One Year as a Product Manager

A Retrospective: My Experiences, Lessons Learned, and More….

It is really hard to believe that it has just been a year in this journey, to be very honest it seems longer. Looking back at the past year I realized that this has been an eventful journey and a period filled with so much learning. One of the contributing factors to my growth was being able to work on a project within the few weeks of my transition to Product Management.

News flash!!! Product management in real life is a bit different from what it sounds or looks like in books, blogs, and social media. While those materials are excellent guides, there is a lot they don’t tell you in those courses and webinars about being a Product Manager. Being a Product Manager is hard work and you should be ready to take the blame for failure and be rarely recognized when there is a success.

In handling projects and relating with teammates, I had to be relentlessly curious, asking a lot of questions, to be able to think deeply about problems and provide simple solutions. This felt overwhelming many times but it is better to fully understand a problem than to start building a solution without having a full grasp of what is expected of you.

I also battled with impostor syndrome for a while but with every new project I embarked on, my confidence grew substantially. It is important to know what aspect of ‘PMing’ that you are very good at and what needs to be worked on, play to your strengths while working on your weaknesses.

Lessons Learned

1. Communicate effectively

Communicate with your users, always strive to get feedback often from your users, using every communication channel available, understandable and useful to your team. With every user interview, A/B testing, survey or just randomly speaking to a user, you learn something new/informative about the product and also about your users.

Communicate with your team, via emails, meetings, or other communication channels as often as is needed, this is very important but equally exhausting if done wrongly. Ensure that your documentation and communication patterns are clear, straightforward, and very understandable. When preparing for meetings, make sure there are clear objectives to get out of the meeting, this makes the meeting more effective and reduces the amount of collective time wasted. Find more about this here.

Communicate with other stakeholders, by firstly using your stakeholder's map to prioritize them, then engage accordingly. Regularly update everyone to keep them informed of the product’s progress and ensure everyone is working towards the same strategic goals. You need to be clear, concise, and persuasive.

The use of buzz words to communicate are sometimes unnecessary, understand your audience and relay your thoughts, ideas and suggestions in a simple and clear manner.

2. Document properly

From Product Requirements Documents (PRDs), Product Roadmaps to Product briefs, every material or piece of information needed for clear direction for your product and team (be it in writing, sketches, or drawings) should be well detailed, nothing should be left ambiguous.

You may need to develop your own frameworks and pattern your methodologies to suit your company's needs and product offerings at that specific time. Templates are good and can be used as guides for documentation, but you must have the required fundamental understanding of the process before using a template, same applies to the tools you use for these different kinds of documentation.

3. Use data to make informed decisions

Data removes ambiguity.

In whatever way you can extract data (quantitative and qualitative data), do it knowing that it helps you know which areas of your product you need to improve and/or prioritize accordingly. Always refer to the OKRs of the product and the data before making a decision.

Don’t ship products that don’t improve your key product metrics.

4. Learn by doing

Product management is about constantly learning! Learning by doing is by far, the best learning process I have encountered in my journey. You learn more from practice than theory, the knowledge also sticks better.

You learn to write a PRD by writing one, you learn to draw up user flows by drawing one, you learn to prioritize by prioritizing, you learn to manage stakeholders by managing stakeholders. You may encounter challenges and even sometimes fail when you try to practice but keep practicing, you'd be an expert sooner than you think.

5. Have a support system/mentor

I have had a support system filled with Product people (aspiring/junior to senior levels). The encouragement and advice they provided really helped me and has been instrumental in my progress and growth. It is advisable to have some form of support as a beginner because the journey can get frustrating and challenging, and at that point, you'd need someone to help you.

More….

Earlier this year, I founded a product management community, aimed at creating a safe space for Product people; Product Managers at the core, a place where they can be comfortable enough to share their journeys, successes/challenges, receive learning resources and support. It was also designed to help its members interact with other like-minded individuals and grow their tech network. This community was created to address the continued complaints of why I (and other PMs) couldn’t get “real” help and proper human interactions in the other communities that were available. We strive to get better and help even more Product managers in the best ways possible, in the nearest future.

So far, as a freelance Product Manager, I was opportune to work on 4 software products with 3 different product teams, across the health-tech and HRM space. This one year has been truly eventful, challenging, and very rewarding.

As I celebrate my first anniversary this April, I look forward to doing even more meaningful work as I start my first full-time employment with Brass.

If you made it to the end, let's connect on Twitter and LinkedIn. 😊

I write for the joy of writing.