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Talk about Demystifying Product Management

Talk about Demystifying Product Management

I gave a talk yesterday to an audience interested in Product Management. This post is a quick summary of the talk and some highlights.

It was organized by The Product Folks community. The audience was a mixed bag. Few were developers interesting in shifting to product management; few were working with PMs and wanted to know more about them. Only a handful was practicing product managers. My talk was aimed at the general audience. I wanted to bust some myths about being a PM. I also shared a few learnings that helped me in the past few years.

Myths

  1. People think Product Managers are mini-CEO of a product. The first lesson I learned as a PM was to influence people without authority. PMs usually have no one reporting to them. I have written a detailed post on why this is a very wrong approach to the job.

  2. PMs should have a technical degree. No, a PM need not have an engineering degree. But a PM should have ton loads of curiosity. A PM should be able to explain the underlying architecture and building blocks of a product. No need to know the details to debug a problem. (Kudos to you, if you can do it, but it is not necessary). A curious PM should know why a customer is buying the product. How is the marketing team positioning and selling? How are sales folks pitching? What are the critical problems support team is facing?

  3. Project Management is not Product Management. I know this is basic, but Chennai's tech scene has gotten this mixed up. Many job descriptions in LinkedIn and other portals will clearly say that it is completely misunderstood. Sometimes, I emphasize, only sometimes a Product Manager might be doing a bit of Program Management or Scrum Mastering role. But a Project Manager is a different role, their focus, skills, and the org structure is meant to address a different challenge.

Lessons

(Note: I think these lessons are needed for anyone to thrive in their career. Be it an enterprise company or a startup. Be it a marketer or engineer or salesperson. But again take it with a pinch of salt because this is my life's experience, YMMV) 

  1. Understand the power of incentives - Knowing what motivates your peers, or your stakeholders is a must-have skill. You can articulate, persuade, and negotiate better when you know the incentive of the other person. Not every time, incentives are monetary. It changes based on the situation. A canny and shrewd PM always smells this, plays their cards accordingly.

  2. Always Be Shipping - You need not write code and commit in Github to ship. Publishing frequently, getting feedback, and validating/invalidating our assumption is the core of shipping. We quickly build castles in our head, and they can collapse if our assumptions and world views are wrong. If you are the world's most excellent expert on a topic, you don't have to worry about this. But for many of us, it is vital. Writing a rough version of a spec document or sketching UI mock and getting feedback from a customer or a stakeholder, as quickly as possible, is essential.

  3. Get Better at Sales - Everybody sells every day. An engineer sells a technique of solving a problem to her manager or peers. A human resources executive has to sell the job well to a potential candidate. Brute force sales mechanism rarely works but has its own repercussions. You can enforce from the top, you might burn bridges with people in the middle. Enough literature is available on becoming better at these skills. But a piece of critical advice that helped me was: "Aim to be a great business person who handles XYZ, rather than an XYZ who works for business people.". XYZ could be a PM, marketer, test engineer.

Pay Forward

I am an accidental product manager. I got a lucky break in my job at SAP Labs to be a technical product manager. One thing led to other, I now work as a Growth Product Manager at one of the most excellent startups of India, Freshworks. I was fortunate and lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I was fortunate because I had managers/peers who really believed in me , supported me and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I was lucky to be in the company of friends and family who were interested in startups and were a bed rock of support.

I burnt my fingers in this wildly exciting journey of startups. I have been foolish in trusting the labels and have done many mistakes, which sounds stupid in retrospect. But I have been blessed to work with remarkable human beings and I have made some great lifelong friends. Emotionally it is a roller coaster ride. I really wished I had someone to mentor unofficially, with whom I could bounce opinions and validate/invalidate my world views. I was lucky to find some of them on Twitter and other online communities. But it definitely could have been earlier. 

Inspired by people like these on Twitter, I want to do the same for folks in my network. If you or anyone you know needs help to think through career decisions, get feedback on a resume, comp negotiations, or suggestions about product management career/skills, I can help them. My Twitter DMs are open, and they can email me at santhoshguru AT gmail DOT com

I've been fortunate enough to have a great group of smart and knowledgeable friends. They have helped me think through major professional life decisions. It really has made an enormous difference in my life. I am just doing what people have done to me and to my career.

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