New to Product Management & want to elevate your game? Part 1

Courtesy ‘Freepik’ and ‘Flaticon’

If you’re reading this, chances are, you’re new to Product Management and looking for ways to immediately add value to your team. Speaking in broad strokes, PM is represented as confluence of UX, Business, and Tech (see below).

Image Courtesy: Mind the Product

After getting a PM job as a newbie, you don't wish to merely carry out the responsibilities of the job, you want to elevate your game and be a star player!

There exists significant material about — ‘getting your first gig in PM’ — which is quite an adventure. But what about adding immediate value from Day 1?

A newbie would wonder:

What nuances/tricks of the trade should I know to make myself invaluable to my team?

Product

A Product’s Value Proposition is not just marketing gimmick on its landing site. Realized via features, understanding the Value Proposition is extremely critical to know it’s capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses.

What pointers can help understand product(s) better?

  • Jobs-to-be-done framework: What Job is the end-user or customer accomplishing? What are the pain points of the customer?

Eg., Uber: Book a Ride; Google Flights: Find a Flight Rate

  • Define User(s): Who is using the product?

Enterprise products traditionally have role-based access if multiple users use the same product.

  • Enterprise vs Consumer App: Is an enterprise or an individual customer buying your product? If Consumer App, is it prone to network effects(provide link here)?

This answers questions related to ‘who makes Purchasing Decisions’ , ‘Who are the key influencers in the buying process,’ & ‘business model’ (SaaS, Freemium)

  • Feature Matrix: Accentuate your product knowledge by viewing a break down of features that are planned vs available, and the application version in which it is available/planned

Feature matrix may exist for products with active customers. However, for products being developed, create one if it doesn’t exist.

  • Partner Ecosystem: What are the partnerships which enable your product usage?

Be cognizant of Product integrations for enabling messaging, payments, mapping/navigation, or any module depending on the nature of the product

UI/UX

Customers don’t care about the technology. They care a lot about user experience. Bad UX results in churn

What pointers can help understand UI/UX better?

Customer Empathy: Put yourself in the shoes of the customer. Understand if the user experiences solves a pain point or creates more problems. Actively participate in UI/UX discussions by researching best practices and analyzing what can be incorporated in the current functional flows

How emphatically can you answer this: Am I making the end-users life easy by providing this user experience, user interface or these icons?

Consistency: Take extra care in defining design elements which are consistent with your design philosophy which includes brand color palette, icons, & navigation flow.

Design Review: Helps see the feature from multiple angles. Solicit feedback from all stakeholders so that there are no surprises when the feature gets released.

Tracking Usability features: Once features are developed, test the features for UI/UX flows. If you feel there could be improvements, create issues in your tracking software

Technology

Understand what’s happening behind the scenes:

Understanding tech helps you make implementation trade off decisions; helps you get better estimates for new feature requests from dev

What pointers can help understand tech better?

  • Data Sources: Where are we importing/exporting data to? What is the format? What are the constraints of the format?

A payroll company may allow downloading salary slips in PDF only; Job board may screen-scrape jobs from other job aggregators; healthcare information system may allow uploading patient data in csv due to framework limitations

  • Dashboard: Charts, Graphs, Data Elements & their granular presentation is dictated by the user

In Enterprise software, there may be different sets of users; C-suite members will be looking for summary data whereas Managers and Analysts will be looking for instantaneous or data specific to current day/week

  • Database: Know the different databases used for storing data (RDBMS, NoSQL) and the entity relationship between data elements in case of RDBMS. When designing new features, always be mindful of the data being retrieved and limitations of the retrieval

Entity relationship comes handy while troubleshooting issues; You can quickly query and get to know the root cause. If data is stored in ElasticSearch or other databases, get familiarized with the interface (Kibana) to access that data & perform analytics

  • Microservices: Instead of monolithic architecture, products are being built using lean microservices. Try to understand the various microservices at play, their objectives, and versioning.
  • APIs: Mobile API documentation provide better understanding of data elements sent as request(s) to get valid responses. You can perform GAP analysis on what other data elements needs to be accommodated (based on use-cases specific to your product)and why

