Can A Product Manager Be Effective Without Product Design Skills?

I am very passionate about the topic of design and design-thinking. When I saw this question on Quora, I decided to post my answer. Following is directly from my answer to this question on Quora:
The answer is “Definitely not.”
It’s not about the product design by itself, but it’s about applying core and transferable product design skills to product management. Let’s break it down:
1) Understanding users: Good product designers have great user research, observation, and listening skills to put themselves into the shoes of a user and understand the real, mostly unspoken and latent, needs of the end users.
2) Being self-critical: If you are a trained designer, you would stay away from self-referential design, which is a root cause for many failed products. Good product designers are self-critical about their approach and the deliverables and are always open to feedback to iterate on their design.
3) Working with designers: If you are a designer, you have great empathy for fellow designers. I have seen products fail, simply because, the product managers can’t work with the designers and don’t share the same mindset.
4) A “maker” mentality: The designers are makers. They make things. The product managers typically don’t, the engineers do. For a product manager, it’s incredibly important to have a “maker” mentality. They should continuously be making and refining, by themselves or with the help of the engineers. The product managers, who believe that their responsibility ends when they are done gathering the requirements are likely to fail, miserably in most cases.
5) A “T-shaped” product manager: If you’re a product manager, the vertical line of the “T” is your core PM skills. However, successful product managers go beyond their core skills, the horizontal line in the letter “T”, to learn more about product design, engineering etc. This ensures that they have a holistic perspective of the product. That leads me to my last point.
6) General Manager: viable, feasible, and desirable: A good product from a vendor’s perspective is commercially viable, technologically feasible, and desirable by the end users. Many product managers stop at the business needs, but they truly need to go beyond that to work with the engineering to make it technologically feasible, and have a design mindset to work with the designers to make it desirable by the end users. The product managers should thrive for a “general manager” mindset, of which, product design is a core element.

(Cross-posted @ cloud computing)

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Technology, Design, and Innovation strategist at the Office of the CEO, SAP,  focusing on technology and architecture strategy and strategic operational, product, and management innovation.  Adjunct faculty at Santa Clara University and San Jose State University with the department of computer engineering teaching graduate classes.  Frequent speaker at conferences, special events, Chirag blogs at Cloud Computing.

2 responses to “Can A Product Manager Be Effective Without Product Design Skills?”

  1. Inder

    Totally oppose the answer “Definitely not”.

    My answer is “May or May not be” and it depends the Product Manager passionate about the product..

  2. Augh

    Product Managers need to have both Design and Project Management skills but still play the core Product Manager role and let the designer and Project Manager ‘own’ their own areas.

    This makes planning easier and ensures that the intended product is ‘realistic’ in all aspects.