What Do Product Managers actually do?
and how to start out
“So…You’re just a glorified errand girl.”
Two months ago, I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine. We spoke about work and, eventually, the conversation ended with that statement above — let’s just say, it didn’t end well.
To provide better context, however, I had just told her that my job involved a lot of running around, following up with people and meetings. Quite simplistic of me to summarise my job role into what, in essence, is a glorified errand girl.
She was right. I had done myself and the product management role a great disservice by thinking that all my job entailed was run around work and, it became apparent to me that I needed to regroup and get back to the basics. To do this, I had to ask the right questions and get the best answers.
So, what do product managers actually do? First, let’s get technical. According to The Product Book by John Anon with Carlos Gonzalez De Villaumbrosia, product managers represent the customers.
To elaborate further, product managers are responsible for understanding the needs and pain points of the customers and identifying through data the various means and opportunities of meeting these needs while keeping in mind the goals and business strategy of the company.
Product managers are responsible for the success of both customers and the company. PMs are responsible for rallying engineers, designers and marketers behind the product vision to ensure success on all fronts. To fall back to The Product Book, PMs must do whatever is needed to help ship the product, finding solutions rather than excuses. This may involve loads of meetings, chasing around, grovelling, screaming, cajoling, bribing and anything else within ethical limits, of course.
In all honesty, some days it feels like you’re just an errand girl running from one stakeholder to the other and then on other days it’s like you’re in a house on fire, with nowhere to run.
However, achieving zen amidst all the chaos and knowing how to handle high-stress situations to eventually create something great, is the goal.
Now, if you’re new to this, your next question might be, how do I do this? And as a PM for a little over 6 months, I am glad to tell you, I have no idea. Just kidding. I’ve actually been able to pick up some valuable lessons and principles that have helped me thus far. Of course, I am still learning every day and boy, do I get surprised all the time (and I love it).
At Lendsqr (my place of work in case you didn’t read my last article), I have to work closely with the design and engineering teams to ensure my product goes live on the set date.
To achieve this, I continue to train myself to be more solution-oriented rather than problem-oriented and, I’m still learning how to do this. Like a weed, problems always come up throughout the life cycle of the product. One has to know how to move past an issue and derive a solution that works.
Now the beauty is it does not have to be perfect right away, especially if you work with really talented people as I do. A starting point gives the other stakeholders something to start with and improve on. And fortunately, you get better at this with time. A better understanding of your system and the space you’re in allows you to provide more holistic solutions.
You also have to become an expert communicator. All projects involve interactions with various customers, teammates, stakeholders and whatnot and, learning how to convey your message to get the answers you need and the work done is paramount.
It could be discussing with customers to determine what next or conversing (with some classic Mexican-standoff) with devs on feature prioritisation or documenting a product feature to properly conceptualise what you want to create whatever the case, you need to know how to convey this clearly.
You also need to form a rhythm. You need to be a master organiser and know how to move many different pieces at once. Context-switching is a pain in the behind but, if you master it, you would have unlocked sensei-level of Product Management.
Other things you need to consider are perfecting your basic business knowledge and how to define success for your products. You have to know how to rally the team behind the product vision, conveying to each stakeholder the goals in a way they will understand and come to appreciate. Be intuitive and listen to your instincts as they may have all the answers sometimes and, never assume. If you aren’t sure, ask or let the data guide you.
Now considering that the Product Management space is quite untapped and doesn’t really have a formal learning structure, there are still tons of materials to help you and give you the right tools to guide you on your PM journey.
You could take a more streamlined path and become a Technical PM or Strategic PM or, even both. Whatever the case, there’s something out there for you.
You could start by taking some online courses on Udemy, Coursera etc. One of the courses I’m currently on is this Technical PM course which is quite rudimentary. It’s a building block towards gaining more knowledge about the technical stuff and, that is the path I’m on currently.
You could also take things a step further and pick up coding skills. You don’t have to know how to code to be a good PM, but it does help to understand these things.
The Aha! guide is also pretty great. This, in fact, is how I started my PM journey. Furthermore, you can improve your raw PM skills and strategic skills by starting with The Product Book. In fact, the Product School site is full of other helpful courses and materials and, you could also get certified.
All in all, channelling everything you learn the right way and making the most out of it is what matters the most. And you are not alone on this journey. I’m here too, equally trying to figure it out in this cool and dynamic world of Product Management. So do what you will with my words, take it or leave it. After all, I’ve only been a PM for 7+ months.