What Makes a Good Product Manager?

by Madeline Hester
November 27, 2019

Successful product managers need more than technical expertise and impressive communication skills (though both help). They require a “jack-of-all-trades” mentality, a collaborative nature and a passion for the company’s product and mission.

Or as Yapta Chief Product Officer Valerie Layman said, “A good product manager is always looking at how they can work with all departments in the organization.”

We talked to three product directors who took the time to define what they look for in a successful PMs.  From character traits like empathy and curiosity to technical skills like front-end coding and data mining, the competencies required to level-up this role are as diverse as they are interconnected.

 

expedia
expedia, group

If you've ever wanted a lower-priced plane ticket, you’ve probably used Expedia Group, which works with over 10 brands to provide travel discounts. Senior Director of Product and Technology Deepthi Kondapalli said a curious and open mind is essential for product managers helping customers discover the world.

 

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

The first top trait is customer empathy. PMs need to take away the cognitive load from customers. They have to do this by working with cross-functional teams and building cohesive systems. Great customer experiences tend to be the ones that have a long-lasting impact on users. We put our customers and partners at the center of our product and service innovation and decision-making. PMs need to be the spearhead of this principle.

The second trait is to think big and small. A core expectation from any PM is to be the visionary in the room. PMs should invest time to comprehend the business landscape, do a thorough competitive analysis and have a point of view. Their judgment should drive product roadmap prioritization and ultimately guide teams iteratively toward their North star vision.

The third trait it being able to inspire. I am fortunate to be working with very talented PMs. Every day, I am inspired by the experiences they are dreaming up. They are making things magical for the traveler in me. PMs have to work with cross-functional stakeholders. It is imperative to be able to tailor their communications and be a common thread that brings them together. A PM has to understand today’s technology not just from a high level but also at the code- and system-design level. 

PMs need to take away the cognitive load from customers.

 

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 (or other) skills?

From a technical perspective, my background is in computer science and engineering. Over the years, I have carefully made my way by learning what it takes to build a durable business with technical solutions at its core. Along the way, great mentors at Expedia have helped me uncover gaps and provided opportunities to build these new muscles.

I humbly believe that there is always more to learn and strive to keep an open mind. It is exciting to see the rapid progress in technology even just in the last decade. Not long ago, there was a time when AJAX was the new thing. Now, we have full-duplex connections that most modern browsers support. This changes what we imagine as possible product experiences. It allows us to make our offerings just a little bit more magical.

 

yapta
yapta

Frequent business travelers shouldn’t have to wait for racked-up miles to get discounts. Yapta provides discounted airfare options for corporate travel so flights don’t take a big bite out of budgets. Chief Product Officer Valerie Layman said that successful product managers must work with all departments to understand and solve for business needs.

 

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

The traits I look for are curiosity, inquisitiveness and inclusivity. They must also be passionate about their domain and the long-term success of their products. They should focus on the big picture and break down walls.  

A good product manager is always looking at how they can work with all departments in the organization to ensure the success of the products.

Data-driven decisions are key to focusing on the right priorities...  

 

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 (or other) skills?

PMs must use business intelligence tools, such as Tableau, to mine the data for product performance. Data-driven decisions are key to focusing on the right priorities and understanding where strengths and deficiencies exist.   

A good PM is also proficient at monitoring and communicating in Slack channels. This allows them to listen to conversations about their products across the organization to ensure success: from engineering and sales to marketing and customer success. Addressing issues, answering questions or solving a need upfront helps us drive better products. This can be super complex in an organization with prolific Slack usage.

With corporate travel, it's extremely important for product managers to understand the back-end airline and hotel global distribution systems. This allows them to have an upfront understanding of the complexity of the features they are asking to be delivered, as well as ensure the technical decisions align with the business goals. 

 

mythical games
mythical games

Mythical Games, a next-generation technology studio run on blockchain, is hoping to make futuristic gaming products a reality. Director of Product Liwen Kao told us that their product managers need to be self-sufficient in order to bring Mythical Games’ latest releases to market.

 

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

Product managers need to have a variety of traits to succeed. In my experience, three of the most important are problem-solving, collaboration and willingness to learn. At their core, PMs are problem-solvers. Whether it's tackling a user pain point or improving a process that's hindering a team's effectiveness, good PMs strive to make things better for their product and its user base. 

As PMs need to work with a variety of disciplines inside their company and externally, they also need to collaborate to get the most out of their team and other stakeholders. 

At their core, PMs are problem-solvers.

 

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 (or other) skills?

As I've worked in smaller startups in recent years, I've learned to be self-sufficient when it comes to keeping myself informed about my product and creating internal work products. For example, I do my own big data queries and analyses, draft low-fidelity UI and UX mock-ups, test API calls and sometimes do some light front-end coding for prototypes. 

From my perspective, doing is the best way to keep these skills sharp, and so I try to incorporate these activities into my normal routine whenever I can. 

 

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