Not every product management role is the same. Each requires a different skill set balance, a different temperament, and a different approach to problem solving. Why is that? Because users are individuals. Unique individuals. And while we share basic needs, ranging from physiological to self-actualization, each of us draws satisfaction and delight in different ways and from different sources.
Given all that, can there be such a thing as the perfect product leader – the superwoman or superman who knows everything there is to know about a product, technology, market, set of users, and the team who builds it? It seems the space too complicated for that to be possible, right?
That’s precisely why, in this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul were so eager to speak with Alicia Dixon, senior product manager at Apartment List. Alicia brings a hands-on, no-nonsense approach to doing product. And she speaks from a rich, wide-ranging experience. Alicia started in product as a technical designer in the fashion industry before bringing her perspective to software.
Alicia comes from the “builder sense,” she says, “the wanting to make things, and getting a sense of joy out of seeing someone use or wear what I worked on.” No matter your industry, she adds, “You really have to put yourself in the shoes of [each unique user]. I took the same approach then as I’m doing in product now. You know, understanding the user, knowing what their problems are, and solving for those problems. There’s actually a continuity there.”
Lean in for more of today’s pod to hear Alicia discuss how equity and inclusivity must be part of every product conversation. Catch her thoughts about whether product managers can remain relevant as the lines between specialties begin to blur. Her takes on these and other topics are seriously on point!
[02:09] Product managers are high achievers and go-getters. It’s a common thread that connects us.
[02:09] Job descriptions for products managers stink. Not every product management role is the same, and some roles need skills that others don’t.
[03:58] Three steps to building better product teams. Be intentional about team needs. Take time to develop people. Target specific learning.
[05:28] Driving equity and inclusivity in the product space. If product people are to serve a diverse set of users, we must do more to reflect the composition of our markets.
[06:56] Tangible benefits of addressing inequity. There’s definitely an economic side to addressing problems. There’s a very real return on investment.
[07:42] Portability of product skills. Making things, experiencing someone’s joy, connecting with users.
[08:08] Empathy. My work is to understand the user, know their problems, and solving for those problems.
[09:16] Diversity is empowering. Geography, socio-economic, experiences…all contribute to the perspectives we have and can bring to the table.
[11:32] Are product managers still relevant? If we get to a place where all those specialties can talk to each other and everyone’s working toward a shared goal and not their individual KPI, product management could go away.
[13:13] Flow. We’re living at the intersection of everything, and it’s very hard to stay in flow.
[14:28] Leading big products vs. leading small products. The elements of your day-to-day are similar, but what changes is how much you roll up your sleeves to help out.
[15:51] Ambition. The trait that (almost) all product managers share.
[16:32] Product manager’s dilemma. Where do I want to go? When am I most happy? Why do I get up for work every day? Answer these and then define success for yourself.
[19:09] Toxic intellectualization. The act of over-thinking and delaying action.
[19:58] Using a framework to solve a challenge. I would bet that most successful teams didn’t start with the framework. They started with a, “let’s get something done,” mindset, and that’s what they worked toward.
[20:53] PM’s future. As long as we continue to add value – making someone’s life easier, releasing a product that helps us save money or time, or creating a thing of beauty that can be appreciated – there’s a long horizon for product to continue.
[22:06] Find your own intrinsic satisfaction.
[23:07] Why there’s still no Product Management Book of Knowledge. Even though they spent years writing it, what they came up with didn’t resonate. It’s too big a question.
[25:14] Innovation. The process of coming up with a new way to do an old thing.
Alicia’s Recommended Reading
It’s About Damn Time: How to Turn Being Underestimated into Your Greatest Advantage, by Arlan Hamilton and Rachel L. Nelson.
More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say), by Elaine Welteroth.
Alicia Dixon is a Senior Product Manager at Apartment List, a platform that connects renters with apartment listings through an online marketplace. She brings more than 2 decades of experience building products and creating technology solutions for consumers and enterprises. Her specialty is software product management, where she enjoys focusing on new product development, product strategy, and market research.
Alicia has held management positions at leading companies including Hilton, UPS, Dell, and Fruit of the Loom. She is a proud alumnus of Howard University, where she earned her Bachelor’s degree, and holds an MBA from Baruch College, CUNY, and an MS in Marketing from the University of Alabama.