What is a Product Manager?

This is the opener of our series outlining the functions of key industry roles in the PropTech space – Some maybe very similar to those already occupied in the traditional Property space: Others, less so. To kick off we take a look at the role of the Product Manager with Alison Hickson.


One of the best definitions of a Product manager I have heard is ‘the intersection between Technology, Business and the user’. In short it is not necessarily for a Product manager to be an expert in all three, however these core principles will be tested along the way so a strong understanding (and a passion to learn) is at the heart of the role. I posed this question to Alison and I loved the response: ‘There are about 10 skills a product manager needs to be successful in their role…A good Product manager will have mastered 5, A great PM will have mastered 8 and will be constantly learning and evolving to get better.

So what do they do?

Product managers are required in most cases to bring the thought of a CEO from a very initial idea through to it’s conclusion as user friendly product (this could be for the customer or the internal workforce). Let’s say the CEO has an idea to develop and App that will increase efficiency in the operational business by 20% by allowing communication to happen more smoothly. A PM will probably be questioning the idea at first: ‘Is this app necessary? Is there an alternative? Before moving on to the next questions of: who will this affect? How do we get to the MVP? Is this the best use of our time and money at this stage of a business?...If the answers to all of these are yes, its time to get to work. Speak to any PM and they will admit they love a sharpie, A whiteboard, A flowchart and a roadmap. The truth is, the PM becomes a CEO of this business within a business, leaning on stakeholders and managing the expectations of their customers (the business) along the way.

It is important before a PM starts out on their most recent product, that they have amalgamated a huge variety of research from customers, users, staff and developers. Its hugely important in a tech environment to hear back from the engineers on how long they expect a product to take, is it possible to share the load or reduce the function of the necessary product. Chatting with Alison, she explained that managing Stakeholder input and transparency was key to the process. Developers may have their own ideas for what the final product may look like, Sales managers may have a vision that is completely impossible to create within the given time frame, therefore transparency is key.

The Product Manager’s role is changing on a monthly or even weekly basis. Alison mentions in passing that the role pretty much didn’t exist 10-15 years ago. With the rise of applications, start-ups trying to disrupt pretty much all industries, and companies trying to stay 1 step ahead of their rivals in efficiency and user happiness, the goalposts are forever on the move. Learning on the job is one of the most important skills you can master and the ability to jump from a vision of a product to the evangelical, passion of sharing and working on your product. And just when you think it’s finished…Feedback and alterations to build incremental value to take you as close as possible to the finished vision. If you have managed to achieve all of this, working long hours and solving countless problems, the vision that was initially set out, should be about there!

As a finishing thought, Alison help’s me summarise the best and most challenging bits of the role: Everyday there is a new challenge and I am meeting new people and learning a huge amount. Accountability is a word thrown around a lot in the tech space but that is one thing you certainly have as a PM. Managing stakeholders, different areas of the business, employees that do not directly report to you and may not feel their input is relevant, budgets, any number of problems from data regulations to staff shortages and time frames…The accountability comes down to the lead PM.

If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a PM, Alison says that she learnt a huge amount in the space from Jeff Patton’s Passionate Product Owner. There are lots of works exploring the agile principles and short courses to immerse yourself in Tech so you know your Python from your Node.js.

What are your thoughts and comments? Always keen to hear more from PM’s in the tech space


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