Best Practices

The 5 essential qualities of a data-driven product manager

Published Aug 12, 2020

As informative and objective data may be, it’s only as good as the product manager who analyzes it. You can (and should) make collecting data around how your users engage with your product a top priority, but that information won’t solve any problems on its own. No matter how much data you have, its relevance will always depend on what a product manager makes of it. 

So, what makes for a product manager who leverages data to its fullest and uses these insights to make more informed hypotheses, observations, and decisions? To shed some light on the topic, we interviewed several product experts. Here are the five qualities they believe the best data-driven PMs possess: 

1. They are persistent

Examining and interpreting your product data is not just a one-time pursuit—it’s a constant practice. Data-driven product managers need to have the determination to consistently revisit and re-evaluate their data at every stage of the product lifecycle. 

Rekha Venkatakrishnan, a senior manager of group product management, urges, “Invest your time in understanding the data—experiment and play with it, and finally, learn from it. There is no time boxing to this and it is a continuous skill to hone.”

Travis Turney, senior data strategist at Rapid7, explains that for his team, putting time and effort towards getting to know the data is vital to predicting success. When everyone is aligned around a common understanding and data fluency, you can approach the data with a clear goal in mind. Executing through the lens of the problem you are trying to solve takes persistence and commitment to the data, but it also allows you to generate insights that are aligned with your overarching goal or hypothesis.

2. They have empathy

You’ve probably heard it before—product management is just as much about the user as it is the product (if not more so). To be a successful data-driven PM, Andy Browning, UX writer at Mimecast, recommends taking the time to “deeply understand your users.” 

Once you’ve collected data, the primary focus should be interpreting it from your users’ perspective rather than just a standpoint of internal efficiency. When you’re able to empathize with how your users are engaging with your product, you can create a better experience for them going forward. As Travis Turney puts it, “Some decisions can make how we do what we do better, faster, or cheaper, but if that doesn’t have an impact on the customer experience, it doesn’t matter.”

3. They are goal-oriented

Back when a PM’s job was shipping physical products, the only metric that mattered was product delivery. Today, product managers are collecting and measuring data however and wherever they can. Monitoring a variety of key performance indicators (KPIs) is crucial to understanding how users adopt and engage with your product. But don’t let navigating all of these data points distract you from your team’s ultimate goal. 

To stay on track, Manosai Eerabathini, product manager at Google, recommends establishing a north star: “some high level metric or goal that you can look up at, especially when you’re deep in the weeds and wondering if you’re still on course.” That way, teams can have a standardized mechanism for tracking their progress against their ultimate goal in the long term. 

If you’re struggling to determine which metric to use as your north star, consider coming up with your own. When it comes to developing an aggregate score of customer health, Bella Renney, head of product at, has some advice: “Take a long, hard look at what success is for your users and build your score around that specifically.”

4. They are good storytellers

When analyzing product data is a part of your day-to-day, it’s easy to forget that data literacy isn’t always a given for everyone at your company (or even on your team). Being data-driven is about more than your interpretation of the data as a PM; equally crucial is how you present those insights to others.  

As Beatrice Fabris of Mimecast puts it, “if you’re not able to communicate with the designer who is passionate about their own meticulousness, or the vice president who has no time and needs to understand everything in two seconds, then it makes your own job as a PM much harder.”

Sam Benson, product operations specialist at Firefly Learning, even cites the ability to interpret data and effectively present it to others as the one skill a data-driven product manager needs to do their job. 

5. They possess courage

When you have a deep understanding of your product data, the possibilities for its application are endless. But data doesn’t just beget results on its own; Tatyana Mamut, head of product at Nextdoor, explains, “The data is what it is, but the data never tells you what a decision should be.” 

According to Mamut, it’s crucial that product managers have “the courage to make leap-of-faith decisions, even when the decision is unpopular or the data is ambiguous or non-existent.” As central as the data may be, there are some problems only a human can tackle—and PMs can’t be afraid to take on that responsibility.