Making the shift from project- to product-based IT requires more than just an operational map of capabilities and the cross-functional teams that will own them. It takes an organization-wide shift in mindset that gets people thinking and working in ways that align with the client’s definition of value.

Salumeh “Sal” Companieh, chief digital and information officer of Cushman & Wakefield, has done exactly that since she signed on in March 2022 to lead the global real estate services company’s IT organization in a relentless quest to create better experiences for its clients.

“We have two major client-facing groups of professionals — Services and Advisory,” she says. “What we’re really trying to do, among those colleagues and our technology team, is create a closer proximity to the client demand.”

Many CIOs, for all their zeal in shifting to a product-oriented operating model, get mired in operational logistics at the expense of execution, often because they don’t know how to put the right attitude into action. For any CIO seeking to make good on the promise of product-oriented IT, Companieh offers three actions they can take to drive a client-centric mindset throughout the organization: Get closer to the client, think “experience,” and pivot without pause.

Get closer to the client — and the problem

In her first few months as CDIO, Companieh quickly established herself as a leader with an intense focus on client experience. Each time we spoke with Companieh, she was coming from a client meeting — a somewhat rare devotion from a CIO that we felt compelled to ask her about.

“Sitting in the CDIO seat, it’s very easy to tinker,” she said. “It’s easy to create roadmaps that sound great from a technology point of view, but that don’t take people’s experience or existing capabilities into consideration. The further you are from the ask and the client demand, the less likely you are to make an impact with your technology.”

When CIOs don’t attend important client meetings, they set up business partners to effectively craft solutions without the technology team. Instead, IT leaders and their teams should get closer to clients, Companieh says, in order to get a clear understanding of their problems.

“We get much better collaboration when we hear it from the client ourselves — whether that client is an internal one like an employee or broker, or an external company — and our people get the chance to understand the issue through all of their own lenses,” she says.

This shift is critical to product-oriented success. Organizations must break out of what Companieh calls “self-solve” culture, in which the business is put in a position to decide which technology solutions fit best. Instead, IT can have a more meaningful impact if your technologists have a deep understanding of not only the full spectrum of technology solutions that can address an opportunity, but also the relevant business operations and experiences.

To accomplish this, and establish yourself as a true business leader, you must assert yourself. Ask to join rather than wait for an invitation. The closer you are as a leader to the client or the operations of the business, the more opportunities you will have to solve problems — and those opportunities will always require close partnerships to help maximize the impact of the digital footprint.

Think ‘experience’

Another reason Companieh puts herself in front of clients is because technology increasingly serves as the connective tissue of the entire business. This wasn’t the case just a few years ago.

“When prop-tech first came out, it was about creating a lot of technology touch points,” Companieh says, referring to the technology the real estate industry uses to digitalize the way people buy, sell, market, and manage a property. “Now we’re starting to see many of those touchpoints converge into integrated experiences.”

Managing those experiences requires a tight link between IT and other parts of the business. To achieve this, Companieh has deployed three business information officers (BIOs), two for the revenue-generating Services and Advisory parts of the business, and one for enterprise-level internal efficiencies. Her BIOs operate in a two-in-a-box model, each working closely with a business partner to enhance a specific experience. When solving problems, BIOs pledge no allegiance to a specific tool or technology.

“We use these amazing colleagues and their teams to try to embed an architectural mindset that creates accountability for the experience,” Companieh says. “Tools and data don’t do anything on their own. They should serve the problem you’re trying to solve or the experience you’re trying to create.”

Commitment to experience also requires reassessing how technologies are organized and managed, including decentralizing certain tools. For example, to empower client-facing professionals to solve problems, IT may need to manage data and business intelligence as a service that individuals can access when and how they need it.

Pivot without pause

No matter how carefully you map client experiences or define the products that support those experiences, you undoubtedly will have to pivot, Companieh says, adding that IT leaders should learn to see pivots as a good thing.

“Something we decide today, I have no doubt, will change in nine months. Not because we’re wrong, but because our ability to be agile to our clients’ demands and what’s happening at a macro scale in the market has to be there,” she says. “What we can’t do is be forceful with our thinking and not look back.”

If you’re not pivoting, you’re likely neglecting what Companieh sees as one of the most important attributes of growth-focused CIOs: welcoming and implementing feedback.

Communicating early and often is key to pivoting effectively. “Don’t hide behind the technology,” she warns. “Explain what you’re doing to gain insights for your strategy, how you’re going to communicate it back out, and how you’re going to take action. And learn to balance communication between your employees and your clients. It can be a difficult balance to strike, but it’s a critical one in your first 120 days.”

If instead you work from the safety of your CIO office, far from the client, you will proportionately dilute your impact as a leader. And if you show you don’t care to solve problems holistically or regress to siloed, project-based, tool-oriented thinking when it’s time to pivot, then your employees, consciously or not, will adopt the same thinking to the detriment of the enterprise.

