For most of us growing up in a country where “tech” companies were just companies who used to cater to the outsourced development work from NA or Europe, the term “product management” or, by extension, the role “product manager” was something out of the dialogues from “Silicon Valley.” (In all honesty, any technical terms I knew prior to becoming a PM were all from this show)
So when I was asked one day to jump into the role of a Product Manager at REDX, it came as a pleasant shock which was then quickly followed by an existential dread and an endless loop of questions starting with “Wait…What is a product manager?”. Clearly amused at my bewilderment, my then supervisor (who had led the product team for the biggest app in the country back then) sat me down and broke down the term product manager, which was clearly a “PM” trait.
Enough with the build-up already…
His definition of a product manager, pertaining to his experience, was that a PM would be the glue that holds the product in their portfolio →, a central point where a business problem would come in from one side, and the solutions to those problems would exit as features out from the other end.
Okay..so what is a product?
Like any other person, the convoluted answer about Product Management above raised the second question in me → “What is a product?”. To put in a little context, before becoming a PM, I was in a manufacturing role where I made shampoos, creams, lotions, etc. For me, a product was an item that existed in the real world.
But in a tech company, the term “product” was more ambiguous, more nuanced. Here, a product was something that could change overnight or cease to exist. So here I was, going from making soaps and shampoo in my previous workplace to sitting with UI designers on how to improve a “user experience” or quietly “de-prioritizing” a feature request from stakeholders.
And amidst all the jargon that gets thrown around on a daily basis in a startup, the only definition of a “product” I could surmise was this → “Any system/feature/modification that enables us to GROW our business or IMPROVE our user experience.”
How is it like working as a Product Manager?
Being the person responsible for being the “glue” of the product OR being responsible for revamping an app to make it look more polished might be sexy, and you can flex about this on your portfolio. However, (and I say this with a big dramatic pause), it is never as simple and structured as the picture would have you believe. There’s a reason the guy below is sad. Hidden amongst all the juggling or in PM-terms “Context Switching” lies a deeper essence of product management → “Prioritization.” 😢
Many would say that the sole reasons PMs exist are to “build up a supreme level of context about the product ( at times more than the leadership itself) and prioritize everything related to the product according to that context developed”. Because of this, the role of a PM is often a role of “conflicts”.
Even though a PM owns that product, he/she is not the owner of that company, he/she does not have people reporting to them, yet they have to be the one that has to communicate with all stakeholders in the company, and in the end, evolve the product to what it can be. In a famous video by the founders of Gojek, they stress this very topic wherein they state, “a PM has to make everyone work through their influence“. → If you have the time (well, seeing as you are reading through this poorly written blog, you have enough time on your hands), go through the video for more insights into what makes someone a PM and where you can “find” them.
That said, hailing from a country that is just now coming to grips with a tech revolution, a lot of things are being ported over from Silicon Valley companies – PM roles are one such role that companies are trying to put their spin on, so there is no “template” to what a PM should be.
📖 This is my first attempt at forming a habit of writing a weekly blog. Mistakes have definitely been made. Please Ignore 🙏