5 tips for becoming a successful product manager

5 tips for becoming a successful product manager

This post was originally published on April 20, 2017, and updated most recently on February 15, 2021.

Being a Product Manager isn’t easy. Day to day, you have to be a master at researching, planning, prioritizing, and forecasting, among other things.

Product Managers drive the strategy behind the product, but they can’t do it alone. They need the help of a lot of different stakeholders, colleagues, and customers.

Getting started as a Product Manager can be overwhelming, but we have five tips to help you put your best foot forward.

Product manager vs. project manager

Not just similar in name, these two roles have a lot of overlap that can be very confusing. In a good team, these two roles will work together very closely to deliver the perfect product in the end.

The product manager works to put together the overall vision of the product. That includes the resources, work to be done, and puts priorities in order. The project manager then builds on this foundation to keep it on track and on budget until delivery.

1. Align your product strategy with your company goals

Each company has an individual vision. No matter how great your product is, if it doesn’t match that vision, someone will be unhappy with you.

Figure out how your company measures success and how your product is supposed to support overarching business goals and objectives.

Take the time to understand what matters most to your executive team, and be prepared with hard evidence if you decide the best thing for the company is to shift strategies. Staying on the same page with your higher-ups is going to make your days a heck of a lot easier.

2. Talk with all kinds of customers

Your users are your greatest resource. The people using your product for real-world purposes will always have more insight into how effective your product is than you do.

While it might seem strange at first to reach out to customers directly, you’ll find that many of your most active users are happy to share their thoughts with you, especially if it leads to new features or bug fixes that solve everyday issues in their lives.

User testing and surveys are a great way to engage with customers and prospects to figure out how your customers interact with your product in real life. You’ll find that a lot of the assumptions you had about your users and how they work with your product are totally wrong. And, you’ll learn more than you ever could sitting around imagining what it would be like to be them. Don’t imagine; just ask.

3. Listen to your Sales and Support teams

Your Sales and Support teams talk to more customers than you ever will. Questions that might seem too broad to speculate on or require a lot of research can often be answered simply by sitting down with your nearest Sales rep and asking them what customers are thinking.

The same goes with support; if you’re wondering how users are using your product, what questions they have, and what your product’s pain points are, you’ve just found your product prophet.

4. Walk the walk: use your product

It’s one thing to have a high-level understanding of your product’s functions, capabilities, and limitations. But you’ll get a whole new world of insight if you actually use it.

Suddenly, functions that worked like a dream on paper will stop making sense when you’re faced with a real-world task. You’ll gain a lot of empathy for your customers, and you’ll have a better chance of seeing and correcting problems quickly.

5. Research lots of products, not just your competitors

Free trials are an amazing way to get to know all kinds of products out there on the market. Often, we get stuck in a bubble, thinking only of our direct competitors. We forget to look for inspiration outside of our own industry.

We can learn a lot from how other products approach problems. Never stop testing new products, and never lose your curiosity for how teams work together to build the things they do.

Next time you find a product or website you love, figure out what makes it so great. You can learn a lot about design, workflows, copy, marketing, and more just from regularly viewing beautiful websites. You can also learn a lot about what you don’t like.

Final thoughts

If you want to be a successful Product Manager, you’re going to need strong communication skills. You need to be ready and willing to collaborate regularly. And you always need to be looking for new insights from new angles.

Product managers are ultimately problem solvers. They need to gather as much information as they can to deliver the best solution possible, and they need to iterate their solutions as demands and conditions change.

What do you think are the most important skills for a Product Manager to have? Let us know on Twitter!

Brandi Gratis Brandi is a Content Marketing Manager at Nulab — the creators of Backlog, Cacoo, and Typetalk. She regularly contributes and edits content for all of Nulab's websites and blogs.