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5 Challenges for a Newly Recruited Product Manager

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26th Oct, 2017
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5 Challenges for a Newly Recruited Product Manager

This is the fifth and final post of this series I’m writing to introduce an aspiring Product Manager.
In my first post, I shared a resource list for aspirants to start their basic research about Product Management, in the form of a periodic table. In the second post, we explored different types of Product Managers working in the industry, with an aim to help you find your type. The third post was about the career ladder of product management so that readers can see where they are currently and how their roles would change as they move up. The fourth post gave an inside view of how features are planned, launched, supported and discarded so that aspirants can get a very close look at how products are built.

With this post, my aim is to give you a detailed to-do list when you land your first job as a Product Manager. To make this easier to read, I have designed a list of challenges (or labors), similar to those that Hercules had to face to prove himself!
Imagine you are a newly recruited product manager, and this is your first day at the workplace. How do you prove yourself worthy of the responsibilities entrusted to you?

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Challenge 1 – Knowing what you are building and for whom

Get clarity on the following 4 key things about your product:

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Questions to figure outHow to get info
PersonasWho is using the product?
Who is paying for the product?
Who all are dependent on the Product – customer, user, decision maker, tester, internal teams, etc.?
Existing product managers,  your reporting manager, UX manager, customers
Problem Scenarios and AlternativesWhat is the main problem our product solves for the customers?
hat are the alternatives our customer has?
Existing product managers,  your reporting manager, UX manager, customers
Value Proposition and DifferentiationWhat does our solution do?
How is it different from others in the market?
What is our core competency because of which we are able to deliver this?
Existing product managers, Marketing team, senior management
Customer Journey maps and Touchpoints How does the customer interacts with the product – from discovery to repeated use?
What are the channels of communication between the customer and product – for promotion, sales and support?
Product manager, UX manager and customer support team.

Unless you have conquered this challenge, you run the risk of building something that your customers don’t need. Once you know the answers to these questions at the back of your hand, you will achieve the ‘gift’ of clarity. Now, it’s time to move to the next challenge.

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Challenge 2 – Knowing why you are building what you’re building and what to focus on

Talk to the senior management and experienced product managers to figure out the vision of the company. Ask them these five questions in this specific order – What do we want to become in the long term, as a company? How is this product (the one you have been assigned to) helping us in achieving that goal? What are the goals we need to achieve in the next 12 months for our product? What are the Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) for this quarter? What does the existing product roadmap look like for this quarter?

Once you have got the answers to these five questions, go back to your desk and introspect. Start looking at it backward and figure out how the current roadmap is going to help achieve the quarterly OKRs. How is achieving these OKRs going to help you meet the annual goal for the product? How does achieving that annual goal for this product fits in with the company’s overall goals for the year? How would that help in getting closer to the company’s vision in the future?

Sometimes a few things might not be clear or might not make sense. Ask the senior managers or your reporting manager, the metrics the company is measuring and how they give a true picture of the progress. If you don’t understand how your present actions transform into something big in the long term, you will not be able to prioritise things. Once you have figured this out, you would achieve the ‘gift’ of perspective. Move to the next challenge.

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Challenge 3 – Knowing what has been built till now and how

This challenge can be broken down into 3 sub-tasks:

  1. Knowing the architecture of the product – What are modular flows that make up our product – Login flow, Onboarding flow, Checkout flow, etc. are some examples. Breaking down the product into modules will help you understand the complexity of the solution. This can be explained best by a senior developer who has built the architecture or a senior tester who has done manual testing of all the flaws.
  2. Knowing what is included in all the modules – Read PRDs of each flow to get detailed information about what it includes. Clarify doubts from existing product managers. Ask the developers who have worked on specific modules.
  3. Knowing the tools being used to make everything – What is the tech stack being used? Which languages and frameworks are we using and why them specifically? Which tools and third-party services are being used to support the core stack? This can be best explained by the development lead or the architect.

Once you have the answers to these 3 questions in detail, you have earned the gift of knowledge. Now move to the next challenge.

Challenge 4 – Knowing the processes and tools

This is where most newly recruited product managers start. Completing this challenge is mandatory to prove your worth as a product manager. However, by skipping the first 3 challenges, newly recruited product managers miss out on a lot of things that are likely to haunt them later.

This challenge involves understanding the process of product management – freezing requirements, writing PRDs, sharing designs, handovers from stakeholders, handover to developers, running sprints, measuring progress, assigning tasks, filing bugs, going through the testing process, the release process, the processes post-launch, etc. One of the key tasks, in order to complete this challenge, is to understand how the company stores and tracks the metrics (or data points) that you discovered from challenge 2. Each company has a unique way of doing these things, and the tools used by them to manage these tasks also vary. Understanding what is working in your company will help you run the day to day product operations. At the end of this challenge, you would have achieved the gift of competence.

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Challenge 5 – Knowing the people you work with

Last but not the least, understand the structure of the organization. This challenge is mandatory for 2 main reasons – knowing the other functions in your company and the reporting hierarchies in those departments will help you reach out to the right people whenever you are gathering requirements for the product. But even more importantly, building a good rapport with these stakeholders will help you develop organization-wide influence, which is a much-needed quality for the long-term success of a product manager. Just like knowing what metrics to track for the organization, you also need to learn the key metrics for each department. Check how these metrics are depending on the product. Ask these stakeholders what is wrong with the product that is hindering them in achieving their goals and their expectations. Once you have completed this task, you would have achieved the gift of influence.

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Just like Hercules, if you conquer these 5 challenges, you will be on your way to prove your worthiness as a product manager. All the best for the journey ahead!

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Pranay Bhardwaj

Blog Author
Pranay recently shifted from New Delhi to Bangalore, to join hands with SlicePay and help in creating the future of credit for students in India. Pranay handles the complete SlicePay product on all platforms, and deeply enjoys all aspects of Product Management. ex-Zostel core team member and a alum of Delhi college of Engineering, Pranay is fascinated with everything related to Education, Entertainment and Employment.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1What is meant by product management in IT?

Product management in IT companies is a lot more complicated than it is for other companies. For starters, product managers in IT companies definitely need to have coding skills or at least some experience working in IT so that they can manage products. Moreover, IT product managers are deeply involved in the development and maintenance of the product themselves, rather than relying on developers alone. IT product managers are also responsible for coordinating upgrades, new releases as well as modifications to an existing product by analysing data obtained from multiple sources including Google analytics, customer experience studies, and more.

2Are Indian product managers happy?

Product managers in India have a very good career path, considering that being a product manager is equivalent to being a mini-CEO, given the extent of their responsibilities in terms of product development, strategy, sales support, and more. Product managers in India, especially those working with technology related products are considered to be ambidextrous, given the extent of their dual understanding of technology as well as business management functions, as well as leading cross functional teams. Thus, they earn very good salaries (depending on experience and qualifications). If one likes their job, and is passionate about developing and managing new products, then a product management role would certainly be very satisfying.

3What are the salaries earned by product managers in India?

Product manager salaries depend on various factors, the most important of which are qualifications and experience. For instance, individuals with engineering and MBA degrees from premier institutes can earn extremely high salaries as product managers, more than INR 30 lakhs per year. The same also applies to those who have similar qualifications from mid-level institutes, but with a work experience of more than 15 years. Individuals who only have an engineering degree from a good (but not premier institute) but sufficient relevant experience can also expect good salaries, more than INR 20 lakhs per year.