Product Epiphanies, past & present
Product Management Lessons & Insights for 2023
On various types of product management roles
- Create new experiences in your career: right from sales, marketing, engineering to product management roles for 0 to 1 products; roles in growth & engagement, monetization, partnerships, operations, customer success; roles in a startup, in a behemoth corporation, product consulting roles for multiple clients — well the list is endless. It’ll immensely fast-track your ability to learn all aspects of product management, and keep you engaged in your career journey, negating the risk of boredom or disillusionment.
- Product roles can span across product operations, customer success, product marketing, product growth & monetization and all the way to the extreme — program management. One thing I’ve realized is to embrace it all. Instead of focusing on one type of product role and ‘typecasting’ yourself, challenge yourself in a wide spectrum of product management roles to gain a unique perspective. You’ll surely be in demand with recruiters!
On hiring & getting hired
- When hiring, always go with someone who’s not afraid to get things done and to cause a stir, instead of someone who might be “great on paper” in terms of domain expertise or prior experience. One of the product managers I hired was a great ‘implementor’ but needed to be coached and motivated extensively to proactively seek and create a path for themselves — in short, they were a tad too afraid to “ruffle some feathers” so to speak.
- Not landing a role, sometimes, has nothing to do with your product skills or how well or bad the interview cycle went for you. Sometimes the hiring team is looking for “domain-expertise”, which you might not have, or a specific experience in building or growing certain types of products (hardware or logistic operations etc.). So just let go & move on; there’re other ducks in the pond.
- If you lack product management experience or “expertise” of some kind, one of the ways to impress a hiring manager is demonstrating your ability to learn and be curious. You can do this by proactively having a dialogue with your interviewer by asking questions and digging deeper into the product/business-challenges (& lead the interview, so to speak) rather than going through the rigmarole of the traditional interview format. Also, putting your thoughts down on paper (in an email) with your first impressions about the company/product/business/user-challenges can create a parallel dialogue with your hiring manager/interviewer, showcasing your pro-activeness and ability to grasp unknown/vague/new problems by breaking them down into a structured method of problem solving.
On doing the job well as a product manager
- Closing the loop: Leadership loves nothing more than concrete learnings that can be leveraged for the next project. Conduct reviews/retrospectives after a project launch/update and socialize your learnings. Making an impact through a successful launch or by exceeding targets is one thing but closing the loop that can feed into future projects is a job well done.
- Owning your mistakes & taking accountability of your team/product/project is one of the best ways to demonstrate your maturity at your product role. Products come & go, but what stays is a great product leader who can own their mistakes (whether they’re your own or not), take accountability of their actions, glean learnings from the experience, and create a plan of action to rectify/pivot the strategy.
- Sometimes the leadership might ask questions which you might not have an answer for at that moment, and you might tell them that you will get back to them. You’re human, and you might genuinely forget to follow up. However, following up with your stakeholders or the leadership with answers to their as-yet unanswered questions is a great way to build credibility, and create a long-standing relationship with your audience as a product leader. They’ll know that you genuinely care about solving the problem at hand, want to understand different viewpoints, get feedback and have an engaging dialogue with them by taking the time to bring alignment (bring them along the product journey).
On product leadership
- Setting a strong vision is one thing, and showing passion for it is another — speaking passionately about it, reiterating it, overcommunicating it, diving into the details are things that a PM can never do enough of. If you can generate passion and energy amongst your stakeholders for the vision you’ve set, you’re already halfway there.
- On another note, the product leaders I admire are the ones who can also “kill” their own product to help forge the path for a better/new one.
- Coming from an Individual Contributor role to a direct (or indirect) Manager role, you now have the luxury of officially leveraging other people’s expertise for your project/product. So, use it, and don’t get stuck into the fallacy of doing everything on your own.
- Having a strong relationship with your engineering manager/team is essential, but sometimes you might have to bridge the context-gap between your engineering and data science counterparts as well.
On effective communication as a PM
- Overcommunication is key, but written word might be tad bit mightier than the spoken word i.e., learn to write effectively. They may take the form of status updates, product primers, new business cases, newsletters, vision & goal docs & more.
- Writing is a tool for thinking, as it has allowed me to distill my rumbling fuzzy thoughts into coherent narratives, due to which two things happen: (a) I can learn from myself by sharpening my reasoning through the very act of seeing my thoughts on paper and (b) I implicitly create a feedback loop with others if I do publish these thoughts online, thereby learning something new and improving my thought process.
- Understanding personalities and the art of interacting with different personality types is super essential as a product manager. I’d go so far as to say that you need to be a chameleon, in order to understand people, their key motivations, what ticks and exhilarates them and everything in between, to communicate effectively with them.
On building processes as a PM
- I dislike processes, but they’re an integral part of scaling your product journey and they enable you to add some coherence to your success and failures.
- If you’re someone like me, best to hire someone else (or cede delegation to) who is better (& smarter) at processes than you.
- Try to simplify as much as possible. Make the process well-defined, actionable, visible and get commitment from the requisite stakeholders.
- Depending on the type of organization (large corporate or a startup) and the kind of product (legacy or innovative) you’re leading, it might or might not make sense to adhere to processes. Eg. regulated processes might be key to running a smooth operation for the hardware division of an automotive company, but a 6-person startup trying to find product-market fit might need some disruptive off-the-cuff actions in its infancy, without having to wait for a systematic workflow to get the job done.
On collaboration with cross-functional stakeholders
- Managing cross-functional stakeholders is more of an art than a science. One realization is to take it slow, and painstakingly focus on building relationships; the work will follow automatically.
- And escalations aren’t the best way to go about solving things; they might be temporary salve to your problems but might not hold in the long run.
On building personal brand as a PM
- Start as early as possible; just start without thinking. The refinement will come later. Creating and producing content is gold — that creation might get you noticed for a job one day.
- Creating value for others, especially a ‘target audience’, is the way you’re going to be recognized as an ‘expert’/’thought leader’ in your field; hence creating value (through anything ranging from workshops, talks, events, to writing articles, mentoring people, sharing learnings etc.) can slowly build your presence and standing in the industry.
- The platforms for creating this content might vary, depending on the content-type: video/reel (Instagram, YoutTube, TikTok), photos/images (Instagram), podcasts (ClubHouse, Spotify etc.), articles or posts (LinkedIn, Medium, Substack, Twitter) etc. From what I’ve seen, for product managers, LinkedIn, Substack and Twitter (along with publishing your content on your own blogsite) are the platforms of choice for long & short form content.
I hope to evolve this article with more learnings, insights & epiphanies around product management, so stay tuned!