The Skills You Need To Thrive In Product

The product industry continues to grow at a staggering pace.

Whether you’re interested in a career in product design, product marketing, or somewhere in between, there’s likely a role for you, and in almost any industry or vertical you can imagine.

But there are a few qualities one needs to succeed in a product career, as we discussed on the Better Product podcast. With focus and introspection,  you can identify these skills yourself, and sharpen them to thrive as a product professional.

The Foundation: A Product Mindset

While each product discipline will have its own specific set of requirements and hard skills, one thing is essential to learn for success: the product mindset.

The product mindset is a blend of several attributes. Central to it, though, is one’s ability to recognize and embrace good taste—that way, you know and can execute what makes a great product.

In addition to good taste, the product mindset is fundamentally focused on all disciplines that contribute to a digital product.

If you’re a product manager, for example, you can and should focus on growing your skills as a product manager. But don’t silo yourself. As a product manager, the decisions you take on a product roadmap become stronger when you take the time to learn product marketing principles like positioning. In that way, you can choose to add features or introduce updates based on the benefits the product is supposed to deliver—not unnecessary bells & whistles.

Tips for Cultivating Good Taste

This American Life creator Ira Glass once said, anyone who does creative work tends to get started because they have good taste.

But—at least in the beginning—there’s a gap between what you imagine and what you can do. Your skills need time to grow before they can match what you can dream up.

Glass shared his thoughts on taste in a broad context, too. He was speaking to any kind of creative work. In tech and in product, the standards are constantly evolving. By the time your skills reach a specific benchmark, the industry may have moved on entirely to new trends and expectations.

So, what’s an emerging product professional to do? You should seek to cultivate good taste itself. In doing so, your work to up-skill will transcend the trends and focus on the principles that tie great products together. This understanding comes from interacting with products every day, and by asking intentional questions when you use them:

  • How does great product messaging work together with visuals to create an unforgettable product brand?
  • What attributes of product design improve user experience, and why?
  • Does the product reflect what the company promises it will accomplish in its product marketing? If there’s a disconnect, what should the company do—in the product or the marketing—to close the gap?

Must-Have Tactical Skills

As you embark on your journey to cultivating good taste, there are also several specific skills we recommend growing.

1. Embrace critical thinking. Few contributions in product have clear start and endpoints. What your single MVP looks like, and how your company operates around it, will look much different from when you scale. At that point, you could have an entire family of products to manage.

In your product work, you have to think critically about what your product needs, when, and why. The approach can’t be one-dimensional, either. You have to balance stakeholder perspectives with those of your users and buyers.

2. Work across disciplines. This can be easier said than done, depending on your company and the structure of your team. But to thrive in the area of product YOU own, you should aim to at minimum be aware of best practices in other disciplines.

If you’re a product marketer, for example, reading about UX best practices can support a deeper understanding of your product as you interact with it. That way, you can better understand the reasoning behind product design decisions and know what parts of the user experience you need to communicate to your audience.

3. Check your ego to overcome insecurities. Don’t tie yourself to your product features. Product is a highly visible and impactful part of a business, so the process of creating any product will inevitably involve critique—from your product peers and from stakeholders.

Remind yourself that criticism is key to making the right strategic decisions about a product. By removing your own interests, you create a safeguard against ego, which can blind you to what your buyers and users actually need from your product.

Summary

There’s no one path to a career in product. Much of what you have to learn to be successful will depend on your chosen discipline, the structure of your organization’s product team, and your company’s growth stage.

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