Finally, she says, “Remember that the lack of a decision is far worse for the organization than making a decision of whatever impact.” As a new CIO, it’s easy to overanalyze a situation. For Companieh, it’s important to make a decision and execute, be transparent when you make a mistake, then pivot.

Business IT Alignment, IT Leadership, IT Strategy

Bryson Koehler, Chief Product, Data, Analytics and Technology Officer at Equifax, joins host Maryfran Johnson for this CIO Leadership Live interview, jointly produced by and the CIO Executive Council. They discuss “decision intelligence” vs. data overload, advancing ethical AI, cloud native operations and more.

Watch this episode:

Listen to this episode:

Careers, CIO, CIO Leadership Live

It’s said that every company is now, at least partly, a software company, which is undoubtedly changing the IT landscape. As a result, product managers (PMs) have more opportunities and are more important than ever. 

Yet it’s often wondered, by everyone from the chief information officer to the help-desk technicians: What exactly does a PM do? 

The traditional answer is that a product manager is the chief executive of their product. Like all clichés, this one is both true and false. Let’s see if we can separate fact from fiction. 

Why PMs are not CEOs 

On the one hand, this comparison is specious. First, as a CEO, you oversee all employees; ultimately, everyone works for you (or the shareholders if your company is publicly traded). 

By contrast, as a PM, very few people actually report to you (or are even in your dotted line on the org chart).​ ​Indeed, asking for it to be otherwise is ​a ​surefire way to ​burn bridges, isolate yourself, and get nothing done. 

As a CEO, people (generally) follow you because you’re the big boss. Of course, it’s best to listen to your staff and explain your thinking, but at the end of the day, you set the rules. And if someone doesn’t follow them, you’re empowered to show them the door. 

This is the polar opposite of how PMs ply our trade. Instead of pulling rank, we marshal data. We cite focus groups and usage reports and case studies and A/B tests and card sorting. We live and die by analytics and metrics, not anecdotes or ​pet peeves. 

What does this principle look like in practice? Consider the time Marissa Meyer, then the head of product at Google, ordered 41 tests of the color blue to see which one triggered the most clicks. Meyer’s numbers-first, numbers-only approach may be extreme, but even the company’s top designer — who said this modus operandi led him to quit — said that he “couldn’t fault Google for this reliance on data.” 

What’s more, notice what Meyer didn’t do: She didn’t issue commands. She issued a request for data. 

​Yet what if​ you don’t have any data? Or what if the data you do have is unclear or incomplete? Or what if your engineering counterpoint is just plain obstinate? 

Even then, ​a PM never appeals to authority. In these cases, we turn to the trust we’ve developed with our coworkers. Without our calling card of data, the only card we have left is the relationships we’ve built. 

This fallback works because if a PM is doing their job, then everyone on the team knows that they’re unconditionally committed to their success — without the need for credit. After all, unlike a CEO, a PM doesn’t have to fret about the company’s stock price or whether TechCrunch covered the company’s latest press release. A PM’s first, second, and third concerns are the product, the product, and the product. 

Why PMs are CEOs 

On the other hand, a PM shares several central traits with a CEO. Here’s the first: You’re both responsible for basically everything. 

Specifically, you’re responsible for outcomes. Whatever the outcome — an upgrade cycle is stalling; customer-acquisition costs are spiking; freemium customers aren’t converting to premium ones — you own it. 

Even though others may be at fault, the issue almost always involves the product. And whatever involves the product, involves the product manager

Indeed, wherever problems emerge, like a moth to a flame, that’s where a PM comes in. You may not formally be a member of another team, but their failure is your failure. Like a CEO, your job isn’t limited to any single lane; your job is to solve problems, regardless of the province. 

So, if the product needs more customers, you offer to join sales demos. If existing customers are filing too many bug reports, you offer to join the daily engineering meeting. It’s the fate of PMs and CEOs to always be the buck stoppers. 

Here’s another way to think of the PM-CEO similarities: For both a PM and a CEO, the most important thing you do is make decisions. The CEO decides the direction of the company, and the PM decides the direction of the product. Therefore, you both place an enormous premium on collecting information. 

Indeed, to succeed as a CEO, you need to be exceptionally well-informed — not only about your company and industry, but also about the economy and regulations. The same is true for a PM: To succeed, you need to be well-informed not only about your product, but also about your tech stack and customer demographics and profit margins. After all, you can’t solve a problem if you don’t understand it. 

Think about the parallel this way: Neither a CEO nor a PM must be consulted on whether the company’s website uses Java. But they both should be kept in the loop, so they can bring to bear the big-picture considerations that only they can see. 

My take 

The question of whether a product manager is a chief executive of their product is more than academic. The answer reveals volumes about your organizational silos, your commitment to collaboration, and whether you empower those whose only mission is your collective success. 

Sure, as a chief product officer, I’m biased, but my bias springs from more than 20 years of experience with a variety of software companies. I’ve worked for startups; I’ve worked for the establishment. I’ve directed research departments, and I’ve written code. 

