5 Things I learned about product management

I joined Braintree as an Associate Product Manager a little over three months ago. In my previous life, I was a technology consultant for a large client services firm primarily working on software implementations. I didn’t have any formal product management experience before joining - I only knew what Marty Cagan had taught me in his wonderful book “Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love” (which I now commonly refer to as the Product Management Bible). I figured there would be a lot of on-the-job learning, improvisation, and failure. I’ve mostly avoided the failure part thanks to a great team. In honor of my three month annivers

1. Quality in equality

One thing I’ve learned you cannot be as a product manager is unfair. Every department, opinion (internal and external),user, and developer needs to be treated fairly and understood. There is no room for favoritism or bias as a product manager. If you only focus on feature development because marketing wants a cool story to tell you may one day find your product line and team drowning in technical debt. It’s important to be honest and receptive with yourself, your company, and your team. Once that’s in order you’ll be set to build products that create business value and address user needs.

2. Data and product metrics are your friends

Building awesome products that customers love is great - but being able to back up anecdotal stories with concrete data is even better. During sprint planning you should make sure you are defining what your success criteria is, what metrics will be important to track it, and how you will access that data. Teams across the organization love to see numbers (e.g., X variable grew Y% after we implemented Z feature!). There are few companies that have in-house data teams - data scientists and engineers whose job it is to collect and make sure product data is readily available for your analysis. If you have such a team in your organization, leverage them!

3. Knowledge is power

The role of a product manager varies greatly depending on your organization - some are product marketing/financially driven roles while others can be much more technical. Regardless of where you fit on this spectrum, I do believe a technical understanding of your product helps immensely - it helps drive decision making, feature prioritization, sprint planning, resource planning, etc. With that knowledge you can more easily communicate/answer questions to other parts of the business once you’ve figured out what makes your product tick. As a new PM, I gained 95% of my knowledge by reading documentation we had available, ravenously taking notes during every meeting, and asking questions (lots and lots of questions).

4. Prioritization is important

Prioritization…oh sweet, sweet prioritization. You’ll very likely be the focal point of a lot of conversations going on in the office - support, accounts, sales, development. All of them with (very different) lists of product features they’d like to see completed in the next 1-3 months. As a PM, it’s your job to figure out which of these requests makes it through the ringer and into the sprint. Sometimes picking between two features will be a no-brainer - but in the more difficult situations where there is no clear answer, I find that leveraging data is the most objective way to decide on what to work on. What percentage of support tickets does this feature address? Which feature addresses an issue our top clients face? Can we address multiple requests with one feature? (frequently called a “Double-Whammy” where I’m from). By asking these questions it’ll become clear on what should be prioritized.

5. Be there for your team

Last but not least, a very important thing I’ve learned is that a PM needs to be there for the team. You need to be the voice of reason, the devil’s advocate, the meat shield for noise, etc. If questions arise, you need to be there. If another design discussion needs to happen - you need to be there. If your team is staying late to finish a round of prod-testing - you need to be there. I like to think of the PM as the guardian angel for your team. Your presence is not only demanded but essential to the success of the team and product.