The Most Important Trait a Product Manager Needs

Curious GeorgeOver at Michael on Product Management and Marketing, he’s running an interesting story about the seven traits that make a successful Product Manager. In summary, he identifies:

  • Communications Skills
  • Leading without Authority
  • Learning Skills
  • Business Acumen
  • Love for Products
  • Eye for Details
  • Routing Product Management Skills

Some of these I’ve covered in other posts (Communications Skills and Leading without Authority, How Product Management Skills are like StarCraft). All of the above are necessary traits to becoming a successful Product Manager. Necessary, but I would argue not sufficient.

The last thing my Father would say to me before dropping me off at school when I was young was: “Ask lots of questions!” Every day, the same phrase, as I was getting out of the car. I did too – I was the kid in the back of the room who kept raising his hand until the poor teacher forced the class to move on or the bell rang.

The #1 trait I look for in people who would make good Product Managers is an extreme sense of curiosity. Curious people are wonderful – they ask the most powerful question in the World: “why?” Curious people read a lot and tend to self-teach valuable skills. Most importantly, curious people aren’t satisfied with what people tell them, they stay awake at night wondering what they’re missing and love the process of discovery. Some skills can be taught; curiosity is a character trait.

How do I find out if someone is curious? It’s not hard – I ask questions like “what was the last thing you taught yourself?” “Tell me 3 new things you’ve learned in the last month.” “What have you read recently?” Curious people can answer these questions in their sleep.

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4 Comments

  • Reply Jeff Lash January 28, 2007 at 6:32 pm

    Great post — “passionately curious” is a way I’ve described it before, and it manifests itself in different people in different ways.

    – Great market researchers are curious about consumer behavior, preferences, and activities.
    – Great industrial engineers are curious about how to make processes more efficient and are constantly.
    – Great designers are curious about how to make products easier to use and create an emotional connection with customers.

    There’s been a big flurry of writings lately about “Top” product management tips. In addition to Michael’s post, Brendon Wilson has a good post where he lists his Top Ten tips for product managers —
    http://www.brendonwilson.com/blog/2007/01/08/product-management-top-ten/ — and I’ve been blogging about good product management traits at How To Be A Good Product Manager — http://www.goodproductmanager.com

    I think it’s great to see so much good discussion about not only the importance of product management but how to make product managers even better at what they do.

  • Reply Explore your curiosity: How To Be A Good Product Manager: Product management tips March 7, 2007 at 7:09 am

    […] Paul Young goes one step further over on Product Beautiful, declaring that curiosity is The Most Important Trait a Product Manager Needs: […]

  • Reply Bruce McCarthy March 9, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    Great post. A smiled when I read it because it rings so true. You’ve got to constantly ask why. Sometimes you find out people don’t know why they do things but more often when you get to the why you find you know so much more about the customer and what would really work for them in a product.

    I remember many years ago in a job interview for a marketing job I was asked to come up with one word to describe myself. I said “omnivorous.” I was trying to describe my need to explore and absorb. I don’t think that’s what they were looking for, though, because I didn’t get the job. I’m glad.

  • Reply Explore your curiosity - PCM August 23, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    […] Paul Young goes one step further over on Product Beautiful, declaring that curiosity is The Most Important Trait a Product Manager Needs: […]

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