Entering the product management field can be challenging, but growing as a professional within it is equally demanding. Yet some people manage to navigate the growth faster than others.

What separates them?

To find out which qualities the most effective product managers have in common, and how you can evolve your skills from good to great, we’ve gathered advice from these industry professionals:

Thanks to Kristen Poli for crafting this piece for GoPractice.

Kristen Poli is a product leader and tech journalist.

She previously held the position of product manager at Contently and was the product management lead at Curacity.

Her articles have been published in outlets like WIRED and Hackernoon.

What essential skills or qualities aspiring and junior product managers often overlook

Industry experts emphasize three often-overlooked qualities essential for success: 

  • a grasp of technical intricacies, 
  • a keen sense of skepticism, 
  • and conversational competence. 

Delving into backend software understanding, critically assessing underlying assumptions, and mastering customer interactions are pivotal in enhancing the depth and breadth of a product manager’s toolkit.

Ida Assayesh (PM, Google)

Technical Knowledge

Technical skills are critically underrated for PMs, and having a general understanding of backend software architecture will help you excel. If you as a PM can understand how your application is designed, organized, and structured, you’ll be better equipped to make smart product decisions. As a bonus, this will also help you to build trust and collaborate more effectively with your colleagues on the engineering team. Understanding the difference between major server-side components and how data is processed and stored between them will give you a huge advantage. If you know how a product is built, you’ll know how it will operate – and scale.

Ashley Allen (Head of Product, Contently)

Healthy Skepticism

I’d say analytical reasoning—or more specifically, the ability to identify and question assumptions. Every product decision, customer insight, and feature request is based on one or more underlying beliefs that may not have concrete evidence to back them up. A heightened awareness of others’ assumptions and (more importantly) your own assumptions can help you make better decisions, avoid confirmation bias, and encourage innovation. 

A healthy sense of skepticism is critical for PMs. It’s not only about questioning requests from users or pushing back on the HiPPO (Highest Paid Person’s Opinion), but also recognizing when you yourself have leapt to conclusions. The ability to separate assumption from fact will help you to avoid overlooking critical signals from your users (and the market).

Meagan Jaskot (PM, Slack)

Conversational Competence

Even if you have a dedicated UX team or research division within your company, you’re still likely to find yourself leading conversations with customers often. Developing a journalistic mindset and learning how to lead interviews like a pro is an essential skill for product managers. Establishing context for every customer conversation, learning how to listen for customer problems, and asking the right questions will take you far. The best way to get better at interviewing is to practice – I recommend making interview templates whenever possible that outline your goal for each conversation and list the key questions you’d like to ask.

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What skills or qualities have become more important for product managers over the years

Modern product managers are increasingly recognized for their proficiency in data analytics, emphasizing the importance of being data-driven and having the capability to source, interpret, and analyze data effectively. This analytical approach tends to carry more influence in decision-making. 

In addition, the rapidly changing landscape demands product managers to exhibit adaptability, balancing both strategic and tactical thinking. They need to maintain an acute awareness of evolving user needs, market trends, and ensuring the right product-market fit. 

Also, having domain expertise stands out as a valuable trait. Deepening one’s understanding of market dynamics and industry-specific trends not only aids in comprehending user needs but also in identifying potential growth opportunities.

Ida Assayesh (PM, Google)

Data Analytics

Being data-driven and having high-level analytical skills is really important. I’ve found that the more that PMs can understand how to source, interpret, and analyze information, the more successful they’ll be. More and more, I’m seeing roles that require interfacing with dashboards and doing some of the analytical work that would have previously been outsourced to engineering or business intelligence departments. At my organization, PMs who make decisions with data over their intuition have more influence than those who don’t.

Ashley Allen (Head of Product, Contently)


Product managers must be able to think strategically and tactically, and know when to lean in which direction. Part of the job is big-picture and requires a constant awareness of changing user needs, marketplace trends, and product-market fit. On the other hand, a PM’s insights need to be translated into discrete pieces of engineering work with a well-defined scope and measurable KPIs. A great PM can move easily between these two ways of thinking.

Meagan Jaskot (PM, Slack)

Domain expertise

Having an understanding of the market is key. I’m noticing that companies are keen to hire PMs who are experts in specific industries or verticals, so product managers who invest in understanding the driving forces behind major trends will continue to have the upper hand. Understanding the market helps product managers get to know their user base better; while you don’t necessarily need a ton of background knowledge to empathize with users, it certainly helps when identifying issues and follow-up opportunities.

What separates a good product manager from a great one, and what strategies can help PMs excel

Product management excellence revolves around the art of collaboration and genuine product usage. Building strong cross-functional relationships, especially without overshadowing the expertise of other departments, proves fundamental. Moreover, being an actual user of the product amplifies understanding and connection with target audiences. 

