Which one are you (or do you want to be)?

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Almost every time I do an AMAspeak at a conference or teach a class to aspiring Product Managers, I get a form of this question:

What skill sets do you think are mandatory for Product Managers in technology?

The question is a good one, but is far too broad for a tweet-length reply. For that reason, I’m dedicating this post to starting the conversation.

First, we’re going to take a step back and look at the different types of Product Managers I’ve seen in my career before sharing the skills (while not quite mandatory) that I see as incredibly important and correlated with success as a Product Manager.

Keep an eye out too for an upcoming talk at Product School’s DC launch on the topic and a webinar that goes into even more depth!

Finally, I’ve borrowed parts of this blog post from my book, Building Digital Products (2nd Edition). If you’re an aspiring, a new or even an experienced Product Manager looking to level-up, I’d suggest grabbing a copy!

Building Digital Products (2nd Edition): The Ultimate Handbook for Product ManagersWe’re sorry. This preview is not currently available on this browser. In the meantime, you can read on one of these…read.amazon.com

What Does a Typical Product Manager Look Like?

One of the most interesting aspects of the Product Manager role is that people with very different backgrounds can succeed in very different ways.

However, there are some more common Product Manager archetypes that I have observed and would like to share to illustrate the breadth of personalities and skillsets in this career.

This is by no means an exhaustive list and Product Managers come in many, many, forms. Some may not even have the title Product Manager.

The 5 Different Types of Product Managers

1. The Technical Product Manager (TPM)

The Technical Product Manager was almost always a developer before they moved to Product. They also weren’t just a developer, they were one of your best developers.

As a developer, they understood what could be shipped quick and dirty and what was worth investing significantly more development time on. They had a product manager’s instinct even before moving to Product.

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The Technical Product Manager is an incredible asset for every Product team. What they may lack in strategic insights or marketing aptitude, they make up for with their ability to build strong relationships with developers and maximize team output.

Most Often Found at Companies Like: Google, Microsoft, Amazon (AWS), PagerDuty, Cybersecurity, DevOps Companies

2. The Analytic/Data Science Product Manager (APM)

The Analytic Product Manager is a close cousin of the Technical Product Manager (TPM). There is a large amount of overlap between the two archetypes.

While the TPM was almost always a developer prior to entering Product, the APM was almost always an analyst or on a data science team before moving to Product. Again, not just an analyst, but the strongest analyst your company had.

They not only were experts at SQL, Python or Multivariate Testing, but they understood the power of their recommendations to influence business decisions.

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Being an APM/GSD-PM (see below) myself, I can share that most APMs find themselves frustrated only being able to recommend product decisions. They move to Product in order to move beyond the simple recommendation to the actual execution of business-changing decisions.

The APM is typically the most informed Product Manager about the performance of their products and the other products of the company. They love data and can never get enough.

Most Often Found at Companies Like: Palantir, Looker, Plaid, ML-Heavy Companies

3. The Marketing Product Manager (MPM)

The Marketing Product Manager has an innate understanding of the end customer. They know their customer’s goals, their personas, and their purchase motivations.

Often, MPMs have a background in advertising, PR, or other marketing areas. It’s obvious to the MPM which features will sell a product and which ones are irrelevant to the majority of users. They’re cognizant of the power of marketing and how it can make product strengths appear bigger and product weaknesses seem non-existent.

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The MPM is an essential member of the Product team throughout the launch cycle as a new Product is brought to market. They’ll help with positioning, pricing, and targeting in a way that no other product manager can.

Most Often Found at Companies Like: Intercom, Hubspot, Toast, Allbirds

4. The “Get Shit Done” Product Manager(GSD-PM)

The Get Shit Done Product Manager is an interesting variation on the product manager that is significantly more rare than the TPM, APM, or MPM.

The GSD-PM is a hard charger, they don’t take no for an answer, and are intensely focused on delivery at all costs. This Product Manager may burn bridges, make enemies, and work their development team to the brink, but they’ll achieve their goals.

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There isn’t room for a GSD Product Manager at every company.

For the above reasons, this type of Product manager is often only found at high-growth/high-intensity startups and the rare, still hard-charging, late-stage, private companies.

Most Often Found at Companies Like: Lime, Bird, Uber (Kalanick era), Facebook (Early Years)

5. The Visionary Product Manager (VPM)

The Visionary Product Manager is the rarest variety of Product Manager. The VPM positions themselves above the day to day tactical execution that most other Product Managers are consumed by. They have an innate understanding of their company, of the market, of their customers, and of potential customers.

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Many VPMs are or were founders of startups. They think in three-year timelines instead of three-month ones. They aren’t just focused on this product release, but how it impacts the vision they have for the company.

VPMs are best pairedwith GSD-PMs who can help maketheir vision a reality.

Most Often Found As: Founders of Seed Stage Startups

What Successful Product Managers Have in Common

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Whatever type of Product Manager you are, there are several common traits that (almost) all of the most successful Product Managers have.

  1. Extreme Generalists: They have enough skills to be dangerous in many, many, many different areas, but are only true specialists in a few. They’re able to flex the right muscles at the right time.
  2. Masters of Prioritization: The highly effective Product Manager is running a business, not just a product, and that business requires constant adjustment. They are always thinking of new opportunities and weighing those against the priorities of the past, even if that past was yesterday.
  3. They Say “No” a LOT: The highly effective Product Manager says “No” at least 10 times as often as he or she says “Yes”.
  4. Passion for the Product is Impossible to Miss: A highly effective Product Manager has a palpable passion for their product(s). If you aren’t thinking about your product when you wake up in the middle of the night, you aren’t a highly effective Product Manager.
  5. An Adaptive Focus on the Past, the Present, and the Future: A highly effective Product Manager knows the right amount of time to spend on the past, present, and future and when to shift their focus between these areas.
  6. Constant Evangelist: A highly effective Product Manager is always selling their product(s). A highly effective Product Manager actively seeks out the people that will provide them the highest quality feedback wherever they are: at a conference, at meetup events, or on the street.
  7. Constant Learner: A highly effective Product Manager is always learning. If they see a weakness in their skillset, they fill it. The highly effective Product Manager doesn’t know everything, but they attack their shortcomings at the right time to deliver the right decisions for the right product.

Want more on these common traits? Check out my post on the “7 Habits of a Highly Effective Product Owner”:

The 7 Habits of a Highly Effective Product OwnerAuthor: Alex Mitchellmedium.com

*Note: I use “Product Owner” interchangeably with “Product Manager” in the above post.

Which Product Manager Type Are You?

So, after reading through my list, which type of Product Manager are you? Or are you a hybrid of a few? Or are you a type that I completed missed? Let me know in the comments or at @amitch5903 on Twitter

Product School Talk on This Topic

I recently gave a @productschool talk on this very topic. Check out those slides here: Great PMs Can Come From Anywhere


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