Guest Post by: Candice Zhang (Mentee, Session 11, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Tauheed Ahmed]
When I first researched about product management, I asked seasoned product managers how they started and they gave me very different kinds of answers. A lot of them worked in other positions before moving to product management, like engineers, analysts, marketers and project managers, and learned by taking on extra responsibilities. Some of them were lucky to start in a tech company with APM program and picked up more skills over the years. Now there are more and more resources, like blogs, books, online courses and even training programs for Product Management. Becoming a product person seems to be easier with access to clear guidelines. Are reading articles, taking online courses, watching videos and participating training program enough to make one a good product manager? Also who is to define “good” in various industries and companies?
Through the mentor program, I tried to get answers for some of the most important questions:
- What is the product in the context of the company and industry and how is it different?
- What product management really means in the context of the company?
- How to learn by doing it and lead a new team at the same time?
- How to plan for future growth for oneself, the product team and the products overall?
One of the cornerstones of my product management learning journey is to firstly understand what the product is in the industry and company I am working in and what defines a product. Being a product manager in a B2B service company, the question was particularly difficult to answer. In one of the earlier sessions with my mentor, we spent a lot of time talking through the business model, various groups in the organization, their responsibilities, engagement model and what the customer experience is at the end of the day. It was a mind expanding exercise and set a clear structure for me to rethink what is really the differentiation factor in our product.
In a well structured company with clear product definition, this may only take a couple days of training. But for learning by actually working to define it brings much more valuable deep thinking, discussion and validation. To take a step back, it is also beneficial to develop the thought process in understanding the product. In our daily life, there are so many products being used and promoted. Some of them are good, and some of them are bad. The method to define what the core value and differentiation factor is very similar across business models and industries. It is a good tool to have and can be used over and over again.
After defining what the product is, the next key question is what the product manager should work on and how to define success. In a service as a product company, there are not consistently clear starting and finishing lines for product management. Product management could start with market research and product development and end with operation. It could also start during sales process when customers need modification and addition to the solution. To make it more difficult, product management may not always in the driver’s seat of defining and managing product through its lifecycle. The discussion with my mentor with regards to having the right mindset and always looking for ways to clarify product management responsibilities with each team are very crucial. It takes time to change culture and bring awareness to product management, but continuous reinforcement and communication helps to move to the right direction.
When it comes to measure the success of the product or even product managers, service companies have different criteria from product company. B2B type of business will focus on different KPIs than B2C type of business. Thinking through what the important success factors for a service company are is the first step of delivering a successful service product. After several iterations, I was able to develop basic matrics, like standard solution adoption rate, time to solution implementation, solution profitability and etc. As the business model and product evolves, the success criteria change as well and as product managers, we need to always evaluate and enhance it.
Along with trying to figure out answers for what the product is and what product management is, there are more to learn about. When I started to lead a small product management team, all the challenges were magnified. For instance, assigning tasks are not only about finishing deliverables faster and better, but also to make sure every team member is stretched and given opportunities to grow. Over the past six months, my mentor and I had a lot of discussion around how to manage the team, properly delegate the tasks, prioritize time and resource within the team and also among stakeholders. As different kinds of challenges surfaces, it is always very valuable to have someone as an unbiased sounding board. Leading a team could be similar to managing a product, there is not always a standard or right way and the method always has to be adjusted based on the feedback and gathered data.
Last but not least, how to develop strategic thinking and plan for the future plays a big role in the long run. The strategic view defines the end goal of a product or a set of product portfolio and put it in perspective. It also aligns with the business strategy of a company to make sure the resource and priorities are allocated to the right place. To develop strategic thinking, it involves asking a lot of whys and researching about the industry or technology trends. Keeping the end goal in mind, developing roadmap maps out how to get from current stage to the end goal and required resources and support.
Just like there are no two products are alike, the product management methods are different as well. There are no well defined, standard and easy-to-use guidelines to better product management. But continuous learning, keeping the intellectual curiosity to ask questions, adjusting the method and plan along the way and making sure to bring everyone along will always lead to good product and results.
About Candice Zhang
Candice Zhang, currently leading the Product Development and Management team in a small growing company called TenFour, base in NJ. I started my journey as a Business Analyst, pivoted into Product Management and have been enjoying it ever since. In my spare time, I love traveling, watching Broadways and spending time with friends and family.
More About The Product Mentor
The Product Mentor is a program designed to pair Product Management Mentors and Mentees around the World, across all industries, from start-up to enterprise, guided by the fundamental goals…
Better Decisions. Better Products. Better Product People.
Each Session of the program runs for 6 months with paired individuals…
- Conducting regular 1-on-1 mentor-mentee chats
- Sharing experiences with the larger Product community
- Participating in live-streamed product management lessons and Q&A
- Mentors and Mentees sharing their product management knowledge with the broader community
Sign up to be a Mentor today & join an elite group of product management leaders!
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The Product Guy