From Jackie Bavaro’s simple and easy to digest Venn diagram of product skills to Tarigo’s product skills matrix, there are countless publications out there listing the skills that a product manager must have.

I decided to gather some data to understand from people in the product community how important they believe a range of attributes are. In reality, the options I provided in the survey are a mix of attributes and skills, so I will use the terminology interchangeably as the context requires.

The attributes

To determine the attributes, I used a combination of research into other posts on the topic (including those referenced at the top of the blog) and my own experiences working with and as a product manager in multiple companies. Here’s the six that made the cut.

N.B. I did not provide the survey participants with definitions of the attributes as I did not want their responses to be skewed in any way. The descriptions below are to aid my explanation of the work and the results.

Communication Skills

This encompasses several facets and needs to adapt depending on who you are engaging with, when, how, and why.

Who? Are you engaging with the development team? Leadership? Sales? Marketing? Operations? Customers? Suppliers?

When? Is this during a stand-up? A demo? A workshop? An all-hands? In User testing? At a networking event?

How? Are you presenting? Is it a casual discussion? A face to face meeting? A call? On Slack? Through an email?

Why? Are you trying to convince them of something? Are you telling? Asking? Ideating? Reviewing?

All of these factors impact how a product manager should communicate. Understanding and adapting to these nuances is what this skill is all about.

Commercial awareness

This attribute is about having an understanding of the financial drivers of the product, company, and wider industry and using it to inform product priorities. This attribute includes the ability to digest and understand financial data, create business cases, and use key commercial drivers to inform priorities, strategies, and the product roadmap.

Technical Knowledge

The ability to hold your own in discussions about solutions with developers and architects by understanding system architecture, knowing your way around an API, and understanding how the product is built. This attribute includes using this knowledge to make technical recommendations to solve business problems.

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For this skill, you must know that clouds don’t just carry rain. Photo by C Dustin on Unsplash

Strategic Thinking

This attribute relates to not just thinking about the here and now but ensuring that the current goals are delivered while also looking to the future. To do this, you must use knowledge and research of the customer, company, and competition to create a view of where the product is and should be. This is then used to create, and get buy in to, a product strategy which allows the product manager to make forward-thinking decisions and inform priorities.


This is the ability to be a structured and logical thinker that can take complex problems, break them down, and use them to derive pragmatic solutions.

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Product management is a bit like a Rubix Cube — if the colours kept randomly moving as you were solving it. Photo by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash

Industry expertise

This includes understanding the laws and regulations of the country and market that they operate in, the history of the industry, the competitors, as well as consumers and customers.

The survey

The respondents

Although I primarily surveyed product managers, I also received input from people in development, design, sales and marketing.

A pie chart showing the roles of the survey respondents
71% of respondents currently work as a product manager (or owner), with a further 8% looking to become one.

The question

I asked respondents to determine how important they feel a set of six attributes are using a Likert scale with answer options from ‘not at all important’ to ‘extremely important’.

“[A Likert scale question] is a question that uses a 5 or 7-point scale, sometimes referred to as a satisfaction scale, that ranges from one extreme attitude to another.”(Survey Monkey)

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I used a Likert scale with options from ‘not at all’ to ‘extremely’ important to determine the relative importance of each attribute

The results

To determine the ranking of the six attributes I looked first at the combined percentage of ‘extremely important’ and ‘very important’ selections and then the split between them. Lastly, I looked at the split across the categories to determine the deviation and see how strong the consensus was.

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Communication skills are the top-rated skill with 82% of respondents saying it is extremely important

Given that I chose 6 core attributes, it is unsurprising that the respondents felt the majority of them are very or extremely important to a product manager. However, there was a clear difference between the top 4 and the bottom 2 answers.

The top 4

Communication skills came out as the top-rated skill with 82% believing it is ‘extremely important’ and a further 16% saying that it is ‘very important’. That means only 1 person out of 49 feels it is only ‘somewhat important’ (the survey was deliberately anonymous so I can’t track them down and ask them to explain their thinking, unfortunately).

In second and third place, also with 98% of people selecting ‘extremely’ and ‘very’ important are problem solving and strategic thinkingProblem solving has a split of 67:31 for extremely: very and strategic thinking 47:51.

At four, and not far behind third, was commercial awareness with an extremely: very ratio of 23:65. The main difference is that 12.5% of people selected ‘somewhat important’ — I hypothesise that this indicates the varying nature of product roles across organisations and even within them.

Of the top four, there is clear alignment across the study that these are important skills. From speaking to several product managers and peers it seems that the slightly lower ranking of strategic thinking is due to different product managers having different levels of strategic responsibility and influence.

The bottom 2

There was less agreement with these attributes, with the full range of answers from ‘not at all important’ to ‘extremely important’ being offered for industry expertise, and four of the five options for technical knowledge.

Industry expertise and technical knowledge were as close to a dead heat as you can get — both had a combined ‘extremely important’ and ‘very important’ percentage of 41%, with 2% more people selecting ‘somewhat important’ for industry expertise but also 2% more selecting ‘not at all important’. I have given the edge to industry expertise but the key takeaway here is the clear gap between the first four attributes and the bottom two.

The conclusion

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The rankings as determined by the survey results, from least important (technical knowledge) to most important (communications skills).

This survey shows a clear gap between the top four and bottom two attributes, with an agreement across the respondents that communication skills are the absolute centre-of-the-earth core of a product manager’s skillset.

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Communication skills are the core strength of a product manager (get it?!)

How would you rate the importance of these skills? Do you agree with the sampled group or would you answer differently? What key skills am I missing that you’d have liked to see included?

Let me know in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.

I also discussed these results when I sat down with Jay Stansell and James Woodley earlier this year as part of the European Product Tour.

EU Tour #8 Product management: Art or Science? With Chris Miles of Product Coalition Product…Listen in as Chris Miles, Jay Stansell and James Woodley discuss the top attributes a product manager must have to succeed, according to Chris’s

Lastly, a big thank you to everyone from the Product Coalition Slack, Product School Slack, and BT Digital Team that took part in the survey. You’re all awesome.

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