Mobile app development is reliant on APIs to do heavy lifting in terms of data exchange; Eg: Uber uses Stripe API to enable payments

For building apps requiring social media, check FB or google developer console to check app settings, AppID for different bundleIDs & websites, security restrictions, and ensure FB & Google marketing assets are provided for your app(s)

GAP Analysis:

  • Employ First Principle Thinking: Instead of saying ‘we’ve always done it this way,’ figure out if that’s the best way to continue. Get down to the basics. Embrace of power of asking ‘why’ for decisions related to product, design, processes, etc.,

If you’ve been building enterprise apps, and you’re currently working on a consumer app, for functional flow and design related issues, the team may say ‘we don’t send a mail after on boarding the user.’ This may work for an enterprise app, but for a consumer app, engagement is critical and an on-boarding email is a best practice

Soft Skills & Leadership

Sometimes unspoken, but leadership skills are so pivotal in shaping you professionally. Never let go of the chance to lead with influence. Be the one who looks to fix issues; people related, product related, or process related.

How can you lead better?

Seek Feedback: Setup 1:1s (every 3 or 6 months) with your superior to understand how you’re performing; learn if there are any changes required, and seek guidance. During these sessions, try to apprise your superior of your ambitions and where you’d like to grow within the company, what you’d want to be working on..

Not only with your superior but, setup time with your Dev & QA resources to understand their point of view and adapt accordingly. Seeking feedback is a good way to understand your alignment with the expectations from your peers

Be a fixer: You will have to work with difficult people. There may be times when you can’t understand why there are many bugs per feature release. You may not be okay with how the team estimates and takes on tasks. Rather than just bringing up the problem, be the one to talk to folks about interpersonal issues, product, or process related issues with an intention to solve the issue. Be logically invested, Don’t just seek to win arguments. Be decisive; you may not always be correct, but you will learn from failures nonetheless.

Eg., In order to get a grip on estimation, you need to ask: What metric are we using to estimating stories to take up every sprint? (No metric, T-shirt sizes, # of hours spent on tasks.. ) How can we estimate better? How are we currently sizing it? Hows the change going to benefit the team?

Eg., Use sprint retro to gain insights into team; What it is good at, and what it is not, and suggest action items. Sprint after sprint, track your progress with respect to those action items.

Lead through influence: If your team is accustomed to a process, changes suggested may not get adopted. Demonstrate value to stakeholders, seek their opinion, and have an open mind to consider their view(s). Team members will only speak up when they feel they can voice their opinion.

Eg., If dev team is taking a long time to complete stories, seek to understand why; May be they don’t have the right requirements, May be there is a scope change every now and then, May be the team members who were working on X feature moved to another team, and feature has changed hands, and newbies will take time to understand code, get knowledge transfer session from lead, and then implement stories

Be an Effective Communicator: Know your audience and appeal accordingly. The way you talk to a technical person is different from talking to a marketing person. Embrace the diversity in conveying information

You’re designing a referral screen; you ask a dev team, ‘Given that user should share referral code, where are we storing this? Could you repeat as to why cant wemake an API call to fetch the richtext content?’ .. you ask marketing folks, ‘user taps a button to navigate & share his/her code using social media options, what would you like the message to read?’

Take Initiative: Instead of being told, possess the enthusiasm to say ‘Hey, can I spend some time researching about X’, ‘Can I create the release notes and release presentations?’ .. Enthusiasm needs no talent. Passion can get you from ‘good’ to ‘great.’

Eg., Perform GAP analysis, propose potential enhancements to issues, and create backlog items. Write a product marketing blog about a feature. Perform Market Research to know landscape better. Understand the requirements of releasing an app into the AppStore/PlayStore.

In Sum, Understanding value proposition of the product and understanding the technology backbone & external dependencies will help you

  • Design features better
  • Communicate well with internal and external stakeholders
  • Create future feature enhancements

Add to that, the ability to lead the scrum team via influence in shipping features will make you a force to reckon with.

Will cover Product Marketing, Project Management, Release Management & other issues in Part 2 of this post