PM Diary – Product Manager Skills Workshop

Amongst many other activities this week (I also spent a substantial amount of time preparing for and ultimately delivering the first in a series of webinars), I was at the ProductTank meetup in Birmingham on Wednesday. Where I had the pleasure of facilitating a workshop designed to provide the Product Managers with some insights regarding desirable PM skills/traits/competencies and how to test for them during a hypothetical recruitment process.

Conception

Originally I came up with an idea for doing a workshop based around PM interview questions. Since one of our most popular TestRail blogposts is a Tester Interview Questions piece I pulled together several years back, but that still manages to get many thousands of hits each month – I figured producing a similar piece of content for PM’s could be valuable. However, as anyone who has put together a talk or a workshop (or any creation really) for public consumption will know, things tend to evolve and take a different shape than you originally expected.

Gestation

What I had originally envisaged as a relatively simple mechanism for generating some interview questions that I could later turn into a blog post, evolved into a four stage process taking the PM’s through a kind of design-thinking exercise, applied to the problem of how to identify desirable PM traits in potential candidates instead. Which, all things considered, panned out pretty well!

The workshop basically posed a series of questions:

  • What skills/traits/competencies do you think a good PM should have?
  • Which ones are most important?
  • Do you really understand what that skill/trait competency means, or looks like in action or context?
  • What are some ways you might identify that skill, in a recruitment situation (not necessarily under interview conditions)?

The participants were guided through the process of exploring the questions and refining their answers using some ideas and exercises I took from Gray & Brown’s book: Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators, Rulebreakers, and Changemakers. In it, the authors also talked about how some of the exercises can be chained together to facilitate a complete workshop – so, that’s basically what I did. Starting off with an idea that looked like this:

And over time (I had a month or so to prepare since it was the Xmas period), mulling it over so it evolved into this instead:

Birth

Despite being completely unproven as a public workshop, having gone through several iterations and lots of thought during its gestation period, by the time I actually delivered it on the night, I felt pretty comfortable with the content and process. And, by all accounts it was a complete success with lots of positive feedback from the meetup participants.

The meetup and workshop also benefitted from an intermission half-way through, with a complementary talk from Benedicta Banga about how to prepare for your next PM job. And the material itself was certainly of interest to the meetup demographic, many of whom are considering either their next gig, or how to develop in their current role, or how to break into product management in the first place.

Toddling Along

Interested in some data points with regards to which product management skills are seen as most important/desirable? See the list below:

1. Communication
2. Empathy
3. Problem Solving
4. Domain & Market Knowledge
5. Leadership
6. Strategy & Vision

One of the key takeaways of the exercise is that really, the PM role (as with so many others) does not particularly revolve around what might be considered more technical skills, such as the ability to analyse a product, write a requirements document or create a roadmap. Instead, strong PM’s have good soft skills foundation – with communication skills topping the list.

What a surprise to see empathy right at the top there though! Is it a skill? A competency? A personality trait?

And who decided these skills were soft anyway? Surely, if they’re the most important and desirable skills – not just in product management, but across a gamut of what are often seen as more technical roles such as [software] engineers and yes, testers… Soft seems like a bit of a misnomer.

Anyway, I’m open to iterating the workshop further and taking it on the road to other product related meet-ups, if anyone’s interested. Please feel free to contact me directly if so.

Thanks for reading. Feel free to reach out via a comment or on the socials if anything resonates.

Cheers,
Simon

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