The Tussle

Many people have asked me what it was like to be a product manager intern.

Short answer: it was hard. It was hard because everyone had an opinion on what the product should be, what it should look like and how it should work. This, I learnt, could also be a great thing.

While developers want to minimize maintenance of code and find efficient solutions, teams managing dependent systems care about changing their own products as little as possible. At the end of the day, everyone has their own motivations for building a product.

Understanding those different motivations was key to being a PM intern.

My aim was to unify those motivations and make a useful product. An important aspect of my job was to communicate to the rest of the team, the motivations and aspirations of users.

What did they want? Why did they like our product? Why did they not? On a more fundamental level, what were they looking to accomplish through the product?

The following were the most valuable lessons I learnt:

  1. Don’t be a jerk. It is very easy to be one, but understand that you are only an enabler; a bridge among the creators and the users.
  2. Design with the tussle in mind. Every group of users has its own motivations for using your product. Manage conflicting motivations, and decide which groups of users you are going to cater to and stick with it. More importantly, listen to everyone on your team with the intention of learning from them and seeing their viewpoint.
  3. Sometimes, you will face push-backs from your own team. Know why you chose a particular design solution and communicate it objectively. Communicate why it is important, firmly but nicely.
  4. Talk to everybody who uses/builds/tests/comes in contact with your product. You never know who will blow your mind or give you a stellar solution. Take feedback because a lot of people have better ideas than you do.
  5. Show your work to whoever you can. But don’t try and solve every problem.
  6. Love your product: this is the feeling that made me wake up every morning and go to work!