How to Hire the Right Product Manager

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Hiring the right product manager may feel like a daunting task. It can be a real challenge to find someone with the right product vision, communication skills and leadership abilities who can then build great products for your organization.

The PM role is an exercise of balance. He or she needs to deeply understand technology, development and business goals, while still being a jack-of-all-trades and leading a cross-functional team.

Part coach, part team player, this individual can impact the UX, design, and dev team – just to name a few. He or she may even impact other business goals like forecasting and budgeting.

That is why there is no cookie-cutter way to fill this role. No one background is ideal and instead, organizations should look for someone with a balance of hard and soft skills.

The wrong hire can lead to product delays, lost customers, and wasted time and money. The right hire can dramatically improve your product offering and impact your bottom line.

Getting the right person for the right job isn’t always easy, but here are the traits to look for that make a difference.

A Strong Communicator

The best product manager have both technical skills, and people skills – especially when it comes to communication. All the technical knowledge in the world won’t matter if they aren’t great communicators and understand what motivates team members.

Because the PM will work across several teams, it is vital that he or she understands that each team may communicate differently. Some teams may prefer email, while others conduct business entirely on Slack.

Product managers need to be able to communicate with team members and stakeholders effectively to make for a smooth process.

Most business leaders believe that team communication skills have the biggest impact on the quality of the final product. PMs must keep team members informed of their work, and relay how it impacts others- while still motivating them to get the job done.

A Good Listener

The best product managers understand that you must be a good listener to understand exactly what people are, and are not, saying. This is especially true when building product for external clients.

Understanding the pain points, frustrations, and workflow of the end user can help the PM develop the best technology solutions. A good PM will spend time with the customer and ask unbiased questions to get at the heart of the issues. He or she will let answers to the questions and data lead to building a great product.

As a leader of many teams, the PM must also be able to listen to his or her team. Being able to listen to team members’ ideas and concerns is often the difference between success and failure.

Again, it is just as important to pick up on the things that aren’t being shared.  Often, the best ideas come from those doing the work. Great leaders know they don’t have all the answers.

A Visionary

In addition to designing the technology solutions, product managers have to provide a vision for the team. While the team has to focus on the incremental steps, the PM must stay focused on the bigger picture.

PM’s must be familiar with creating product roadmaps using tools like ProductPlan. These roadmaps create a visual illustration of their overall vision.

Being a visionary also means exploring multiple ideas to find the best solution. While it is easy to gravitate to the first idea, trying a few solutions can create the best end result.

The PM is also responsible for staying up to date on the latest technology improvements and exploring how they can be incorporated into the current tech. Great PMs are curious around what competitors are working on and how they are addressing similar problems.

The PM then shares his or her vision with the team and shows them how each tasks ties to the overall goals of the product and the company as a whole.

A Problem Solver

Laying out a plan is one thing. Figuring out what to do when things don’t go as planned is another.  Rarely do projects come together exactly as you dream them up. Great product managers are great problem solvers. They anticipate potential problems and navigate their way to solutions.

PMs have to be able to define problems, generate alternatives, evaluate each alternative, and implement solutions all while many other pieces may be moving. They also have to be able to solve human problems, like conflicts that seem to regularly occur between team members under pressure.

Managing team dynamics and resolving conflict is crucial to success. During the interview process, ask the candidates about times that they have had to overcome a setback and how they solved the issues.

The best responses will talk about how they may have had to take the blame themselves and were able to make decisions with little information.

A Confident Leader

While it can be very hard to uncover leadership ability in an interview, having a strong leader in the PM role is crucial. Because the PM will manage many different teams, there is no one-size-fits-all leadership style. Rather, PMs need to understand how to motivate, reward, and engaged several different types of people.

In addition to providing leadership during easy time, Product managers need to be experienced enough to handle anything that comes up.

Because there are often many moving pieces, it is important they are able to make decisions quickly and have d confident in their ability to get the job done. A lack of confidence can easily ripple through others and negatively impact an entire team causing second guessing, fear and ultimate poor product.

Rather, the PM should build chemistry and rapport between team members and get team members invested in the product.

A Key Team Member

The right product manager is a key position in your organization. Finding that person can prove to be more difficult than you think. Platforms like Toptal help organizations hire the right product managers for their specific needs.

Having a strong, cross-functional leader can be the difference between delivering great product on time, or projects being never ending and poorly scoped.

For example, one of the key responsibilities of the PM is to create a product roadmap. This roadmap outlines what will, and more importantly what will not, be built by the team.  While building this roadmap, the PM must balance end user priorities as well as internal needs and bandwidth issues. If the roadmap is too aggressive, the team may be burnt out and deliver bad product. If the roadmap is too lax, customers will not get the product or technology they need and may ultimately leave.

The PM must combine his or her knowledge of the team’s ability, with the needs of the end user and put together a plan to best serve both.

Additionally, the PM must be willing to say no. Often times other teams or even executives will ask for additional features to be added to the product. The PM must weigh if those asks are doable, or if they will threaten other projects.

This constant balancing and prioritization can help keep product delivered smoothly and not see costs get overrun.

Hiring The Right Product Manager

Hiring the right product manager is the first step towards a successful organization. The right PM will need to be incredibly organized and have an entrepreneurial spirit.  They must be ethical and transparent and entrepreneurial focused.  They must be good coaches and quick learners.

Finally, they must be adaptable and committed to getting the job done right. Finding someone that has all the traits and works will with others can be a challenge, but by interviewing candidates around the pillars above you will set yourself up for success.

Author Bio:

Matt Shealy is the President of ChamberofCommerce.com. Chamber specializes in helping small businesses grow their business on the web while facilitating the connectivity between local businesses and more than 7,000 Chambers of Commerce worldwide.