How to develop your Product Owner or Product Manager skills
To help product management professionals – like Product Owners, Product Managers, and Product Leaders – move forward, we’d like to introduce you to our very own Professional Product Management (PPM) Competency Framework™. With this article, you’ll learn more about the skills and competencies that will make you a truly great Product Owner, Product Manager, or Product Leader.
We offer you a holistic perspective on the craft of product management and a framework for evaluating your capabilities as a product professional. To develop the right skills to move your career and the product management profession forward.
1 June 2023
What is one of the most-heard reasons for Product Owners and Product Managers to leave a company?
Answer: Research, surveys, and interviews among product professionals have shown over and over again that one of the most important reasons for leaving your company is the lack of personal growth. Product Owners and Product Managers simply feel they get too few opportunities to get more ownership, learn new skills, and move their careers forward.
The need for product leadership
Great products delivered by amazing people are at the heart of any great company. Today’s organizations are uncovering ways to deliver products and services of value more effectively and efficiently than ever before. However, delivering value to customers remains a challenge.
Companies are reinventing themselves in a way that power trickles down to the people and teams with the right knowledge and insights to make decisions. This change exposes a new kind of problem, though. The need for product leadership.
Knowing what to build for whom and why is what every company needs to discover fast, to stay relevant and successful. Often, the answer lies at the intersection of:
- Something customers love (Desirability),
- Something with great market potential (Viability), and
- Something that is feasible to create (Feasability).
That intersection, where UX, Business, and Tech meet, is the ultimate place to be. But it’s an ever-changing journey to get there. This is why we need to move the product management profession forward. The Professional Product Management Competency Framework is here to do exactly that.
What is Professional Product Management (PPM)™?
The role of the Product Owner (PO) or Product Manager (PM) is often referred to as the ‘product CEO’. As great as that sounds, it – unfortunately – is different in practice.
“Product Managers simply don’t have any direct authority over most of the things needed to make their product successful – from user and data research through design and development to marketing, sales, and support.”
Although Product Owners and Product Managers are not the actual CEOs of a product, it shouldn’t stop them from thinking like a CEO, or an entrepreneur. It shouldn’t stop them from developing a broad range of skills, including business and leadership skills. It’s not only about the next feature; it’s also about understanding the domain and creating the autonomy to move your product ahead.
Let’s be clear. Product Management is a complex yet amazing profession. Being a Product Manager requires a broad range of capabilities, knowledge, and competencies. How the profession is defined and executed, however, greatly depends on your organization, product type, career path, and industry.
For example, some organizations consider the Product Management profession to be mostly about product development, deciding what products, features, and requirements to develop, and in which order. For other companies, it relates more to product marketing, such as conducting outbound activities to generate product awareness, differentiation, and demand. For yet another group, it might correspond to technical product management, understanding the technical details of the product, or, for instance, managing legal aspects of a product, and so on.
As you may notice, product management consists of many different concepts, practices, tools, and responsibilities and is thus implemented differently. However, for every Product Owner or Product Manager like yourself, a similar set of practices and tools is available to further develop yourself.
Professional Product Management (PPM) creator
“Being awesome in every aspect and area of the model would probably mean that you are from outer space because no normal human being can be perfect in everything.”
What is the difference between a Product Owner and a Product Manager?
Before we continue, let’s take a short side-step. In this article, we use Product Owner and Product Manager interchangeably, but it’s good to get the semantics right.
A question we often hear is, “What is the difference between a Product Owner and a Product Manager?”
A simple way to explain this is that product management is a profession. And in product management, you manage a product end-to-end throughout the product life cycle. You are focused on:
- Managing product strategy: identifying and defining the customer/market problem to solve, vision, strategy, product goals, and objectives.
- Managing product development: Product Backlog, roadmap, prioritization, requirements.
- Managing product marketing: Pricing, go-to-market, positioning.
Simply put, a Product Owner is a Product Manager. A Product Manager could also be a Product Owner. The Product Owner is an accountability ؘ– or role, if you will – that originates from the Scrum framework. So, the names of the roles may have different origins, yet they are very similar.
Both Product Owners and Product Managers take on the duties of making their products a success in the marketplace. They both seek to solve the right customer problems and deliver the right type of value for it.
There might be situations where a company has both Product Owners and Product Managers, but in principle, there is no difference in accountabilities. Hence, the Professional Product Management Competency Framework tailors to both Product Owners and Product Managers.
Our Professional Product Management (PPM) Competency Framework
Now that’s cleared up, we are excited to elaborate on the Professional Product Management (PPM) Competency Framework. Based on decades of experience in leading and transforming product organizations, and while considering existing frameworks available in the marketplace, we want to introduce this competency framework, covering all product management capabilities.
This framework is used by organizations to hire, develop, and retain product professionals. It’s a comprehensive framework that allows it to be tailored to your organization’s specific needs.
