Becoming a Top Performer in Product Management

I’ve always said that getting into Product Management is harder than becoming a doctor or a lawyer, as with those two professions you can go to school and if you put in a good effort, it’s highly likely you’ll end up being what you set out to be.

Product Management is a bit different as most companies wouldn’t just trust somebody to come in with no experience to take over their products. Thankfully, we’re starting to see programs out there to help folks become Product Managers and continue developing their skills as PMs.

Some of those workshops/programs can be quite costly so how does one who finally became a PM continue to be a PM, but more importantly, being the PM your company needs? How does one continue to assess their skills to ensure you’re plugging in the necessary holes where it counts and strengthening where it counts?

I’ve been pondering such questions for the last couple of months and with some inspiration and help from SVPG and Cal Newport’s and Scott Young’s Top Performer course, I’ve developed a skill matrix to help you identify where you currently are as a Product Manager and help you target the most important (aka bang for your buck) areas for improvement.

The Product Manager Skill Matrix

The PM Skill is broken into a number of categories:

  1. Strategy-related: The core skills needed to define a strategic PM.
  2. Process-related: You aren’t a PM unless you can execute. Nailing these skills will help you get the right product out the door today, rather than tomorrow.
  3. Soft Skills: The personal skills does the PM need to develop to be an effective individual in the organization.
  4. Knowledge: The learnable concepts does the PM need to have a firm grasp of that depend on the position, product, and organization.

It’s also important to note that not all skills are important/critical to be successful in a role, which is why there is an Importance column, where you can define how relevant each skill is to your position. For example, if you are the Platform PM, the Technical Knowledge skill would probably be more important than UX Knowledge and Financial Knowledge.

So without further ado, here is the Skill Matrix!


How to use the PM Skill Matrix


So now that you’ve seen the Skill Matrix in all it’s wonderful glory, how should you use it? Well, it depends on your situation…

If you want to do this with your manager…

Working on your career development with your manager is the surest way you become the Product Manager your organization needs, and will help you identify, in their eyes, what you need to move from a junior to a mid-level PM, and a mid-level PM to a senior PM.

Here’s how to use the matrix with your manager:

Initial Assessment

  1. With you, ask your manager to decide on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is Not Important and 10 is Very Important, the importance of each skill for your position, and why. This very simple step will expose what skills your manager thinks are key for you to reach the next level.
  2. On your own, determine your own rating on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 is Not Skilled and 10 is Crushing It, and why you think you’re at the level.
  3. Meet again with your manager, and together, let them go through the list and give their rating of each skill and why.
    1. If there was a large gap in your and your manager’s assessment (for example, you thought you were an 8 but your manager thought you were a 5), here’s your chance to ask your manager why they gave that rating. Hopefully, it’s just a simple misunderstanding, but if it isn’t, this exercise will reveal what your manager really thinks of you.
  4. Now, with your manager, identify which skills have a high importance (8 or higher) that you are underperforming at. Out of all the identified skills, ask your manager to choose no more than 3 skills you must improve upon. If there are no High Importance skills (good job!!) that you need to perform better on, look at the next set of skills with an importance of 6-7.
  5. Decide together when the next assessment (minimum 3 months, maximum 6 months) will be so you know how long you have to work on the identified skills you need to improve on.

Between Assessments

Here’s the critical portion of the exercise: over the next couple of months you need to work with your manager, or on your own, to improve these skills. Find the resources you need, whether courses, books, training, mentorship, etc. and make a plan.

During your 1:1s with your manager, communicate the progress you are making in case it’s not visible. This is very, very important. Your manager’s rating will remain the same if they cannot see you making progress.

At the next Assessment

Before you meet your manager for your next assessment, go through the skills matrix and rate yourself on all the skills, including the ones you’ve been focusing on improving

With your manager, recap the improvements you’ve made and have them rate your skills again. Have they noticed your improvements? Have you improved enough? Discuss these questions enough so, at the end of your meeting, you know whether you need to continue working on these skills, or you can switch to other skills that are more valuable for you to improve.

If your manager is new

You probably want to wait 2-3 months from the time your manager starts working with you before you do this exercise so they have enough time to see you in action and can provide you valuable feedback on the critical skills to improve. Follow the above steps when the time is right.

If you want to do this solo

Ideally, you’re doing this exercise with your manager, but if not, follow the steps outlined above but you now have to be very objective in how you define the skill Importance level and your own rating.


I hope this tool can be as valuable for you as it has been for me. Let me know if you have any feedback on how we can make this better!


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