Beginners Guide to Product Management

An average person has no idea what product management is.

Hitanshu has an engineering degree but hates his current job in a power sector company. His fascination with technology led him down the product management rabbit hole. One and a half years and many conflicting articles later, he is still contemplating whether it is right for him or not.

Bhumika started working with a product manager in her current role at TCS. The job was so fascinating for her that she wanted to know more. Six months and many blogs later, she is more confused than when she started.

It is also partly because 'product management' as a role is incredibly difficult to define. The role of a product manager in Swiggy will be different from that in Razorpay. The product culture in a series A company will be poles apart from a large companies like Atlassian/Google and Microsoft. Even within a company, the role continues to change and evolve with changes in consumer preferences, business priorities, and technologies. As a product manager, you need to keep rewriting your own role.

So, If you are an aspiring product manager, how do you know what you are getting into? How do you decide if this is what you want to do for a large part of your life? How do you know you will be able to excel in the role? We see a lot of product management aspirants struggling to answer these questions. This is our attempt to cut through the jargon and talk about the essence of this role.

So What is Product Management, Really?

As a product manager, you need to have a high level of user empathy to identify the right problems to solve. It is your core job.

These problems will be further filtered and prioritised through the lens of business impact & resource constraints. It will lead you to your roadmap.

Once you have this list, you spend a lot of time breaking the problem into smaller chunks and understanding it well - The why, the what, the who, the when, and the how?

Then and only then should you be jumping into solutions and implementation. It then becomes your job to communicate your plan effectively to multiple stakeholders and align them to drive the execution plan. This is iterative. Even after shipping the feature, no product is ever really finished.

So every product manager’s job can be divided into three key parts:

  • The problem space
  • The solution space
  • The Implementation space

Ooooh, and you need not know how to code to become a product manager!

Why Is Identifying the Right Problem So Important?

Lets understand this with an example

When NASA was sending astronauts to space, they knew the pens we used on earth would not work because they rely on gravity. One of the contractors spent 1 million dollars on R&D and invented the space pen. The pen writes well in space.

Russians, when faced with the same problem, gave their astronauts a pencil.

The NASA contractor had the solution baked into his problem when he said “I need a pen that writes in space”

So the trick to really defining the problem well is by asking why again & again, till you identify the root cause.

In this example, if you ask why the astronauts need to write in space, they may say something like, “To record information which we can use later”. This may open up the problem to some crazy solutions like an Alexa that the astronauts can talk to and which can talk back to them. Sounds interesting, right?

Where do Product Managers Spend Their Time?

Being a great product manager boils down to understanding the user, the problem and picking the right problem to solve. A problem that can drive real business impact. Being able to solve problems is nowhere as important as being able to pick the right problems to solve

  • Focus on solving big problems
  • Focus on helping the right people
  • Focus on impact

In companies with great Product Culture, In most projects a Product Manager's time is spent like this:

In companies that do not have a great product culture, PMs could be spending their time like this:

On a day to day level, your life would be very different depending on the projects you are working on. Some projects would be in the problem definition phase and some in the solution and implementation phase.

So your life will be a good mix of user research, critical thinking, deep diving into data, collaborating with stakeholders, collaborating with engineering & design, defining product requirements, planning and maintaining the road map, etc.

This quote by Henry Shapiro, Co-founder at reclaim. Ai sums it up accurately!

"On some days, especially when you are deep in the refinement phases of a project, you might spend the vast majority of your time with product design and engineering, working through fine-grained UX issues and bugs. On other days, where you are doing a lot of discovery and research for an upcoming product that's still in the planning phases, you might be spending a lot of time with sales, talking to customers, and doing heads-down analysis to see where the opportunities are. If you are launching a product, product marketing, and sales enablement might be your best friends that week."

If you are thinking that this seems like the ideal scenario, and the real world does not look like this.

How do Product Managers in India really spend their time?

We reached out to people in various Indian companies to find out. While PMs of some companies like Zynga and Flipkart are spending a lot of time in the problem space. This is not true for all companies.

So your life as a product manager will depend a lot on the product culture of the company you finally decide to join.

How Do I Know If Product Management is For Me?

As a product manager, you can have multiple varied responsibilities, depending on your company and team.

But the most important skill is: Doing what it takes!

Here is what product managers that rise fast in their careers do. They go above and beyond to grow at a faster pace.

Aakash Gupta, Group Product Manager at Affirm said,

"When I was in Fortnite, we were seeing a large drop off from download to play. The problem was we did not have clean data. I first coordinated the daily analytics. When that did not work, I dove into doing the analytics myself. I did whatever it took. Eventually, we figured out the steps in the funnel that was a problem. We did not automate enough and had too many screens for new accounts. Because I rolled up my sleeves to do something outside my purview, we were able to tackle the problem.”

So product management is not for you if:

1. You are not comfortable working in ambiguous situations. It is not a predictable job, and every day will look different.

2. You are not comfortable having a lot of responsibility without direct authority. It is a high-pressure job that needs you to quickly adapt and deliver outcomes.

Can I become a Product Manager?

Product Managers need six core skills to succeed:

1. Product Sense

2. Communication

3. Data-driven and Experimentative

4. Problem-solving

5. Result oriented

The role of a product manager is very diverse. It is not a purely technical or business role. The product manager role demands you to have various skill sets at various levels and this makes it important you brush your skills every now and then.

We recommend a free assessment of your current skill levels with our Know Yourself Test to understand how you compare to top product managers in India and how much room you have to cover.

Stay tuned to know what lies ahead of you in this product journey!

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