Skip to main content

Product manager

Find out what a product manager does and the skills
you need to do the job.

Updated: November 17, 2021

Introduction to the role of product manager

A product manager (PM) at Skylight is responsible for strategy, planning, execution, stakeholder management, and team health. PMs partner with user researchers, product designers, engineers, client stakeholders, and others to inform their product decisions. A PM must have a clear understanding of users’ needs, the business objectives, and the stakeholders’ vision so they can quickly make feature decisions and determine priority. At a high level, it’s the PM’s job to figure out what to build next and why.

Below you’ll find the full list of skills for becoming a product manager at Skylight and a description of the skills required for each level. These descriptions offer insight into the scope of work someone at each level should be capable of doing on a consistent basis. We use these role descriptions both as a guide during the hiring process and as a springboard for discussing career progression at Skylight.

Required skills

Lean product principles

You’re comfortable building a greenfield product. You define a lean minimum viable product (MVP) that is deployed to production and in the hands of users. You mitigate risks throughout the software development life cycle. Learning is at the center of everything you do. You’re able to take loosely-defined requirements and build the right product for your specific user groups and environments.

Product strategy

You identify the problem first without jumping to solutions. You prioritize outcomes over feature sets. You can build a roadmap that includes success criteria, metrics, and objectives and key results (OKRs). You can establish direction for a product and get others to buy into the overall strategy.

Product execution

You’re constantly seeking to meet user, business, and technical goals. You break complex problems into small pieces. You can facilitate discussions among the team to build a prioritized backlog with user stories that are validated. Team ceremonies are built into your daily, weekly, or monthly iterations. You have general knowledge around technical feasibility.

Human-centered design

You have experience working directly researchers, designers, and engineers. You’ve participated in discovery in order to inform product direction. You find time to attend user interviews and get to know your users through various data points and interactions. You’re constantly identifying and validating assumptions.

Cross-team collaboration

You’re comfortable collaborating with researchers, designers, and engineers. You’re able to speak knowledgeably about technology and ask informed questions. You eliminate silos to increase collaboration. In general, you’re willing to wear multiple hats to get the job done.

Client and stakeholder management

You’re able to establish professional working relationships with clients and stakeholders. You understand when to push back, but also when to yield. You create consensus and alignment. Your communication skills are professional and polished.

Team process / agile methodologies

You understand the merits of different software development methodologies. You can create structure in the absence of none. You’re able to hold yourself and your team accountable. You establish repeatable methods to optimize the workflow on your team. You’re able to resolve conflict when it arises.

Product manager career pathway

Associate product manager

  1. Associate
  2. I not completed
  3. II not completed
  4. Senior not completed
  5. Staff not completed
  6. Principal not completed

As a trainee in an entry-level role, you’ll be working with a more experienced product manager. You’ll need to have an understanding of the role and show potential, although you’ll need guidance and training to produce good work and develop your skills.

Skills needed for this level

Lean product principles

You’ve read about lean product principles but are at the early stages of seeing them in practice. You understand the definition of an MVP, how to mitigate risk, and how to validate assumptions.

Product strategy

You understand that outcomes are more important than features. You help create and follow up on success criteria and follow through on product direction.

Product execution

You understand the product domain and the purpose behind all of the team ceremonies (e.g., iteration planning, product backlog refinement, iteration retro).

Human-centered design

You understand what user value means for your product. You’ve participated in activities that help define or better understand the user.

Cross-team collaboration

You’ve had exposure to working with engineers, researchers, and product designers.

Client and stakeholder management

You’re presentable and polished in front of a client. You interact with clients on a regular basis and observe stakeholder management best practices.

Team process / agile methodologies

You understand what agile software development is and can observe the differences between agile and waterfall.

Product manager I

  1. Associate completed
  2. I
  3. II not completed
  4. Senior not completed
  5. Staff not completed
  6. Principal not completed

A product manager I is embedded on a multidisciplinary team. At this level, you’ll be expected to:

  • Have some practical experience but need regular guidance and training to produce your best work and develop your skills
  • Work in combination with or under the guidance of a more senior product manager

Skills needed for this level

Lean product principles

You understand lean product principles and the importance of following a build, measure, learn cycle. You prioritize learning as much as you can about the user and the stakeholder needs.

Product strategy

You push to understand the why behind anything the team is focusing on. You’re able to define a north star and keep the team on track towards it.

