Product Management: Hard Skills VS Soft Skills
We naturally assume that most jobs in tech require hard skills. A programmer must be able to code, a UI/UX designer must be able to design, a QA Engineer must be able to test, and so on. So, to a large extent, these roles are defined by technical skills.
But it’s not that simple in the case of product management. Unlike other disciplines, technical skills often fall back. In fact, hard skills are subjective of an organization but soft skills stay constant. It’s the soft skills that make you an excellent product manager.
But we will dig deeper of course. Let’s talk about the different hard and soft skills required in product management. And then talk more about hard skills vs soft skills.
Key Hard Skills in Product Management
1. Basic knowledge about product management
Product management is a broad discipline, there are many ways to break into product management. And of the many ways, learning about the basics is crucial. All the best practices in product management like conducting research, developing strategy, communicating plans, coordinating the development, and acting on feedback and data analysis are the key. In most cases, basic practices are limited, but product management demands more – you need to be familiar with various frameworks, processes, and methodologies.
You can join product communities to learn, collaborate, and share. There are more product resources available that will help. You can start with various product management frameworks – learn about the various strategies for generating product ideas, acquiring new customers, and delighting existing customers. After that, learn the product road mapping tool – it’s a must-have in a PM’s toolbox. Mastering these tools makes a PM highly effective in developing plans, coordinating, and communicating with the teams and stakeholders.
2. Basic business skills
You don’t need an MBA to become a product manager. However, knowing the difference between revenue and profit, budgeting, cash flow, and being able to read a profit-and-loss (P&L) statement are all examples of basic business skills.
As a PM, you must keep an eye on product development as well as other factors that may influence it. Imagine a stakeholder requests that you discuss revenue for specific products at a specific time or in the future. In that case, you’ll need enough business knowledge to be able to articulate all of the product’s details. When you can conduct this type of business analysis, your company will benefit more and everything will run smoothly.
3. Knowledge of Economics
You could say the same thing about economics. Again, you don’t need a degree, but if you already have one, that’s a plus. The fascinating aspect of product management is that it functions similarly to economics. Because you are constantly dealing with limited resources and looking for alternatives. You’d be short on either time or resources. Your economics skills will be put to the test in times like these.
As a result, when you understand the fundamental concepts of economics, you can simply handle things more effectively. Day-to-day concepts such as trade-offs, costs vs. benefits analyses, future consequences of current actions, and others will be introduced to you. As a result, having economics skills is essential for a product manager.
4. Research, data, and analytical expertise
It goes without saying – product managers should be data-driven. Although product sense does play a role, product roadmaps decisions shouldn’t be based entirely on product intuition. Insights obtained from data help PMs in making well-informed decisions. It aids in better understanding your customer and resolving the issue. It enables you to make decisions based on numbers and facts rather than gut instincts. Overall, data and analytical expertise help in better forecasting, marketing, business decisions, and other key strategic objectives.
In fact, product managers stated in Pendo’s 2020 State of Product Leadership report that their decision-making process is more reliant on data than instinct. So we agree that data and analytics are essential for decision making. However, in order for a PM to benefit from data, he or she must be able to conduct market research, use tools to complete the data, and then interpret the data to make sense. As a result, proficiency in data, analytics, research, and analysis is a critical hard skill in product management.
5. Technical development principles
This is another question like the MBA one. And we’ve gone over it in-depth here: Should product managers know how to code? In other words, should product managers have a technical background (like an engineering degree) if they are working on a technical product? And, as we discuss in the linked article, it depends. Assume you’re working on a product with technical users, perhaps from an engineering background. If you have a similar background, it will simply help you understand your user’s problem better. You’ll be more emphatic and communicate more effectively.
However, we kept bringing up the crux. That is, product managers should concentrate more on their primary responsibilities. Their top duties include researching the market, developing the product strategy, and communicating their ideas to the product team. So, when it comes to technical jobs, such as coding, you are not supposed to code the product. But, technical knowledge certainly helps and you’ll need that.
If you understand the jargon, you can communicate better with your team. You’ll be able to communicate the final product’s concept to your developers, and you’ll be able to predict the final product if you’re familiar with the technologies. That being said, you don’t need a technical background; it’s all about communicating with your team. You don’t need a technical degree if you understand the jargon that well. Because you want to be a product manager, not a developer.
Key Soft Skills in Product Management
1. Excellent communication skills
By far one of the most important skills. It is not just a soft skill, but overall having good communication skills play a major role in your career. PMs needs to translate their idea to different audiences – different teams, executives, stakeholders, and other decision-makers. For instance, you’ll be very confident in your product’s planned feature upgrades, as well as all of the complex details for the next iteration of your major epics and stories. However, if you begin explaining all of the details to the decision-makers, they will not respond as you’d have expected.