And if there’s a common thread throughout my career, it’s this: The best PMs offer the best of both worlds. Their resourcefulness makes them chiefly, while their selflessness makes them indispensable. 

And if those traits sound desirable, then you’ve hit upon a second thread: The best training to be a chief executive may well come from being a product manager. 

Business, IT Leadership, Roles

As project-based business practices give way to product-focused cross-functional teams, the product manager role is taking on prominence, increasingly attracting interest from job candidates who might otherwise go into IT. A product manager coordinates technical, marketing, and business functions, taking ownership over a specific product or service over the course of its lifecycle.

It’s an important and challenging career, but for most job seekers, compensation is a key factor when making choices of what to pursue — especially for those whose technical skills open up other lucrative career paths to take. We dove into publicly available information and talked to a number of product managers and those who hire, supervise, and mentor them in order to get a sense of what you can expect in this job market — and how you can improve your prospects and your compensation if you’re working in this field.

Do product managers make good money?

Glassdoor is a great starting point for researching salaries; while the data is mostly self-reported, it does provide an good first approximation of what you can expect. As of this writing, Glassdoor’s estimate of the average salary for a product manager is $127,496 per year, with a reported salary range of $76,000 to $216,000, depending on location, seniority, and experience. As you grow in your career, so will your salary. Senior product managers earn an average salary of $188,001 per year, while principal product managers earn an average salary of $223,534 per year.

When it comes to top tech companies, Glassdoor reports a similar range, as you can see in the table below.

CompanyReported salary rangeAverage salaryCisco$82,000 – $211,000$163,223Google$41,000 – $290,000$157,786Microsoft$50,000 – $231,000$126,068Amazon$42,000 – $256,000$123,502IBM$69,000 – $241,000$131,725Oracle$65,000 – $203,000$118,400Yahoo$110,000 – $206,000$146,029eBay$81,000 – $210,000$126,082Intuit$118,000 – $154,000$135,478Facebook$101,000 – $288,000$194,959Adobe$89,000 – $205,000$140,277

Factors that affect product manager salaries

The experts we talked to in the field came in with figures that weren’t too dissimilar from these, with nuances. Stephanie White, director and head of product, technology, and professional at fintech recruiting company EC1, says that salaries for high-level product management professionals roughly match their tech peers. “Chief product officers are now rewarded on par with CTOs, and likewise, a lead product manager should earn similar to a lead engineer,” she says.

Trisha Price, CPO at software development company Pendo, had a similar take. “Base salary ranges for product managers are typically on par with other technology roles like engineering, security, and design,” she says. “Here at Pendo, the ranges are competitive for our size and industry, and are one part of a compensation package that includes benefits, equity (RSUs), and other rewards.”

Cait Porte, who is chief marketing officer at software development company Digibee and has a background in product management, says that “you’re definitely looking at a six-figures starting salary as a product manager,” but emphasizes that “there are different levels: junior or associate, product manager, senior product manager, director of product management. If you look at the growth in all of those roles, typically the thing that is changing is the scope that they manage.” That can make a big difference in your paycheck.

Holly Hester-Reilly, founder and CEO of H2R Product Science, a product management coaching and consulting firm, is seeing similar numbers in her practice. “I’ve seen product manager salaries range from $100,000 to $250,000, so there’s a wide range depending on skill level, company size and stage, and location. Product leader salaries at top companies can go even higher,” she says.

Shane Quinlan, director of product management at software development firm Kion, says, “Product manager salaries are all over the place. You can look at accounts like Socially Inept Tech Roast for a sampling of memes about $450,000 total comp for Meta PMs who do nothing. In my experience, product managers aren’t making that outside the huge tech companies, and even then we’re talking about more senior folks.”

He too emphasizes that there’s no one-size-fits-all number to expect. “I’ve seen product manager, senior product manager, and/or director of product positions between $80,000 and $220,000. That’s a huge range. Depending on the stage and size of the company you join, you’ll see differences in the admixture between salary, bonuses, equity, and other benefits.”

Overall, Quinlan warns against treating job titles as apples-to-apples comparisons across companies. “There is no universal standard for the responsibilities or compensation for a PM vs. director vs. VP vs. head of product vs. CPO,” he says. “Some companies may only have one PM who acts as the CPO and is well compensated. Some companies have an army of directors of product who perform the role of a PM and get the comp of an associate product manager. PMs (or wannabe PMs) should also be looking at technical program manager and chief of staff roles.”

Mona Ghadiri, director of product management at cybersecurity firm BlueVoyant, says that some of the range of pay simply comes down to what individual companies value. “The company culture plays a role: Some companies prioritize being a product-led organization, while other enterprises see the role of product as more like taking orders from the front of house back to the kitchen,” she says.

How product managers can increase their salaries

Let’s say you’re interested in moving into the field as a product manager. What are the best ways to end up at the top end of the salary ranges we’ve been discussing? Tal Laufer, VP of products at cybersecurity firm Perimeter 81, says that “technical background is highly awarded — the closer you are to the technology, your salary is going to rise.”

