There’s a ton of variation in the role of a product manager across companies, or even across orgs within the same company. Some mobile PMs are focused on strategy, whereas others are focused on specific industry verticals, like eCommerce. The one skill that unifies all of these roles, regardless of their differences, is level of technicality; the more technically advanced you are as a mobile PM, the more coveted your skills will be.
However, boosting your technical skills is not always easy, especially if you don’t come from an engineering background. Below, we’ve outlined 10 of our favorite strategies to boost your mobile product management technical skills. Whether you’re an industry veteran or are new to the mobile PM game, this list offers takeaways at every level!
1. Surround yourself with mobile
The best way to understand what makes a good experience good, and a bad experience bad, is to surround yourself with the device your product will operate on. By immersing yourself in mobile, you’ll begin to intuitively recognize product experiences that are worth emulating, and will have an easier time brushing up on the basics.
We recommend learning as much as you can about your company’s current mobile presence, but not limiting yourself to just their view of the world. Take time looking at competitive and complementary mobile experiences to understand their similarities and differences. Ask yourself what resonates, what is intuitive, what is frustrating, and what is missing from each to give yourself a more holistic view of the experiences. The more you can gather ideas and form personal opinions about what others are doing on mobile through truly experiencing them as a user, the more knowledge you can store away and apply to your own mobile product.
2. Become a mobile usability expert
Customer expectations shift dramatically depending on device. Whether you help your team build for iOS, Android, tablet, wearable, or all of the above, having a deep understanding of how to use specific mobile devices will keep you a step ahead.
People have different expectations depending on what device they use to engage with your product, and knowing how to “design for mobile” in a broad way is no longer enough. The more you know about customer usability expectations, the quicker you can make data-driven product decisions.
3. Build your customer empathy skills
When it comes to building a product, empathy is everything. Understanding the “why” behind customer feelings and actions is what sets great product managers apart from good ones, and is what truly elevates products to the next level.
However, in most cases, empathy is a learned skill that needs to be grown and exercised over time; there is always room for improvement. To practice building empathy for your customers, try the following:
- Ask to sit in on sales calls to understand how people view your product before they even become customers. This will help give you a general sense of how they experience your product by understanding the baseline knowledge they bring to the table when they start the onboarding process.
- Sit in on usability tests with your user experience or design team. The best way to understand what a customer thinks about the product is to actually watch them use it. To get the most out of the test, ask your team members for a list of questions they typically use to run their usability tests ahead of time, and come up with a secondary set of questions you can ask the customer once they finish going through the controlled tasks.
- Understand your customers’ journey by working with your marketing team. A big part of marketing is mapping out the customer journey by lifecycle stage and actions, and we bet your marketing department has already spent a fair amount of time and resources putting this information together. Grab time with them to understand how people approach the product, convert into customers, and become loyal over time.
4. Use your devices often
The best mobile product managers are always on top of new trends, and the best way to see what’s hot or not is to use your device(s) as often as you can. If you can’t explain what makes your favorite apps great from a technical, marketing, and product perspective, chances are you have some learning to do. The more you challenge what you like and dislike in the mobile experiences you use consistently, the better it will translate to how you build your product.
5. Become an expert in mobile experience options
Understand what makes an app’s experience great across devices based on limitations and best practices. Not all mobile experiences are built the same way, and one method might be better for your mobile product.
For example, do you know the difference between a mobile website, a hybrid app, and a native app, and why you’d choose one over the other? Now is the time to dive in and learn. For your first quick lesson, here’s the difference:
6. Improve communication skills with your development team
All teams speak different languages, and becoming fluent in them all is a highly coveted skill. However, the language that may be the toughest to learn—and the most important—is likely the one your development team speaks. Increasing your ability to understand technical challenges will make suggesting educated trade-offs with your team as you build your mobile product easier and less frustrating for all parties.
Learn how they communicate by sitting in on meetings, attending their standups, asking for insight into ongoing projects they’re working on, etc. The more you can learn about the language they use and the way they communicate with one another, the more friction you can take out of your requests once you start working with them on building your mobile product.
7. Learn how to build an app (yes, from scratch)
Sound crazy? You’ve got this! Not only will this exercise help broaden your coding skills, it will also help you understand your development team and process at a deeper level.
The more confident you are in your technical skills, the more trust your development team can put in your hands when it comes to assessing scope of work, solving challenges, ordering bug lists, etc. Plus, building an app from scratch can be tons of fun.
Check out these tutorials to help you start:
- Start Developing iOS Apps (Apple)
- Building Your First Android App (Google)
- A Step-By-Step Guide to Building Your First Mobile App (Entrepreneur)
- The 2-Day Weekend Project Plan: Make Your Ideas Thrive (LearnAppMaking.com)
8. Continued education through reading, conferences, and courses
Taking in knowledge and news in your industry will help you pick up on tech trends and forecast changes in your industry to help shape your product roadmap. There are a ton of mobile product-focused blogs, conferences, and courses you can attend to help you brush up your skills and network with peers. Check them out and find the continued education strategy that works best for you!
9. Find a mentor
Finding a mentor in the mobile PM space is a great way to learn from others’ mistakes, and to get unbiased advice on challenges within your own mobile product. Getting an outside opinion may be just what you need to get you over a challenging product hurdle, or to get you thinking about how to solve an issue in a new way.
However, we know finding a mentor isn’t always easy. We recommend checking out this quick guide to finding a mentor by Alchemer Mobile (formerly Apptentive)’s own Emily Carrion for actionable tips on how to leverage your existing community, no matter the size, to connect with potential mentors right away.
10. Change your mindset to mobile-first
To take on the world of mobile product management and build world-class app and mobile experiences, the only way to think is mobile-first (more specifically, you could go one step further and start thinking “screen-first” or “platform-first,” depending on your needs).
As mobile continues eating the web, many companies are beginning to take on the “mobile-first” mindset as their standard for designing new products and features. Is your company mobile-first? If yes, you should already be thinking this way (but there’s always room for improvement!). If not, be the change you wish to see across your company.
Mobile product management is a complex job, no matter the industry you’re working in. Boosting your technical skills can give you a competitive advantage that will help bring your mobile product and team to the next level.
By leveraging a combination of the tactics outlined above, you should be well on your way to continuing your product management education and growing your confidence level across many areas of technical experience. Good luck!