This month, exactly a a year ago, Loco happened to me, or we happened to each other. Here are fifteen things I took away that I thought would be useful to other product managers.
Remember this is a high growth, “make or break” situation you have encountered. Sometimes you have to believe in your answer, your work and move on. If you have worked in bigger organizations like I did, you would be a little hesitant to take this step, but don’t let that deter you. Commit & move on.
One of the easiest way to work your way around this fast paced industry is to ship something quick. Don’t stand around and make assumptions and read vanity metrics. Pick a problem, solve it, ship it. This helps you gain trust among your developers, credibility with the management & most importantly you realize your own shortcomings or strengths. This doesn’t mean you have to go out of the way, to research & put a feature together, pickup a bug fix if you have to, but the take away is to ship it.
Let people know what is happening within your product. Present numbers, tell them what the numbers are telling you. Why we are building version two of something or why we are not? Why we must fix that annoying bug and why we are tightening deadlines? Explain it all. When I started, I explained everything I do in a day to the rest of the team. Considering I was the first one to join the team, I did a lot and not everyone understood all of it. I also made sure, everyone that needed access to data, got it and then I made sure they learnt how to get it themselves. It took hours of my time to explain the same concepts to a different audience every time, but it also made sure everyone knew the what and why.
Every one has specific skill-sets, and it is always good to learn from them. I make it a point to snoop around, sit with each function enough to know what they kinda do. You don’t have to get it all, but it is good to know some of it and understand the delays and decisions that get made in each function. Since so much of a PM’s job is to facilitate and get the job done, it also helps in knowing what the jobs are.
This took some getting used to but its very necessary to know what is out there. Given that I work in consumer apps and a really competitive niche in that (games & live-streaming) it was rather important to know what is happening where. The problem wasn’t knowing where to find this information, it was staying on top of it. Being comfortable trying a lot of apps, making notes (can’t tell you how many unread vague docs I have made on things I was inspired by).
This seems so obvious, but you really forget in the day to day activities. Everyone, the CEO, the VPs are all looking at the DAU, WAU, MAU, overall retention and all those important numbers,** **the problem is, these numbers are not where the answers lie, they matter-of-factually tell you how your product is doing. The magic lies in funnels, segments, cohorts that not everyone is looking at. Go down these rabbit holes, from time to time. You have no idea what you will discover. This is your area of expertise, if you are simply telling/ giving people information they already know, you are not doing your job well enough.
I cannot stress this enough. I have been customer support over weekends, I have jumped on Twitter the minute someone has had an issue, and have had DM conversations with them. It is for this very reason, I know my users so well. I know most of our followers, the cheerleaders and the naggers on first name basis. This helps me to think what to build next, why something makes sense to this group of users, what communication will engage them, what copy-writing will get them to engage more. These insights helped me a great deal while working on our Playstore listing, increasing our notifications CTR. There is so much your users want to tell you, if you just listen.
“Yeah, let’s A/B test that one!” A common phrase you will hear in almost all meetings. This is very dangerous, you have to commit to your decisions, remember that most of your decisions are reversible. Research, adapt, build and learn. There is no other way to do this. Some feature you launch will see no traction, other feature you have no hope for will click. So really just experiment. Know your goals, align your thinking but don’t stop pondering over how to solve or better your product. It is dangerous to be stagnant than it is to be incrementally experimenting.
Your first 30 days, figure out everything that needs to be done, when you put a feature together. Then make notes and keep that checklist handy. Keep marketing, communications, content, design all the teams in check. I remember not being big on checklists and just winging it, but I cant tell you how humbling it has been to know I am wrong. I then created a PM process document that I go back and look at very often.
Everyone’s trying to meet deadlines so get your product in the best shape possible. Remember you’re the janitor, so pick up whatever is pending, see if you can help and then HELP. If there is a bottleneck, solve it. If your developers need something, fight for it, hold meetings or don’t hold meetings do whatever is necessary. More often than not, people don’t do this. They assume the issue will sort itself out or will very generically leave a work email or message instead of doing the work themselves. Well guess what? That is exactly the PM no one wants to work with. Please, do not be this person.
You have to remember no matter what role you made this transition from, you have left that job behind you. If you were a developer, designer, founder it not longer applies to you. You are a facilitator, your job is to make sure nothing is stuck. So if that means you’re fixing spacing, giving design briefs, writing copy, do it, but also remember people at that job are far better than you are, so always keep in mind that you might not know the complexities of every function. So help where you can, but also mind your line.
This one was really difficult for me to do. Initially, to say “I don’t know” in a meeting felt like I hadn’t done my part well enough, that I didn’t cover all the groundwork. As these meetings went on, I realized more people around me also said “I don’t know” but they always went and found out the missing piece of the puzzle, that is what truly mattered anyway. Always remember, you don’t have to be right, you just have to build right. No matter where or who that knowledge comes from, that is totally okay.
At the beginning I always ended up leaving work at 2am and being in early. This helped me keep the team’s progress in check. They knew someone was not just handing them a product requirements document, sending a slack message and being hands off until someone else got the work done. They knew, I would do everything it takes to ship the product. I was always available for clarifications, I would accommodate all the questions, repeat my reasons a 100 times if I had to, and never let the team work without me. No matter what the time, 8am meetings or 2am bug bashes. I was there, all-in.
Just like your users always know who you are working with. A good PM is also a people person. Know how to handle everyone that you work with. They all come with different temperaments and you need to win over every one of them. This is not easy, it doesn’t happen on Day 1, but you have to win their trust, make them your ally and really be their confidant. I don’t think you can fake this, you really have to spend time with people to get to know them, but once you build that bond, the things you build will always be in rhythm.
I always have a lot of questions to ask, but I didn’t always ask them out loud. I always assumed that if there was something I needed to know, I will be told. Everything else was probably classified. I can’t tell you how wrong I have been about this. You’re moving as fast you can, capturing markets, understanding trends, looking into your roadmaps, building relationships along the way. It is always, always important to know the whys and whats. Allow yourself the opportunity to be curious.
If you’re starting your career in product, or simply want to talk all things product, know that I would love to chat and help :)