PM Learnings from 2021
It has been an eventful year for me professionally since the time I joined one of India’s largest OTAs, as an Associate Product Manager in April 2021. Considering this was my first time working as a PM, a role that involves a lot of stakeholder management and securing buy-ins from several cross-functional teams, the virtual setup was well outside my comfort zone. But, with the guidance from some great mentors across the organization, coupled with extremely talented and hardworking co-workers, I was able to navigate through the challenges and along this journey, imbibed lessons and experiences that will mold me to be better going forward. I have decided to pen down some of my key learnings from my experiences in the past 8 months:
Who is a Product Manager?
A PM is a problem solver who understands the needs of various stakeholders (customers, business, etc), defines the product to be built which caters to those needs, and orchestrates actions across the organization through effective communication & collaboration to ensure its overall success.
A Day in my life as a Product Manager
My work can be categorized into 6 buckets:
Dashboarding & Data Analysis: One of the most important roles, among all the 6 buckets, especially as an entry-level PM, is that of data analytics. I have played around with raw data, almost every day since the day of my joining. The combination of front-end data (customers interaction metrics on the funnel) and back-end data (business-related metrics) helps in identifying problems that cannot be easily found out via interviews or surveys. After a comprehensive data analysis, I outline the action items and discuss them with my team on the way forward to gather their inputs.
Documenting PRDs and User Stories: A Product Requirement Document (PRD) is a comprehensive one-pager where I, as a PM, have to define the problem we are trying to solve, why we are trying to solve it, the various use cases that the feature will address, the proposed business and product impact, and its overall success metric. The PRD is then shared with all the key stakeholders (Engineering, Design, Category, Revenue, Content, Legal, etc), who go through it, and raise any concerns if needed. It is my responsibility to clarify their doubts and ensure so that all of us are on the same page before the development of the feature is aligned in the upcoming sprints. In short, PRD consists of the what and why, with more emphasis on the latter.
A user story, on the other hand, outlines what needs to be built and lists down the names of all the components in the tech stack where a change is needed to build the feature. It consists of a detailed breakdown of the proposed feature, the events to be fired in order to track the feature’s usage, the various boundary conditions that need to be tested in QA, and the designs which the front-end developers can refer to. In short, user stories answer the question of WHAT needs to be built and act as the single source of truth for the engineering team during development and testing.
Grooming & Execution: Once the sprint planning is done (usually done by the senior product managers, the dev & QA leads, the project/program managers) and developers are assigned to build my feature (provided my feature gets picked up in the sprint :P), I schedule a 30-minute call with each of the developers of various layers in the tech stack to explain what the feature is all about, and to clarify all their doubts. This is one of the most under-rated buckets of my work, as I feel that I have gained utmost clarity after being bombarded with questions from extremely talented tech folks in my organization. (Every time before a grooming session, I feel like I am entering a boxing ring as an amateur against experienced heavyweights :D).
Another key aspect is that I perform the UAT (User Acceptance testing) of the feature before its go-live. The developers, QA, design, UX, and I connect on calls before the go-live to provide any minor feedbacks before giving the green signal.
Stakeholder catch-ups: I act as a communication hub between the various teams (design, engineering, category, revenue, content, UX) and have at least 1 weekly catch-up with each of them to hear out their pain-points, their needs, and their feedback (if any) in improving any of our existing systems. I document all of this and relay this to my manager who discusses with other product leaders to take a call how urgently these problems need to be tackled
Primary & Secondary Research: We have consumer connect sessions at least once a month where I get a chance to interview a couple of our customers to take their feedback on the product experience and to identify gaps and pain points in the existing flow. Each employee across the organization documents his/her observations after the interviews; which is then used by the product and business teams to brainstorm and come up with the big bets for our next quarter. Apart from this, I like to keep myself well-informed about the happenings in the e-commerce/tech industry through various forums on the internet. Many new product ideas can be generated from several product communities on Reddit, Linkedin, Slack, etc. These channels have allowed me to stay connected with global product leaders and to learn from their diverse experiences.
Brainstorming & Roadmapping: This happens once in a quarter where we identify the big bets for the next three months. Everything that we gather through customer interviews, competitor analysis, funnel data analysis, and business reports is collated to come up with several hypotheses that are translated to problem statements and user stories. These problem statements are then prioritized and a lucky few ones make it to the quarterly product roadmap.
Apart from these, there are several ad-hoc tasks that I perform on the fly which might be mutually exclusive to the above 6 buckets.
Skills needed to be a Product Manager
This can be divided into:
- Technical Skills: Basic understanding of system design and architecture, working of APIs, SQL, hands-on experience of Analytics & data visualization tools are a few of them. These skills are not a must-have prior to joining, but since I was comfortable with them, I found it easier to grasp the complexities in our system.
- Soft-Skills: These are the skills that develop with time and include stakeholder management, the art of negotiation and following-up, the ability to influence without authority, and the expertise to put across one’s point through concise writing. (The list is non-exhaustive)
As a PM, it can sometimes get extremely overwhelming with each stakeholder reaching out to get their queries sorted or their ad-hoc needs addressed, with engineers pushing back the development stating high estimates, and with multiple calls each day with no time to do your own work. I agree that product management is indeed challenging — however, the opportunity of directly impacting the customer’s experience through my ideas is what makes all the hassles worth it. Throughout this journey, I have made several mistakes that have helped me to finetune my skills with each passing day. Some of my key learnings are:
- To block 30–45 minutes each day in my calendar to take a break.
- To summarise the discussions after each meeting and send them to all the attendants over mail — this ensures that no point is missed out and everyone is on the same page. [Learnt this the hard way :D]
- To master the art of concise writing. To work on this, I have started to write daily about topics varying from technology, business, and finance.
- To develop the lens of a UX designer. Though this is not a part of my KRA, I enrolled myself in a course on UX design to understand its nuances and principles; which enhanced my perspective while looking at our customer's pain points.
- To create a daily task sheet — to keep a track of the plethora of tasks that I need to do every day. (Attaching a part of it below). This helps me to follow up with the relevant stakeholders wherever there is a bottleneck and empowers me to be more productive.
NOTE: All the views expressed are basis my experience in my organization and vertical. The skills needed as well as the day-to-day working might vary as per one’s industry. Your feedback on the above is always welcome :). Feel free to connect with me : https://www.linkedin.com/in/harigovind-g/