3 years of Product
It’s going to be 3 years of doing product very soon. Time hasn’t really flown, it never does in PM-ing :P, but it hasn’t been a drag. I am not publishing this as a guide on how to be a good PM, frameworks to get into PM, etc. Why? Because there are much better and more accomplished people sharing these nuggets. My writings won’t hold a candle to them. I will be sticking to sharing some learnings I’ve had, over these 3 years. Working at 2 different places and a project of mine, with multiple people with vast and varied experiences, has taught me things about the craft of PM-ing.
Don’t read further if you want to read to get into PMing/find great frameworks. Read further to get a glimpse of the learnings you can expect as a junior PM.
PS: The sequence of appearance of ideas doesn’t hold any weightage to their relative importance.
💡 Know your people
It is extremely important to know the people who you’ll be collaborating with. Understanding their expertise, the things they have been working on, what makes them tick and some personal details if they’re comfortable, is extremely important before going ahead and tackling a problem. If you want to be understood, you need to understand who you’re working with.
Your team is a tribal group. Tribe building takes trust. The tribe doesn’t trust a foreigner and a know it all. Learn the language and mannerisms of your tribe. As simple as that. You will feel like an alien, interactions might feel forced. Welcome to PMing.
A fellow senior PM of mine gravely used to ignore me when I first joined Fk. After a month, we were always having lunch together. And no not because I changed my dietary preferences.
💡 Get Context
You could’ve invented a self driving car. And in this new role, the problem statement could be exactly the same “Develop a self driving car”. If you go ahead and start building it from your experience, the product is going to fail. 9 times out of 10. Every organisation, every team and every problem has a lot of context. PMs are enthusiastic, they want rubber to meet the road ASAP. Churning out documents, release plans and impact estimartion is all good. But if you don’t understand context, of the problem and your user, things will not work. Be it a B2C, B2B, B2B2C or X2Y2Z2Z product. Understanding your user and how your team plans to solve for that user in the present state is extremely important to build a plan for the future.
Tribes practice traditions for a reason. You need to understand the reason, to make them lead to a better way of life. Abandoning the current tradition for a new one or to enjoy pracitsing it yourself will need context. You will feel like a stupid person asking questions. You will feel uncomfortable. Welcome to PMing
💡 Get your hands dirty
This is the name of the game. When you do the dirty work, you know where dirt comes from and so you get to the problem. The solutions can then be thought about more holistically. How to clean the dirt + stop anymore from incoming. Owning the problems that no one wants to touch is usually a good indication where the dirty work is and is an opportunity for you to get into the trenches. Grab it with both hands. I was lucky to be put on a product line early on. Most of my time went just reading though emails, debugging the issues from a ops-dashboard and replying to these emails with some level of satisfactory answers. I just did this for a month. It taught me more than the product docs and engineering diagrams about the product, its problems and our users.
You can always choose to hear how to hunt and the hacks that the hunters of your tribe use when they go out to get a prey. Or you can accompany them in the tedious expeditions for food. Try and get involved in the latter.
A close senior leader in Flipkart always used to say, his best hires were always excited about cleaning the floor before building anything on top of it.
💡 PMing is a cyclical job
The story-line in the job remains the same.
You might often feel like going in circles and undergoing the same process over and over again. Welcome to PMing 😛 Over time, the cycle of execution almost always gets automated. The only way to feel fresh and not get into the mesh of sitting and executing is to have ample time to think about problems to solve for your customers.
After a hunting expedition, sitting and thinking about improvements to make the expedition more efficient and successful is important to do. You can’t eliminate hunting cause the tribe needs food, but you definitely can build solutions to make it easier. That is PMing.
💡 Be ready to get smashed
Not all your crazy bets are going to work. The moment of truth comes out not as a traditional mark sheet but in the form of dashboards. Metrics, charts, user feedback and such. Your hypothesis will be proven bad, and solutions are humbled. This is an integral part of the job. Risk-taking is important as a PM. Orbit jumps come by taking risks (launching rockets) and not by continuously walking on a flat road. However, you can minimise the risk of failure by being meticulous in research and understanding the user. Even then, sometimes, things will backfire. Learn from it. Shield your team from it. Never shift the blame. Own your losses only then your team will celebrate your wins.
When you win, you usually win big. It is important for everyone to feel like a winner. However, it’s best to shield people from a loss as that can get the morale down, plus the tribe trusted your good judgement and put in the work anyway. You have to be grateful for that.
💡 Get help
PMing often can feel like you vs the rest of the world, especially when you are lower on the ladder. Everyone has more experience. The engineer, the designer the fellow PM, the ops guy. Everyone has spent more time working on something you are just starting out on. The biggest mistake I made was to keep a lot of problems to myself. To my surprise when I discussed these with my seniors and peers, almost everyone had faced a similar if not the same problem. Build a safe group to communicate without a filter at all levels. Someone junior to you, a colleague and of course your seniors.
People are happy to help but they can only if you share. There is no shame in asking for help. It is the easiest way to learn nuances of the craft and not go into a shell in times of crisis.
The average happiness of a tribe is much higher than a modern 21st century human living in a metro. The reason? Each tribe member helps each other out whenever needed. There is no shame in sharing, and there is no holding back in helping.
💡 Communicate extensively
Again. Learned it the hard way. There is no better way to get things done than putting them on a document, and continuing to update it basis the decisions that get taken in meetings when it is discussed. MoMs will be your saviours (Pun intended :P) Communicate every decision to all stakeholders even if it feels repetitive.
There is 0 penalty for over-communicating. No one ever has said to me, “Hey! these are too many updates on the decisions we have been taking for this critical thing. Don’t tell me about it.” Whereas the penalty for under communicating is a failure. This means lost time and effort for you and all your teammates. A very dangerous path to be on.
7 looks like a lucky number to end this blog.
These were some learnings I have picked during these last 3 years. I have been fortunate to have had some amazing leaders who have helped me take risks, build products that I felt passionate about and trusted me with important customer problems to tackle.
I will name-drop my fellow mates who started out with me and have had their own fair share of challenges to deal with. This group has literally been a constant to fall back on, and I am lucky to know them. Each of them is working on so many diverse problem statements, doing so many different things. To many more years of camaraderie. To APM 2021 Flipkart.
To Advaith, Akash, Charu, Karan, Kirti, Krutika, Parth, Rikkin, Shubham, Vaishali. 🎉
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A graduate from BITS Pilani, class of 2019, I am currently working as a Product Manager at Flipkart. I like to write about things that get stuck in my head. By writing I make sure everyone knows what absurd thoughts I have :P Thanks for visiting.
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