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7 things I wish I knew when I started my Product Management career.

Me

I’m 18 months into my Product Management career and I absolutely love it. It’s the best job in the world and has an amazing community. People are always willing to share their thoughts, their failures & their learnings. Today, I want to share mine; the 7 things I wish I knew when I started my Product Management career.

1. You will say no way more than you will say yes — a pretty simple one to start. I remember when I worked in customer support I always thought, when I become a Product Manager, I’ll be able to say yes to all the great ideas. WRONG. No matter your best intentions coming into the role, it’s important to know that it’s important to say no. If you say yes to everything you become overwhelmed with work, build a product based off opinions and not data and lose focus on what the big picture is. It’s okay to say no. You just need to say no with a valid, usually data driven reason. People respect this.

2. You don’t need to make all of the decisions yourself — It’s important to remember that each member of your team has their own strength they bring to the table. One of the most empowering questions you can ask a team member is, “What do you think we should do?”. Doing this motivates your team to think about solutions to problems rather than the Product Manager having to come up with all the ideas and decisions on their own.

3. You cannot possibly do and know everything — I remember when I started I wanted to be involved in absolutely everything. I wanted to attend every meeting, read every email, every blog post & page on confluence, I asked questions about things that didn’t involve me directly, I said yes to helping with things that weren’t under my product area, I genuinely just wanted to be involved in everything and wanted to prove I could be. In hindsight I think it was me trying to make myself indispensable by gaining as much knowledge as possible and always being the yes lady! However, it wasn’t long into my Product Management career that I realised this isn’t sustainable & you can’t possibly know everything. If you are involved in absolutely everything, when will you have time to do anything well? This is when I realised that there are people on my team who are there to provide the knowledge to the gaps I have. We are a team of different skills for a reason and I should utilise these people as much as they utilise me. This was a game changer for me. I realised that by taking a step back from being across absolutely everything and just focussing on the things applicable to me, I was actually helping my team because the things I did know & do, I knew and did well.

4. It’s okay to admit you don’t know things — This to me is a life lesson, not just a Product Management lesson. People love vulnerability. They react positively to it because everyone can relate to it. I’ve made some of the best relationships in my life from showing my vulnerabilities and admitting when I don’t know things and as I touch on in point 3, you will never be able to know everything. So, admit when you don’t know it, learn it, and keep moving forward.

5. Being a Product Manager is all about people management — While your team does not report to you, you still need to lead them and leading them requires you to know them well. Learn how they operate? What sets them off? What motivates them? When they seem off? Could something be affecting them in their personal life? What are their ambitions? What are their goals & dreams? If you don’t take the time to learn these things about the people in your team, you will find it very hard to lead them and motivate them. I’d suggest taking advantage of any leadership or management training you can! If your organisation doesn’t believe you require it because your role does not have any direct reports, challenge that.

6. There will be some really, really hard days but they will always end up being the most rewarding — Another life lesson that needs to be remembered day to day as a Product Manager. This role can be really stressful at times. I’m not going to sugar coat it. It requires a lot of you and you can be stuck in tricky situations frequently, having tough conversations regularly & providing some bad news to customers & the business at times. Things can be looking good, ready for launch, all your hard work paying off and then bam a critical bug rears its ugly head, and everything is delayed. You feel disappointed, nervous and stressed.
However, with these challenges come some of the most rewarding days. Being able to tell a customer you’re releasing a feature they’ve been asking for months for, being able to tell the business your team hit their objectives & key results this quarter, seeing NPS scores increasing due to features your team has built, working as a team to fix that bug and get that launch back on track are some of the best moments. They’re exhilarating and make you realise why you love this job so much.

7. You don’t need to be technical, but you need to be willing to learn & you must know the basics — Front end, back end, API, database are all words you should know. You don’t need to know how to architect them or build them. You don’t even need to know how to write a line of code. You just need to be able to understand at a high level when developers are telling you what will be required to complete the project. It’s just about knowing the terminology and at a high level what they mean. Once you’ve got this, conversations with your team, knowing what is required, differentiating between a small or large feature or bug becomes much easier. I strongly recommend being willing to learn a little more about the basics. Ask the questions even if you feel silly for not knowing. I’ve been there, I’ve asked those questions, I’ve been vulnerable, but I feel much better having conversations now and it makes you feel more proficient in your role.

If you would like to connect, follow me on Twitter @bec_coops_ and get in touch. I’d love to hear from others who are new in their Product Management career and want to share their learnings. If you’re looking to get into Product Management or you are an experienced Product Manager, feel free to get in touch too!