and grow your teams.

Anatomy of a Product Manager

1. Head for Business

Whether you agree with the polarizing refrain that PMs are the CEOs of the product there’s no denying that product management is, fundamentally, a business role. The best product managers start with a deep understanding of customer need and market opportunity and build products that sell through, and scale profitability.

2. Eye for Detail

The best product managers are obsessive about the details, from color palette and font selection to layout of nav options to the thoughtful touches and flourishes that enthusiastically welcome users into their world. They take pride in these details, knowing that the best product experiences stir an emotional connection with users, leaving them feeling somehow appreciated and understood.

3. Nose for Opportunity

The next market, application or use case is often hiding in plain sight, requiring a bit of a sixth sense, an innate nose for opportunity. The best PMs can see around corners and read between lines to find the patterns ahead of competitors.

4. Natural Communicator

Most agree that product managers lead by influence, not formal authority. This means that communication is the PM’s currency of trade. The best product managers can move organizations to action, often without data or proof, with masterful communications that comes from a deep understanding of audience.

5. Fleet-footed

When change is the only constant, long-lasting product roadmaps are a thing of the past. The best product managers embrace change, never allowing frequent adjustments in priority and direction to rattle their resolve. Instead, they see it as their vehicle of progress.

6. Resolute

As a role with informal authority, product management functions by negotiation and compromise, which can yield a product roadmap with the coherence of a congressional bill. That’s why the best product managers are willing and able to defend certain investments as inviolable, essential foundations to the product narrative.

7. Empathetic

Perhaps the most important characteristic of a product manager is a deep, abiding respect for the user and the challenges she faces. The best PMs advocate for their users, feeling a responsibility to make their lives better in some large or small way.

8. Intensely Curious

The best product managers listen actively and follow the thread wherever it takes them. They recognize that the best ideas come from unexpected quarters, and that the most important customer needs are not the ones they explicitly report, but the ones they implicitly demonstrate.

9. Ambidextrous

Particularly in smaller organizations, the best product managers are ambidextrous. They’re comfortable operating up and down the stack, toggling between spreadsheets and product analytics and design and prototyping tools. Part Michelangelo, part Da Vinci, they’re competent–if not masters–of many different domains.