What Makes A Good Product Manager?

by Janey Zitomer
November 26, 2019

Product managers do more than help a business decide which products to make; they also typically oversee the execution of those products' creation, as well as track how users respond to said products. This multifaceted role requires being able to tap into the perspectives of various stakeholders.

Or as TopStep Trader Preya Patel said, “A good PM needs to be a strong problem solver and be able to balance business and user needs, while maintaining a healthy dose of empathy.” In short: What's going to be seamless from a user standpoint and in-line with business goals?

Three Chicago-based PMs shared which skills are most important for the role based on their extensive experience in the tech industry. Additionally, they offered tips for staying up-to-date on industry trends and technology in their ever-evolving spaces. 


 

Vibes team meeting
vibes

We’re on our phones so much that we literally walk into poles and second-screen (a term used to describe how people scan Twitter and Instagram or text while simultaneously watching a film or show). It’s advantageous to many businesses to be within the confines of those handheld devices, which Vibes provides. They help clients keep their customers “in the know” with mobile-first campaigns, enrollment and outreach. 

Senior Product Manager Laura Puckett told us how she relies on her previous technical experience to make their products as beneficial as possible. 

 

What are the top three traits a person needs to be a good PM?

Product managers should always be curious about what’s going on in the market, what’s impacting their customers and where the product could be going next. PMs live simultaneously in the present and the future. 

PMs need to collaborate with their teams, stakeholders and customers. They need to understand their problems and bring everyone to the table to work together to figure out a solution. PMs collaborate to identify the best ideas, develop them into even better ideas and then turn them into products. 

Great PMs are closers. If you can’t get it built, launched or sold, a brilliant idea doesn’t matter. Identify what the product needs to be successful, whether that’s a sales deck, demonstration video or technical documentation. 

To deliver the best possible product, you need to understand the risk and scope from a technical perspective.’’ 

 

From a technical perspective, what skills have you found to be most important in your role, and what steps do you take to continue developing those skills?

I started out as a developer for six years, so I came from a technical role. I have used that experience and those skills extensively in my time as a PM. To deliver the best possible product, you need to understand the risk and scope from a technical perspective. So I make sure to pay attention to my engineering counterparts because the technical world changes every five minutes. My best products have been a result of brainstorming and effort from both the engineering and product teams. 

 

Topstep Trader team
Topstep Trader

Preya Patel utilizes the resources at her disposal to consistently improve as a product manager. Those resources include her teammates, reliable online content and events in her community. 

She works at TopstepTrader, a platform where aspiring traders can learn to manage risk and ultimately successfully trade capital. Below, she told us how she’s evolved based on those efforts and what she recommends to others in the field. 

 

What are the top three traits a person needs to be a good PM?

A good PM needs to be a strong problem solver and be able to balance business and user needs, while maintaining a healthy dose of empathy. Most often, people fall in love with ideas. But I like to take a step back and diagnose the problem. I do this by listening to our customers and trying to understand their core needs. And because PMs travel across the organization, it’s important to exude the same empathy internally. You need to actively listen past the surface to all perspectives in the process, so that you can use your problem solving and resource-juggling skills to arrive at a mutually beneficial solution. 

Most often, people fall in love with ideas. But I like to take a step back and diagnose the problem.’’

 

From a technical perspective, what skills have you found to be most important in your role, and what steps do you take to continue developing those skills?

I stay up on various testing methods and data analysis to help me make more informed product decisions. I spend at least 30 minutes of each day on Harvard Business Review, Medium and the Women in Product Facebook group, consuming case studies and learning from others. I am also active in the community and try to attend one or two events each month. In terms of “hard” technical skills, I read and listen to enough content to converse with developers and translate to stakeholders. But I rely on our strong technology team for their expertise and guidance.

 

CCC
CCC

Following a car accident, thinking straight is not on the shortlist of things most people are doing. Planning ahead is pretty much out of the question. That’s where Senior Director of Program Management Cynthia Pryor comes in. She works at CCC to ensure that the company provides their users with the most useful and helpful insurance products possible during a time when support is key. 

 

What are the top three traits a person needs to be a good PM?

Open and direct communication with clear insights into objectives, commitments and risks is key to instilling confidence, managing expectations and maintaining alignment among the team and executives. A good PM should define technical and business problems and deliver difficult messages as well as timely fact-based data. This allows sponsors and stakeholders to make better business decisions.

Collaboration is necessary in an environment where teams are expected to deliver more, faster. PMs should be able to facilitate collaboration among teams and individuals with diverse personalities, competing priorities and pressures. It’s important to get past points of contention to ensure continual progression toward strategic goals. 

The foundation of a successful program and project manager is the ability to understand the company’s vision and objectives. PMs must define a plan to deliver on business outcomes despite unknowns and uncertainties. They should also be able to anticipate potential risks, conflicts and business impacts and quickly adapt and adjust.  

PMs must define a plan to deliver on business outcomes despite unknowns and uncertainties.’’

 

From a technical perspective, what skills have you found to be most important in your role, and what steps do you take to continue developing those skills?

In addition to the above, understanding the business and technical strategies of the company is important in my role. I need the ability to influence internal and external stakeholders and build consensus. I continually develop by reading books and articles, taking classes and webinars and attending events and conferences. In addition, I learn and develop professionally by applying these skills to new and existing initiatives.

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