APM Skills

Dan Schlosser, APM Class of 2016, New York

When I first became an Associate Product Manager at Google, I didn’t really know what being a product manager actually entailed. I wasn’t sure if I was going to do a good job, and I wasn’t even sure what I needed to learn. I was relieved to find out that I wasn’t alone: Associate Product Managers join the program with a wide diversity of backgrounds and experiences, and are unlikely to have previous experience being a product manager.

Since I’ve joined the program, I’ve learned from my managers, mentors, and team members what it takes to be a strong APM. APMs employ a variety of skills to be effective in their day-to-day work. At a high level, these skills can be broken down into three categories: execution, teamwork, and vision.

While all of these skills are good to have as a product manager, which ones are most important will vary highly depending on the project and team. Ultimately, the job of a product manager is to make their team more effective, and different teams require different contributions from an APM.

Execution
APMs are responsible for launching products, and that requires execution work. Execution work encompasses everything required to turn an idea into a launched product, and it's a core part of the APM job. Ultimately, visions have to be executed by someone, and the most successful PMs at Google are both head-in-the-cloud visionaries and detail-oriented executors. This requires a balance of hard and soft skills, depending on the context:

  • Collecting product requirements: Product managers are responsible for the product requirements document, or PRD. Used as a guide for the engineers that are implementing the product, a PRD collects requirements, design decisions, and historical context in one place. This ensures that questions about the product from team members or external stakeholders are answered authoritatively. This also requires understanding the engineering requirements for the project, and making tradeoffs based on technical feasibility.

  • Managing project progress: Effective use of Google’s issue tracking software (and Google Sheets) is an important execution skill. Many projects have dozens of external stakeholders, priorities, or ongoing efforts that need to be tracked. The product manager should always have the answer to “what’s the status of project X?” and project trackers are a great way to stay on top of this.

  • Running effective meetings: Product managers participate in a lot of meetings. In meetings with engineers, designers, cross-functional stakeholders, and more, PMs should ensure that all meetings are an effective use of everyone’s time. This means sending out invitations, creating an agenda, staying on topic, and sending out notes and follow-up items afterwards.

  • Staying organized: APMs receive a large volume of emails, bug reports, pings, and meeting requests. However, it’s their responsibility to effectively triage incoming communications, and ensure timely responses. This often means setting up labeling systems and other processes to ensure that no question goes unanswered.

  • Doing whatever it takes: As a product manager, you should be ready to roll up your sleeves. For every exciting launch, there will be a handful of tasks that have no clear owner. An effective PM should take on these tasks willingly, because they keep the rest of the team focused on delivering the best product experience to users.

Teamwork
Building products at Google is a team sport. A given launch may involve the work of tens or even hundreds of people. Associate Product Managers are the default point of contact for questions, and are involved in almost every decision that is made for a product. Working with both the core team and other stakeholders requires several skills:

  • Working closely with engineering teams: PMs are chiefly responsible for working closely with engineers, understanding technical challenges, and identifying ways to overcome them. This partnership with engineering requires a deep understanding of technology, often from a background in Computer Science or a related field.

  • Facilitating productive dialog: Not everyone will always agree on the best path to building a product that users love. In these situations, product managers should be a balancing force, ensuring that conversations remain productive, inclusive, and are resolved appropriately.

  • Working with partners: Some projects require working with many partners outside of the core team, both within and outside of Google. PMs are expected to represent the product, ensuring its success by incorporating the feedback and goals of other stakeholders.

  • Working with legal, privacy, security, accessibility, and more: Google has developed robust policies that help product teams build the best products for every user, including compliance standards for legal, privacy, security, and accessibility issues. APMs are expected to understand these requirements and ensure they are met.

Vision
The product manager is responsible for the long-term vision of their product and the short-term priorities that determine how the team works towards that vision. That isn’t to say that PMs make all of these decisions, they just ensure that the right decisions get made. Often, effective leadership involves evangelizing another team member’s idea (even if you initially disagreed with it). It’s better to disagree and commit than get stalled choosing between two good options. From long term vision to short term triage, vision skills fall into several categories:

  • Gathering data, opinions, and user feedback: Product managers aren’t expected to know the answers to problems, they’re expected to find them. Often, the most effective way to find the right answer to a problem is to ask team members, gather their responses, and coalesce these into the best path forward. Other times, more detailed user research, data analysis, or market studies are needed.

  • Triaging incoming requests: With the help of the support team, PMs are responsible for helping to prioritize incoming feature requests and bugs in order to determine which should be addressed first.
    Selecting and measuring success metrics: A big part of setting the vision for a product is defining what metrics represent success for the team. This allows other team members to make decisions that align with the team’s vision. APMs are also responsible for analyzing experiments and other data, measuring progress against the metrics they created.

  • Creating a long-term vision: Many projects require long term planning. PMs are responsible for learning about the market, understanding technology and the opportunities it could create, and forecasting what user problems will need solving in the coming years. From this, they create a compelling vision for how their product will evolve to meet users’ needs.

Finding the right balance
APMs aren’t expected to have all of these skills before joining Google, and depending on the team and project, some may be more important than others. A project involving lots of different teams working together may require a lot of coordination and clear tracking while a smaller, co-located team may need more help prioritizing issues or iterating on a design.

Product management requires a balance of hard and soft skills, and the APM program is designed to help APMs develop both while on the job. Vision, teamwork, and execution are critical to a career in product management, both at Google and beyond.

