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Posted on | August 30, 2012 | Comments Off on Featured Article

“Wanna Know the Secret to Becoming an Awesome PM?  Tips from the Trenches.”

 By Arrielle Mali

No matter where you are in your career, there’s always room for improvement.  If you can minimize product endangerment by learning from other’s mistakes while honing your skills in the process, wouldn’t you want to know how?

When you’re starting out, everyone will have a point of view where the product should go.  Although you need to talk to all the stakeholders and understand their points of view, you also need to create your own.  Which means, according to Board Member of SVPMA, Greg Cohen, “…you have to get out of the building and talk to the customers and observe them using your product.  You can’t exist and function well as a Product Manager on second hand knowledge.”  You need to reach out to real people so you can form your own opinions.  “I didn’t do that enough early in my career, but I knew enough that I should be doing it,” said Cohen. 

Some pitfalls to watch out for:

  1. Start up PM, Ruoting Sun said, “Don’t listen to everything your customers tell you.”  They may not know what they want or what’s best for their company.
  2. “Not understanding your customers,” said Vinay Jain, Product Manager, Good Technology.  It’s important to know your customers to be able to ask the right questions to help them build the right product they envisioned.
  3. “You don’t need to have the brilliant ideas,” said Cohen.  We don’t have to be the solution provider.  Focus on and understand the customer’s problems.  “Let engineering take care of the solution.  Engineers solve problems day in day out.  There are ten of them and one of you.”
  4. If you have a misunderstanding and the wrong product is shipped out, it can cost millions.  Good Communication matters.  Talk to people face to face.  Send less emails.
  5. “Don’t put all the features/functions into one iteration,” said Sun.  “You haven’t tested the market.  You don’t know how the market will accept it.”  The market can be finicky.  Roll out features according to need or trend.                                                                                                                  

All Product Managers run into difficult and demanding customers from time to time.  How do you deal with them?  It’s never simple or easy when egos are involved or when you’re working with Fortune 500 companies

Each customer is different and must be handled differently.  Cohen, Sun, and Jain made some suggestions for optimizing customer interactions:

  1. A lot of hand holding   
  2. Re-education
  3. Make them feel that you’re working for them
  4. Excellent customer service
  5. Give some customers a false sense of control over you

 However, there is a fine line between Servant and Leadership.

“At the end of the day you’re creating a product,” said Cohen.  You need to understand where the product is going. By letting your customers know (even though you may not always agree with them) that you’re committed to their product even if features sometimes will be compromised. It’s like dancing the Tango.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

Cohen: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

Sun: “As a PM, don’t do business with bad customers.  You don’t become your product.”  On a personal level, “If you wake up every morning for days wanting to do something, do it.  If you want to make a change, do it.  Hold onto the momentum.  Take advantage and ride it out. Take life by experiences.”

Jain: “Manage your time better.” 

I’d like to summarize Greg Cohen:  Our job is to convey what the problem is; it’s almost independent of the solution and working with the team.  “I see myself more of a facilitator of the creative process getting toward the solution.”  Coming up with the creative idea is a team effort.  We succeed together or fail together.

Arrielle Mali is a Startup Junkie.  She’s a Certified Scrum Master and a Certified Scrum Product Owner working on Projects & Windows Phone at Good. As an Agile facilitator and Chief instigator with hi-tech project management background, she has a passion for beautiful design, technology, and tech gadgets.  She can be contacted at arrielle.mali@gmail.com.

Share the best advice you’ve ever received that has made an impact on you in the Comments section.