Notes by Nero Okwa
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Notes by Nero Okwa

Product Manager, QuantumBlack

Year One

Dear Reader,

Last Monday made it one year since I started as a Product Manager at QuantumBlack. Time flies when you are having fun.

In true Nero fashion 😊 I thought it would be helpful to reflect on my experience so far, as a Product Manager at QuantumBlack, and other things.

Who is a Product Manager (PM)?

A PM is a member of a product team who helps the team (drives the vision, strategy, design, and execution) build a product that solves a user’s problem, and is good for the business. This could be a software or hardware product.

The PM is the ‘voice of the user’ during the product development process, advocating for their needs.

The PM role is at the intersection of Technology, Business, and Design/UX and involves engaging with different stakeholder. Hence, a PM needs to wear multiple hats.

A PM is involved at every stage of building a product: product strategy, design, development, launch, and post launch. I believe if a product is successful the product team is responsible, and if it fails the PM is responsible (no pressure 😊).

There is a helpful framework I like to use that I call The 3 Ks:

1. Know your User (and the market)

2. Know your Product

3. Know your Company

This framework is helpful for new managers, product managers, and entrepreneurs to quickly evaluate the key variables. I will use this framework to structure the rest of this article.

QuantumBlack (QB) — Know your Company

QuantumBlack (QB) is the AI arm of McKinsey and Company, focused on AI Consulting for B2B clients. We build frameworks and libraries for data practitioners to work in large-scale, complex projects, leveraging the latest ML techniques.

I was drawn to the culture of Autonomy and Ownership at QB, providing the benefits of being part of one of the leading management consultancies globally while operating like a startup — the best of both worlds.

You are trusted and expected to come up with what to build next, whilst working in a small nimble product team which adapts to a user or client’s most pressing needs.

There are generally 3 types of products at QB: client facing products (usually industry-specific), internal products for internal use only, and internal products which have been open-sourced to external users — such as my product Kedro.

Kedro — Know your Team, Product, and User

I work on an amazing product called Kedro as part of the incredibly talented Kedro product team. A team I can trust to deliver every time with expertise, and poise.

Kedro is a Python library that makes it easy to produce and manage data pipelines. A data pipeline is simply a method that helps you ingest and move data from a source to a destination. The data is transformed and optimized along the way, so that it can be easily analysed for business insights.

For a team on complex data science projects, Kedro enables workflow standardisation. Kedro is primarily used by data engineers, data scientists, and machine learning engineers who clean the data, schedule tests, and apply machine learning principles.

It is always such a joy watching a new feature go from user research to technical design, to engineering/design, and finally review, and release. The feeling of seeing users using something you helped build is indescribable.

A PM’s daily routine

Generally, no two days are the same, but these are some activities that make up my daily routine.

  • Speaking to users: through informal chats, reading their feedback on the Kedro community slack channel, and conducting user research
  • Meetings: Engaging in meetings for daily update, technical design, feature review, and design critique
  • Metrics review: Reviewing usage metrics helps me to understand how our product is used (or not used), and find opportunities for improvement
  • Prioritized time: I try to focus on one important task or workstream everyday
  • Learning: I also try to spend time learning new skills and how users are using our product and other products in the data stack, once a week

What I have Learnt

  1. Always listen to users (or observe what they do) to identify their pain points. Are these your target users? Is this a common pain point or unique to a few users? Once you are clear on these, summarize your findings in a clear problem statement
  2. Prioritization is everything. You need to focus on the most important problems. Will Lawrence explains it best: ‘A good product manager firefights. They see a fire; they try to put it out’. ‘A great product manager surveys, prioritizes and finds leverage to minimize destruction. Importantly, they let some fires burn while they tackle others.
  3. Stakeholder management and relationship building are really important. You need to build relationships with your team, other teams, and other stakeholders such as senior management, finance, and marketing. It helps to adapt your communication to the audience
  4. Take ownership of the success of your product
  5. Competition should inform but not drive product strategy. Focus on your differentiation
  6. Influence without authority. Working with different functions (design, engineering, data scientist), you need to be able to bring them to your point of view. As a PM you accomplish everything through others
  7. The difference between a feature and a product is that one is focused on an outcome and another on the output. A series of features that together deliver on the product vision makeup the product
  8. Don’t forget to breath, disconnect, and recharge

What I am still Learning

  • Technical learning: because Kedro is a very technical product with data practitioners for users, I am currently learning about Data Science. This would help me better empathise with users, and effectively translate their feedback to the team
  • To listen actively. As a PM you are constantly listening, and taking in new information that can be translated into actionable insights. Here is an excellent guide
  • Being a better team player and manager. I am actively working on this one by giving and receiving feedback, learning from books, and from my manager and mentors
  • Improving my product thinking. I am fascinated with how different products are built. The strategies, execution, and marketing involved. I do this by using my commute to listen to a product story podcast. I have the story of Google Maps for next week.

PM Reading List

If you are interested in becoming a PM or more product minded in your existing role, here is a good starting point:

What is Product Management:

How to get a job as a PM:

Building products, leading a product team, and talking to users:

I believe the best way to get into any role is to show you can already do the role.

For product management — become a product manager. Do a side project and build something — a blog, a website, a dashboard, and run it like a product. Practice talking to users, monitoring your metrics, and working with other stakeholders.

In closing

I have enjoyed my time as a Product Manager at QB over the last year. Thanks to everyone that has contributed to this journey, especially my team.

I am learning every day, from every conversation and interaction. The constant ‘learning and doing’ in this role, and responsibility of delivering a useful product to users, gets me out of bed every morning.

And yes, the imposter syndrome never stops, but that’s what makes it fun and interesting.

I look forward to the future with excitement and curiosity because I know the best is yet to come.

Thanks for reading and bye for now.

If you have any more questions kindly leave a comment below or message me at notesbynero@gmail.com.

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Nero

Delivering Value,

Racing Towards Excellence.

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A collection of Notes, Articles and Musings by Nero Okwa

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Nero Okwa

Entrepreneur, Product Manager and StoryTeller. In love with Business, Technology, Travel and Africa.