Product in Action Part 1 : Omnia Dei Scientia

A PM’s First Hand Experience

Product Management is arguably one of the most demanding and overreaching areas in today’s tech-driven world. A Product Manager (PM) has to remain on today’s cutting-edge of technology, not just understanding technology but deploying something actionable and creating a sustainable impact.

The first and foremost question on any PM’s mind would be : How then do I create an impact in my ecosystem of internal users, customers and partners?

This is all the more if a PM is entering a domain for the first time. I have segregated at high-level a few key facets every PM should understand before digging deeper in no particular order. Most of these come to a PM’s rescue in almost any domain, but will help a lot more in a domain-intensive role (Lending, Healthcare, etc.)

Know Thyself : First and foremost a PM should identify and should answer with confidence. What are your strengths and weaknesses? What are the additional skill-sets you have that can be leveraged for greater impact? What are the skill-sets you want/need to learn to deliver the result?

For example, an additional skillset of having a strong Analytics background helped me leverage large datasets for generating Product Insights. A colleague of mine had a very good offline Marketing background helping him deliver some amazing customer-facing products.

Tip : It helps if you know your focus areas. Otherwise, explore and talk to PMs to better understand. This is critical due to the intensity of the impact and the massive difference in front-end and back-end focus.

Know Thy Profile : This will be a very obvious thing an individual will be expected to know as it shapes your career. Where in the product stack will you be working? What is your KRAs related to these areas? What are the focus areas as a PM for you?

Some PMs are extremely good working on UI/UX aspects while some are comfortable working on complex logic-driven backend projects. I personally am very comfortable working on complex data-intensive projects while I have worked with PMs who have an amazing ‘Design approach to Products’.

Tip : It helps if you focus on the stack you are comfortable. Talking to PMs in similar domains and/or areas to understand pain points helps a lot.

Know Thy Company : Every company is unique, defined by its vision, values and DNA. Most PMs ignore this or under-rate the impact on self . How much product-focused is your organization? How much tech-driven is your organization? How are results achieved-hustled or planned?

My current organization is highly data and number-driven. And we try to achieve outcomes in a tech-driven environment. On the other hand, one of my previous experience was polar opposite : Process trumped everything else. Product and Tech were just supporting assets.

Tip : It helps to understand from your peers in Products and across the organization the way it functions. This will give you a head-start in the way you plan for releases.

Know Thy Domain : Some sectors like FinTech and Healthcare have a lot of deep domain knowledge. Each sub-sector has its own dynamics and ecosystem. Do you want to focus deep on a particular sector? What are the dynamics of the (sub)sector that excites you as a PM?

I want to focus on the FinTech sector because of the massive impact and rapidly evolving ecosystem and challenges. For me, the Lending domain excites me more than any other. But a lot of my friends are more interested in the ‘Horizontal’ i,e Profile rather than the ‘Vertical’.

Tip : It helps if you know about the ecosystem and dynamics of the sector. Read online – relevant articles on LinkedIn, Medium, etc. and, lastly talk to people from industry and ecosystem players.

Know Thy Stakeholders : Every PM profile is unique; so are the people you deal with. Most PMs ignore the softer aspect of the role. Are you clear who are your stakeholders and their level of involvement? Are they passive, active or aggressive?

I believe expectation management is a key component of the role. In one of my earlier organizations, I used to deal with just 2 teams in a corporate setup. This has now become an entire organization in a startup environment!

Tip : It helps to get clarity about stakeholders from your reporting manager or team-mates. A bit of inside information about them and their expectations never hurts. And actively engage with them across forums.

Know Thy Customers : If you are a customer-facing PM, this will be the foremost thing to focus. But otherwise, this typically gets relegated to the back-burner. Do you know the end consumer is? Do you know what their expectations from you is and why they reach out to you?

As someone who manages the internal assets, I began first by gaining a high level understanding of our customer. This helped me empathize with the customer about a lot of processes and the way our systems interact with them. It also helped me align my colleagues in line with our customers’ expectations.

Tip : It helps to talk to customers first-hand about their experience with your product. Your colleagues who are in customer-facing role can add a lot of value here in terms of customer understanding.

Know Thy Team : It goes a long way in understanding the background and knowledge of your fellow PMs. Are they someone from similar profile? Do they know something about your profile that can help you shape up as a better PM? Where in the product stack do they fit?

Most PMs here typically isolate themselves to their areas. I have always believed in knowing what’s happening everywhere so that I can deliver better. I have many times pulled in my team-mates for their views about certain situations because of their background and skill-sets.

Tip : It helps to know the team even before you join. LinkedIn lets you understand people’s background a lot better. And constantly banter with fellow PMs about what’s happening.

Know Thy Technology : It never hurts to put in a bit of effort to understand the underlying Tech stack you will be working with. Do you know the various components and services of Architecture? Do you know where different data-points captured are flowing into in your DB?

Having been a developer in a different era, I found it very convenient to ease into the Tech function. I always try to look at features from Technical and Data perspective. After all, scalable products will require a PM to understand a good bit of technicalities.

Tip : It helps to know your Tech stack, in and out to the best of your capability. Sit with senior Developers and Architect to understand the stack. Talk to people and do your research about newer technologies.

Know Thy Engineers : It goes a long way in understanding how your Engineering (Tech) team is. Is your team a bunch of geeky kids or mature individuals? Is the team long-term focused or looking for quick kills? Do they seek your help just as a PM or as a go-to person?

I have worked as a PM where I rarely interacted with Engineering, I interacted only with PM to describe requirements and lastly, where I am hands-on about each feature I own, to go the extent of debugging an issue sitting with Developers and QA teams.

Tip : It helps a lot in understanding the dynamics, but doesn’t happen overnight. PMs who don’t come from Tech background might struggle to get hands-on with Engineering teams but nevertheless, put in a bit of effort for a massive boost and build great rapport with your colleagues.

Know Thy Impact : In the end, it’s all about creating an impact for our organization. And a PM needs to understand what’s the impact of feature. What’s the desired/target impact for a feature? How is the impact measured? Is the impact a practical one?

When I started out as a PM, I rarely tried to put a success criteria for a feature or even a target. But soon, I began to put success metrics and target values for the same. I now measure impact objectively, in addition to identifying the org-level metrics the feature will impact.

Tip : It helps if you can identify the KPI or the metric you are trying to change with the feature development. If you are unable to identify, try to associate indirect impact rather than direct ones. Some features like Data Integrity and Role Management can’t be measured directly, but will require a subjective understanding.

While knowing a bit of everything helps, as you progress as a PM, you will need to dig deeper into each of the aspects for better understanding. Spending the first few days in your new job trying to understand the above aspects can go a long way in creating a stable platform for you to develop into a well rounded professional.

All the best being an awesome PM!!

This will be soon followed up by more articles in this Series, with an emphasis of the Lending domain where I come from. Stay Tuned!!!

This article was originally published here

October 21, 2019

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