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Saison Thinking

I asked 52 product managers what does it take to be great PM. Here’s their responses

We live in a world of possibilities, many thanks to great technology products.

Want to connect with someone? Whip out WhatsApp, Telegram, Slack, etc.

Want to travel somewhere? Check out AirBnB, Expedia, Google Flights, etc.

Want to move money? Use your digital banking, e-wallet or crypto payment apps

Great products inspire us. So, how can we build this ‘greatness’?

I decided to embark on a mini-experiment to reach out to product managers in my network to ask them:

What does it take to be a great product manager?

I was surprised by the passionate response from 52 product managers hailing from 40+ leading technology companies in Southeast Asia. From unicorns (Lazada, Tokopedia, Ovo) to the incumbents (Google, PayPal, Experian, WarnerMedia) to the burgeoning (etaily, Nium, Shipper), many of the PMs I interacted with have build great products.

Here’s what I learnt (the tl;dr):

  • Soft skills matter more than hard — almost no product manager emphasized the importance of technical skills, and the word “empathy” was used more than 10 times. Aptly captured by Janani from Xendit, “A great PM one needs to understand that their empathy for their users’ emotions must exceed all logic and data”
  • Unwavering focus on the customer/user — many agree that the closer a PM gets to their customer/user, the higher likelihood of a better outcome. “Customer” and “user” were mentioned 30+ times. As Rajesh from Lazada best says, “The advantage of focusing on customers: it’s impossible to overshoot”
  • Prioritization is priceless — with the overwhelming number of issues a PM faces daily, prioritization is key. My favorite quote on this is by Yee Jie from Rakuten Viki, “A good product manager puts out fires. A great product manager lets fires burn and prioritize from there”

Yet, this summary is insufficient to capture the richness of what the PMs say it takes to be great. Read them all below!

P.S. Like this article? Follow me on LinkedIn here

What does it take to be a great product manager?

Quotes are grouped by theme, and sorted by alphabetical order of names

Love your customer/user

Aeriel Dela Paz, Venture Architect at Rainmaking, ex-Product Head, GCash

Great PMs know what customers need even when they don’t say it directly. It’s about reading between the lines and going through the numbers to address that need.

Anders Nordahl, Head of Product Management, OrkestraSCS

Understanding the vision of your customer is as important as to get the customer to buy your vision

Angel Mendoza, Head of Product, MetaverseGo

Most people think that to be a great product manager, you must have technical know-how. It’s textbook and I do think it is helpful to some extent, but for me the secret sauce is EMPATHY — the ability to see and feel things from someone else’s perspective. You can’t create a solution without deeply understanding the problem.

Atika Rahmawati Yuliantoputri, Senior Product Manager, Tokopedia

Focus on delivering value and helping people (consumer as well as colleague) and everything else will follow

Darren Lau, Head of Customer Experience (Product Management), Deloitte Digital

Start with the users, and work backwards. Don’t have a solution looking for a problem

Darryl Tan, Senior Product Manager, Grab

I would say that a great product manager is able to identify the crucial problems to solve through strong user empathy and synthesis of insights

Diego Perdana , Senior Lead Product Manager, Kitalulus

I think to be a great product manager you need to be obsessed with customer problems and most important is solve the right problem with the right solution

Dwarakanathan Ravi, Senior Product Manager, AirAsia

Lot of common sense + Customer Obsession. The most important role of a Product manager is to bring clarity of a solution. Your product is good if it solves customer problems. Your product is great if it solves an eco-system problem and disrupts the business in a positive way.

Edward Xie, Managing Consultant at Mastercard, ex-Product Manager, Shopee

Perfect your product, but be prepared to compromise for right users

Gurun Nevada Dharan, AVP Product, Shipper

For me, a great product manager need to be rational enough to find the business opportunities while obsessing the customers.

Janani Gopalakrishnan, Senior Product Manager at stealth startup, ex-Group Product Manager, Xendit

While as a good PM it’s important to be data-driven, to be a great PM one needs to understand that their empathy for their users’ emotions must exceed all logic and data. Great PMs also make these product discussions thrive within the team by intently listening to all the members thoughts and influence the team’s skin in the game positively.

Krishna Kumar K, Director, Product Management, Indeed

Great product managers put their users first. They discover problems that matter most to their users and inspire their team to find creative solutions.

Lakshay Kalra, Senior Product Manager, Grab

Product management is all about finding and solving most important user problems

Mega Puji Saraswati, Product Manager, Quipper

First of all, always remember the value of “user first” to solve what user really needs (the main problem) for guidance to arrange the task priority and develop new ideas. Second, ownership. Treat the product as your “2nd baby”, and the team as your “2nd family”. Third, maintain a good communication, both horizontally and vertically. But on top of those, always remember to have a work — life balance, and know exactly the priority in life :)

Miswanto Miswanto, Senior Product Manager, Prosa.AI

A great Product Manager is someone who can be the link between customer needs with the readiness and flexibility of the team. So that it can provide, build, and produce a product that is useful and helps the community to carry out their daily activities. And He/Him can improve product quality ongoing basis or continuous to help provide solutions for users or our customer.

