“I’m a Product Manager,” an appropriate response to the pretty frequently asked question “what do you do for work?” However, the reality is that most people don’t understand what that means, and to be honest neither did I when I first stepped into the role.
What I have come to learn is that being a product manager means continuously honing in on four key skills:
- Identify Problems
- Prioritize Accordingly
- Manage Stakeholders
- Stay Agile
What these key skills get applied to — the “product” you manage — can be replaced by nearly anything that requires decision making. Something like planning a wedding, for example, which I did in 2020. While it may be hard to understand what I do as the product manager of our Creative Analytics platform at VidMob, it can more easily be explained through the lens of how I applied those same four skills to planning my wedding.
Every good product starts with a well-defined problem statement. As a product manager, it’s your responsibility to identify and present clear problems so that your team can take incremental steps towards solving that problem. A problem statement and the guardrails around it keep your team focused on achieving their goals.
Being a product manager does not mean coming up with solutions or setting plans and sticking to them. It means guiding your team towards a common goal, re-assessing the direction based on new information and pivoting when things aren’t going as planned.
It’s relatively easy to identify the “why” behind wanting a wedding:
Problem Statement: The happily engaged couple needs to be legally married because they want to commit to spending the rest of their lives together.
When planning a wedding, it’s very easy to let every bump in the road, every missed detail, make you feel like your wedding will not be all that you hoped it would be. To that, take a step back and really think about what you want out of your wedding? If your Aunt cancels at the last minute, if the caterer serves the wrong food, if your heel breaks walking down the aisle, will those things really inhibit you from saying “I do?”
Remember, MVP is two people standing beside one another saying “I do” in front of a legal officiant, family, and friends. Everything else is nice to have.
In product management, nothing is ever a simple “yes” or “no” answer. Every decision needs to be considered carefully against a budget, within the constraints of what is feasible, and according to a timeline. It is a balance of how much impact each decision has in helping to achieve the goals of the project.
A common framework in product development is the scope, cost, time triangle. Every feature will impact one of these variables and the product manager’s job is to assess the tradeoff of each of those decisions and prioritize them in terms of the value they will drive.
Let’s test this framework on wedding planning: Remember the problem we’re looking to solve. The happily engaged couple needs to be legally married because they want to commit to spending the rest of their lives together. Setting the variables of this triangle will vary depending on the key stakeholders — the couple and their families. But in this case, let’s assume there is a date and a budget set for the wedding. That means decisions on what to include will largely affect the features (scope) of the wedding.
Below is an example of how features of a wedding can be prioritized:
With unlimited time and an unlimited budget, prioritizing these features could be a really easy task when there are no tradeoffs that need to be made. But this exercise of prioritization in most circumstances helps to set the guardrails of what is possible when planning a wedding.
Manage Your Stakeholders
Arguably one of the most important functions of a product manager is the ability to set and manage stakeholder expectations. With every product come many stakeholders — and with that, many opinions.
In another Medium article on product manager responsibilities, the author states, “sometimes you will spend more time managing stakeholders than managing your product.” While I agree stakeholder management is a large part of the job as a product manager, it’s not a tradeoff to managing the product. Instead, it’s an integral part of it.
A product manager’s role is to constantly be open to receiving feedback from many channels and making the right decisions based on it. And more often than not, saying “no” to the feedback you receive is where the “manage” piece comes in.
If you’ve ever planned a wedding or been involved in planning a wedding then you should be familiar with the concept of managing stakeholders. There are many voices when it comes to planning a wedding. The key here is to listen, and (as always)… prioritize.
Not every opinion when it comes to planning holds the same weight. A distant cousin’s thoughts on decor maybe shouldn’t contribute as much to the decision as you and your partner, or people who may be contributing financially towards the budget. Once you accept that it’s not your responsibility to incorporate every piece of feedback, then you just have to manage expectations.
The answer here is good communication. Remember, you’re going to be saying “no” a lot. However a straight “no” usually won’t suffice in justifying your decisions. The key here is to explain why not — come prepared with the reasons and relate them back to the problem. For example:
As a product manager, you’re constantly planning. When you think you’ve finished planning, the plan changes. The job is a constant tension between being prepared and being able to pivot based on new information.
At VidMob, one of our core product principles is “if you fail, do it quickly.” As a product manager, you have to identify those points of failure quickly and make the necessary adjustments to recover.
Agile development in the product space is about building features that drive the highest value for the customer and iterating based on feedback. That’s why it’s important to keep the MVP mindset and the larger strategic goal in mind at all times.
The same logic applies to planning a wedding, especially during a pandemic. For all the couples out there who went through wedding planning between 2019 and 2021, being agile wasn’t an option — it was reality.
Anyone who was engaged prior to 2020 had a plan and a vision for their wedding, a global pandemic shutting down the world probably wasn’t in it. However, with every passing month, every other week, there was new information being released about restrictions and those restrictions varying by geography.
A lot of wedding planning became about keeping in close contact with venues and wedding planners to see how each new piece of information affected the plan and adapting. Plans became “agile.” While I hope that no other wedding planner has to apply these learnings from planning a pandemic wedding, this mindset of rolling with the punches and adapting to new situations is very relevant to wedding planning. It’s key to not breaking down with every bump in the road that comes along.
The biggest piece of advice I can share is always remember what you set out to achieve: marry the person you love.
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Product Management is a craft. It’s a combination of skills that most people already have and apply in their lives — it’s just that the “products” they manage vary. I found putting these skills into practice in my personal life by planning my wedding made me a better product manager.
While the products I manage at VidMob deliver incredible value to our customers, my wedding will forever go in the books as my most successful release.
Want to know how I kept it all organized? See a template of my wedding planning spreadsheet.