EC1 Partners’ White goes further, saying that any domain-specific knowledge is a plus if it applies to the field in which you’re looking to be hired. “The more expert they are in the product domain commercially (e.g., with fixed income trading software, coming either from a competitor, or having worked as a fixed income trader themselves), as well as technologically (e.g., awareness of coding), the higher compensation package they can command,” she says.

That said, product management is itself a skill, and one that also has value in the market, says Seth Dobbs, CTO at IT services and consulting firm Bounteous. “Someone who can truly fulfill the multiskill requirements and navigate the complex scope discussion successfully is very valuable,” he says.

Digibee’s Porte agrees. “If you hire someone who has repeatedly created good product management processes across industries, you may pay a higher price for that person versus someone who knows healthcare billing or IT apps really well,” she says. “The most difficult part is determining what specifically am I hiring you for. If it’s an industry expert, I expect that you will know the space, or the role of product management, and those skills are transferable to another industry. The slam dunk is someone who has both.”

If you’re already a product manager, how do you bag yourself a raise? If you’re going to your boss looking for a salary bump, you need to learn to toot your own horn — strategically and accurately, of course, says EC1 Partners’ White.

“The main thing is to demonstrate why you feel you deserve it,” she says. “Use examples of products which you have rolled out, projects you have completed, where you have saved costs or time and made processes more efficient, where you have gotten client buy-in to a product offering, where you have worked collaboratively in a team, etc. If you give firm (positive) examples of how you are adding value, it gives a company more reason to give this to you.”

BlueVoyant’s Ghadiri agrees. “My best advice for negotiating a salary raise as a PM is to take stock and keep receipts for your accomplishments,” she says. “Big wins like a brand-new product can go far. In addition, being willing to go to bat for an idea you believe in shows commitment.”

Kion’s Quinlan adds that training and certification can help as well, although he doesn’t advocate sinking too many resources into it. “Get (cheap) PM certs, and get your current employer to pay for the expensive ones,” he says. “Doing one-day certs as part of conferences is a good way to build your repertoire and network. Otherwise, LinkedIn Learning is pretty great.”

But several experts we talked to noted that product management is no different from most career tracks in that the easiest way to get a big salary boost may be to look for a job with someone other than your current employer. “In my experience, the easiest time to negotiate a salary is on the way into a new job,” says Dan Ciruli, VP of product management at software services provider D2iQ. “Getting a good salary to start with sets you off on the right foot and has positive effects on the rest of your time employed with the company. My advice is to always negotiate when starting a new job.”

Kion’s Quinlan agrees. “Unfortunately, job-hopping is often the key to moving up in salary and titles. It doesn’t have to be that way, but in many cases it is.” As a result, he advises that you should always be making yourself attractive to the whatever higher paying opportunity that may come along: “Update your LinkedIn. Build a website. Start on Squarespace. Don’t use your college email address or something unprofessional; have a grown-up email. Have a two-page resume that doesn’t get too wacky. Look at examples. Don’t have typos.”

That’s great advice for anyone in any line of work, it turns out, but we hope it helps you in your product management journey.  

Careers, Project Management, Salaries

IT organizations are increasingly shifting from project-based organizational structures to product-based methodologies, which involve cross-functional teams. These new building blocks of business include both tech and business pros, and they’re generally led by a product manager, who acts as the point person throughout the product’s lifecycle.

Product managers aren’t a new job category by any means, but this shift means that they’re newly prominent and important to many companies’ strategies. As a result, many corporate leaders who are used to hiring for IT now have to learn what makes a good product manager as they seek to fill these roles.

If that’s a position you find yourself in, don’t panic. We spoke to a host of experts, including product managers and those who supervise, hire, and mentor them, about what you should be looking for if you’re hiring a new PM for your team.

Seth Dobbs, CTO at IT services and consulting firm Bounteous, gives a pretty good thumbnail sketch of what an ideal product manager would look like. “This is absolutely a hybrid role and requires a good mix of skills,” he says. “They need to have enough knowledge in both technology and UX to at least be able to understand technical and experience constraints and tradeoffs, but need to be centered around business and customer value to drive decision-making around tradeoffs.”

Dobbs says he also looks for adaptability given the rapid changes that often evolve in a product-based environment, in addition to the ability to “meet deadlines, budgets, and the overall business strategy as they work through these tradeoffs,” he says. “They also need to have strong interpersonal skills and know how to lean into the experts to leverage their insights in forming a roadmap and plan, but also leverage their skills in getting the work done.”

That’s all easier said than done, of course, and in practice it’ll be hard to find a candidate who can cover all those bases. But our experts gave us some pretty good guidance on specific qualities to look for in a candidate.

Look for great communicators

Almost everyone we spoke to agreed that communications skills are a must when it comes to product management. “I can typically tell within the first 15 minutes of a phone call whether or not I’m going to hire someone,” says Cait Porte, who is chief marketing officer at software development company Digibee and has a background in product management. “The people who can articulate themselves well can translate business and technology wording and phrasing in a way my team will respond well to. Effective communicators can not only articulate themselves well, but serve as translators between business and technology, ensuring that the right solutions are at the top of the priority list.”

