Our latest interview was with Nir Erlich, Product Manager, CEO and Founder of Craft.io, a popular roadmapping tool. He’s been working in product management for the past 17 years in various companies, including Vario and RayV which was acquired by Yahoo!. Here’s what he had to say about breaking into product management.
Can you tell us about yourself and your background before you broke into product management?
I started about 16 years ago as a software engineer, developing both front and server code for various companies, after a short while I was drawn into the management side of things, first as a project manager and then to product management.
How did you become a product manager?
Human-Computer Interaction, UX and creating new things absolutely fascinated me and got me addicted to this role. I can’t really say when the transition happened but I guess it was somewhere when I was a project manager and started to manage more of the product side of things, back then this border was quite vague. I then managed products in various capacities and companies, I’ve been doing mostly that over the past 10 years.
What was the recruiting process like for you?
When Is started, product management was perceived as a technical role and the ability to write 200 page PRD was an advantage, I’m ADHD so I was never really good at that. I was lucky that the startup space in Israel is very active and I was able to find my place in various capacities where the ability to bridge between designers and R&D was a big advantage.
Are you very technical, and do you think it’s important to have a technical background to work in product management?
I am technical, and while this can be an advantage in certain companies, I think that in many case technical knowledge can be disadvantage for a product manager as it limits your creativity in a sense. What I mean is that knowing what is easily possible and what is difficult to achieve from a development point of view makes you as a technical product manager give up on ideas earlier on in the process. Many times I have to “force” myself to bypass my technical understanding when exploring new ideas. I think that non technical product managers that are switching from UX and Marketing without technical knowledge have a lot of value and can be great product managers even without any technical knowledge.
What skills are important to have to be successful in product management?
I think the very rare combination of a creative, analytical person and a great leader is the triangle of what makes a great product manager. Creative – the ability to peruse and discover the most innovative and difference making ideas to developer. Analytical – the ability to research and measure in order to validate your ideas and outcomes, Leader – have implementation and business teams synced and support, believe in your ability and be confident that failures are celebrated and success credit is distributed.
What was one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced while developing a product?
When you are the only product manager in a startup company, where budget and resources are tight and every wrong decision may make the difference between a failed company and a company that has a good chance to become great one day. The biggest challenge is to make your mistakes be as cheap as possible so you can learn and make some right decisions that will make the company fly.
What does product management mean to you?
Mainly – creating new things that make people’s life better. That’s what it’s all about, if you accomplished that, then most likely you are working in a great environment and a successful company.
Any advice that you can share with us for aspiring product managers?
My single most important advice is – don’t be afraid of mistakes and failures, they are the ONLY way to success. Make sure you don’t point the finger or looking for someone to blame when something goes wrong, and when something succeed, make sure your teams get the credit.