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How to Advance Your Product Management Skills

November 11, 2021

Product managers play critical roles in the life cycle of new products. That basic description sounds simple enough. Nonetheless, conceptualizing, planning, pricing, launching, and marketing a viable product requires a broad array of product management skills.

A fusion of technical, business, and soft skills make new products come to life. Orchestrating product development projects is rewarding, challenging, and change-making. In our world of specialization, we are often strong on some skills while less so in others. Some characterize this as a “skills gap,” but we prefer to see it as an opportunity. An opportunity to grow professionally and help shepherd the growth of those you lead and the products that emerge in the process.

Let’s examine these skills and how you can complement yours to become a world-class product manager.

Product Management Skills

Being a “generalist” sometimes comes, unjustifiably, with negative connotations, especially when it comes to product management skills. Yet, without a general proficiency in the diverse disciplines that bring an idea from vision to reality, a new product will likely bog down in the weeds before ever getting to market.

In a Medium article, product management consultant Kenny McQuarrie writes, “…great product managers simply have to be generalists. They may come from a specialist background, but the role dictates that they have (an) understanding of widely different areas.”

The scope of essential competencies includes:

Technical Skills

A product manager is a bridge between technical feasibility and the marketplace. Others on the team will have the specific technical expertise for building out a product. However, the product manager knows the contours of how it is done and the language to communicate that understanding. Empathetic to customer needs, they are skilled at translating what the end-user wants into technical specifications and features.

Business Acuity

What is the business justification for a product? Who is the target market? What is the marketing plan? These are some of the considerations necessary for making the all-important business case for a proposed product. The product manager must have the answers and be able to communicate them to all stakeholders.

Soft Skills

People skills are where, in many ways, the rubber meets the road, tying together all the elements of a project. Whatever the particular product is, it is essentially a human-oriented endeavor. From the development team, the business stakeholders, and ultimately the people for whom the product will serve, human skills are essential.

Some of these soft skills include:

  • Leadership and communication
  • Teamwork
  • Delegation
  • Decision-making
  • Negotiation and problem-solving

“It is impossible for anyone to specialize in all disciplines…at the same time,” says McQuarrie. Technical knowledge, business acumen, and soft skills coalesce into effective product management.

The study of product management captures the depth already acquired through previous experience and education, adding the breadth of knowledge expected of a competent product manager.

Merrimack College Product Management Program

Building on your existing expertise, the online MS in Engineering Management Product Management program at Merrimack College covers the range of skills you’ll use in your product management career. Designed for students with either STEM or business experience, the industry-aligned program employs a practical, experiential learning model, striking an ideal balance between theory and hands-on experience.

The flexible online format is perfect for working professionals, allowing ample opportunity for interaction with your classmates. Students are encouraged to share ideas. Instructors are also available for one-on-one dialog.

The curriculum encompasses three cores, including Data Science and Analytics, Business, and Engineering Management. Each core is nominally eight credits. A focus on either one of Life Sciences, Technology Products, or Software/Web/Mobile elective tracks earn another eight credits.

Through experiential learning, students gain the experience of a complete product development cycle, including:

  • Identifying a friction point in the market and conceiving, designing, and developing a product to satisfy that user’s need.
  • Developing product specifications for a range of products or product portfolios.
  • Creating a marketing plan using the latest data analytics tools.
  • Building the business case for the product idea.
  • Communicating the technical, strategic, and entrepreneurial goals of the project.
  • Leveraging available resources to meet business goals.

As a graduate of the program, you will have the specific skills of a generalist. You’ll use data and analytics, market insight, vision, and strategic planning to make products that save, serve, and enhance the lives of people. You’ll lead the teams that make it happen.

The online MSEM Product Management program at Merrimack College is a bridge for motivated professionals ready to take on the challenge and reward of successful product management.