I still remember the first day I got handed my first product. I was both excited about the opportunity but nervous that I wouldn’t live up to the role. Like many PM’s, I didn’t start in Product but I was qualified for the job because of the domain knowledge I had about the company. I felt confident but the pressure was on. For so long, I was the one raising the issues and complaining about things not getting done so here was my chance to make a change!
Before starting my new role, I put myself through my own crash course about Product Management and spent a TON of time talking to very talented Product Managers about what it meant to be a PM. I read every book and article I could get my hands on and thought that it would prepare me for what was ahead of me. Oh, how I was so young and naive…
My First Product
Before moving into the Product function, I spent a little over 2 years working on the Operations & Analytics team. I learned just about everything there was about our internal systems and the Admin Portal we used to run our business — its capabilities, its shortcomings, and most definitely the crap that made you want to bang your head against the desk. I couldn’t believe how much I had learned about the business in 2 years but after a while, I felt more like a flag raiser than anything else. Every time there was a problem with the Admin Portal, I was asked to file a ticket and wait until the company had resources… That got old pretty quick.
Rather than getting frustrated, I wanted to get more involved. Hence, the move to Product. I loved the idea of being a bigger part of solving the problems our company was facing, especially the ones that impacted my daily life for so long.
Lo and behold my first product and assignment — build a new Admin Portal… Yikes!
A part of me was thrilled — I get to work on all the things that had sucked the life out of me for the last 2 years! While another part of me was nervous — what if I build the wrong thing? The good news was that the company had already committed to building the portal. The bad news was that it wasn’t exactly the way I had envisioned it.
I hit the ground running on my first day, running around like a chicken with its head cut off. I was meeting with everyone on the team to figure out where my input was needed and how I could help. I wanted to assert myself as a leader and sometimes that means doing the work that no one wants to do.
The truth was that no one really believed in the project. I heard things like “building this on top of what we have doesn’t make sense” and “do we really think anyone is going to use this?”. So, what was I to do? Build something that the team didn’t believe in or speak up about why this project was a bad idea to our executive team?…
Long story short, the project was eventually killed and I moved on to another project.
My confession — I had no idea what I was doing.
A part of being a Product Manager is thoroughly analyzing the future for the product you own. You should always start with the WHY? Something I completely missed because I accepted that decision that was already made. I knew the problems, I knew the business… I was the perfect person to speak up but I didn’t. Instead, I chose to follow the books and the articles I read by running sprints following the Agile Methodology and building wireframes to help our team understand my vision. None of that mattered.
Our team needed the Why. They needed to know why they would be spending the next year building something that already existed and worked. They needed to know why this project would drive more value for our users and ultimately for the company. I had nothing because I didn’t know any better.
Like anything in the world, practice makes perfect. And the more features and projects you do as a Product Manager (good or bad), the more you will learn to make you a better Product Manager.
Now, I’ll probably have some folks ask why I am decided to write about how wasn’t the best PM in the first place but let’s face it, no one really wants to admit when they don’t know something! Regardless, humility and hard work got me where I am today, and knowing something versus acting like you know something is a very big difference. “Fake it till you make it” only takes you so far.
Product Management isn’t for the fainthearted but I can tell you that it has been rewarding and I humbled each and every day by a new challenge. So for all of you out there wondering if Product Management is the right job for you or if making the switch was the right decision, I hope my story helps.
Nathan Porras — Product @ Brilliant. Curator of Product Digest @ Startup Digest.