Evolution of a Product Manager
The World Wide Web is filled with a plethora of resources on what Product Managers do, what their responsibilities are, good traits in good Product Managers and even Tips For Landing Your First Product Manager Role.
In this medium story, I plan to answer the age-old question that most aspiring Product Managers have - how do really I evolve into a good Product Manager over a substantial period of time. I have tried to tackle this question in a very candid and non-nonsensical manner by showcasing three distinct routes that lead to the same destination.
Actual Role and Responsibilities
Most current Product Managers will agree that the job title bestows a great deal of responsibilities and decision making but confers limited authority and definitely less powers than what you would expect from a role that is often labeled as the ‘CEO of the Product’.
A Product Manager represents the end user. I know that you might have heard this umpteen times but this statement is only partially true. An organization typically consists of multi-faceted teams that have unique roles acting as parts of a whole. A Product Manager has to not only suggest features (read user stories, if you’re relying on agile) with the end user in mind but has to also ensure that this is the best way forward for the business and brand.
As the typical thinking process of these teams is biased towards their KRAs and KPIs, it is difficult for say a developer or marketeer to think from an end user’s perspective. This is especially true for specialist teams where employees in an organization are finely tuned to their role and makes it difficult for them to empathise with the actual end user.
Although most companies prefer hiring MBA graduates to promoting their internal employees for a Product Management role, there are in fact several roles which provide a natural progression to a Product Manager role. Of these, three job roles really stand out as they provide the basic skill set that is essential for good Product Managers.
Technical Writers typically research and write technical information-based material and documentation for articles, manuals, text books, handbooks, or multimedia products, usually for education or corporate purposes.
- They rock at research - one of the most important reasons why they can make good Product Managers.
- They really know the product well. In fact, most technical writers work as consultants or freelancers making them adept at understanding products.
- They have to put themselves in an end user’s shoes to be able to create useful documentation.
- Amazing communication skills.
While UX Designers focus on the user’s journey to solve a problem, UI Designers focus on how a product’s surfaces look and function. Together, they are responsible for ensuring that the company delivers a product or service that meets the needs of the customer and allows them to seamlessly achieve their desired outcome.
- Designers are creative people who find innovative ways to solve problems for the end user.
- They have a good idea of minimalism and can really come up with good user stories that can be developed in a sprint or two.
- Designers are essentially good team players who liaise with developers, marketeers and business teams to make sure that what they are creating is in line with the business model.
Software quality analysts apply the conventional principles and practices of software quality assurance throughout the software development life cycle and ensure that the end product is as bug-free and usable as possible.
- They know how the different features in a product function, as well as, if not better, than the actual developers.
- They usually have a technical background which aids them in understanding technical products even better.
- A good QA has numerical skills and an understanding of statistics. This really helps as Product Managers are expected to rely on and make sense of data and statistics for making decisions.
Dictionary.com defines evolution as a process of gradual, peaceful, progressive change or development, as in social or economic structure or institutions. Like a good Pokémon, an aspirant should not only sharpen their existing skills but also learn new skills that make a good Product Manager. Here are a few ways to do just that.
Be your own Critic
The best way to do this is to actually use your product. Put on your thinking hat and perform all the steps that a typical user might in your product and come up with their pain points. The best product is easy to use and allows an end user to get what they want in the least possible steps.
Research your Competitors
Every product, no matter how innovative, has at least a few competitors in the market. Some products have a monopoly as they are in a niche market or are simply focusing on specific features. In any case, it is essential to keep track of what your product’s competitors are up to and try to predict what they might come up with in the near future.
Know your Customers
Set up calls or meetings with your actual customers, browse through your forums and wiki for comments, and get in touch with your business and customer-facing teams for actual feedback. One customer interview that gives critical feedback is more important than ten customer testimonials.
Not everyone product is a success. You need to retrospect what you’re putting into your product and find out if it’s really helping your end user and also helping you achieve your business goals. Learn from every mistake you make and ensure that you don’t make the same mistake twice.
Use data to your advantage
Gut feeling is one thing but nothing beats good old statistics and data. A good data science team will always help you find trends that will eventually help you make better decisions for what’s best for the product.
Be a Techie (or not)
You don’t need to be from a technical background for being a Product Manager in a technology company. It certainly helps but it isn’t a requirement. In fact, development can be considered as the combination of (1) creating algorithms and workflows and (2) actual coding with programming language syntax. As a Product Manager, you’re expected to design the workflows and contribute towards creating efficient algorithms.
There are a lot of MOOCs present on edX, Coursera, Udacity, Udemy and other websites that will really help you sharpen your skills as a Product Manager.
It is very important to know and be sure of what you really want in life. If you have made up your mind to be a Product Manager, picking up one of the three career paths will help you reach there. Of course, the journey will not be simple. But with the skills that you pick up and the experiences that you get on the way, you will surely have an edge over candidates who only have bookish knowledge or enter the product team on an executive level and learn as they go. Good luck and godspeed.