Tal Laufer, VP of products at cybersecurity firm Perimeter 81, explains that communication is a must-have in this job because of the role product managers play coordinating various stakeholders. “A product manager serves as a bridge in the organization. Many aspects of their work involve connecting and bridging different teams and disciplines, striving for the success of the entire company,” she says.

Seek out those who go beyond the data

Most businesses, especially in tech, pride themselves on making data-based decisions, and many of the team members a product manager will be working with will be very data-focused. That said, a product manager needs to both be able to understand what hard data is telling them — but also be comfortable making more intuitive and creative decisions. “Being technical is great — it allows you to understand the details — but it can also hold you back at times,” says Luke Gannon, product manager at graph database company Neo4j. “If you can only view things with your developer/computer scientist hat on, you run the risk of being closed off to new, creative ideas and suggestions.”

“Lots of folks are stressing metrics and being data-driven,” says Shane Quinlan, director of product management at software development firm Kion. “But in most cases, you’re starting with a dataset that’s not statistically significant — we’re not all building B2C at crazy scale. Yes, data is important. No, you don’t need to wait on perfect data to make a decision. Take chances. Make mistakes. Get messy.”

Emphasize measurable outcomes

Nothing helps attune a candidate’s intuition like experience. Holly Hester-Reilly, founder and CEO of H2R Product Science, a product management coaching and consulting firm, says that a candidate’s resume should show what they’ve done in the field — and what they’ve achieved. “The first thing a hiring manager should look for is measurable outcomes on their resume,” she says. “It’s not enough to say they’ve gone through the motions of product management. The hiring manager needs to know what tangible improvements were achieved.”

And while there may be a stereotype of fresh-faced product managers with little real-world experience, many companies will choose candidates with in-depth knowledge of the business domain in which they’ll be working, according to Stephanie White, director and head of product, technology, and professional at fintech recruiting company EC1. “Product managers who our clients hire have to be domain experts, understand how the product is being used commercially, as well as understand end-to-end product build technologically,” she says. “This is so that they can attend client meetings and sell the user experience, as an extension to the sales and propositions teams.”

Charles Paumelle, chief product officer and co-founder of Microshare, a smart building data solutions company, agrees. “Business and technical acumen is needed to answer the questions ‘Why will customers spend money on our product?’ and ‘How can our organization deliver a cost-effective solution to the customer’s needs?’” he says.

Look beyond certs and education

On the flipside, many of the experts we spoke to held formal training and education in less esteem. “Certifications are not the key to becoming a PM,” says Kion’s Quinlan. “I don’t care how many classes your previous employer paid $5,000 for, if you can’t explain simply how a website works, talk about a product that inspires you, and prioritize work with some level of objectivity, you won’t cut it.”

Digibee’s Porte goes even further than that. “Historically, jobs for product managers were reserved for MBA graduates,” she says. “As someone who both served as a hiring manager and obtained her MBA, I believe it shouldn’t be a qualification as a product manager.” It’s not that having such as degree is a bad thing per se, she says, but “people naturally think an MBA is enough of a qualification. In reality, it’s so much more than that.”

Understand your specific product-based needs

If you’re worried about finding someone who fits all of these bills perfectly, good news: In all probability you’re going to have more than one product manager at your company, and different specific roles and experience levels may be called for.

“In terms of experience, sometimes you are looking for someone who has experience in a certain market or with a certain technology, but other times you are ready to invest in someone who has the attitude and aptitude without the experience,” says Trisha Price, chief product officer at software development company Pendo. “There is no one-size-fits-all, because diverse teams with diverse experiences are what drive the best outcomes and create the best cultures.”

“There are different ‘flavors’ of PMs in practice,” says Kion’s Quinlan. “There are startup PMs, go-to-market PMs, scale PMs, design PMs, platform PMs, data PMs, and more. Someone who’s awesome at one flavor may not be the best at others (or there’ll be an adjustment period). Understanding your problem is key to hiring the right product manager. That’ll inform how you rate them on specific skills — more technical, more business-oriented, more design-oriented, a jack-of-all-trades.”

“I consider is a candidate’s ability and aspiration to be more of a ‘pioneer,’ a ‘settler’ or a ‘farmer,’” says Microshare’s Paumelle. “Product management ranges from pure innovation and R&D to create brand new products (the ‘pioneer’ heading into the unknown), to the productization of alpha products into a mainstream market (the ‘settler’ who establishes a community and builds the first structures), to the optimization of established products (the ‘farmer’ who increases the yield year after year).”

