4 Traits of a Kick-Ass Product Manager 

May 28, 2014

4:00 pm

Last week, we brought together a panel of experts in Chicago to talk about being a product manager – an often-unsung team player whose work spans business, design, and technology.

“The buck starts and ends with the product manager. They’re the one person that is solely responsible for the overall success of a product,” said Sprout Social CTO Aaron Rankin – including timing, quality, reception, and marketing. 

For Sandra Dainora, director of product at GrubHub, the product manager is the duct tape – connecting everything and everyone. “You’re trying to make sure you’re shipping the right product at the right time to the right people,” she said. 

What traits are crucial in a great product manager? Here’s what our panel had to say: 


Barbara Mousigian, Cars.com VP of product, explained that product managers have to be able to work with people from different domains. “At the end of the day it’s the product manager who’s trying to bring that team together to accomplish a mission,” she said. “A great product manager is a great synthesizer of information, and a great communicator.”

Dedicated to users 

While connecting diverse groups within the company, they also have to have a constant ear for the customer. 

“A good product person is an advocate. You’re an advocate for your business, you’re an advocate for your stakeholders, you’re an advocate for the people you’re building products for,” said Dainora. “Listening is one of the most important things – really understanding and empathizing what’s happening around them and then being able to react to that.”


For Jennifer Busenbark, the lead product manager at Braintree, you have to not only listen to but also care about what customers are saying – and be passionate about building the right product for them. Mousigian added, “There has to be a spark there – a natural curiosity and a natural drive.”

Tech background? 

For some product managers, our panelists agreed that a tech background might be necessary. Mousigian has seen great product managers with skills in design or business. But for Rankin, if you’re managing a deeply technical team, you need to be technical yourself. He looks for candidates with computer science degrees from great schools. 

This is Sessions discussion was part of the Cars.com Speaker Series. Thank you to Cars.com for their continued continued support and dedication to the Chicago tech community.

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact kira@tech.co.

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