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The Product Management Blog

Tips and Free Resources to become a Great Product Manager
Tips and Free Resources to become a Great Product Manager

Focus on the Roadmap by former Amazon Product Manager

A product roadmap is a powerful planning technique to describe the expected growth of the product, determine the long- and short-term goals and align the stakeholders. It can be difficult to put together at times but it’s extremely useful to have and, if done well, easy to follow.

Joseph Montano, former Product Manager at Amazon, joined us for a live chat to talk all things product and to emphasize the importance of a roadmap.

 

Focus on the Roadmap by former Amazon Product ManagerJoseph Montano
Joseph Montano is currently Senior Product Manager at Johnson Controls, who create software and infrastructure critical to smart buildings and smart cities – making the world safer and more secure. In pursuit of this mission, Joe is helping drive the next generation security and risk management platform for enterprises. Joe is a former Product Manager at Amazon where he led user acquisition for the Amazon Appstore on the Android platform.

 

How often does your team change development methodologies and/or workflow strategies? How often do things fall off course?

I’ve primarily worked in Agile Scrum environments. Each experience has been a little different. But the common theme is that we iterate until the team is comfortable and we are building at a good pace. No real rigidity. This is for enterprise and startup environments.

 

What skills would you recommend for aspiring Product Managers? What are some transferable skills you would recommend to acquire?

I often index on two things as a Product Manager: focus and priority. And the mechanism to do this is through communication, both verbal and written. You need to be able to speak to folks at a high and tactical level (engineering). Key in on communication and how to polish this over time.

 

What are the key skills to develop when moving into PM from a technical software role?

I’ve worked with engineers that have transitioned to a Product Manager role. They are great at speaking in the weeds and the nuances of the product. But it’s so critical to be able to understand the problem statement as it relates to the personas of your product (both end-user persona and buyer persona). So this boils down to communication.

Everyone from every department will ask you about your product. You need to have that elevator pitch ready (what problem are you solving? What’s the value proposition? etc.)

Focus on the Roadmap by former Amazon Product Manager

 

I work as a Project Manager – how can you get product management jobs at software companies if you are early in your career?

A project manager does possess many of the core functions of a product manager. Though, a project manager mostly focuses on the “when” of a product. When will it be delivered? When will the dependencies be finished etc.?

A product manager needs to focus on the “what” and “why.” Shadow other Product Managers at your current firm. If possible, I would first try and get a Product Manager role at your current company.

 

How do you manage your time to ensure you are building – and especially that you are building the right thing?

The key artefact here is the roadmap. Ensure that your roadmap aligns with the strategy – and ultimately with the engineering backlog. I like to use a weighted roadmap and use this as an artefact to communicate with engineering, business, legal, marketing, UX.

The roadmap will ensure you are building the right thing by forcing you as a Product Manager to build things that are against certain KPIs (revenue, user experience innovation). You and the Product Management team need to align with what those KPIs are.

 

How do you recommend speaking about the releases and associated metrics (assuming it fails) during interviews when asked about your past portfolio?

As an interviewer before, I LOVE speaking to interviewees about previous “failures.” It’s how you react to failure that makes you a strong Product Manager. During the interview process, you should be able to comprehensively speak about your thought process on building products, what metrics you used, why it failed, what things you learned about the failure, and how you applied those learnings to future products. The last part is the most important.

Focus on the Roadmap by former Amazon Product Manager

 

Is there specific software you use for defining product roadmaps?

I’ve used JIRA for about five years now. It’s great for managing the backlog. But not so great at taking it up a level. (I even tried JIRA portfolio). I would use JIRA as an input to the roadmap, but the best tool usually comes down to Excel. For communication, its either Excel or PowerPoint.

 

What are your favorite tools, that you use on a day-to-day basis?

My favorite tools are JIRA, Excel (you should be a whiz at this), PowerPoint, Balsamiq and Word.

But please don’t be so concerned around the tools. Just A/B test and see what works best. It’s easy to get bogged down with “am I using the right tool?” And become paralyzed with the number of Product Management tools out there. Limit to a select few and move forward.

 

Can you give a brief overview of how you layout the roadmap within Excel?

I’m typically the oddball. Roadmaps and their associated features need to be quantified. That is, you should have a rough score representing business value or engineering effort (i.e., cost vs. benefit analysis). Excel allows you to sort, filter, sum the scores up. It’s not perfect. But it’s easily digestible and has worked across many companies big and small.

Focus on the Roadmap by former Amazon Product Manager

 

How do you manage working on products or projects with cross-functional teams involving various teams?

It’s not easy, but it’s one of the things I love about Product Management. You need to OVER communicate. You need to embrace meetings and build those relationships. With a large project spread across globally, I would like to assemble a “tiger” team. And have the key leads of each team be always kept in the loop. (i.e., daily stand-ups). This is the only way you can scale as a Product Manager.

You transitioned from software consulting to product – any advice or lessons learned on the steps you took to make that change successful?

I work with a consultant now who has experience at one of the big firms. Excellent at communicating with leadership and seeing the big picture. But I often see that he struggles with diving deep. That is, “working in the trenches” with engineering, QA, and UX. For example, how do you decompose big features into user stories or how you define the scope of work within this sprint. As a Product Manager, you need to operate at all levels.

 

Can you share your advice to aspiring product managers?

Two final points for aspiring product managers – don’t make my mistake of always jumping right in and trying to solve the problem. You need to understand the problem and the persona you are solving it for. Lastly, the ability to synthesize and distill complex topics is so critical. Join Toastmasters, try and speak in layman’s terms to your grandmother, five-year-old nephew – and practice this.

 

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