What I learnt as a first time product manager? Part 1
Being a product manager is a stressful job, let alone being a first time product manager. However, there is a first time for everything so you cannot avoid the hassle at the beginning. What you can do is to better prepare yourself for this journey so you don’t get too overwhelmed. This article will share the lessons I learnt when I began my first product manager job.
- Don’t communicate for other people. You are there to lead them but not to babysit them.
As a first-timer product manager, you probably will work with some seasoned designers and engineers. Because you are short of experience, you want to impress them with your proactiveness. It’s completely normal to feel this way. However, you could easily fall into the trap of doing other people’s jobs. It’s not your fault because product development is collaborative. There are no fine lines for every responsibility. Either you or your partners could do it especially when it comes to communication. However, the biggest difference is communication efficiency. Information doesn’t travel well. It gets either lost or twisted when it passes through every touchpoint. Therefore, it’s better for engineers and designers to talk directly. Their requirements for each other are for them to figure out. You should not serve as a messenger. If they lack motivation or willingness to communicate with each other, you could facilitate the conversations. But do remember you should not communicate for other people. It’s not the best use of your time.
2. Don’t wait for other people to tell you what to do next. You should be very self-driven and always think one step ahead of everyone else.
One of the biggest distinctions between operation focused roles and product manager roles is that you no longer take orders from other people. Instead, other people expect orders from you. You move to the top if not the very beginning of a decision chain. Don’t take me wrong. You are not the dictator of your product. Most product decisions are jointly made by your team. But still, before you bring the topic to your team’s attention, you need to have some solid ideas. Other people would expect to hear your initial take. Then you could lay out options and pros& cons based on the research you have done. They would not be perfect but they should be decently logical and comprehensive. It would require a thorough thought process and a few days of discovery work. Therefore, you should always start working on the next feature while your team are busy with the current feature. You are the lonely pioneer in the no man’s land. The importance of cadence cannot be stressed enough. If you hear a saying ‘feed the machine’, you might resonate with this better — keep your team running like a machine. If you are in the same timeline as your team, then you are probably in trouble. You team would be inevitably waiting for you to figure out what’s next, which is a huge waste of company resource. Building up your backlogs is a good place to start.
3. Don’t try to be good at everything. You are the generalist to figure out what and why so you should trust your team for execution.
Especially for product managers transitioning from other backgrounds (designer, engineer), they find it hard to suppress their impulsions to get too into the execution details. You could offer your advice if you have unique perceptions or strong opinions but often times your team would prefer you do not tell them how to do their jobs. Rather, you should spend most of time thinking about directions and big pictures. I think humans have natural tendency for execution than thinking. Why? Thinking is more frightening and less gratifying in the short period. When you think about something, you are trying to sort through all the thoughts and ideas. It’s a messy process, which doesn’t guarantee any result of a clear path. Because of its uncertainty, you will probably not be able to commit to sharing anything meaningful inn a given timeframe. It doesn’t mean you are not making progress but it’s also hard to prove you are making progress. Therefore, some novice product managers get panic about lack of production and start executing on things that yield something tangible to make themselves feel better. Discovery is not a linear process. You will stay in the plateau for an unknowingly long period of time but you should learn to embrace the downtime so that you can lead your team in a clearer direction later. Thinking is your weapon so spend your most time on it. Don’t trick or distract yourself by falling into the execution rabbit hole.