The “product manager” role is one of the hottest roles in tech right now — but what do these people actually do? To answer this we asked Jenny Chu, a Product Manager from Atlassian.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up at Atlassian
I studied a Bachelors of Information Systems at UNSW. I used to be a designer in a few startups and joined Atlassian through a Product Management internship whilst at university.
Q: What does a PM do and what function do they play in a tech company?
Product management is about understanding what problem we’re solving in building a product or a feature, and considering when/how the team should solve this problem.
Product managers are integral to the strategy of the team. We look at an issue and question whether it’s the right problem to solve and why that problem is important to solve. We always think about what improvements we can make for the greatest impact.
Product managers are embedded in different teams — with engineers, designers and together they tackle everything from the problem definition to the delivery of the feature.
Example: If you are PM of a team building a video streaming service you would encounter a large number of problems with the product. Problems can include: increasing the streaming speed of videos above 720p, bugs that prevent comments on a video past the 25th comment, and cleaning up poorly written code. Problems will pop up constantly — a Product Manager’s job is to think strategically about which problems are important and if, why, when, and how they should be solved.
Q: What does a typical day look like for a PM?
I think the beautiful part about being a PM is that it is atypical. Every single day is different and you sort of adapt based on what the needs of the companies are at that time. At Atlassian, there would be a lot of meetings. I work with teams to understand what projects we need to work on. I also work with my own team to make sure they’re on the right direction and help them prioritise their work.
We do lots of customer interviews and research as well. PMs are usually a whole financial quarter ahead of everyone in terms of company strategy. They are constantly looking at business outcomes for the next quarter as they need to define a lot of the work ahead of time. This means there’s a lot of discovery work such as research, testing of concepts, and alignment of teams.
Q: What products do you overlook and manage?
We work on the platform team and work with teamwork tools. I manage the media experience across all of this — how customers upload, view and edit files across the Atlassian products (such as Confluence, Jira, and everything else in between).
The mission for us is to ensure we create a cohesive experience across all of our products and make sure that we have the best-in-class media experience across any SaaS (software as a service) products.
Q: Could you walk through the life cycle of the product — from ideation to development and delivery of the final product?
There are two different strategies for most companies:
- The top-down strategy involves the CEO or Head of Product. They might notice that the cloud business is not doing so well and list out a number of reasons. The team would then do some research, look at the numbers and identify whether it is an opportunity to invest more resources in. That’s usually how the priorities come down into my team.
- Then there’s the second strategy, a bottom-up one. We do customer interviews to understand the problem. This usually starts with talking to people and users. We might look at previous feedback where people have complained about products to understand what they’re trying to do and the problem they’re trying to solve.
After this, we measure the impact of this problem — is it a problem worth solving (There are heaps of problems in the world, but not all of them are essentially worth solving)? We then define this problem with relevant teams and make sure everyone is across it — why we’re solving this problem, who we’re solving it for, and what the problem is. We identify what the minimum viable product (MVP) might be to solve this problem and what the ideal experience might be to validate whether our solution helps with that problem.
Once we identify our MVP — we design it, user test it, and go through a feedback loop and learning cycle to iterate on it. We often go through the engineering team to see what work they can do as well. Finally, we ship the product and decide whether we need to revisit and prioritise it later down the track.