This post has been long overdue. I had been wanting to write about my experiences during my first month as a product manager but alas, it has already been close to four months now. That said, I refuse to change the title of this post because 'My first four months as a product manager' has lower search volumes on Google, so boo! On a serious note though, I am quite enjoying this new role.
Here's a little background on how this came about. In the recent past, I've been enamored by product managers steering products from conception to shipping their final avatars. Yay, boat puns. Let's cruise along shall we? I was envious of the, for lack of a better word, complete ownership they possessed over products. Product managers are mini-CEOs in a way. Also, if you've spent enough time on Medium, you cannot escape reading an article that isn't remotely product-centric. That further fueled my curiosity to learn more about this specific function. Apart from that, I have been an ardent follower of certain non-traditional product guys like Justin Jackson and Pieter Levels. They are independent product makers and they're prolific to say the least. It amazes me how they get things done efficiently. Please follow them on Twitter, you won't regret it. Anyway, sometime in February this year, I was asked by my CEO if I would like to work in product management (since he knew where my interests were). I latched onto this opportunity instantly and the rest is history.
Four months down the line and all I have to say is that this journey has given me immense learning and it's been both challenging and rewarding. I'll try to give my own perspective on this by listing down some of my key takeaways and observations below.
Business Impact & Prioritization
Every function in a company needs to impact the business positively. That's pretty obvious, yeah? But in the wake of prioritizing various aspects of building a product or prioritizing development efforts on different products, that's where things can get tricky! This dilemma can be solved easily by asking yourself few simple questions like "What value does this create for the user?" or "How does this feature/product translate to revenue directly or indirectly?" Before you call me out on being a capitalist, let me clarify. Say you introduce a feature which improves customer experience, it could directly lead to higher NPS scores (feedback scores), increase in number of active users (DAUs, WAUs, MAUs), positive word of mouth and many other such things. All these eventually could translate to cross-selling (if your business has that), repeat purchases and customer referrals, in turn contributing to your top line. On the flip side, it goes without saying that bad product decisions can be disastrous, leading to resource wastage, losing time and the opportunity cost of building something else. While I'm only scratching the surface of how a small product decision can have a butterfly effect in a business, it is imperative that there's enough thought put in to prioritization of tasks. At the same time, product managers are also required to make impromptu decisions while juggling resource utilization, stakeholders' expectations, managing detours in plans, staying the course with earlier commitments...oh the list is endless. This role will probably bring out the best in you as a manager.
Speak To Your Customers / Stakeholders Regularly
I would actually rate this as the first point because everything revolves around your customer or stakeholder. Instead of elaborating further, I'll pose a few questions. Who are your building your app/website/software for? What problems are you solving for your users? Who is your core audience? What are their behavioral patterns? Do behavioral patterns differ across the spectrum? Can you segment your users into different user-personas (a popular technique)? Have you tested your beta-product with your users? What feedback have you gotten from them? Can you predict what users would like in your product? Users may not be proactive in providing feedback. More often than not, feedback is synonymous with negativity. To get to the point, a product manager must talk to users regularly. You need to know what works and what doesn't work. That is the only way you'll get an inkling on what to prioritize and build.
Product management is as much about being technically sound as it is about being creative and knowledgeable. The only way to ensure that you are on top of the latest trends, product-related news, principles, methodologies, new technological advancements and more is to read constantly. To get a primer on product management, I started off by reading Lean Product Playbook by Dan Olsen. There is no dearth of material on the interwebs on these topics. Personally, I like my information consumed blog by blog. Among the many blogs and newsletters that I follow, I have found Intercom's and Invision's to be great resources. Their blogs are fantastic and cover a lot of ground on product, startups, design and customer success. For everything else, follow ProductHunt - a brilliant resource that showcases new products, podcasts and articles.
Tools, Tools, Tools!
One of the perks of being a Product Manager is that you get to immerse yourself in other people's products. These could be tools on analytics, heat-maps, customer support, roadmaps, productivity, bug-tracking, wire-framing, design and so on. You gain a certain appreciation on how these have been built. If there's one tool that I adore the most, it's Balsamiq. I feel it's the perfect tool for creating wireframes and low-fidelity prototypes for your ideas. The flexibility that Balsamiq gives you will make you forget drawing rough mockups with pen and paper. You can flesh out your product concepts and create navigation flows with ease. In this way, you save a lot of time by creating mockups quickly, getting feedback on the same, making any necessary revisions and eventually getting high-fidelity prototypes out for the development to commence. Using the right tool that one is comfortable with and one that gets the job done is important. Here's a pretty cool resource which lists some pretty nifty tools that product managers would find useful. Czech it out here - http://softwareproductmanagement.co/
There's this really popular post on Quora which talks about 'What distinguishes a top 1% product manager from the top 10% product managers'. You have the who's who in product-management give their two cents on this topic. I reckon it's a really good read and I recommend you to check it out. There are times when I go back to that post myself, to have a self-assessment of sorts because every time I re-read those Quora responses, I'll find something new that I can improve myself on or do differently. I'm sure it'll resonate with anyone who's just venturing out into a product management role. On a personal front, it's still early days for me but I feel I'm confident of landing up somewhere around the top 5-10% product managers in the coming months. There's plenty more that I'd like to talk about but I'll reserve that for a follow up post on my progress. So until next time, let this popular Venn diagram percolate your senses till you attain product manager zen.