Empathy, breath, communication : focus
Making ideas reality : dependency
Innovate user experience: deploy
Move the needle: data
Whole vision: status quo
Seemingly unrelated but they do sound good, don’t they? Something from a motivational panel, discussing Biz Dev strategies or maybe how to launch a lean start up. Rather, these were the words given in response to the opening question to a panel of product managers to “describe their occupation” in 3 words or less, + an additional word on what their biggest challenge was.
Earlier this week we had the opportunity to sit in at The General Assembly, Los Angeles for a fully stacked panel on a Day in the Life of a Product Manager (PM). Open to potential career pivoters and professionals of all levels, the panel consisted of the following panelists, whom entered their positions from backgrounds ranging from business to engineering to design.
- Cauri Jaye, Panel Moderator and Project lead @ Sony Pictures; Rhubarb LLC
- Jay Stakelon, VP Product Design, Fullscreen
- Jen Robinson, Head of Product Manager, Bigframe
- Steve Belin, Product Manager, Fandango
- Vic Parekh, Senior Director- Product Management, Machinima
Assuming we know a smidge about what product managers do, they’re the connection hub between the moving parts, (assuming we’re talking strictly tech). They balance the expectations of the clients/executive team with the business and budgeting needs. They ensure the creative team isn’t just focused on attractive design, but make sure the user experience is just as important. And of course, product managers relay the abstract to the engineering teams to ensure the delivered product is, what it was planned to be. They fill the roles of moraler and supervisor. They keep projects on track and are often met with large amounts of pressure from multiple directions.
“You could think of the product manager role as a jack of all trades, but it’s probably better to describe us as the glue of a project, holding everything together”
LET’S START WITH THE BASICS, WHAT’S A WORK DAY LIKE?
Jen Robinson from Bigframe takes this one. Her description starts off with a standup meeting with her product team. In her case, it’s a small, efficient team with 4 engineers, with the occasional shareholder meeting. Everyone reports updates and obstacles. The term agile development is defined, and the panel agreed unanimously that maintaining this mindset is necessary.
- Jen expresses her playful chagrin towards users when she’s been told they had no idea there was a new update/feature/product. She discusses the difficulties of sitting with a user to run through your app and notes people won’t always tell the truth and ultimately, you want to avoid hand-holding on a new product test drive.
- Vic’s pro-tip: Buy yourself a 20 dollar HDMI cable splitter and just observe your users.
- Always understand the “why” of the user. Ask yourself is there another way to obtain data. And consider setting up concierge services to assist users before building out new systems.
- Learn Lean UX, and focus on the iterative process. Always build tests out along the way to get feedback.
- Figure out if people will understand the flow of a product, but more importantly, do people actually care? Always work with a minimum viable product and get immediate feedback.
- Build, get feedback, and fail fast. Fail again. Re-build.
- The list of tools used across the panel: Building mockups with Axure, Balsamiq, Keynote. Prototyping with HTML5 and Adobe Creative Suite. JIRA for bug tracking. White boards, Powerpoint, and Skitch for conceptualizing; and Evernote, Confluance, Pivotal Tracker, Visio, and GitHub for project management and tracking. The takeaway? There’s no prescribed set of tools for product managers.
- Playing devil’s advocate: Ignore the users. Identify in your business how to get the needle moving instead of focusing on user feedback so heavily. Instead, focus on what metric outputs, more views, more downloads?
- The ultimate user feedback tester: “Would you recommend this to your friend? Yes or no?”
- How to sell your idea to multiple departments: Make all requirements detailed, make presentations, and really sell the reasoning and mission. Use Powerpoint and Keynote if you have to. Really connect the different teams with your vision.
And as the evening wraps up, the panelists provide their final thoughts. And with their four very different backgrounds and perspectives, we still manage a unified set of final takeaways. Product management, can be extremely high pressure. Your role is a focal point for multiple departments with very different needs: tech, design, business, executive; and with your attention and priority being pulled in every which direction, it can really break you. But for those who have the passion (and not just interest), it allows creativity. It is actually fun (all the panelists agreed on this) and ultimately provides a deeply satisfying experience.
MORE ABOUT THE PANELISTS
Jen Robinson has been building web and mobile tech for more than 10 years. With experience in engineering, marketing and product management, she specializes in shipping product at early stage startups. Jen is currently Head of Product and oversees the Engineering team at Big Frame where she defined, managed and launched Big Frame’s web platform. Steve Belin is passionate about developing products that solve problems in the marketplace and provide great customer experiences. For the past seven years, he has launched new B2B and B2C products in online ticketing, ecommerce, and learning management. Steve currently manages Fandango’s web and mobile commerce platforms.
Vic Parekh started out as a Software Engineer and worked for a decade in this role before making the leap to Product. His Product experience spans various industries such as Mortgage Banking, Dating, Online Ecommerce, and Entertainment. Vic has worked on strategic and operational aspects of Product Management. His interests include Analytics and Lean Product Development.
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