Yes, I will tell you what this skill is; however, do you think that you can guess it before I do? I’m sure that you can come up with the standard list of leadership skills that every product manager has (or at least should have): able to deal with pressure, able to lead people, vision, positive attitude, creativity, etc.
However, those would all be good to have, but none of them would be the #1 skill that a product manager needs to have. Give up? The answer is …
The ability to make good decisions is the #1 skill that any product manager needs to have because making decisions is such a large part of what we do each and every day. Two well known business thinkers / authors also agree with me: Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis.
Noel and Warren say that judgment can be broken up into three different sets of skills: picking who will be on your team (people), picking what challenges you take on (strategy), and picking what to do when tough times hit (crisis decisions).
People, people, people. Decisions about which people a product manger is going to interact with and have on his / her team are THE most important decisions that they will ever make.
Don’t believe me? Then maybe you’ll believe Jack Welsh who said that the thing that he failed at the most during his storied career was moving too slowly in making people judgments even when he had all of the data that he needed.
Tichy reports that when he’s giving speeches he’ll ask the audience what the worse judgment that they every made was and invariably about 75% of the people will say that they were about people. If a product manager can get the right people on his / her team, then they have solved more than half of the problem.
Next comes what product strategy a product manger wants to pursue. In our world, more often than not this comes down to picking what types of customers we want to go after with our products.
Our sales teams are all too often filled with salespeople who will happily go after every customer that they can get a meeting with. However, this is a great way to waste time until all of the money is gone. Picking the right customers from the get-go and going after them aggressively is what a good product manager makes happen.
Bad things happen and a product manager who is ready for them is a product manager who has real-world survival skills. When the whole world seems to have flipped upside down (like when the stock market drops 700 points in a single day!), a product manager who can remain calm and still make good decisions is worth his/her weight in gold.
Now this ability is probably as much an art as it is a science; however, at the end of the day it always requires that the product manger know all of the available facts about the situation. To put it simply, the ability to collect the facts is one of the simple secrets behind a product manager’s ability to make good judgments.
How good of a job of making judgments do you think that you do? Do you feel that people, strategy, or crisis decision making is your strongest skill? Have you ever made a bad people judgment? What was the result of this judgment? Leave me a comment and let me know what you are thinking.