What Makes a Good Product Manager?

by Janey Zitomer
November 27, 2019

As a product manager, what’s worse than asking a potentially stupid question? Not asking any questions at all.

REX Real Estate’s Juliet Nelson said getting over her fear of bringing up engineering-specific inquiries has helped her become a better consumer products lead. 

Nelson added that while it’s a product manager’s job to move an idea closer to the finish line, no one is a subject matter expert on everything. This is especially true at a company using cutting-edge technology like artificial intelligence and machine learning to match sellers and buyers of homes. Below, Nelson explained why she believes all good product managers need to be comfortable not having all the answers. 

 

REX team meeting
REX Real Estate

 

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

A prerequisite to being a good product manager is being a good project manager. You must be organized, attentive to detail, a good communicator and able to tie outcomes back to general business objectives. All of that falls under project management prowess. The ability to navigate project management is necessary but ultimately insufficient for product management success. 

A prerequisite to being a good product manager is being a good project manager.’’ 

 

In addition, a great consumer PM is empathetic and creative. They need to truly understand what motivates a customer. And more challengingly, they need to be able to layer on business needs and constraints to generate a vision for the product from that consumer insight.   

 

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?

Product managers without engineering experience can shy away from asking questions about technical details. Getting over that hesitancy was the best thing I’ve done for my technical knowledge. Asking questions is the fastest way to start understanding things. It also ends up being a good sanity check for engineering. 

Asking questions is the fastest way to start understanding things.’’ 

 

Beyond that, an understanding of how data is structured and collected has been essential to accurately interpreting tests and metrics. I took some Codecademy SQL courses to get an elementary skillset. I ask analysts to walk me through the company-specific elements of any new dataset I’m using. 

 

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