My friends often ask me, what does your job involve doing all day.
The reality is I don’t see being a product manager as work, I genuinely love what I do. During lockdown here in India, which we have just re-entered once again, my parents have been known to pop their head into my room, wondering why I spend over eight hours a day buried in product specifications and roadmap meetings.
More often than not, even my colleagues, who I share time with on the daily stands up, even wonder what I do, when they don’t hear from me again for the rest of the day, whilst I’m consulting with our clients and partners on delivering their new feature sets.
Every now and again even my CEO or VP of Commercial Products asks me to switch off, but, unless you are truly doing what you love, then how can my loved ones or colleagues begin to understand, what it really means to be doing what I love doing best. Helping businesses transition to better ways of working that improves the quality of their professional work lives, is not a job it’s a calling. I’m not sure my friends and family will ever really understand what I do on a day-to-day basis.
This post goes out to anyone who thinks they would like to change the way people work or would like to invent solutions that solve real world problems, then life as a product manager, could be the perfect career move, it was for me!
No two days are ever the same
Life as a product manager with FrontM means no two days are ever the same, which is largely governed by the needs of our customers, the market and last but by no means least, my colleagues or second family as I have come to see my teammates. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of what we do is reactive but, as a product manager we are empowered to steer the product roadmap.
As my skills and industry knowledge have expanded, one thing I have learned is not all businesses take the same approach to product delivery. We operate an iterative development methodology across two-week sprints. This delivery framework supports the evolution of products through on-going collaboration between internal and external cross functional teams. Some businesses operimageate one-week sprints using the Waterfall or Kanban approach, either way each of these frameworks dictates what activities you will be doing at a particular stage and time of the product and project delivery.
I can hear my friends still, asking but, what is it that you do. Let me summarise a typical day as a product manager, it starts something along these lines:
A busy day of meetings and data analysis
Over the past couple of years, I’ve had to learn how to adapt and as a PM you have to take on many roles, these include, but are by no means limited to:
- Voice of the customer (Customer champion)
- Communications manager – stakeholder management at all levels
- Critical thinking and decision making – you need to be fearless and committed
- Detail guru – the devil really is in the detail or in this case the data
It’s a tall order to fulfil these roles, to do it successfully you need to be as close to your customers, market and teams as you possibly can get, without invading their personal space, which means lots of stakeholder meetings. This is a very rewarding part of being a PM because it ensures no two days are ever the same and can include:
- Meeting with customers and partners to find out what their requirements are, what they like and don’t like about their current solutions, the types of challenges they are facing, and where they would like to get to, their future state, this really excites me.
- Meeting colleagues from all areas of the business to better understand how we PM’s can support their customer success, sales and marketing teams’ efforts in successfully delivering our products to the market.
- Daily stand ups and meetings with the development team to understand how our clients and our own products are taking shape. This is a critical, yet fun part of the role of a PM. The requirements need to be clear and the development team will always require additional information, and clarification around specific functionality or just need a decision on the various options available to deliver a specific capability.
- PM’ing is all about understanding multiple data sets. Let the data guide you, it will help you to identify the current and future trends. These trends and the supporting data will help you shape the products of tomorrow. Data sources come in all shapes and forms, one thing I have learned is your unhappiest customer is often your best source of learning and inspiration. Support tickets, Kibana metrics, sales staff, emails, industry reports, user surveys etc. The data never lies, let it guide your product strategy.
- Never take a let’s build it and they will come approach to product delivery. It’s vital to always put the value at the heart of any new product strategy. Hence the term minimal viable product, this also allows you to quickly pivot and iterate to fit core capabilities and features into the core product environment. Product works closely with the business, tech and UX. Once all the data has been gathered, it provides the PM with a unique 360 view of the landscape. From this vantage point, we get to plan features that meet the multiple needs.
Lots of these meetings will be a regular occurrence, such as the ‘daily stand-up, sprint reviews, etc’ that are hardwired into the business’s delivery methodologies. Then, you also have the less frequent departmental checkpoints, that include product demos, roadmap planning, customer visits, user research and the all-important product launches.
There is never a dull day in the life of a product manager, it is always rewarding and fulfilling. However, if truth be told, some days can also be challenging, why, because you have to remember, that you can’t please all stakeholders. Life as a product manager is also about learning to balance multiple stakeholder requests and business priorities. The great news is, these challenges help you to step outside of your comfort zone to find new and innovative solutions, this is often where the magic happens.
PM advice to my less experienced self
Someone recently asked me what career advice I would give to my younger PM self. Well as I am still learning and growing into my role here at FrontM as a product manager, I would have to say, be more disciplined and focus on prioritisation based on the RICE Framework.
Work closely with the UX teams to ensure the products are user friendly and easy to use. Always listen to your commercial team, they are closest to the customer and take up creative writing as a hobby, it will come in handy when drafting product user manuals.
Every day is a new day, some days will require more determination, focus and dare I say data and meetings than others. Balance is the key to a successful life as a product manager. I will leave you with a quote from the late Steve Jobs, that beautifully summarises a day in the life of a product manager. “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas.”
Author: Dhivyansh P Gowda