Oriza Wahyu Utami, Lead Product Manager, Tokopedia

Be a great listener, be curious and be determined. every great product manager have the ability to listen the pain points and understand the problems, they are always curious on the users feedback, and they also very determined to look for the solutions that benefited users and the business.

Rajesh Sangati, Chief Product Officer, 99 Group

The advantage of focusing on customers: it’s impossible to overshoot

Ray Jang, Founder at Scenius, ex-Senior Product Manager, ByteDance

The difference between good and great product managers is that great product managers are willing to go the unsexy and unglamorous extra mile by rolling up their sleeves and ironing out all minutiae details of the product such that when the user uses the product, they can’t help but say “This was made for me.”

Sid Narayanan, Senior Product Manager, BCG Digital Ventures

Great product managers ensure that what gets built and shipped is at the intersection of what creates value for the customer and for the business that’s building the product…often times, especially in today’s highly liquid funding environment, the unit economics, aka ensuring that what gets shipped creates value for the business and is sustainable, gets overlooked

Stephanie Brownlee, Senior Product Manager, BCG Digital Ventures

There is software in the world that does more harm than good to people and society. Great Product Managers build products that solve problems not create problems

Experiment relentlessly

Abhishek Muralidharan, Group Product Manager, Delivery Hero

Embracing your failure is the key to become a great Product Manager

Anuraag Burman, Senior Product Manager, DeliveryHero

Product Managers should be thick skinned to deal with criticism and the stomach to take risk and face failures.

Apurva Lawale, Head of Product, DataSpark

Great product managers enjoy the creative process with their team to deliver intuitive user experiences to benefit users.

Dexter Zhuang, Director of Product Management, Xendit

The key to creating winning products is building what customers want as quickly as you can — testing and learning along the way.

Jay Ko, Product Manager, PayPal

To me, great product managers always remain relentlessly curious. They are empathetic leaders and problem solvers that glean customer insights into building impactful products

Jedd Flores, Product Manager, Home Credit Philippines

Great Product Managers are the best dreamers; they think of what can be possible for the customers, for the company and the positive impact that it will have in the industry that they’re part of

Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize

Akshay Ishwar, Director, Product Management, HBO Go

Good product managers strive to balance the signal to noise ratio, Great product managers know when to turn the dials for each up exactly

Guojie Su, Product Owner, Zuellig Pharma

Have the courage to say no. Managing egos and request is never easy and rejecting them makes it harder but necessary to deliver the best value for the customers.

John Prawira, Product Manager, Ninja Van

(1) PMs should be able to ruthlessly prioritize.
In order to be effective, PMs should anchor their product development process with their north stars (success metrics) and always communicate with a purpose.
(2) User-first when validating assumptions.
PMs should validate assumptions early and often to manage risk when leading initiatives with a focus on generating the highest impact to solving a particular user pain-point. We can’t expect a product/feature launch to be perfect (there might be bugs or we might not achieve our success metric — which is where iteration comes in), but we should try our best to optimize on user-experience earlier on.

Keika Sugiyama, Principal Product Manager, Nium

I’d say a great PM holds the ability to balance ruthlessness and empathy at the same time. It’s easier said than done for sure!

Li Cai, Senior Product Manager, ShopBack

Great product managers are like great Directors of movies. They do not create great products/movies by themselves. They deliver it by Defining, Prioritising, Energising the team to deliver what customers love.

Michael Lim, Product Lead, Quincus

A great product manager, keeps a pulse on the company’s big picture, identifies key problems, and discerns its rightful prioritization, is able to switch between the macro perspective to micro specifics, and communicates concisely with humility that influences naturally for execution

Mathieu François-Barseghian, SVP, Senior Product Manager, Citi Ventures

“You ship your org chart”. This is Conway’s Law short version (1967!): the fundamental socio-technical driver behind innovation successes (Netflix) and failures (your typical bank). The hype behind micro-services is just another reflection of Conway’s Law

Nikhil Moorthy, Regional Director-Product Management, Mastercard

A great PM should always look to build products which are scalable & viable , always keep the end consumer journey in mind. Keeping things simple & having a MVP based approach helps roll out products faster. One has to test & learn & then accordingly enhance / adapt, these are key to success

Rendy Andi, Product Manager Lead, Tokopedia

Articulate a clear vision and the path to get there, Create a process that delivers the best results and Be serious about customers.

S Atharillah Alifka, Senior Product Manager, DANA Indonesia

Own the problem, not the solution — Great PMs are outstanding problem preventers. Great PMs are discerning about which problems to prevent, which problems to solve, and which problems not to solve

Tat Leong Seah, Senior UX Engineer, LionsBot International, ex-Product Manager, ViSenze

Prioritize outcomes for your users, not outputs of your system” or more succinctly “be agile in delivering value; not features”

Yee Jie Tang, Senior Product Manager, Rakuten Viki

A good product manager puts out fires. A great product manager lets fires burn and prioritize from there

Build up core soft skills

Astrid April Dominguez, Senior Product Manager, Oracle NetSuite

Personally, i believe that it takes grit, empathy, and optimistic mindset to become a great PM

Boy Al Idrus, Lead Product Manager, Ovo

Contrary to popular beliefs, being a great product manager doesn’t have anything to do with technicals, it sure plays a part but most important weapons are: understanding pain points of users, project management, sympathy in leadership and business critical skills; these 4 aspects would definitely help you to become a great product manager.