Product execution

You’re a champion for lean agile methodologies and ceremonies. You understand the basics of user story writing and can write most of the stories in the backlog, although you may need help from a more senior PM with refining the backlog and working through questions from researchers, designers, and engineers.

Human-centered design

You understand the difference between user value and business/stakeholder value. You’ve observed user interviews, taken notes, and been a part of the synthesis process. You can help the team validate any user or product assumptions.

Cross-team collaboration

You demonstrate empathy for others outside of your discipline. You’ve taken on responsibilities outside of your discipline. You understand collective ownership.

Client and stakeholder management

You can articulate and defend your opinions with a client. You’re aware of stakeholder needs and client initiatives.

Team process / agile methodologies

You can speak to the principles of agile methodologies. You’re aware of the agile practices your team is following. You follow your team’s process and advocate for healthy team habits.

Product manager II

  1. Associate completed
  2. I completed
  3. II
  4. Senior not completed
  5. Staff not completed
  6. Principal not completed

A product manager II is usually leading and/or collaborating on a multidisciplinary team. At this level, you’ll be expected to work independently on a team.

You’ve worked in most stages of the product development lifecycle.

Skills needed for this level

Lean product principles

You’ve been through multiple iterations and stages within the software development life cycle. You’ve collaborated with teammates to build an MVP, reduce risk, and identify and validate assumptions.

Product strategy

You always prioritize what problem the team is aiming to solve before jumping to solutions. You’ve built outcome-oriented roadmaps and successfully followed through on short-term and long-term product plans. You create success criteria and make sure success is being tracked and measured.

Product execution

Your product meets user, business, and technical expectations. You write clear, concise user stories with acceptance criteria, and you regularly accept or reject stories. You lead planning meetings for every iteration or sprint. You ensure your team conducts regular retros that incorporates the perspectives of everyone on the team. You use common prioritization frameworks to sequence the work.

Human-centered design

You can lead user interviews and synthesis activities when necessary. You’re able to identify the team’s user assumptions and validate them. You prioritize the human element in all steps of the problem solving process.

Cross-team collaboration

You can articulate the value of the other disciplines on your team. You regularly solve problems with engineers, researchers, and product designers. You can speak other discipline’s “languages.”

Client and stakeholder management

You’ve demonstrated the ability to push back on stakeholders and say “no” when necessary. You’re able to convince or educate stakeholders on various topics. You could run an engagement with little support from Skylight leadership. You provide timely and effective updates to stakeholders to convey team progress.

Team process / agile methodologies

You leverage agile principles in most everything your team does. You provide feedback to your team on which practices are working and seek to understand the why behind the process your team has in place.

Senior product manager

  1. Associate completed
  2. I completed
  3. II completed
  4. Senior
  5. Staff not completed
  6. Principal not completed

A senior product manager is an experienced practitioner who’s able to plan and build a product on larger teams and within a more complex problem space. At this level, you’ll be expected to:

  • Build best product practices and process within a team
  • Supervise and develop other members on your team or within the product practice

You’ve worked at all stages of the product development life cycle.

Skills needed for this level

Lean product principles

You can create a lean MVP solution aimed at learning to reduce risks and validate assumptions. You identify critical dependencies and success metrics for primary users. You’ve built a product from scratch and have worked in ambiguous problem spaces.

Product strategy

You’ve created a launch plan and launched a product into a production environment. You create outcome oriented roadmaps and can navigate many competing priorities.

Product execution

Your product meets or exceeds user, business, and technical expectations. You’re experienced in leading all team ceremonies and keeping the team on track to deliver features. You know the product inside and out and are regularly pushing new features to production. You can defend priority rationale to the team and to stakeholders.

Human-centered design

You’re experienced in leading user interviews and guiding the team to better understand the needs of the user. You prioritize the human element in the software development process rather than approach it as a transactional activity. You collaborate with product designers on wireframes or prototypes and provide direction when necessary.

Cross-team collaboration

Youly remove silos in your team. You’re experienced at adapting your work style when working with other disciplines. You have experience doing design, research, or engineering activities. You set up team process to enable cross-collaboration and create space for all voices.

Client and stakeholder management

You’re an expert at establishing relationships with clients and stakeholders. You’ve demonstrated the ability to educate and lead clients towards a solution. You know how to create alignment and consensus. You play a major role in maintaining the client relationship.

