The Why… A Look at Product Management

As my cohort dives into the second module of the curriculum here at Flatiron School, I’ve been thinking a bit about our end-goals. Specifically, my “why”. We’ve been biting off huge chunks of Ruby on Rails and learning how the framework handles many of the more rudimentary tasks of web application development to allow us to focus on the things that make our applications unique. Ultimately, this will give us more time to critically examine our domains of expertise for product opportunities and developing the algorithms to exploit these opportunities. And in doing this, without even realizing, we have already begun to traverse the intricacies of product management.

Last week, Flatiron School hosted the Head of Product at Goldman Sachs to talk about his experience as a computer scientist and then as product manager and how he bridged those two roles. He talked specifically about the differences in mindset and responsibility levels between doing the foot- soldier work required of being a junior engineer, the transition to managing a team of engineers towards accomplishing certain tasks and then transitioning again to being the person setting the overall mission and direction of a project. All of these roles require specific and somewhat unique combinations of skill sets. This caught my attention because as we learn software development and think about the products we’d like to see come to life, we are essentially playing all of these roles for ourselves. As we build our personal and school projects, we task ourselves with determining what needs to be built, outlining the scope of the product, determining which of our teammates will perform what task, and then sit for hours at a time to flesh out thousands of lines of code. And without some structure for organizing our applications can easily get sucked in to the graveyard of projects with brilliant concepts but flawed execution.

As a somewhat enthusiastic consumer of product development content on the internet, the following points stand out as being critical for creating stuff that people will use:

  1. Leverage your experiences and professional knowledge, but don’t fall in love with your own idea. When we maintain an objective view of our goals and perceptions of existing needs, we are able to admit when we are wrong and adjust our course much more quickly. This could save us the time and money of bullishly aiming toward a misguided goal.
  2. Keep It Simple. This was a mantra taught early on in my aerospace engineering degree program. Keeping the scope of a project appropriately narrow allows for greater focus, improved attention to details and overall better manageability. In my experience, greater productivity comes from solving many small problems of limited scope and then merging them, than tackling them all at once.
  3. Be Honest With Yourself and Delegate The Rest. We are on this crazy cool journey to improve ourselves and our value to the industry at large. In doing this, we should take a moment every now and then to critically examine ourselves and catalogue our strengths and weaknesses. Just knowing what they are and giving ourselves permission to “be ourselves” we can exploit the hell out of natural abilities, while working to attain a minimum working proficiency in the other areas. As the Marine Corps’ first leadership principle states:
Know yourself and seek self-improvement.
But Einstein also said :
Everybody is a Genius. But If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree, It Will Live Its Whole Life Believing that It is Stupid.

Success lies somewhere in between.

References:

  1. Gary Vaynerchuck Facebook Page
  2. Harvard Business Review
  3. Marine Corps Officers Guide
  4. Naval Officers Guide
  5. Managing Oneself — Peter Drucker