Building Great Products With a Highly Skilled PM Team – Secrets from a Product Leader

View our on-demand webinar, Building Great Products with Superior Product Management Skills, where we go into more detail on all of the tips below and provide you with actions you can take to develop a highly skilled, more effective product management team. Watch here.

As a product management leader, you’ve probably built some successful products yourself. And you probably gained a lot of the skills needed the old-fashioned way – by learning on the job, making mistakes, and having the occasional moment of inspiration.

But now that you’re leading a team of product managers, you want to be able to get them up to speed far faster, with fewer bumps in the road, and with fewer failures along the way. Fortunately, our profession has come a long way, and there are many more resources available to build an effective product management team far more quickly.

So, how do you get there? In this article, we’re going to focus on how to build the skill sets of each of your product managers. What are the skills they need to have and how do you measure them? How do you get them to rise to the next level of expertise?

What are the skills of a Product Manager?

This is an exciting role that requires working with a number of different teams inside your company and out. Product management requires a wide set of skills to be effective in building a great product, and working with all of the necessary stakeholders. In the table below, we list the 15 skills of a product manager, organized into the categories of foundational or “hard” skills, and interpersonal or “soft” skills, including leadership.

Product Management Skills Summary Table

Measuring Product Management Skills

To measure how strong a product manager is at each of these 15 skills, 280 Group developed a free assessment tool, which you can find here. The Assessment tool will ask questions to gauge strengths and weaknesses in each skill set, and then produces an individual report that explains how the product manager measures up in each skill set, and how he or she compares to the averages established by our Product Management Skills – Benchmark Report, based on the responses from over 1,650 product managers across the globe.

Growing Product Management Skills

Unfortunately, because many product manager leaders did have to learn on the job, they aren’t aware of how to accelerate this process for their teams. From my 15+ years of leading product management teams, I have found these techniques to be effective:

  1. Establish a learning culture
  2. Incorporate training and learning methods of various kinds to suit the team and individual needs
  3. Incorporate certification requirements to help challenge skill growth
  4. Schedule learning opportunities to coincide with the business cycles of your company and team
  5. Ensure that upcoming projects will allow PMs to utilize what they’ve learned right away

Establish a Learning Culture

The subject of a “learning culture” could be an article unto itself, but I like this simple definition for our purposes from CEB: “a culture that supports an open mindset, an independent quest for knowledge, and shared learning directed toward the mission and goals of the organization.”

To learn how to establish a learning culture, I highly recommend you read the Harvard Business Review article “4 Ways to Create a Learning Culture on Your Team.” Here’s a quick summary of the four ways:

  1. Reward Continuous Learning: for Product Managers, this means enabling your team to learn skills and become experts in their specialties for others to learn from, and to learn about their customers, competition and market. Reward these Product Managers by giving them the spotlight to share what they have learned.
  2. Give meaningful and constructive feedback: most Product Managers I have worked with appreciate not only positive feedback, but also honest feedback on how they can improve. Take the time to observe areas for improvement, and point these out regularly, not just at annual reviews.
  3. Lead by example: As a Product Management leader, you should have your own learning goals. One technique I use is to spend my learning time looking for topics and techniques that not only enhance my skills, but also advance the skills and knowledge my team member’s need to reach their goals as well.
  4. Hire curious people: for Product Managers, this is just a “must have” characteristic anyway! ‘Nuf said.

Meet the Team’s Needs with a Variety of Training and Learning Methods

For any team of product managers, you will find that different members learn in different ways, so you need to support a variety of ways to learn.

One of the most effective ways to learn is through training. According to Accenture, training helps people become 17% more productive, and leads to performance levels that are 20% higher relative to their peers with a 353% ROI on the training investment. If it’s done well, it provides several different approaches to learning, as mentioned above, and will use exercises to help deepen the learning during the course. Flexibility in training is also important – look for training that can be offered in-person, online, or even customized and delivered to your team onsite. Each approach accommodates different timing and travel needs, as well as different learning styles.

In addition to training, encourage and be open to your individual team members’ learning styles by supporting the use of:

  • Books – great list of PM books here
  • Online resources, such as blogs and articles
  • Webinars
  • Podcasts
  • Mentoring – learn more about this technique in our earlier article here
  • Seminars and conferences

The Power of Certification

While certifications are often considered a tool for personal career advancement, they also play a powerful role in supporting a learning culture. Just like when you were back in school, having to prepare for a big test is an important way to deepen learning. You prepare more rigorously then if you just have to “go to a training,” and not have to really retain the information long term.

Unlike in school, we’re not talking about cramming the night before the exam (you know who you are…). A proper certification administered by an independent body like the Association of International Product Marketing and Management (AIPMM) or Scrum.org requires more rigorous preparation that does indeed cement the learning.

Achieving the certification is certainly something you should recognize and reward. To go further as part of your learning culture, you can demonstrate your support by paying for the pursuit of certifications, and reward achievements with bonuses or pay raises that demonstrate a commitment to continuous learning.

Match Training with Business Needs & Cycles

When I was leading product management teams, this one took me a little while to figure out, but once I did, it really added power to our team. As part of your learning culture “radar”, when you can see upcoming business needs, you should help prepare your team to more effectively meet that need by setting up training, buying books, or finding webinars that will prepare them to meet the challenge more effectively. For example, if a division of your company has identified the strategic need to break into a new geographic market, identify ways to get your team up to speed quickly in that market.

This doesn’t just have to be a response to a new need – you should also identify your company’s annual business cycles and provide learning opportunities to prepare. If strategic planning happens every September, offer to send team members to a “mini-MBA” course on strategic analysis and formation in July or August.

Enable Quick Wins With Immediate Application

As mentioned earlier, one of the most effective ways to learn a new skill or tool is using it right away. If you’re following the previous recommendation, then this one becomes pretty easy to implement. Your team members will be well-prepared for the regular demands of the business cycles as they encounter them.

When an employee completes training for a specific skill, setup a project that allows them to put it into practice right away. This deepens the learning, and also justifies the need for the learning with great business results.

Want to Learn More?

In our on-demand webinar, Building Great Products with Superior Product Management Skills, we go into more depth on all of the tips in this article, to help you develop a highly skilled, more effective product management team. Watch here.

On-demand webinar

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About the Author

Roger Snyder - VP of Marketing
Roger Snyder is a Principal Consultant/Trainer, and VP of Marketing at 280 Group.
Roger has worked in the field of Product Management for over 20 years, with experience in startups, growth companies, and various technology sectors. He specializes in improving product strategy development, implementing full product lifecycle processes, and roadmap development and evolution.
280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.

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