8 Learnings That Make me a Great PM

When I started my career, I didn’t always know what to do.

More often than not, I was scared – of the unknown, of my (lack of) skills, of making the wrong decision.

So I took the easy route of asking my manager for specific instructions (read: spoon-feed me)

Despite that, I made it. I am a great product manager. I am a product leader. I am a great product coach and mentor.

I have developed skills that enable me to create world-class products in almost any industry.

There are eight learnings that helped me graduate from a scared, clueless APM to a confident and exceptional product leader.

8 learnings that helped me (and can help you) to get where I am

1. Product management is NOT science 🧪
2. Always know the GOAL 🥅
3. Communicate effectively to win the game 🎙️
4. Learn everyday. It will propel your career 🚀
5. Your time is as valuable as you make it ⏰
6. Your plans will change. Very often. And it’s OK 🧑🏼‍🔧
7. Do not fear ambiguity 😨
8. Don’t let titles and designations intimidate you 😡

Product management is NOT science 🧪

There is no right or wrong in product management. Anything that works is considered right.

In other words, the more things you ship, the higher the chance of you discovering what is right.

Action items:

  • Early in your career, spend more time on execution and less on planning
  • Observe those who do a lot of the “right” things, and then learn (read:copy) from them
  • Read to increase your knowledge. Put into practice what you learn. Internalise and repeat whatever works

Always know the GOAL 🥅

If you do anything without knowing the “why” behind it, you’ve already lost the battle. Anything you do without knowing the goal is useless.

Action items:

  • Always, know the company and team goal
  • Understand if and how each roadmap item contributes to the goal
  • Do not do (or let others do) anything that doesn’t contribute to the goal

Communicate effectively to win the game 🎙️

A large part of our job is influencing others to believe in our vision and, then, help us make the vision a reality.

The above is extremely painful to do unless you’re an effective communicator.

Action items:

  • Use simple words while communicating
  • Take a course on public speaking. I personally recommend Toastmasters
  • Identify great communicators. Observe what they do well. Learn form them. Apply to your communication style.
  • Read a lot. Readers usually write and communicate well.

Learn everyday. It will propel your career 🚀

Learning is extremely important, especially for product managers.

While this sounds obvious, more than 60% of product managers I know do not actively learn.

Being aware and updated about the industry, market, competitors, will help you in create a compelling strategy and a stellar roadmap.

Action item:

  • Ask a lot of questions (even stupid ones)
  • Read a lot – internal docs, industry reports, books, blogs, twitter (a few resources below)
  • Find a mentor, a peer, or a senior in the same org who can help you identify what to learn, how to learn, and how to practically apply it to your job.

Your time is as valuable as you make it ⏰

Product managers are part of tens of threads every week. There are multiple people, conversations, emails, roadmap “ideas” dying for your attention.

It is your responsibility to prioritise relentlessly, and choose wisely. Because if you don’t, you end up spending time and resources on the wrong things. And that means the right things never get done.

Action items:

  • Say NO more than you say yes
  • Delegate everything that can be done by others
  • Never multitask. Never. You will achieve much lesser than you think
  • Prioritise ruthlessly. Be it roadmap items, product strategy, or tactical tasks like replying to emails/slack messages
  • Create deep-work blocks on your calendar.

Your plans will change. Very often. And it’s OK 🧑🏼‍🔧

User’s needs, markets, industries change. Often.

Your strategy, roadmap, and plan should too.

Change is truly the only constant in a product manager’s life. You cannot (and should not) avoid it. But you should definitely know how to work with it.

Action items:

  • Know that not all change is bad
  • Create systems and proxies to identify and welcome good change
  • Build buffers (and other checks) to accommodate risks and delays
  • Document learnings from how you manage change every time
  • Share your learnings with others

Do not fear ambiguity 😨

Every product manager works on ambiguous problems. It is part of the job.

Some times it is not easy to solve them. And that is OK.

Action items:

  • Try to break large ambiguous problems into smaller, more manageable problem statements. Start with what you know
  • If you don’t know how to simplify the problem or the solution to it, say “I don’t know” without fear. But, then work to find the answers.
  • Know more about your product than everyone else. Product knowledge is the key to reduce ambiguity and unknowns from your day to day

Don’t let titles and designations intimidate you 😡

Some people will shout louder than you.

Some will flaunt their titles and authority to influence you.

Let them do them. You do you

Their designation, volume, or authority does not make them right. It does not make them the best person to create and implement the roadmap.

Action items:

  • Don’t fear others, no matter what their title. Instead, invest in building relationships and understanding their motivation.
  • Whenever you have questions or conflicting thoughts, share them boldly. Be firm, not rude.
  • Data is stronger than opinion. Back up everything you say with data.

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