Mastering the craft of product management is no easy task. Much of the literature that defines the role as the intersection of business, technology, and user experience isn't particularly helpful for practitioners who are left wondering what skills they need to learn versus the fine people they work closely with in actual business, technology, and user experience roles.
I instead define a product manager as driving the vision, strategy, design, and execution of their product. Each of these four dimensions has specific responsibilities as well as skills needed to be great at it.
It's equally important for product managers to think about each of these four dimensions as having a concrete set of deliverables. Too often product managers perform the activities associated with each of these deliverables, but may not do so as rigorously as they could to maximize value. When you instead think of them as concrete deliverables you then can look for exemplars of greatness for each as well as hone your craft around each of them.
I wanted to share what I believe are the top ten most important deliverables for product managers across each of the four dimensions of product management. In doing so I hope to help demystify what you actually do in the role, provide a framework for assessing what dimensions of the role you are already good at delivering against, and opportunities for improvement on each. While I should write an entire essay on the best practices associated with each deliverable, I'll instead focus for now on introducing each of them and providing a perspective on why they are important.
Product managers most often reach out to me for advice when they are in the midst of contemplating their next role. In our discussions, we talk about all the usual things: their ultimate career aspirations; their understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses and the skill gaps they hope to fill; as well as the specifics of each role they are considering, including scope, responsibilities, title & compensation, and manager. But the one conversation that people often tell me they find uniquely insightful is our discussion on finding product culture fit. So I wanted to share my thoughts on this more broadly.
James Clear's Atomic Habits provides a compelling rationale for why frequently practicing small and easy to do atomic habits consistently compounds in benefit to ultimately generate incredible results. It then goes on to provide a comprehensive guide for reliably forming such atomic habits, regardless of the level of self-discipline or willpower you may naturally have. While many of his ideas naturally appeal to those seeking to develop lifestyle habits like exercising, losing weight, or quitting smoking, I found his ideas to be equally relevant for product managers looking to accelerate their career.
There is a whole host of skills that product managers seek to develop that can only truly be built through deliberate practice. This includes everything from honing your analytical rigor, to building your product intuition, to becoming more strategic. You can't just attend a class or read a few blog posts and expect to become great at any of these. At the same time, simply doing your product role the same way you've always been doing it is also unlikely to help you develop the specific skills you're after.
Instead, the formula for mastering these types of skills requires first developing atomic habits to encourage daily or weekly practice and then performing the habit with deliberate practice. For example, building your analytical rigor requires setting aside time every day to critically review dashboards and form hypotheses from the trends that you see, running weekly ad-hoc queries to deep dive into specific user behavior, putting together metrics recaps a week after every feature launch, as well as spending time each month determining how to improve or augment the dashboards you currently have. Yet the daily demands of a product management role are already so taxing that if you aren't already performing these activities, you'll find it difficult to incorporate them into your weekly routine. That's why to successfully build any of these skills you'll need to first develop the right atomic habits to support them. I wanted to share three of my favorite strategies for doing just that from the book.