Figure 1. Professional Product Management (PPM) Competency Framework and Product Skills.
Regardless of the specific implementation of the product management profession in your organization, we’ve learned that the core of professional product management is formed by two competency areas: Communication and Entrepreneurship.
Being great at working with many different types of people, being able to identify the right (customer) problems to solve, and seizing the right opportunities together with them to maximize a product’s value, are of critical importance to any type of product professional. This is why Communication and Entrepreneurship are at the heart of the Professional Product Management Competency Framework.
Six Product Management competency areas
In addition, six competency areas make a great Product Leader. These competency areas are:
Each area consists of different skills, behaviors, and attitudes. For example, the competency area Product consists of skills around achieving product-market-fit, product strategy, goal-setting, product roadmaps, Product Backlog Management, requirements management, general product knowledge, and product-domain knowledge.
The Business area, as a second example, contains skills like general business expertise, company strategy awareness, value estimation, prioritization, value measurement, product finances, sales support, product pricing, and go-to-market strategies.
Important to note is that you’ll very likely not have, ever acquire, or ever require deep knowledge, expertise, and experience in all competencies of the PPM framework. Being awesome in every aspect and area of the model would probably mean that you are from outer space because no normal human being can be perfect in everything.
So, focus on leveraging your strengths mostly, maybe develop some of your weaker skills that are critical to the job of being a Product Leader, or find other people around you to complement your skills (utilize others for the weaknesses that you have).
How to up your product mangement skills?
Figure 2. Professional Product Management Competency Framework assessment.
Conduct a PPM (self-)assessment
To develop your skills as a Product Owner, Product Manager, or Product Leader, we encourage you to evaluate your current skills, desired next career step(s), and then the desired skills you need. You can do a relatively simple self-assessment of those skills by considering the PPM framework and using a scale of 1 to 5, or we can help you with a professional approach to assessing your skills, by doing a Professional Product Management Competency Assessment.
Whether you choose to conduct a self-assessment or Professional Product Management Competency Assessment, the first step in your upskilling journey is to assess where you are today. Once you are clear on where you are today, you’ll want to identify where to go next. To help you out with your personal development plan, you can find our commonly used career pathway below. These images illustrate how the skills and competencies of product professionals tend to grow over time.
Move your Product Management career forward
We’ve identified different stages in an standard product management career path. Below, we’ll explain what the distinguishing features of an Individual Contributor Track and a People Leadership Track are.
The Individual Contributor Track
The next image reflects how a product professional may advance their career over time as an individual contributor, taking ownership of a smaller product at the start of their career while increasing their ownership as they advance to becoming a Principal Product Owner. In the individual product management track, you will always take ownership of a product or service and optionally do peer coaching/mentoring on the side.
Figure 3. Professional Product Management (PPM) — Individual Contributor Track.
The People Leadership Track
At some point in time, you may be presented with the option of taking a people leadership position, meaning that you take ownership of leading a team of product people. In this situation, you won’t be actively managing a product anymore (at least not on a very detailed level), but you’ll be building the product management profession in your organization.
Taking this step usually requires Product Leaders to develop additional skills. Check the career journey below.
Figure 4. Professional Product Management (PPM) — People Leadership Track.
Once you have identified your desired next step(s), it’s time to identify which competencies, skills, attitudes, and behaviors need to be developed to get you to that destination.
Excited to move your Product Management skills forward?
Becoming an expert in a field takes more than a single course. Consider it to be a journey, requiring knowledge gathering and experiencing in practice. That’s why we’ve developed Product Management Learning Journeys for Product Owners, Product Managers, and Product Leaders.
We’ve also found that people often prefer a structured approach to boost just those skills that they need to improve in a specific section. To enable that, we’ve set up various Professional Product Management Training Modules. Modules like Value Maximization, Envisioning & Storytelling, Strategy & Roadmapping, or Stakeholder Engagement and politics provide you with 8+ week learning and development tracks, allowing you to really improve a specific area of competence instead of going through a very generic course that covers all kinds of different topics on a high-abstraction level.
Figure 5. A typical Professional Product Management (PPM) upskill journey at Xebia Academy.
Our learning journeys are designed to find the perfect balance between the theory from university and the intensity of a boot camp. These ingredients are blended into a training format that fits anyone’s preferred learning style. We teach you enough theory to know when you’re playing with fire, but we focus on applicability for the job to be done.
The journeys offer you a personalized approach for professionals to grow their capabilities and advance their careers. These blended learning journeys around product management consist of (competency) assessments, training courses, workshops, exercises, on-demand content, personal reflection, coaching, and consultancy.
The foundation of the product management journey is formed by our PPM framework. It’s connected to your product career framework and is implemented throughout the whole learning journey.
Figure 6. Overview of all Competency Areas and Professional Product Management Training Modules