As a product manager at ZapLabs, I'm often asked about the role of product managers (PMs) and their involvement in product development. In my mind, a product manager’s job mirrors that of a musical conductor. Conductors must transform a sheet of dots and lines into a symphony, optimizing the contribution from each musician. Likewise, product managers must bring together engineers, designers, data scientists, marketers and customer success teams to produce great, user-focused products that address user pain points with real solutions.

Listen and learn

Great conductors devote themselves to intense study, having to interpret the music at hand. PMs must also listen carefully, studying and then interpreting customer needs. At ZapLabs, we receive direct feedback from our real estate agents who use our platform. Our UX researchers, data scientists, and marketers deepen our understanding by examining product usage and engagement. Our engineers and solution architects help to identify a solution. Then, we validate our interpretation with our users all over again.

It’s critical to close the feedback loop: As an agent-driven technology, we test and retest  improvements until we get it right. PMs get involved with every stage of the process, listening carefully in order to piece together the individual sounds of a much-larger feature.

Set the tempo

Conductors are canonically represented as waving their batons at the orchestra. They use a baton to indicate  beats, tempo, and musical milestones.

PMs similarly set the product development tempo for their pods (or teams). They rely upon not the baton, but the road map, as a tool for tracking each team member’s contributions. At ZapLabs, we use agile methodology like Scrum and Kanban to help prioritize feature requests and bugs, because they work in conjunction with developers, designers, and QA engineers. Using these tools helps PMs to bring focus to a pod as we jointly tackle the flow and queue of software features.

Lead the team

Not just listeners or timekeepers, conductors (and product managers!) are also leaders. Product managers lead agile teams. Successful PMs move teams forward and align their decision-making to serve their product users while fulfilling execution on product vision and business strategy.

Identifying a need for agents to market themselves and their service areas, led to an opportunity for me to develop and launch Local Insights. This feature allowed agents to create posts describing their cities and areas of expertise. This content was displayed to consumers who searched for homes in an agent’s area. As the product manager, I worked closely with our data scientists and user researchers to identify agent needs and aspirations. Then, I spoke with agents to validate solutions before collaborating with engineers and release teams to finally launch the feature. After launch, we saw tens of thousands of agents adding Local Insights. (Check out Local Insights for Laguna Niguel.)

Product managers must listen and learn, set the tempo, and lead the team. At each stage of their performance, however, product managers must also consider the audience. It’s our role to build and improve on features to please our users in the home market.  We hope these features reach not only our agents nationwide, but also provide value to millions of potential home buyers and sellers.

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