16 Product Manager Skills For SaaS Product Management
To be a kick-ass product manager, you need a very diverse skill set.
This article explores both hard and soft skills that product managers need in their everyday work, so if you’re curious to learn more, dive right in.
- Hard skills, like technical knowledge, are job-specific and enable product managers to perform their core responsibilities.
- Soft skills, like communication or leadership, are more general and can be used in different contexts. They enable PMs to apply their hard skills effectively.
- Extensive market research is essential to assess the competitive landscape, identify opportunities, and shape the product vision.
- Data analysis is vital for informed decision-making. PMs need to know how to use product analytics tools to gain actionable insights.
- Product management involves analyzing user experience, so a product manager needs to be able to use a range of techniques to do it effectively.
- Identifying the key touchpoints and mapping out the user journey at all stages of the customer lifecycle is another essential skill.
- Thanks to prioritization skills, product managers make sure that the time and resources are allocated to the initiatives that deliver the biggest impact.
- User onboarding is key for users to realize the product value, so PMs need to be skilled at creating and optimizing onboarding experiences.
- To validate ideas, choose the most effective versions, or improve the product, a product manager needs to know how to run experiments.
- Agile is the most common development methodology, so PMs need to be well-versed in its principles.
- As roadmapping is a key part of the job, good PMs are competent users of product management applications that streamline the process.
- Among the soft skills, critical and strategic thinking, analytical skills, and a problem-solving mindset stand out. They’re essential for PMs to be able to make decisions and identify new opportunities for future growth.
- Robust leadership and communication skills combined with emotional intelligence are vital for PMs to navigate complex organizational landscapes and get stuff done.
- Want to learn how Userpilot can help you develop your PM skills? Book the demo!
Hard skills vs soft skills for product managers
What’s the difference?
Hard skills are the job-specific skills and technical expertise product managers need to perform the core responsibilities, like developing technical product specs, research, or project management skills.
Soft skills, on the other hand, are interpersonal or people skills that enhance a product manager’s ability to lead, communicate, and collaborate. They aren’t specific to product management and are equally important across various roles and industries.
Must have skills for a successful product manager
Here’s the breakdown of the key hard and soft skills.
Hard product management skills
Let’s start with the hard skills. These are the ones you can acquire through education and experience.
1. Conducting market research
To be able to do so, you need to have a good awareness of the industry trends and the competitive landscape and understand customer needs and wants. You also need to be able to recognize shifts in the market and identify new opportunities when they arise.
What research techniques should you be familiar with?
Formal research techniques include customer surveys, interviews, focus groups, and prototype testing. You can also gain a wealth of knowledge from secondary sources like industry reports and benchmarks.
Sometimes the most valuable insights come from informal sources, like review websites, forums, social media groups, or communities.
2. Data analysis and decision-making
It’s difficult to imagine the work of a SaaS PM without product analytics.
Analyzing product usage and customer behavior is vital to making informed product decisions and avoiding bias while tracking key performance indicators (KPIs) is essential to measure progress accurately.
Product managers are very lucky in this respect.
First, all user interactions with the product take place in the digital space, so it’s easy to track them.
Second, there are brilliant analytics tools available that enable you to track and analyze user behavior and extract actionable insights.
3. Analyzing user experience
One area where product analytics can help you massively is analyzing user experience, which is a big part of the job.
What exactly does it involve?
You have to collect granular insights about user interactions with the product to make the product more inclusive and intuitive. For example, you may have to conduct funnel analysis to identify touchpoints where users experience friction and then watch session recordings to pinpoint its root causes.
Most of the time, the analytics data needs to be paired with user interviews and surveys, for example, CES to obtain qualitative data on why users act in particular ways and how to make it easier for them to achieve their goals.
4. Understanding of user lifecycle concepts
Product managers need to be familiar with user lifecycle concepts.
For example, they need to understand the different stages a user goes through when interacting with a product, from awareness and acquisition to activation, retention, and referral, and what strategies to use to engage users at each of them.
5. Prioritization skills to drive product strategy
As a product manager, you get flooded with stakeholder and customer requests. On top of that, your team has got lots of brilliant ideas, too, and you’ve got to take care of technical debt in the meantime.
That’s why you need to know how to prioritize product initiatives effectively.
A big part of effective prioritization is being able to choose the right techniques and frameworks as this depends on the stage of the product life cycle, your development methodology (Agile vs Waterfall), and organizational goals.
