7 Skills More Important Than A Technical Degree

While I don’t formally have an engineering or technical degree, I’ve held a product management role for the past few years.  I’ve worked for corporate companies, as well as start-ups and found it to be true that,

“Not all Product Managers need a technical degree.”

As a Product Manager, you’re responsible for managing the product through each stage of the Product Life Cycle (PLC): strategy, roadmap planning, marketing, sales, forecasting, etc.  Each of these stages require a certain skill set, but most important the skill of communication.  When pressed with technical questions in the past, I found that if I asked questions about the things I didn’t understand, that the skills I had superseded the knowledge lacked.*

Overall, there are 7 skills all Product Managers need to succeed.

  1. Customer Love
    Understand and love your customer.  Be empathetic to their pain points and make decisions with the customer in mind.
  2. Think Strategically
    Define and re-define the problem your product solves.  Listen to customers as their problem(s) and factors of influence change.  Investigation into your marketplace and competition will provide insights into the direction and positioning of your product.
  3. Plan and Prioritize Accordingly
    Foresee potential changes in the way your product solves the customers’ problem and how and when your customer makes decisions around the purchasing or use of your product.  Develop your roadmap with those possible challenges and changes in mind, along with proper engineering estimates and product designs.

    “The product manager owns the product roadmap. [S]he is the person responsible for defining, in detail, the ‘why’ and high level ‘what’ of the product that the engineering team will be asked to build.”
    – De Haff, CEO of AHA! (2015)

  4. Influence Others
    You need to explain your product, the reasoning for the direction of your product, as well as why and how your product solves a particular problem better than anyone else’s product.  Since Product Managers work cross-functionally, the ability to build relationships across various teams will ultimately determine the success of your product; if you cannot get other teams to support your product then how can you expect your customer to?
  5. Focus on Details
    Annotate – in detail – the client’s requirements and feedback throughout the Product Life Cycle (PLC).  From color choice to font type, each decision made influences the customer experience and their opinion of the product.  Clarity is important; product decisions need to be explained from the point of view of the customer.

    “Like all forms of design, visual design is about problem solving, not about personal preference or unsupported opinion.”
    – Bob Baxley, Head of Product Design at Pinterest (2003) (Cornett, 2008).
  6. Analyze Data
    Decisions should be made based on data, not gut feeling.  Because data is irrefutable, it’s simple to explain why or why not a product decision was made; it removes opinions from the conversation and leaves only facts.  The analysis of data can additionally provide new insights, which may lead into the development of new features or products.
  7. Execute
    Product Managers need to execute the product goals and roadmap plans outlined.  If you follow through on the commitments and timelines promised, you’ll gain trust, respect and support from your fellow colleagues.

I found that pairing these seven skills with passion and ability to overcome ambiguity in the workplace, that my lack of a technical degree did not affect my level of success as a Product Manager.  As a Product Manager it’s much more important to be fearless — ask questions, be curious and learn from others.


de Haff, B. (2015, July 8). The product manager vs. the engineering manager. Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brian-de-haaff/the-product-manager-vs-th_1_b_7733156.html

Cornett, C. (2008, June 2). Visual design is about problem solving. inspireUX. Retrieved from: http://www.inspireux.com/category/bob-baxley/