This is simply because they are in different positions and so do their priorities. They will mostly worry about the product’s strategic objectives only at the highest levels. How the product will help the organization achieve its goals, how it will affect the company’s bottom line, and so on. Therefore, true communication occurs when you learn to tell different sides of the same story to different people because they are concerned about different things.
The same is true for your developers, scrum masters, and everyone else. When you’re able to communicate in such a way that they start focusing on what’s important right now – everything falls into place. This helps in prioritization and productivity.
Similarly, when communicating with sales or marketing about the product, you must explain how the new feature or product will result in more leads/customers/downloads. You’ll need to communicate with people in their native language and understand what they’re worried about.
2. Good listening skills
Being a good listener entails being in tune with the project’s and team’s pace. As a PM you’ll spend a significant amount of time gathering data from various sources to help you make better decisions about how to steer and improve your product. You will conduct regular interviews with subject-matter experts about product details, market needs, competitors, customers, budgetary and resource constraints, and other key strategic details. All of this will require you to pay close attention. Listening might be one underrated soft skill – but it gives you tremendous power.
When you speak, you only tell what you already know but when you hear in silence, you discover all the insights you didn’t know. It’s the only way to make use of the information and data wisely. Being a good product manager, you can then synthesize what you hear to further project goals or team success.
3. Leadership without authority
Of course, a product manager’s position is also a leadership position. You must constantly guide people and inform them of the common goal. And if you’re credible and people respect you, everything is going to work smoothly. To do so, you need to establish trustworthy leadership that is free of authority and dominance. Here are some ideas to help you get there:
- Create a collaborative working environment. Make your team members feel important, and remember that no one is a one-man army. Make your workplace a happy place where everyone can contribute.
- As a product manager, you constantly need to share your ideas in a way that people are convinced and they see the benefit you are seeing. Therefore, convincing people is a great skill set. So whenever you’re proposing ideas, back them with data, research, and logic so that people can accept the ideas easily and share their insights as well.
- For leading without dominance, you will need some mix of persuasion also. If you need your listeners to understand and accept your ideas, you’ll need some convincing as well as persuasion skills. Sometimes, as a PM, only you can truly understand that a decision needs to be made for the product’s success. Therefore, there’s no harm here.
4. The ability to sustain the enthusiasm
This soft skill may appear unusual, but it will help you throughout the product cycle. As product development is a lengthy process, most team members are initially upbeat, but as time passes, people lose their enthusiasm.
Because the actual work required to build certain features is time-consuming, your developers may grow tired of the monotonous routine because it is, after all, a lot of hard work. Others may question the very need to build a particular feature. The decision-makers might question the budget and resources it’s taking. Even your customers may become impatient due to the length of time it takes to release the product.
However, you as a PM understand that everybody’s just lost the enthusiasm. So it’s your job to remind everybody that you’re on the right path. That the time, resources and hard work is going to be worth it when the product hits the market. Therefore, you need to keep cheering them, as well as try to help them to achieve the end result.
5. Prioritization and saying ‘no’
Knowing when to say no and concentrating on the most important tasks will allow you to be truly productive. Being a great product manager entails saying no to a lot of customer and stakeholder requests. However, as a product manager, you decide what should be included in your product and act accordingly. It takes a special skill to be able to prioritize and turn down everything else.
Many priority decisions benefit from objective prioritization frameworks. Working knowledge of these frameworks, as well as when to use them, is essential for a product manager. As a result, it is your responsibility to say no. To get to the heart of a problem for a customer, you must constantly filter, aggregate, and distill ideas. As a PM, you must carefully reduce everything else in order to return and save time on the product map. Therefore, prioritization is one hard skill that deserves to be included on this list.
Hard skills vs soft skills
Now that we’ve established the essential soft and hard skills in product management, let’s get back to the initial question of ‘versus’.
For that, we will need a definition of both.
“Hard skills are technical knowledge or training that you have gained through any life experience, including your career or education.”
“Soft skills are personal habits and traits that shape how you work, on your own and with others.”
Therefore, if you see the definition, some of the most important skills in product management fall into the soft skills category. This is because PMs work at the intersection between tech, business, and user experience. They collaborate with others to create a valuable product while also listening to all feedback.
So skills like communication, collaboration, leadership, and so on help you bring out the best in people, which compounds for building a better product.
While hard skills definitely play a vital role, soft skills are simply more vital in product management, to begin with. And you might not see this in job postings, because soft skills are difficult to quantify. Nevertheless, soft skills will make your job easier and you’ll enjoy a more fruitful career.
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