It has almost been a year since I have been working with product. Like many Product Managers, I stumbled upon the role and during this first year I have felt the "sink or swim" pressure that many others have.
Over the last year I have learned many things that Product Managers quickly need to learn in order to succeed in their role. While I have definitely not learned all there is to know, or even as much as I'd like to have learned this past year, the post shares some of those things. It also leaves some of observances open-ended and open for questions, feedback, and other input.
Mentors are a Must
Shortly after I began working as a Product Manager (and leaving all my other previous responsibilities behind) my manager left the company. Now, although I technically work for quite a large tech company, our department is still very small and has almost been completely isolated from what we call "corporate." For all intents and purposes, my manager and I were the only Product Managers. So when my manager moved on to another company, I was the only Product Manager and there have been many days where I have felt overwhelmed not knowing what to do and how to accomplish the goals set for me and my very small team which only consisted of on contract developer and one UI/UX designer's time (which was maybe one day a week).
I was left with no mentor, no one to turn to when I needed to ask questions, and no one to provide me with feedback on how I was doing. I quickly found lots of blogs, articles, LinkedIn groups, and mailing lists. Without direct resources at my fingers, I had to look elsewhere for help. Although I have learned a ton from all of these external resources, they can never compare to an in-person mentor.
A couple of months ago "corporate" introduced a mentorship program, offering employees an opportunity to be a mentee to someone with a lot more experience in their field who also worked with the company. I jumped on that right away! As soon as I saw that email come through my inbox I immediately applied. I am sure I was probably one of the first, if not the first, to let them know I was interested.
So, for the last month I have had the opportunity to travel down to the corporate office (about 30 minutes from my office) and meet with my mentor once a week. My mentor has been so helpful! Our personalities make it fun to meet and discuss my questions, her suggestions, and overall ideas on how to make my company's product team better. I look forward to continuing my meetings with her for the next several months.
Product Management Takes Practice
Several months ago my grandmother had intensive back surgery. She has slowly been recovering ever since. A couple weeks ago she had a follow-up appointment with her doctor. As they were talking, the doctor asked my grandma if she knew why people say the phrase "practice of medicine." He said that's just what it is - practice of medicine. While we all know that medicine has come a long way, especially the last 50 years or so, but we (as humans) still don't know everything there is to know about the human body, what causes certain things, or even how to cure all ailments. Doctors are continually practicing medicine to get better and better. The same goes for Product Management.
When I first started working in product, I kept asking my manager, "what is the best way to do X, Y, and Z?" Although she was able to provide her advice, opinions, and experience, there is not one way to manage products. Even after she left the company I have found several different ways of accomplishing the same tasks as we were before that work better for our team. This is where I really enjoy reading blogs, message boards, etc., so I can hear how other Product Managers are conducting their daily tasks and responsibilities.
Stop Looking for the ONE Tool that Does it All
I have spent months looking for a tool that will "do it all." Although there are many great tools out there for product and development teams, I really don't think there is such a thing. Each company and each product is different. Each one has its weird quirks that need this specific feature to do that specific task. Sometimes our needs are too unique for a software or tool to have all of those things. And unless you build your own tool to include all of these things, you are going to need to use a number of different tools. In addition, why re-invent the wheel when there are so many amazing tools our there that currently do exactly what you need.
One of the main "products" I am in charge of at my work is more of a "tool" for our internal employees, not a product for consumers. The last six months we have been focused on integrations and APIs rather than custom development, like we always have in the past. We are providing tools for our employees in a much faster time, and even more efficiently, by integrating rather than re-inventing the wheel.
Although I have come to realize that there isn't the ONE tool that does it all, I have still struggled to find the tools most appropriate for our team to keep track of our technology roadmap, bugs, features, requests, releases, communication, etc. As I have investigated various tools, so many of them are too simple and don't provide us with what we need; others are too complex and we don't need all those features for what we are doing. It has been tough to find a happy medium for our team.
What tools do your and your teams use?
Conclusions (for now)
I have really enjoyed my role as a Product Manager, and I look forward to what the future brings and the new things I learn on a daily basis. Over time I will continue to share my insights on Product Management. For now I will continue my education by using online resources, trainings, and working with my awesome mentor. I will continue to try new methods and practices, and I will always be on the lookout for new tools to help me and my team be the best product team we can be.