Team process / agile methodologies

You’ve worked on three or more teams and can speak to which processes work, which don’t, and why. You consistently help your team improve their process. You can speak to what makes a healthy team and push the team towards being their best.

Staff product manager

  1. Associate completed
  2. I completed
  3. II completed
  4. Senior completed
  5. Staff
  6. Principal not completed

A staff product manager is an expert practitioner, leading and building products across multiple teams within complex problem spaces. At this level, you’ll be expected to:

  • Build best product practices and process within a team and share your knowledge internally at Skylight
  • Supervise and develop other members on your team
  • Manage the client relationship and/or client engagement

Skills needed for this level

Lean product principles

You have proven ability to create highly lean solutions, which delight stakeholders in addition to users. You run experiments in order to find product market fit. You know when to pivot. You’re an expert at navigating ambiguous problem spaces. You can help a team navigate multiple iterations — specifically the iteration following a successful MVP.

Product strategy

You have proven ability to create outcome-oriented roadmaps inclusive of learning milestones, each achieved by experimentation. You have experience planning for all types of products at different stages of software development. You can define short-term and long-term strategies in a very ambiguous environment.

Product execution

Your product exceeds user, business, and technical expectations. You have proven ability to ship features for multiple types of products. You’re comfortable building alignment around prioritization decisions in the face of many competing priorities. You can seamlessly customize your backlog management process to the situation at hand. You’re able to create structure on a team that lacks one.

Human-centered design

Your solutions prioritize user value in addition to business or stakeholder needs. You plan for future user interviews and outline learning objectives on your own. You can direct the research team on what to focus on or do next. You’re able to measure user value at all stages of the software development life cycle.

Cross-team collaboration

You’re able to identify when teams need better cross-team collaboration, and you know how to enable it. You can reduce high level concepts into reasonable concepts that any team member can understand. You’re able to articulate the value of each discipline to stakeholders and leaders.

Client and stakeholder management

You serve as a role model for creating alignment between the team and the client. You’re a trusted advisor to the client and are always approachable. You can anticipate client issues and solve them based on the unique situation. You can manage the entire client relationship without any support from leadership.

Team process / agile methodologies

Can establish processes from scratch and cater any process to the team, client, and product environment. You’ve facilitated teams to define their team values and norms. You could establish team processes from scratch for any team.

Principal product manager

  1. Associate completed
  2. I completed
  3. II completed
  4. Senior completed
  5. Staff completed
  6. Principal

A principal product manager leads other disciplines within the organization and attracts and builds talent. At this level, you’ll be expected to be an expert practitioner who can define and assure leading practices, influence organizational strategy and priorities, and collaborate with colleagues across all aspects of government. You also build Skylight’s reputation for strong product management through channels such as public speaking, publications, workshops, or social media. At this level, you’ll be expected to transform product practice at the leadership level across client organizations.

Skills needed for this level

Lean product principles

You can enter any type of product environment, define an MVP and lead the team to build the right thing. You’ve tracked and reported on metrics across complex systems in all types of product environments. You’ve successfully taught others about lean product principles at all levels of an organization.

Product strategy

You define strategy beyond just software products at the organizational level for clients. You facilitate strategy workshops and/or build consensus among a group of leaders. You can teach others how to build product strategy.

Product execution

You ensure multiple teams are delivering exceptional products, and consistently exceed user, business, and technical expectations. You create new processes for your team. You lead groups of stakeholders through the product delivery process and ensure they understand what healthy product execution looks like.

Human-centered design

You’re able to lead a discovery phase of a project without a senior research or design counterpart. You’re able to provide transformational expertise to leaders by educating them on the value of human-centered design.

Cross-team collaboration

You can identify the skill sets required for any product or team. You’re able to defend the need for additional disciplines to clients or leadership. You can educate others on what healthy cross-team collaboration looks like, and you know what action needs to be taken to create it.

Client and stakeholder management

You’re a spokesperson that can represent Skylight in any client matter. You’re highly visible and have established relationships with leadership groups within the client organization. You serve as a coach to others to help build their client management skills.

Team process / agile methodologies

You can educate others on various agile methodologies and their strengths and weaknesses. You can apply agile processes at the leadership level or to the business or organization you’re working with. You can grow a community of agile practitioners.

We’re hiring!

Let’s work together to change the way government
serves millions of people.