Aye Product Manager ki honda hai?

At a usual evening at a Punjabi wedding, where random aunties are scouting for their next eligible damaad or bahu — I was spotted and probably liked by a Punjabi aunty from a distance; she stared at me for long enough till the time I took notice of her, came to me with a smile so bright as if she just brushed her teeth and wanted to show off, asked me “Puttar tusi kya karde ho?”(What do you do, son?). I politely replied, “Aunty I’m a product manager”. Aunty hadn’t ever heard of this term before, as the only profession she’d probably of was an engineer. Perplexed, she asks me “Puttar aye Bank manager taan suniya si, Aye product manager ki honda hai?” (Dude, heard of a bank manager before, dafuq is a product manager, really?!). I died laughing the moment I heard her say that. Though I did try to explain what we do, she seemed quite dissatisfied while I explained. Since none of her neighbors knew what a product manager was, I was immediately struck off from her prospect daamad list.

But when I came back home, I did realize that most of the people in some of the best engineering colleges, and working professionals don’t quite have a clue on what a product manager really does! Sadly enough, one of the major reasons is the lack of literature around, and the difference in the definition of Product management in every article you read, or every product manager you speak to; since the definition of this profile varies quite a bit in different product companies, and the kind of the product you own. So what does a product manager do, really? Ai Product manager ki hunda hai?

A simple Google search ‘What does a product manager do’ would very likely land you on an image like this:

But hey wait, there’s LOADS more to it! A product manager works with Engineers, designers, business and marketing people, the customers, legal and finance folks, and the analytics teams to build a feature, or a product. Wait, what?! How does one PM be in touch with so many teams? There’s a reason why this is a super hero role, needs so much experience to be good at and why a PM is called the CEO of a product!

How does the work of a PM feel like on an average day?

Any Product Manager, consciously or subconsciously tries to figure out the what, why, how and when of the feature/product (s)he is building.

What: A PM tries to understand what is the problem to be solved, and by what means. It could be by speaking to the customers and doing a user study, by doing an elaborate analytics of the current feature to see what and where the flow of a feature is broken, by doing a competitive analysis, and by speaking to the stakeholders within the company who shall be impacted through the feature. Basis this, he decides on what is the feature that needs to be built.

Why: While a PM decides on the what, he tries to focus on the why of the feature being built, in the process of his research. Why this feature? What metric will it solve? Will this increase the retention of the product, or will it lead to more people paying on the product? How many people would adopt to the feature? What is the target audience of the feature like? There are some of various questions that are catered to in the process.

How: Once the ‘what’ is decided, the Product manager will work with the designers, engineers to move on to detailing of the feature/product. This shall involving wireframing of the feature, deciding on the flow of the feature, think of hacks that need to be applied to launch fast and understand the constraints of building the feature from the engineers and designers, if any. He then writes the elaborate specifications to the feature which are consequently picked up and built for execution. You’ll also need to setup the analytics that is required to validate the success/failure of the feature, and at times understand the financial and legal aspects of building the product.

When: Basis the how, the product manager decided on the versioning of the feature, and what shall be the timelines like for building the feature.

Phew! That’s a lot, isn’t it? But what are some of the traits that you’ll see in all good PMs?

Collaboration: No, a Product Manager’s role isn’t a leadership role. It’s a collaborative one. You’re going to speak to various stakeholders in the company, and will try and align them to your line of thought. But you have to take into account the impact that it shall have on them, and what their perception is of the product being built. Though your stakeholders don’t have a direct call in the product, their say in the product cannot be ignored.

Decisiveness: You’re going to be taking decisions everyday. There are going to be a few Yeses and a lot of Nos. There are going to be truckloads of opinions that you’re going to get everyday, and though you have to, and should listen to them, it’s going to be your call to give direction to the product. There are going to be good decisions, and there are going to be bad ones. If you take the bad ones, you need to accept them fast and iterate faster.

Prioritization: There’s going to be loads on your plate everyday, and you have to learn the art of prioritizing what you do in a day, one task at a time. There are a gazillion improvements that you can think of on your product, but you need to prioritize the ones that’ll bring the maximum impact.

Numbers/Analytics: This is something that most Product Managers need to be good with. Whether it’s making a top down story of how a feature is going to perform, or validating a feature, or speaking to any of the stakeholders, you have to know your numbers and metrics really well. Without the numbers, your talk is just going to be loose talk.

If you’ve come this far, I hope you’ve been able to get a broad sense of what a product manager does. Yes, this was a long article, but an exciting and dope role like this needed a long one!