Time management emerges as another crucial facet, with an emphasis on treating time as a valuable currency and making informed decisions swiftly, even in the face of uncertainties. Balancing evidence and intuition, coupled with a deep-seated empathy for both customers and internal stakeholders, further defines the nuances of outstanding product management.

Ida Assayesh (PM, Google)

Don’t Co-opt – Collaborate

In my view, there are two things that make a really great product manager. The first is the ability to build and maintain strong cross-functional relationships, especially with UX and engineering departments. I often see PMs trying to be designers and making mockups on their own, or being overly prescriptive when writing technical requirements for engineering–and there’s no quicker way to lose your team’s trust. Product managers can really excel when they’re taking advantage of their partners’ expertise and respecting their boundaries.

Become A Power User

The second thing that excellent PMs often have in common is that they’re users of the product themselves. It makes a huge difference. I used Google Drive well before I started working on product initiatives for the Drive team, and my own experiences with the software have inspired a lot of my work. When you yourself are a user of the product, you don’t have to spend excess time getting into the mindset of your target audience. When you love the product, it’s easy to understand the psychology of other users–and stay motivated to make the product even better.

Ashley Allen (Head of Product, Contently)

Invest Your Time Wisely

I’ve found that most of product management boils down to smart decision-making. A good PM is a master at managing priorities for engineering and design teams–but a great PM is just as methodical about their own time management. Great PMs view their time as a currency and decide how much to invest in each decision. 

A good PM will do due diligence to fully validate and scope a feature, but a great PM will categorize and assess the risk of moving forward without full validation. Great PMs know that complete certainty is impossible, and as a result, get really good at finding–and quantifying–their certainty before making decisions about scope. This allows them to strike while the iron is hot and learn in context (through user interviews, prototypes, or live features).

Meagan Jaskot (PM, Slack)

Balance Evidence and Intuition

It sounds really simple, but I think that a great product manager is one who’s really attuned to the problem they’re trying to solve. Great PMs are able to balance their intuition about what the market needs with learnings from customer conversations, conclusions drawn from data analysis, and company goals and initiatives. 

Build Empathy

The best PMs I’ve worked with also lead with empathy – and not just for customers, but for internal stakeholders as well. Great product managers empathize with engineers who may be accumulating tech debt while building new features. They also show empathy for customer success managers, who are often the first to encounter (and troubleshoot) customer pain points before relaying them to the product team. 

What differs outstanding product managers and what you can learn from them

Top-tier product managers prioritize team building, valuing collaboration over competition. Embracing open communication, they often excel in listening and articulating complex ideas simply. These leaders also exhibit critical reasoning, adeptly moving between hypothetical scenarios and practical solutions. 

Their influence extends across organizational boundaries, leading without relying solely on position-based authority. Furthermore, they demonstrate communication finesse by adapting their messaging styles, ensuring clarity while addressing diverse audiences, and rooting their discussions in tangible problems to streamline decision-making and development processes.

Ida Assayesh (PM, Google)

Encourage Teamwork

The best product managers I’ve worked with are experts at team building. They include and inform stakeholders and partners at every stage of a product’s design. There’s a myth that PMs have to be competitive or even cutthroat to succeed, but all of the best product leaders I’ve encountered have been collaborative, optimistic, and grounded in their work. They’re typically great listeners and expert communicators. One of my mentors has a background in creative writing and was really gifted at creating well-thought-out documentation. Intentional and open communication is so important for product leaders.

Ashley Allen (Head of Product, Contently)

Practice Critical Reasoning 

I have definitely worked with outstanding PMs. They are inquisitive, open to ideas and feedback, and have a bias for action. Product managers need to keep things moving and be direct about solutions; however, they also need to have the ability to think abstractly. Having the ability to move between the hypothetical and the practical is a key attribute of a truly great PM.

Additionally, great PMs are excellent organizational influencers. They stand out as thought leaders – among fellow product managers, engineers, stakeholders, and clients. Being able to lead without organizational authority sets great PMs apart.

Meagan Jaskot (PM, Slack)

Tailor Your Messaging

I’ve met a number of excellent PMs over the years, and a common thread between them is that they’re great communicators. As a product manager, you’re regularly interfacing with tons of folks who communicate very differently from one another, so it’s important to meet people where they are in terms of messaging. The best product managers also avoid overcomplicating things–by keeping communications simple and anchoring each new feature to an unsolved problem, you can make prioritization and development more streamlined across the entire organization.

Illustration by Anna Golde for GoPractice