What Makes a Great Product Manager
What do you think are the qualities of a Great Product Manager?
I think there are about five things that typically great PMs always do.
The first is that they do whatever it takes in order to make sure that the product is shipped out. What I mean by that is that they are okay probably staying back till late nights or over weekends or talking to whoever it takes or talking to customers and getting information in design requirements and closing the loop with a lot of different parties. So, making sure that they are ready to roll up their sleeves and get the job done would be Number 1.
Number 2 is that in order to do that great PMs ensure that they have a phenomenal working chemistry, especially with engineering and with all other business functions primarily design. It could be business development, sales, category managers, customer service agents so on and so forth right. So they make sure that the working environment is healthy. There should be a lot of debate going on and they are leading from the front and making sure that decisions are taken. In order to do that there’s the next point number 3.
I think great PMs have excellent communication skills and what I mean by that is not necessarily being able to speak eloquently but being able to break down the problem, if it’s talking to engineers and they are able to break it down to their level, to explain technically as to what the challenges are and how they can be solved and seeking their opinions as well as being equally comfortable talking to maybe CXO’s to explain the status of where the project is heading.
Number 4 which I think is extremely important is based on a saying by Edward Deming which goes like – In god we trust but everyone else please bring data. So the fourth point would be that they are very data focused and they make sure that decisions are taken primarily looking at metrics and data, whenever any new product gets launched they actually look at metrics and numbers and use that as a basis to take decisions.
And finally which maybe be a little clichéd but the fact is that great PMs are the voice of the customers in the room. So typically when you are discussing product requirements, there maybe a particular opinion from business development teams, category managers who have sales targets. Similarly, there could be other concerns that engineering may have but it’s the PM who looks at all of that and raises the concern from the customer point of view as to what should be right thing to do instead of what is probably the easier thing to do.
So I think those are some of the qualities that make a great PM.
Do Product Managers need any industry specific knowledge?
I think that really depends but in my opinion is always helpful to have. For example, let me just break it down by an example right.
Say a product manager who’s designing system that has to be used by warehouses. Now if he does not know about different taxation structures in different states within India, then he would obviously develop a product that may go to production and then it probably would not be very useful as it doesn’t support a simple feature like that.
So having an industry background is always very helpful and that’s where the point I made about great PMs also comes in that they have a great working relationship with their counterparts in business development and category management and probably sales right, so that they get those bits of the industry or the background experience from them and that can be used very well to design a product that is basically successful. So I think it definitely helps to have industry experience.
How is introducing a new product feature different from scaling an existing one?
I think the two are a little bit different while they share a lot of common traits. But there are some differences. For example, if you are launching a new feature, what is significantly important is to have a very clear goal as to what it is that you want to do and what is the product aim and who is the product aimed at? What are some of the metrics that you would want to measure as soon as it goes live and how are you basically going to achieve that? The reason for that being important is to arrive at what is called as an MVP – Minimal Viable Product. So the more information you get before you launch a product, the better it is to design the bare minimum that you need to do so that customers can start using the product basis which you can then iterate.
Coming to the second part of the question which is a product that is existing in the market. The difference there is that typically I have seen great product managers have that little bit of empathy for the users right because you are now changing a product that they were used to and altering it to something different so sometimes users may not really like it. So I think what matters there a lot is that you build in a configurable system. For example, when you go live and if something breaks or if users don’t like your new product at all, then you have a way to switch back immediately to the original settings. I think that kind of empathy or that kind of understanding in building configurable systems always helps.
What do you think about UpGrad’s Product Management program?
I think currently if you look at the industry there’s a lot of gap between what great PMs need to do and between what is taught to them probably in the courses that they are learning at school or with their friends. And I think a course like UpGrad’s Product management course basically helps to bridge that gap. Because it not only gives you a structured course work and structured framework for approaching product management problems but it also gives you a sort of a mentorship framework where you can actually interact with experts from the industry who have probably done something similar before and their experience can guide you. So all in all I think it’s a fantastic tool to have at your disposal to actually understand and learn more about Product management as a career.
One piece of advice for aspiring product managers.
I would say – one of the things that is very important for PMs and great PMs is to actually start learning about the business right. Start learning how does a business work because many a times when you are actually focused on working with engineering, you tend to get into the minute details without understanding the bigger picture so I think while they can discuss the minute picture as well, it’s important for them to understand the bigger picture as to how the product impacts customers and how they can actually use this and tweak it and keep tweaking it so that the business actually performs all the way better.