Listening Is At The Core Of Good Product Management

Scott Gartenberg is an NYC product manager with PracticePanther, a legal practice management software that allows law practices to manage their work. This article originally appeared in Scott’s Working in Product newsletter. We’re sharing it to explore the best practices and philosophies that drive product managers today.

Tupac Shakur once said, “If you let a person talk long enough you’ll hear their true intentions. Listen twice, speak once.”

I firmly believe that being a good listener is a huge asset for product managers. It might sound counterintuitive because PMs are supposed to be the “idea” people and can be good resources as they guide GTM strategies and help with internal training for an upcoming feature release. PMs need to (and are expected to) be good communicators.

But at the end of the day, PMs need to make calls on sprint scopes, prioritization and roadmaps. These decisions are best informed by context. Simple awareness of what is important and what is not. This awareness and understanding of context does not come from your own head. It comes from having a real pulse on things. This is a great example of why product management is both an art and a science, which I touch on here.

PMs need to (and are expected to) be good communicators.

To be frank, I believe I have a very good pulse on what is important for customers and important for the business. And I think this pulse has really been derived from listening very, very closely when both customers and internal stakeholders say something. On customer calls, I listen more than I speak. In high level internal strategy meetings, I listen more than I speak as well.

Just like you can gather an understanding of what features are really important to customers to solve their pain points (vs. which features are merely “nice to haves”), you can gather an understanding from company executives about what things are top of mind. Where is the business doing well right now? Where does the business need a little bit of help, and what is it that I can do in my role to assist (AKA what changes can we make to the product that are aligned with our KPIs)?

I pay particularly close attention when assessing parts of the product that are directly tied to monetization. Whenever money is directly attached to anything, you are bound to have many voices and differing opinions, and this can also mean differing incentives internally. I view it as my job to separate the forest from the trees and parse out what is objectively a priority for the business. There are frequently internal feature requests that we could work on at any given time, all of which add value. As a product owner, it’s important to distinguish between what is needed right now vs. what can wait. I’ve found that many, many feature requests can wait.

Overall, the point I want to drive home here is that PMs have a unique amount of visibility across the organization. This is a major advantage to help make decisions about priorities, timing, and the general state of the business. If you aren’t listening closely, you are missing the context that is so necessary to guide product strategy and implementation decisions. Listen up!