Product Management — 10 things I have learnt so far

I have been fortunate to be managing consumer products @realtor.com for about a year now. Product Management has changed me as a person in so many ways. Product management involves doing many roles at once and I absolutely love that. Here are some of the things I have learnt so far:

1. Product, engineering and design should work together: A product group can ship good features at a high enough velocity only when design, engineering and product work together like a three legged stool. I read about this concept in an article written by an Airbnb designer. I always make sure to get the designers and engineers involved very early in the product cycle. In the process, all of us get an opportunity to learn from each other. Conversations during brainstorming sessions move seamlessly between pixels and performance, and all of us get it.

When design, engineering and product all work in harmony, magic happens. Brilliant features are shipped and users are delighted.

To this three legged stool, in my personal experience, it is sometimes necessary to add a fourth leg; the leg of a data scientist. Providing data insights to users is what turns a good feature into a brilliant feature.

2) Get really good at decision making: In order to move fast, a team needs to make decisions on important features everyday. Decision making is not easy. With multiple teams working in conjunction, things can get chaotic. Each decision has tradeoffs and you are the one driving them or sometimes making them. Jeff Bezos had once mentioned the idea of two types of decision making A) Decisions that can be reversed B) Decisions that are not easily reversible. In case of “A”, decisions are better today than tomorrow, we need to keep moving forward. In case of “B”, take your time and evaluate everything. Super valuable framework!

3) A good design makes all the difference — This is probably my favorite. Thinking of design from a user’s perspective will change the way you build product features. A good design makes or breaks your product; it is what connects products with consumers.

Often, I find myself noticing color patterns, structural elements and cool features in everyday websites and products that I never noticed before! It has made me more aware of design nuances and be more appreciative about a good design. I had an Aha moment with design when I was working with one of my designers on building a default image for a card when no image of the home is available. Image on the left is what we had and then he added this sun to it (image on the right). It suddenly made the default image a cheerful and happy one. I realized how little changes can make such big differences to a user’s perception.

4) Art of Storytelling — If you master the art of storytelling, you will be able to successfully market your ideas to the executive team, key stakeholders and all others involved. You are communicating not just for yourself but for the product you are building as well as the team who is building it.

Since you represent everyone in the team, you almost have a duty to tell the story well.

5) Relentlessly looking for user feedback — There are multiple ways to get feedback from users. There are consumer surveys, market research and user metrics among many others. My handle over data has been instrumental to my growth as a product manager. I am always curious in figuring out answers to questions like “What is the click through rate on a particular widget” etc. Gathering feedback, doing deep dive analysis with the help of data and then acting upon key consumer needs are critical. Everyday without fail, I read user comments and look at a list of basic key metrics. Data is like a good friend; helps understand difference between opinions and objective facts.

Original Concept from Lean Startup Methodolgy

6) Roadmap planning and thinking long term — I read an extremely valuable piece on why it is important as a PM to focus on vision and strategy. A PM can exert maximum leverage through vision and strategy and rest is optimization. A good vision and strategy ultimately leads to creation of a solid roadmap. If you do not have a solid roadmap, you might not get the right resources to work on it. If you are a startup and your “90-day” plan is not defined, you might not get investment.

In my initial days as a PM, I was focussing way more on execution than I should have. What I found was the more I focussed on the product, the better the product became. The engineers are smart enough to figure out how to implement and ship.

Execution is key to a product manager’s success but their greatest leverage is strategizing and defining their products.

7) Leadership and Persuasion — Every single day, wearing the shoes of a product manager, you need to convince people why your strategy is the right strategy. As a product manager you work with teams who don’t work for you. You need to influence them, communicate clearly with them and make them believe in your vision. What worked for me here is making the team feel included in every decision. Here is where empowering the people around you becomes vital. Automatically they become invested in whatever you want to build.

Passion for your product and compassion for the people you work it makes leadership natural.

8) Obsess about the Consumer — Everyone has goals to meet but if you are the consumer product manager, your goal is to place yourself in the seat of the consumer and fight for him/her every single day. Look at every problem from the eyes of the consumer. Do what is the best for the consumer and everything follows. A good consumer experience drives growth, brand loyalty, revenue and everything else that is important.

9) Prioritize daily — In order to efficiently and effectively execute, you need to prioritize everyday. Your output and prioritization is proportional to your team’s output and ultimately the output of your product. When planning for the work that needs to be done in the next sprint or even the next quarter, I divide the features into three broad categories: A) Table stakes and parity with competitors B) Innovation and market differentiators C) Bugs and tech enhancements. Executing and maintaining a balance in these three categories will give you a stable growth line.

10) Do whatever it takes to ship good products: A value of a product/feature is zero till you have actually shipped it. Leverage the entire organization if need be to ship a good product. I have designed mocks, led architectural discussions and performed QA activities to make sure we can ship something valuable out to our consumers.

Enthusiasm and dedication are viral in nature. If you have it then your team will have it and then other teams will have it. That way, you can start changing the shape of your products and all other products you are connected to.

At the end of the day, don’t just satisfy the consumer, delight the consumer. And the most exciting part about product management is having a positive impact on the lives of your consumers.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on April 16, 2017.