My first days as a Product Manager

I was hired as a product manager at EasyTranslate in 2018. EasyTranslate is a multisided platform that offers language solutions for B2B customers mainly.

My focus was on finance topics, such as:

  • Online payments
  • Debt collection
  • Invoicing
  • VAT handling
  • Billing settings

Preparing the field

My experience as a PM was almost inexistent. Indeed, I was a developer for 4 years in a successful B2B E-commerce company (Westwing) selling interior design furniture in several countries. It was a very rich experience in terms of learnings.

During my last month at Westwing, I had the idea to interview all the Product Managers and to ask them about their experience and challenges. It was probably the smartest action I’ve ever made!

Then I completed my education with a few courses and training such as AGILE scrum, Project management, Business analytics.

When I knew that I would work closely with finance, I started to take basic training in accounting & controlling.

When I started my Product Manager journey, I realized how the level of expectations of the whole company could be heavy. Indeed in a very short time, I became the go-to person whatever information was needed.

I had very quickly to deal with a huge amount of tickets on JIRA, with my name as an assignee. In the beginning, I felt like I had to answer to everything and to everyone. The list of pending issues was endless.

I started to think that the role was too big for my shoulders.

The product ownership

The vision, the strategy, and the tactic

Those three words define the level of ownership of a PM.

Even if I knew the scope of my project, I underestimated the self-driven aspect. I was the only product manager in a startup. That was involving from me that I stop asking for permission to act. That’s why startups are so dynamic and innovative, they are falling fast.

It is the place where you are the product owner.

My challenges

Setting the routine

As a PM there is so much to do that I had hard times figuring what I should start my day with. My mistake was certainly to base my routines on emails. The routine should match our own personal organization. But we should always keep in mind that depending on the communication tools the company is using.

Organizing my workflow around the emails was taking me too much time.

Example: all the default email notification alerts every time someone was doing something in JIRA

Requirements endless war

I probably spent 60% of my time writing requirements in my 3 first months. And the rest, arguing with the developers about the “quality” of the tickets description. It was never clear enough to the developer’s eyes. And the consequence of this endless discussion was that none of my tickets were good enough to be included in the next sprint.

This was a huge source of frustration, as nothing was really happening. The developers asked for a scrum master that will be the one dealing with that part of the process.

Today with my Project manager experience, I think that the problem was connected with the process itself. (I will write a post about it very soon)

The roadmap: finding the right communication

As a product owner, it is vital to communicate about project progress. Finding the right format to do it is a bit challenging. My project had an impact on almost everyone. But of course, I would not share the project information the same way with everyone.

I had to work on pitching the project, be transparent about the difficulties without scaring the whole company. Yes, product manager also does politics.

The resources

A product manager always has to justify the investment the company makes in the project he is driving. Of course in a perfect world, you get your 4 senior developers and start working for weeks on building a solution. This is happening if your project is the one that has the company focus.

Remote team

Working remotely is the trendy concept. It’s that world where everyone is invited to work while he/her from a different country in perfect harmony. All of this made possible by the amazing new collaborative tools!

On the paper, it is very attractive. The truth is that working with a remote team can show some limits if you don’t pay attention to some basics. I ended in stand up meetings where I could never see the developers face. It created an additional distance to the physical distance. The tone of voice was also an issue, especially when you deal with non-native English speakers (like me). The bad internet connection at the office was sometimes increasing the frustration during the calls.

My tips

Sadly, I cannot go back in time and change my unsuccessful experience. But fortunately, I have learned a lot from those first months.

Customer journey

Understand the whole system is not easy. Worst, it’s useless. If your company is not a very old bakery from the 19th century, it means that your product is changing constantly. The best way the understand the big picture is to try the product yourself and to track your steps. If you don’t have the chance to have a UX designer in your team, you can always ask your colleagues to walk you through a typical user flow.

Meet the customers as much as you can

A product manager should understand the users of the product which he is about to impact. The best way to do it is to sit with them and ask them about their work. Of course, there are plenty of tools that will give you meaningful insights such as Heatmap, Google analytics, etc… You can use the value proposition Canvas if you are designing a dedicated product/feature/functionality.

Create templates & Routines

As a PM things are never the same but are very repetitive. Does it make sense?

developers always say “don’t repeat yourself”

You constantly have to create a huge amount of notes, requirements, presentations, emails, notifications, agenda, roadmaps, etc… But if you look closer, it is what you do for all projects. Why reinventing the wheel? Reuse your presentation and save time. Some collaborative tools are really good in customized templates. This is a time saver! And you are a product manager, time matters a lot. Php developers always say “don’t repeat yourself”.

Master your communication

As a PM you are sometimes also the product owner. That means you will be asked to report the progress of your product. You’d better know it well if you don’t no one else does. Document your project, and make sure to advertise them correctly. Another tip is to avoid to work locally. It does not matter if your notes are draft. Your requirements/notes/artifacts have to be accessible by your team.

Another tip, if you work remotely, make sure you always everyone can see each other during meetings. It does not matter if someone works from his bedroom and has some “Prince” poster on the wall.

Embrace the role

Many people say that the PM is a mini CEO. It is so true! You are the CEO of your product. You will have to make critical decisions and learn to accept that they can be wrong. In french we say that you cannot make “Omelettes” without breaking eggs. Be self-driven and don’t ask for permission if you think you that you’re doing the right actions to improve your product.

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Guillaume Jean-Baptiste

What describes me the best is probably my energy. I like challenges and even more work on solutions with a real outcome for the users.