Eric Koh, Lead Product Manager, PwC

Product managers need to be courageous to be successful. Courage is required to dive deep, solving big problems at its root and also to think far and dream big to achieve bold visions for your product

Eric Wang, Product Director, Ninja Van

In my opinion the two most important ingredients to become a successful product manager is: 1. Strong critical thinking 2. Strong passion for the work. As product managers, we typically need to solve very complex problems where the answers are often very ambiguous. The work is tough and at times can be really frustrating. The 2 ingredients I mentioned earlier will be critical towards helping you to slowly discover the solution that may become a game changer.

Gaurav Chandrashekar, Lead Product Manager, PayPal

A great PM has an eye of a designer, the brain of an engineer and the tongue of a diplomat

Irene Chan, Senior Product Manager

A great Product Manager is able to think like a CEO of the company. Visionary with Agile Execution in mind

Isabella Yamin, Lead Product Manager, Rakuten Viki

There is no one model of being a great product person but what I’ve observed from people I’ve had the privilege working with is an overflowing passion for the user problem, sprinkled with a knack for data and negotiation

Jachin Cheng, Senior Product Manager, Google

Great product managers start with abundant intellectual curiosity and grow into a classic T-shape. Horizontally: generalists who range widely, communicate fluidly and collaborate easily cross-functionally, connect unexpected dots, and have the pulse both internally and externally across users, stakeholders, and ecosystem players. Vertically: deep product craftsmanship comes from connecting relentless user obsession with storytelling, business strategy with detailed features and execution, inspiring leadership with risk mitigation, and applying the most relevant tools to solving the right problems.

Jene Lim, Head of Product Management, Experian

3 Cs and 3 Rs. Critical thinking , Customer empathy, Creativity. Resourcefulness, Resilience, Results orientation.

Nirenj George, Head, Security Product Management, Envision Digital

A great product manager is someone who can lead, collaborate and influence different stakeholders around the product vision, and should be able to execute the product strategy based on customer insights, as well as take ownership of the product roadmap to create a greater impact on customers.

Ritesh Arora, Lead Product Manager, Grab

Product Management is a multi-dimensional role that looks very different across each product team so each product manager has different challenges to deal with but what I have found common among great product managers is ability to create leverage through their efforts to drive outsized impacts for their products.
This leverage is built using data with intuition, building consensus with stakeholders, empowering their teams and focussed efforts on needle moving work.

Umar Masagos, Senior Product Manager, NCS

To be a great product manager, one must master both the science and art of Product Management. On one hand, you need have a strong understanding of the tools, metrics and data you need to drive your product. On the other hand, you need an in-depth understanding of your organization, your target market and target users, which is often the more challenging aspect to master.

Wei Jiao Keong, Product Manager, M1

A great product manager is multi-faceted. First, you need to have the ability to see the bigger picture, yet have a keen eye for detail. Secondly, you are empathetic and is able to deliver products with exceptional user experience while being analytical enough to achieve business outcomes. Lastly, you are highly resourceful and independent yet comfortable working cross-functionally.

Yudha Utomo, Project Manager, GoTo, ex-Senior Product Manager, Tokopedia

A great Product Manager is essentially an effective note-taker. In order to achieve the product goals, It is PM’s job to ensure objective has been clearly conveyed, efforts are assessed, and tasks are properly tracked and managed. PM can do this by having top-notch documentation skills.

There you have it — what 52 product managers think it takes to be a great product manager.

If you’re a PM aspiring to take your career to the next level, I’d love to invite you to the 2to3 Product Manager Community by Saison Capital. We are building an invite-only community dedicated to product managers in Southeast Asia.

Joining this community is free of charge, but needs an application. Once inducted, you can look forward to:

  • Fortnightly intimate breakfasts where we gather 12–15 like-minded product managers who are curious about web3, and discuss the implications on crypto, blockchain and web3 on building digital products.
  • 1-on-1 matching with a peer PM for deep conversations on a monthly basis. Through a proprietary AI matchmaking engine, we find you a peer PM that has similar interests, schedule a virtual / in-person conversation, and even propose conversation topics.
  • Practitioner-led workshops to hone your craft as a PM. To -date, we have organized workshops around analytics with Dune and community management with Avium.
  • Networking mixers to expand your network and meet other PMs, over good food and drinks.
  • A free POAP (Proof Of Attendance Protocol) NFT (Non Fungible Token), and if you’re new, guide you through the process of setting up your wallet to receive your very first NFT.

If you want in, apply here.

2to3 POAP NFT for PMs who attend our breakfasts

To read more of my future writings or stay in touch, follow me on LinkedIn here, or connect with me at qinen@saisoncapital.com

Disclaimer: All opinions and views are views of their own and do not represent the views of their employer and affiliates.

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