A common theme in online discussions and forums around Product Management lies in how to level up our skills and be a better Product Manager. While there are a lot of different options available, just as there are as many different aspects of Product Management to focus on, there are some very specific areas that any given Product Manager can assess themselves in and decide what next steps they want to take to become a better Product Manager.
Not Technical Enough? Learn to Code!
I’ve mentioned many, many times that I don’t think that a Product Manager needs to be technical, but the honest truth is that if you’re working in software product development, it can never hurt to be a little bit technical. In my classes at General Assembly, I often tell my students that the bare minimum they need is to be “Wikipedia Smart” on technical subjects — that you should know and understand the first two paragraphs of the Wikipedia articles for whatever technology that you’re working with. And, most times that’s sufficient — you should be able to rely on your technical teams to educate you on specific issues and to do the heavy lifting so that you can make the right choice.
But there’s honestly something intangible that comes from playing around in code, teaching yourself enough to accomplish something, and going through the motions of taking something from ideation to design to implementation, testing, and delivery. And it doesn’t need to be anything fancy — one of my side projects is a randomizer for the Marvel Legendary card game that has 10k updates and is entirely text-based. It doesn’t look fancy, but believe me when I tell you that going through the development and support of that app has taught me a lot about development and testing that I honestly wouldn’t have picked up without experiencing it myself. When a user complains about a problem and you’re the only one who can solve it, you start to build real empathy for the challenges that your development and testing teams face on a daily basis.
And there are a ton of resources that you can use to gain some basic understanding of technology and coding…just to name a few:
Some are free, some cost money, some might even give you certifications at the end…but the point is to try to build something from the ground up. Trust me when I say you’ll be glad you did.
Technical Enough? Study Some Psychology!
But what if you already have some technical chops — how do you level up your Product Management game then? Well, on the other side of the PM coin from technical ability lie the soft skills that we use every single day to lead through influence. Now, there aren’t nearly as many programs online or in person that provide actual leadership training (though there are a few), but there are a great many books on the subject that you can read through and learn from. Now, I’m not talking about the kind of training you’ll get from a CSPO or CSM certification, I’m talking about topics that truly challenge even people with years of experience, topics like:
- Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)
- Negotiation Skills
- Facilitation and Coordination
- Running Effective Meetings
- …and many, many more.
There’s definitely a tendency with Product Managers to rely on the things they’ve done that have worked in the past, especially if you’ve been with the same company for awhile and have developed some very specific practices that lead to success in that organization. But nothing is guaranteed — and expanding those soft skills into uncharted territories just might provide you with a new set of skills and abilities that you can use to further your existing job or even to get a new one when the time is right.
Other Learning Options…
And in the broad spectrum between hard tech skills and soft people skills lie a ton of possible options for you to broaden your horizons and expand your abilities as a Product Manager. Maybe you can get your organization to spring for a Scrum or Agile certification program — that always looks good on your resume! Or maybe rather than drilling in on technology or soft skills you’d rather up your game with PowerPoint or Excel — again, tools that everyone uses, every day are always great fodder for extending your knowledge and abilities. Don’t limit yourself to the obvious options that most people focus on — there’s such a wide variety of tasks that Product Managers are required to do every day that really almost any kind of training or new experiences will significantly benefit you in the long run. But you need to first decide that it’s important enough to do it, then build that plan to make it happen.