APM Skills

Dan Schlosser, APM Class of 2016, New York

When I first became an Associate Product Manager at Google, I didn’t really know what being a product manager actually entailed. I wasn’t sure if I was going to do a good job, and I wasn’t even sure what I needed to learn. I was relieved to find out that I wasn’t alone: Associate Product Managers join the program with a wide diversity of backgrounds and experiences, and are unlikely to have previous experience being a product manager.

Since I’ve joined the program, I’ve learned from my managers, mentors, and team members what it takes to be a strong APM. APMs employ a variety of skills to be effective in their day-to-day work. At a high level, these skills can be broken down into three categories: execution, teamwork, and vision.

While all of these skills are good to have as a product manager, which ones are most important will vary highly depending on the project and team. Ultimately, the job of a product manager is to make their team more effective, and different teams require different contributions from an APM.

Execution
APMs are responsible for launching products, and that requires execution work. Execution work encompasses everything required to turn an idea into a launched product, and it's a core part of the APM job. Ultimately, visions have to be executed by someone, and the most successful PMs at Google are both head-in-the-cloud visionaries and detail-oriented executors. This requires a balance of hard and soft skills, depending on the context:

  • Collecting product requirements: Product managers are responsible for the product requirements document, or PRD. Used as a guide for the engineers that are implementing the product, a PRD collects requirements, design decisions, and historical context in one place. This ensures that questions about the product from team members or external stakeholders are answered authoritatively. This also requires understanding the engineering requirements for the project, and making tradeoffs based on technical feasibility.

  • Managing project progress: Effective use of Google’s issue tracking software (and Google Sheets) is an important execution skill. Many projects have dozens of external stakeholders, priorities, or ongoing efforts that need to be tracked. The product manager should always have the answer to “what’s the status of project X?” and project trackers are a great way to stay on top of this.

  • Running effective meetings: Product managers participate in a lot of meetings. In meetings with engineers, designers, cross-functional stakeholders, and more, PMs should ensure that all meetings are an effective use of everyone’s time. This means sending out invitations, creating an agenda, staying on topic, and sending out notes and follow-up items afterwards.

  • Staying organized: APMs receive a large volume of emails, bug reports, pings, and meeting requests. However, it’s their responsibility to effectively triage incoming communications, and ensure timely responses. This often means setting up labeling systems and other processes to ensure that no question goes unanswered.

  • Doing whatever it takes: As a product manager, you should be ready to roll up your sleeves. For every exciting launch, there will be a handful of tasks that have no clear owner. An effective PM should take on these tasks willingly, because they keep the rest of the team focused on delivering the best product experience to users.

Teamwork
Building products at Google is a team sport. A given launch may involve the work of tens or even hundreds of people. Associate Product Managers are the default point of contact for questions, and are involved in almost every decision that is made for a product. Working with both the core team and other stakeholders requires several skills:

  • Working closely with engineering teams: PMs are chiefly responsible for working closely with engineers, understanding technical challenges, and identifying ways to overcome them. This partnership with engineering requires a deep understanding of technology, often from a background in Computer Science or a related field.

  • Facilitating productive dialog: Not everyone will always agree on the best path to building a product that users love. In these situations, product managers should be a balancing force, ensuring that conversations remain productive, inclusive, and are resolved appropriately.

  • Working with partners: Some projects require working with many partners outside of the core team, both within and outside of Google. PMs are expected to represent the product, ensuring its success by incorporating the feedback and goals of other stakeholders.

  • Working with legal, privacy, security, accessibility, and more: Google has developed robust policies that help product teams build the best products for every user, including compliance standards for legal, privacy, security, and accessibility issues. APMs are expected to understand these requirements and ensure they are met.

Vision
The product manager is responsible for the long-term vision of their product and the short-term priorities that determine how the team works towards that vision. That isn’t to say that PMs make all of these decisions, they just ensure that the right decisions get made. Often, effective leadership involves evangelizing another team member’s idea (even if you initially disagreed with it). It’s better to disagree and commit than get stalled choosing between two good options. From long term vision to short term triage, vision skills fall into several categories:

  • Gathering data, opinions, and user feedback: Product managers aren’t expected to know the answers to problems, they’re expected to find them. Often, the most effective way to find the right answer to a problem is to ask team members, gather their responses, and coalesce these into the best path forward. Other times, more detailed user research, data analysis, or market studies are needed.

  • Triaging incoming requests: With the help of the support team, PMs are responsible for helping to prioritize incoming feature requests and bugs in order to determine which should be addressed first.
    Selecting and measuring success metrics: A big part of setting the vision for a product is defining what metrics represent success for the team. This allows other team members to make decisions that align with the team’s vision. APMs are also responsible for analyzing experiments and other data, measuring progress against the metrics they created.

  • Creating a long-term vision: Many projects require long term planning. PMs are responsible for learning about the market, understanding technology and the opportunities it could create, and forecasting what user problems will need solving in the coming years. From this, they create a compelling vision for how their product will evolve to meet users’ needs.

Finding the right balance
APMs aren’t expected to have all of these skills before joining Google, and depending on the team and project, some may be more important than others. A project involving lots of different teams working together may require a lot of coordination and clear tracking while a smaller, co-located team may need more help prioritizing issues or iterating on a design.

Product management requires a balance of hard and soft skills, and the APM program is designed to help APMs develop both while on the job. Vision, teamwork, and execution are critical to a career in product management, both at Google and beyond.