Product management is the most contradicting of all professions.  Product Managers (PMs) need to be product experts and perpetual students.  They are accountable for the business with the limited tool of influence.  They must be creative, articulate multimedia marketers, and yet able to speak technology, finance, and legal-ese.  No wonder there are so few great Product Managers.

After 20 years researching and working with all types of Product Managers, it is evident what distinguishes a good Product Manager from a great one.  Here I boil it down to 7 key attributes:

1. Great Product Managers know their product but also knows their own limits.

Obviously, a PM needs to know as much about the product as possible including the customers and their use of the product, the competition, the pricing, etc.  This doesn’t mean that the PM should know the details of the code or database schema.  Nothing ticks off engineers like a know-it-all PM.  Yes, the PM should be aware of the overall architecture, what language or toolkit was used, any standards supported, and interoperability requirements.  However, leave the development details to the pros.  A PM will be more respected for it.

2. A great Product Manager listens first.

A PM’s job is to evangelize but the biggest failure in doing this is to assume too much about your audience.  Engage and educate people by listening to them first.  A great PM will find out specifically what their audience wants to know and the best way to deliver it.

3. Great Product Managers ask why, not what.

Great PMs know not to jump on every suggestion made for a product enhancement or pricing adjustment. They ask why the change is important before expending valuable time and resources. Only the answers to “why” can expose if there is already a less obvious solution or if there are other ways to address the opportunity.

4. Great Product Managers are decisive.

PMs must make decisions regularly and as such, they should be firm and ready to defend their decisions.  Great PMs get data when it’s available and if not, they acknowledge that it is the best decision under the circumstances. They also are prepared to change their decision if more information becomes available and the change is yet positive.

5. Great Product Managers are responsive.

Let people know that you aren’t ignoring them. When unresponsive, people assume you are unorganized, pretentious, or incapable.  Great PMs are conscientious about their own image and reputation as they are about their product’s.

6. Great Product Managers communicate frequently, concretely, and concisely.

The hardest talent may be to say a lot with only a few words.  A great way to do this is to use charts, graphs, and other pictorial representation of complex information.  Another way is to spend time becoming a great writer and speaker.  These are not natural gifts but rather practiced arts which when mastered, are the means to gain and sustain attention and credibility.

7. Great PMs manage passion.

Passion is critical and can’t be faked.  However, too much passion is annoying.  Great PMS are enthusiastic but they don’t lose an honest perspective that not everyone agrees that their baby is beautiful.  Great PMs never lose their temper at a colleague or superior.  They are the ever level-headed negotiators and influencers.  Their opinions are strong but they also strive to obtain win-win.   This is an art form as much as it is a personality trait but great PMs have the confidence to do the right thing and do it with style.

Author: Formerly a CMO for a public company, Dver is chief executive for Mint Green Marketing which consults for companies ranging from large multinationals to small startups. In 2007, BusinessWeek recognized Dver as one of 8 female entrepreneurs to watch.  She authored the well-endorsed books, “No Time Marketing” and previously, “Software Product Management Essentials”. A featured columnist for Software Magazine, she has also been published in Forbes, BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, Promo Magazine, and dozens of others. Ms. Dver regularly presents at venues including The World Diversity Leadership Summit at the UN, The Women’s Congress, The American Marketing and American Banking Associations, and Strategic Management Institute.