The Curious Breed of PMs

The different types of people in the PM tribe!!

Product Manager (PM) is a very broad role and varies into anything remotely related to it like Projects, Programs, Analytics and even Marketing. Every PM has a certain style of working. Each style has its own approach, process and deliverables. Below I outline some of the approaches PMs follow and some points to keep in mind when applying a certain style.

Design Obsessed : These are largely UI/UX focused PMs whose approach to solving anything is through visual medium. These are Product Designers who transition to the ‘formal’ PM role. They are obsessed about design intricacies like color schemes, icons used, tooltips or layout of a site.

If they are presented with the problem, for example, of reducing bounce rate on a website, their first and foremost approach would be to talk to customers about the site itself. And then make changes to UI to improve the usability of the product.

Bottomline: This works very well for those products that are simplistic in nature, high frequency of usage and users expect exceptional usability. Examples include Medium, Uber, iPhone, etc. These products are built more keeping the end consumer in mind rather than the intense users.

User Oriented: These are PMs who develop a certain solution keeping solely the user or the customer in mind. It might not always be complex or jazzy by nature but serves the purpose. This is largely followed by many PMs in consumer-driven organizations in sectors where competition is very intense.

When up against a challenge, they might not necessarily build a new feature but reuse an existing one. For example, to minimize drop-off at payment stage, they might pre-populate the options upfront for the user to avoid additional clicks.

Bottomline : This is the style followed by Amazon and Netflix. And it’s hard to replicate at a smaller organization due to lack of focus or corporates due to complex and rigid internal processes. This also requires a complete re-think of your existing processes keeping solely the customer in mind.

Target Driven: These are PMs who develop almost everything keeping business and numbers in focus. Number-centricity is the theme. Every feature’s success is measured by impact on sales. This is largely adopted by online startups where PMs work with Marketing to deliver numbers.

These are PMs who’ll do intensive A/B testing to arrive at a solution. For example, to improve the funnel or acquire more customers at the same budget. They’ll junk feature recommendations if doesn’t help them achieve their targets

Bottomline : This is the style followed by PMs in e-commerce companies like Amazon or traditional businesses where the PM is responsible for P&L like Banks or Insurance companies. Their KRA is clear : drive business from online channels and optimize unit economics

Feature Developer: This is typical of PMs where features matter and usability isn’t the primary metric. This is typical of Enterprise products and PMs in mature startups. Such PMs are typically from the existing industry and focus on developing tons of features to stay ahead of competition.

These are the PMs who stack feature after feature in their product. Users don’t complain as they offer almost everything feasible under the sun. For example, if someone wants to share a document, these PMs provide at least 3 alternatives!

Bottomline: This is for mature products like MS Office (Excel, PowerPoint, Word), Amazon, Gmail, etc. It is also followed by PMs in stable startups, post their growth stage as they try to build features to cater to a diverse set of audience. The product as a whole matters; not at a feature level.

Process Optimizer : These are PMs who work on Process excellence related products like backend systems for large corporates. These PMs purely focus on process aspect of things and optimize existing features rather than build new ones. They typically are very data-savvy and possess great process orientation.

These are PMs who believe in one thing : Process is everything, get it right! Their KRA is to drive process efficiency by cutting overhead activities. For example, minimizing manual intervention in improving TAT for loan disbursal

Bottomline : This is a style often used by PMs in organizations where process efficiency is considered paramount yet have huge process overheads, mostly large organizations like Banks, Automobiles, etc. Bajaj is a classic example where PMs focus relentlessly on process improvement.

Simplicity Proponent : These are PMs who firmly adhere to the value of Simplicity in everything. They are typically those who have actually used complex products, realized their flaws and now try to simplify everything. They have an uncanny ability of simplifying the most complex things.

These are PMs who pursue one thing : Simplicity. And every problem can be solved by breaking it down into simpler and smaller problems. For example, they will try to simplify their product for better and faster consumer adoption.

Bottomline : These PMs work in industries where product is complex for customers to grasp as in case of PayPal, Robinhood, Kabbage, etc. All operate in sectors where there’s a deluge of information leading to simplifying the way the industry functions leading to massive user adoption of their products.

Problem Solver : These are PMs who set only 1 objective : Solution. They will arrive at the problem using Process tweaks or Feature modifications. These are those who come from Business background and are more obsessed with solving the problem and go deep into the problem to its cause.

If faced with a problem, they look at only metric : Solution. For example, customer not satisfied with service delivery. They will focus on getting it done by tweaking existing service SOPs or through bringing insights to the representative.

Bottomline : These PMs can be anywhere, from complex setups where new processes are hard to setup and startups where agility holds key. This works well in functions where variations in a product is huge and it cannot be managed by just developing new features.

Data Driven : This is typical of PMs who swear by only thing : Data. Their entire decisions are based on data. Subjectivity is something they aren’t accustomed to. These are typically PMs who come from Analytics background. They take a stand only if data supports them.

These are PMs who measure every datapoint coming into the system. Their roadmap and prioritization is strictly data-driven. For example, which field is leading to higher drop-offs on a web page or what’s impacting conversions

Bottomline : This works wonderfully in profiles where data is captured accurately and in massive quantities. This works very well for consumer-facing products like websites, mobile app, etc. Typical products could be AdWords, Facebook Ads, LinkedIn, Marketplace websites, etc.

The above styles isn’t MECE. The same PM might adopt a certain style basis the need of the hour and context of the problem. In fact, for certain complex projects, different facets might require different approach. For example, a delivery tracking feature requires Design orientation from a customer-standpoint and Data driven approach from internal standpoint.

In the end, its all about the solution and the impact a PM brings to the table by adopting a certain approach.

This article was originally published here

October 21, 2019

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