Tailor your interview process

You might be able to suss out some of this via resumes and email exchanges, but a lot of your hiring decision will come down to the interview and how the candidate does in the room (or on the Zoom, as the case may be). Our experts had plenty of advice on how to assess a candidate in an interview:

“Something we do as part of our interview process is a bit of role playing,” says Mona Ghadiri, director of product management at cybersecurity firm BlueVoyant. “Part of that is to see how they respond to role playing in general; putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is so critical as a product manager. It is also critical to see how they answer the questions and think on their feet when a problem statement is in front of them, because we are in front of customers and our peers presenting information frequently. We also ask about how they have prioritized work in the past. We’re not so much looking for them to rattle off frameworks like RICE [reach, impact, confidence, and effort] or WSJF [weighted shortest job first], but seeing if they were able to use those frameworks in a practical application.”“I ask for good, detailed examples of how they make tradeoffs against business need, user desire, and technical feasibility, and how they successfully navigate the different stakeholders to get to agreement,” says Bounteous’s Dobbs. “I’ll also typically ask them to walk me through a high-level strategy or roadmap for a product they have managed in the past. Overall, I try to understand how they think, how they have reacted in various scenarios, and how they drive things forward.”“Don’t show up unprepared,” says Kion’s Quinlan. “JIRA does not make a PM. I don’t care that you’re a wizard in JIRA. Show me you understand problems. Show me you’re thinking about ways of working. Show me you can lead a small team.”“No matter what level they are interviewing for, from entry level to senior director, I always look for a passion for solving problems for the customer,” says Dan Ciruli, VP of product management at software services provider D2iQ. “That is the number one thing I want out of a product manager. One of my favorite interview questions is, ‘Tell me about your favorite customer.’ Their answer tells me everything I need to know about how they work with customers, what inspires them, and whether or not they are truly problem solvers.”

Don’t lose sight of the intangibles

“I’m a big fan of finding the ‘raw talent’ that would make a great PM,” says Kion’s Quinlan. “For an associate product manager, the day-to-day skills can be taught, but you can’t fake or learn interest in the problem and empathy with your peers and users.” In the end, most of our experts agreed, it’s that interest in solving problems that’s the most important quality to find in a candidate for product manager.

“I went into product management coming from a hardware development background,” explains Perimeter 81’s Laufer. “Even as an engineer, I was always curious about the full picture. What do customers want? What is the market like? How can we build a better product for our customers? This curiosity and my love for working with people led me to a product focused role. I had to learn about a lot of subjects, all at once, but I had (and still have!) a blast doing so.”

She adds: “I love that part of the job, teaching young PMs how to do things right.” We hope that the product managers you find go down this same successful path.

Hiring, Project Management

The days when IT was left to its own (literal) devices, content to work on the tech side of various projects, are on their way out. IT organizations are shifting to product-based methodologies, in which cross-functional teams made up of both tech and business pros focus on a single product or service offering. This organizational shift has given new importance to the product manager, who serves as the leader for such a team and acts as the point person throughout the product’s lifecycle.

A product manager must blend soft and hard skills, and balance input, concerns, and feedback from multiple departments, key stakeholders, business leaders, customers, and clients. As business organizational cultures shift to emphasize product managers, IT leaders have to know more about what makes a good one — and others filling a variety of roles, including those in tech-centered jobs, might be curious about what it takes to make the leap into product management.

We spoke to a wide variety of professionals, including current and former project managers and those who hire and mentor them, about what skills and traits they see as marking out the best of the best in this role. They talked about what you need to succeed, how you can upskill yourself if you’re interested in this career path, and how the skills you already have may give you a leg up.

1. Great communication skills

Much of a product manager’s job involves ensuring the various functions of a cross-functional team work well together. That means you need to be a great communicator, says Dan Ciruli, VP of product management at software services provider D2iQ.

“Communication is an enormous part of every product manager’s job, from working closely with engineering and ensuring that requirements are understood to dealing with sometimes difficult customers,” he says. “You have to be able to present your products well, whether that be in front of a CEO, the board, or at conferences. Being able to write product requirement documents and create exceptional decks are essential skills as well.”

Tailoring information for specific and divergent audiences is particularly important. Tal Laufer, VP of products at cybersecurity firm Perimeter 81, says that the job “includes explaining things both ‘up’ and ‘down’ — up to engineering in terms of requirements definition, and down to explain complex concepts to less trained personnel, in simple, easy-to-understand words.”

In fact, much of your job will be learning how to get all of these audiences to communicate with one another, with you often serving as a mediator.

“Products are a result of multiple components and know-how; they require the involvement of many people across an organization and its business partners — in engineering, supply chain, manufacturing, security, marketing, sales, customer support, finance, etc.,” says Charles Paumelle, chief product officer and co-founder of Microshare, a smart building data solutions company. “Product managers must juggle all these competing agendas and secure alignment from all these parties to get a successful product out.”

Communication skills are so in demand that good communicators from a wide variety of backgrounds can use them to enter this field, says Cait Porte, who is chief marketing officer at software development company Digibee and has a background in product management. “Given that this role can emerge from various backgrounds, including customer success, sales, marketing, or development, a real opportunity presents itself because effective communicators can empathize with the users and translate priorities back to the business,” she says.

2. Empathy

You may not be used to hearing someone say that an ability to empathize is a business skill. But in fact, almost all the experts we spoke to cited it as a key quality an elite product manager should have.