6. User onboarding and experience optimization skills
Product management is not only about building new products but enabling users to realize their value.
That’s why PMs need to be skilled in developing onboarding experiences to drive user activation and product adoption.
Such tools not only allow you to create onboarding flows but also track their performance so that you can optimize them for better results.
7. A/B testing and product experimentation
One way to optimize your user onboarding – or any other aspect of the user experience, for that matter, is through testing and experimentation.
In fact, product managers run hundreds of tests at all stages of the product development process.
Hence, knowing how to set up different kinds of experiments to obtain valid insights is a key asset for a PM.
8. Understanding of the Agile Methodology
Although there are software companies that still use the Waterfall approach, Agile project management dominates the SaaS space. As product managers are in charge of the development efforts, they need to be familiar with the core Agile principles.
It’s easy to get a Scrum Master or Product Owner qualification. You can get certified over the weekend without much experience (like yours truly).
Does it mean you will know how to apply the framework consistently, coach your teams on how to use it, and persuade the key stakeholders that this is the best way to build the product?
Hell no! This comes with a lot of experience.
9. Product management and product roadmap software
Product managers own the roadmap: they need to create it and keep it up-to-date.
A lot goes into that, like prioritization or managing the interdependencies between features.
There are, however, product management and roadmapping tools that can make it a little bit easier.
Such tools improve speed and efficiency in creating product roadmaps by eliminating the need for manual reformatting or design work.
They also make it easier to share the roadmap with other teams across the organization to improve their alignment and avoid version control issues.
Soft product management skills
Soft skills are more subjective and linked to your personality. They are sometimes very difficult to define or identify in people. Yet, you will see immediately when somebody lacks them.
10. Critical thinking
Critical thinking is the ability to think clearly and rationally and understand links between ideas.
Why is important for PMs?
It allows them to question assumptions, determine the relevance and importance of evidence and ideas, and identify biases and errors. Thanks to critical thinking, product managers are able to assess situations accurately and make consistent decisions.
11. Analytical skills and strategic thinking
Analytical skills enable product managers to analyze and interpret data, identify patterns, and understand cause-and-effect relationships.
They are essential to understanding the competitive landscape, analyzing user behavior, and making data-driven decisions.
In simple terms, strategic thinking is the ability to assess the current situation, identify opportunities, and plan for the future.
PMs need it to develop a compelling product vision and product strategy.
12. Communication skills
Product managers collaborate closely with stakeholders and teams from across the organization, like the marketing team, engineering team, or sales team. All of them look at the product from a different perspective and speak a different ‘language’.
For example, senior leadership may speak mostly in terms of business success and show little appreciation of other aspects like the impact on users or technical feasibility.
To get things done, product managers need excellent communication skills to build bridges between the different domains and help them gain a shared understanding of their goals. This is essential to secure their buy-in and ensure they’re all pulling in the same direction.
13. Problem-solving mindset
The work of product managers involves a fair bit of problem-solving.
They need to be able to identify and define the problem, generate solutions, and implement the most effective ones.
But there’s much more to having a problem-solving mindset than mechanically going through the motions. It’s the willingness and ability to view challenges as opportunities for growth and improvement, rather than as obstacles.
14. Leadership skills
Product managers work with colleagues from other departments who may not directly report to them. Without direct authority, you can’t simply strong-arm someone to do stuff for you.
Even if you’re managing your own team, being able to inspire them and rally them behind the product vision is way more effective than simply pulling rank.
On top of that, PMs need to be skilled at organizing and managing the work of their teams. This includes assigning tasks and allocating resources.
15. Emotional intelligence
Product managers require superior emotional intelligence.
For example, you need this to empathize with customers to better understand their needs and pain points or put yourself in the shoes of senior stakeholders to get a grasp of their priorities.
It is also essential to lead teams effectively and maximize their performance. That’s because it helps you understand your team members and their motivations, and resolve conflicts when they arise.
16. Time management skills
Product managers have got plenty on their plates. To avoid distractions and get the important stuff done, they need excellent time management skills.
This involves prioritizing their tasks, categorizing their time, and allocating it to high-leverage activities while delegating the less important jobs to others.
A successful PM needs a balanced set of hard and soft skills. Some of them can be acquired in a formal way, through education and training, while others come with experience.
If you’d like to learn how Userpilot can help you develop your data analysis and customer research skills, book the demo!