Craft of Product Management

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

If you think that the job of a Product Manager is a simple one, moving a product across an assembly line of engineers and analysts. Then you are as ignorant as I was till Jan-25–2020.

I attended a talk by Mr. Nitin Chandra, Chief Product Officer (NestAway) organized by E-Cell IIT KANUR. I will share with you a glimpse of 80% of what I remember*(80% of what I understood *(80% of what I got hold on)) totaling to close about 51% of what he spoke in that 80-minute talk.

As a product manager, your job is to understand the need of the market and convey the idea to the engineering team to work on it. Now, you will think

Why can’t an engineer and customer sit together to build a product? Why do you need a PM in between?

In a startup, this is a simple thing to do, sometimes as an entrepreneur, you are the person wearing different hats. You are the Engineer building the app, you are the CEO, CTO as well as CPO at the same time. You are only accountable to yourself or maybe a few others. You can entirely change the UX/UI of your app overnight and nobody will even question you, you are in a low-risk stage, minimal is at the stake.

But as the company grows 10x to 100x to 1000x, the need and role of a product manager change. Now, your vertical expertise matter more than your horizontal expertise. And as the scale of the company grows. Even a small change in product, let it be color or UI can affect your users a lot, which in turn affects your revenue.

Consider an example of Facebook, It is still using it’s years-old deep blue color login page when hundreds of much more interactive login pages are running across the other businesses. The scale at which Facebook is currently impacting it’s users, a slight change in the UI/UX can result in a change of billions of dollars of revenue. As the company grows the number of factors that can impact it’s revenue increases and hence the revenue equation becomes more and more complex.

Consider another example, you might wanna go and check this out now itself because I am sure many of you might be unaware of this like I was before I attended the talk. Go to amazon’s checkout page and click on the amazon icon — which actually leads to nowhere, whereas on every other page clicking the logo takes you to the homepage. Why is it so? There must have been a Product Manager who had put a lot of thought into it and concluded that changing this variable can lead to a massive increase in the company’s revenue.

Considering the above examples, what do you think as a novice in the field of product manager, will google or Facebook hire you to play with these sensitive variables? Or is it easier for you to get a job in a startup as a product manager? The entry barrier of expertise increases with the scale of the company

I quote Nithin, as a general trend companies think that,

With so many PMs involved at different stages of product development, it is becoming difficult for newcomers to find a place. Product Management is a delicate learnable craft, it requires one’s time and effort.

In order to draw an analogy and to understand the role of PM better, consider an example of a small startup with limited funding. It wants to expand into two new cities Bombay and Banglore, but the Chief Financial Officer has limited resources and a tough choice to make, which one to leave?

Similarly, a PM also faces the dilemma, having limited engineering resources he has to choose between change X vs change Y in code or UX UI. At the end of the day, it is a tough choice to make keeping in mind hundreds of variables that will be affected by a single decision.

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

It’s PM who decides what features to roll out in an app and in what order, having hundreds of demands it’s his job to decide on which a couple of features to work on and deliver it.

An underestimated but most important skill of a PM is to the ability to sell. The ability to sell the ideas, to convince people is very important not only to customers but to your senior management as well.

Nitin says that, Politicians are the best Product Managers. They are the managers of their own product called BRAND. They know how to convince the masses, sell their idea. Cutting all the technicalities they bring their promises to a minimum common denominator so that it is easier for every voter to understand.

It’s harder for giants to innovate, so they acquire startups

Now you can understand after so much reading that why startups innovate more rapidly than a company. The less complex the structure, the easier it is to innovate.

CONTRADICTIONS IN THE CRAFT

Photo by Luke Chesser on Unsplash

Today more and more PMs are analytics/data-driven. You can make your decisions better with data but you cannot make anything new out of data if you don’t have the intuition. Think about an example, you want to know if saving passwords in the app for quick future login would be useful or not. You have an intuitive idea that this would have a positive impact on revenue. Now, you go through data and actually test out your hypothesis. Coming to this idea by simply looking through numbers would not have even done the job.

PMs have to be creative and focused at the same time. From a course by Dr. Barbara Okaley, I learned that creativity requires dispersed though and you can be creative when you are relaxed enough, whereas focus requires prolonged though over an idea. Having both at the same time seems to be an impractical idea but a skill that a great PM has to master, you must be able to switch between these states quickly.

PMs have to juggle business and engineering people. Business people's goal is to generate more and more revenue as quickly as possible but engineering people's goal is to bring out an elegant and efficient solution to the problem which requires patience. Ensuring conflict between two parties is what PMs do all the time.

You need to be Practical with ambitions. You should not get afraid of the massive of wall you are trying to build while putting stones in it.

PM's most exploited tool is empathy. They try to put themselves in the shoes of their customers and try to understand the most painful point of his/her life. Think about a human being’s most painful point, they are food, shelter, and education for him as well as for their families. So many traditional businesses are built around these basic amenities.

Now as times are changing so are the human activities and so their pain points. If you are trying to build a product for tourist their most painful part is language. If you can build your product around it, it will become an instant hit among tourists.

A PM should be ready to accept his/her mistake as early and as quickly as possible and improve on it. Otherwise, the market will make you realize your mistake which will cost you a lot.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

A PM should be confident with his/her ideas because your design reflects it. Consider an example of Apple’s product their design expresses authority over the concept. It still reflects the vision of Steve Jobs, one of the best Product Manager in the history of mankind. Now compare it with Google’s Pixel it looks good yet at some level, the lack of confidence in its product manager is reflected in it.

Read Nitin’s blog on mindtheproduct

At the end remember in order to become a good product manager, you should

  1. Keep finding flaws, even the best product have some flaws in it. That’s why it requires constant updates and upgrades.
  2. Develop the maker's mentality, put yourself into their shoes.
  3. Show genuine empathy towards others, it will help you to spot pain points.
  4. Be honest with yourself and your colleagues.

Tip: If you are stepping into PM or are an entrepreneur, before even working on a product, in order to test your idea. Just run a FB ad and see if people are willing to pay or what you want to build? Businesses are built around money, probably you think your idea is world-changing, but is it generating revenue and more importantly profit in the long run?

YouTuber | Filmmaker | Educator | Undergoing graduation from IIT Kanpur | Drone Enthusiast