“Empathy is essential because product managers need to always keep in mind the raison d’être of their products — who will use them, and why will customers change habits to adopt a new product?” says Microshare’s Paumelle. “Too many products fail, despite being technically brilliant or aesthetically beautiful, because they serve no unmet need and therefore find no customer adoption.”

Shane Quinlan, director of product management at software development firm Kion, says that empathy with potential customers is just one part of the picture. “You also need to understand, balance, and mold the perspectives from multiple functional areas — dev, stakeholders, design, etc. — and personalities,” he explains. “Whether you call that EQ or something less buzzy, it’s the soft skills that make great product managers.”

And empathy too isn’t necessarily an inborn quality — it’s a skill that you can develop if you want to find success in this field. “A great product manager feels the urge to make things simpler and easier for their users,” explains Vincent Paquet, CPO of Dialpad, which makes AI-powered communications software for contact centers and other businesses. “A great way to get there is picturing yourself explaining to a good friend or family member how to use that feature. It puts you in the right mindset and somehow makes it obvious what needs more polish.”

3. Data and analytical savvy

But a great product manager needs hard skills as well as soft ones. Casey McGuigan, product manager at software maker Infragistics, says that in particular, “Data should always be top of mind and at the center of all decisions. The background that I have in mathematics has helped me tremendously in truly being able to understand my customers’ journeys and points in which they need improvements. The ability to analyze and understand the metrics that you are looking at is essential to growth hacking improvements as a product manager.”

Data savvy is another potential skillset that you can leverage if you want to jump into the product management career track, and that was definitely the case for McGuigan. Those data skills were “what drove my progression from reception to product analyst,” she explains. “With the combination of an analytical mindset and a collegiate athlete’s determination and drive, the growth into a product manager role was clear.”

Still, a product manager needs to be able to put creative flair into their application of analytics, says Holly Hester-Reilly, founder and CEO of product management coaching and consulting firm H2R Product Science. She says that a product manager’s analytic abilities should “allow them to look at a problem critically and figure out how to measure even things that are hard to measure.”

4. Decisiveness — and flexibility

Armed with emotional and analytic insights, good product managers shouldn’t be afraid to lead their teams to quick results. “You need to be willing to make decisions quickly with imperfect information and build a culture that is amenable to the impact of that,” says Kion’s Quinlan. “No analysis paralysis. No death by committee. Observe, orient, decide, act.”

Because you need to be able to make quick decisions, you also need to be able to change plans on the fly in response to new information, changes in the business landscape, and any problems that the market throws your way. “Being flexible is critical as a product manager,” says Luke Gannon, product manager at graph database company Neo4j. “You have to learn to be flexible in order to get over any hurdles, like late delivery or bad enablement content. It’s important to focus on the overall goal while still recognizing that the plan you built initially may need to be shifted over time in order to achieve the vision.”

5. Business smarts

All the skills we’ve talked about so far need to be marshalled in support of your company’s business goals — and that means you need to understand those goals, and where your product and your company sit in the marketplace, very well.

“I see elite product teams succeeding when product managers are strategically connecting their product goals with the overall goals of the company,” says Trisha Price, CPO at software development company Pendo. “There are so many product teams that just talk about features — whether it’s a feature their customer asked them to build or it’s something they’ve outlined that they want to build. Product managers need to address the ‘so what’ of those features. What’s the outcome you’re going to get by building that feature? What problem will your customers solve by using this? What business outcome are your customers going to get because of your investment? Product managers need to think ahead and tie the business strategy and product strategy together to really address the company’s business goals and metrics, instead of focusing on just mechanically building new features.”

D2iQ’s Ciruli says that this higher-level analysis of your product’s role in the business should help you understand “the exchange of value.” What does he mean by that? “As a product manager, my job is to ensure that what we are building is something of value to our customers,” he says. “That means knowing their needs and looking beyond that to see what can improve their lives.”

But the customer isn’t the only player here, he explains. “My job is also to ensure that we are building a business and see the value in our return — whether that value means data, money, or something else entirely, it is my job as the product manager to understand that value. It is vital to understand that product management isn’t just about making a great product, but also understanding how the exchange of value is instrumental to enacting progress.”

“As product development progresses, choices and compromises have to be made,” adds Microshare’s Paumelle. “Product managers must drive these decisions by striking the right balance between empathy (voice of the customer), business acumen (commercial viability for the organization), and technical acumen (technical feasibility of the product).”

6. The ability to drive your organization with enthusiasm

It should be clear by now that the product manager’s job is to mediate among customers and various stakeholders within the company. Mona Ghadiri, director of product management at cybersecurity firm BlueVoyant, puts it this way: “Being good at product management is about managing both the culture surrounding your portfolio and the hearts and minds of other decision makers. I like to quote my Big Fat Greek Wedding — in the movie, they say the man is the head and the woman is the neck, and the neck turns the head. I think product management is the same. We are the neck of the organization. We turn the head.”

To serve that mediating role, Kion’s Quinlan says you need to maintain enthusiasm about your product and your business. “You care about product management, software development, technology trends, market trends, business strategy, marketing, sales, design … everything,” he says. “If you lose interest — or never find it — you’re going to deliver subpar solutions.”

That’s why H2R Product Science’s Hester-Reilly says that great product managers need to maintain boundless curiosity about their job and their business. “Curiosity leads them to always be asking great questions and seeking to better understand how people interact with technology and the world around them,” she says.

Start your product management journey

This all may seem somewhat overwhelming. But different potential candidates on this career track may balance these skills differently — and if you know you’re lacking in one, you can pick it up along the way.

“I certainly think these skills can be learned,” says Pendo’s Price. “The field also changes, so it requires continuous learning — being the best at your craft one day requires investment to stay there. There are a lot of places where you can learn best-in-class product management approaches and skills. Mind the Product is a great place to start — they have great content, conferences, and lots of workshops and training opportunities. The key here is being able to translate the concepts into your day-to-day work, to drive specific outcomes that align with company or product strategy.”

“I think the main traits that have helped me be successful are my constant desire to learn, research, and read, my empathy for users, and my technical background — but most of all it’s my desire to solve problems using technology,” she adds. “It is a real thrill for me to see my product being used, to hear stories from customers on how these products drive value.”

Careers, Hiring, Project Management

To make a profit, manufacturers need more visibility into the cost of goods to sell at a price that reflects the value to customers. And that transparency has been lacking to date. From flour to fuel – and now baby formula – the cost of commodities has skyrocketed while availability has plummeted and no one knows when things will turn around.

Clearly, things have gotten out of control. So the leaders at Clariant International, a leading specialty chemical company, decided to build a tool that would monitor and analyze future price changes on finished goods instantly so they could make pricing decisions that pass-through costs to the value chain.

What does a specialty chemical company make?

Modern chemistry delvers solutions and revolutionary products, and Clariant supports global production in everything from home care to vehicles, energy, electronics, mining, agriculture, and cosmetics – even your kid’s brightly colored toys (with safe, stable paint) to the stain-trapping polymers that protect their favorite Star Wars t-shirts.

Plus, to feed a hungry world with higher crop yields, there are “adjuvants” – biological enhancers of herbicides and pesticides that increase effectiveness and sustainability by preventing wind drift in farmers’ fields.

Development is a cause for celebration but getting revolutionary products into the market quickly is another. Here’s how Clariant — an SAP Innovation Award Winner — built a cost forecasting tool that simulates costs end-to-end from procurement and operations, to finance and sales.

In the chemical production industry, nothing stands still

Clariant’s legacy solution for pricing simulation allowed only a single, manual simulation that took several weeks to process making it outdated by the time it reached the business decision makers.

The need for real-time pricing forecasts was driven by the costing complexity of bills of materials (BOMs) and finished products from multiple group companies – not to mention currencies based on tens of thousands of raw materials operating in volatile markets around the world.

Clariant required a robust product costing solution that could simulate finished goods costs for multiple scenarios using data from a wide array of sources. It also needed to offer intuitive reporting and analytics that procurement teams could apply instantly to resolve the many challenges they were facing.

But the biggest drawback for the forecasters was the cumbersome, labor demanding, and error-prone calculation required for 20,000 finished goods, 50,000 materials used, 18 production levels, 67 production sites, and 18 months of forecast simulation.

To move this mountain, Clariant built an end-to-end cost simulation forecasting tool with full visibility to enable proactive pricing and margin management across a variety of factors.

100X Faster –Value-Driven ROI in minutes instead of days

The company based its end-to-end forecasting tool on a production benchmarking and simulation engine from MIBCON NDC built on SAP S/4HANA and SAP Analytics Cloud with robust data processing, system stability, and user-friendly dashboard reporting and analytics. The return on investment for the entire project was realized in just three weeks!

From one manual simulation per quarter to instant forecasting, Clariant’s pricing simulations are 100 times faster than before.

“We can run forecasts almost immediately and provide updated pricing quickly,” says Markus Mirgeler, head of procurement, Clariant. “This shows up in higher margins and better product volume, differentiating us from the competition.”

Instant transparency

The ability to analyze the full production portfolio instantly, based on detailed bills of materials (BOMs) ensures accuracy. Plus, identifying products that require given raw materials, and the systematic collection of future raw material prices, any time, affords flexibility as things change.

Now, sales can rely on a single source of truth for global pricing forecasts that support the bottom line while significantly reducing the possibility of error. With less time needed to obtain the actual and input data as well as for planning and preparation, and empowered by self-service reporting and advanced visualizations, sales can analyze the value chain with pricing simulations and produce reports in minutes instead of days. 

And last but not least, the transparency of cost changes is passed onto customers so they can see the value.

To learn more about the challenges Clariant faced, and the actions the company took that placed them as a winner of the SAP Innovation Awards, read their Innovation Awards pitch deck

Digital Transformation