The Product Management Checklist for Beginners
This week, Product School’s #AskMeAnything session welcomed Neeraj Mathur, Former PM and UX at Skyhigh Networks!
Neeraj is an experienced entrepreneurial product leader with over 20 years of industry experience that spans entrepreneurial ventures (Skyhigh Networks, Bluebox Security) and Fortune 500 companies (Sun Microsystems, Cisco Systems, Silicon Graphics). Curious about how Product Managers have broken into and mastered their roles? Then join our Product Management Slack Community and ask them!
Neeraj Mathur has built, launched and led large-scale, high-growth products across various industries including Cyber Security, Cloud/Mobile Security, and Collaboration. He has extensive experience in building and leading product and design teams across multiple time zones. Also, he is a strategic thinker known for taking ownership and solving complex problems with innovative solutions. Lastly, he is acknowledged as a user experience fanatic with a penchant for delivering simple, intuitive and delightful experiences to users.
What are the weekly reports Product Managers should be providing?
The type of reports vary on the size of the company, organization, and team, however, the frequency of the report usually stays the same – mostly, weekly and at times, bi-weekly.
In smaller and medium-size organizations, I have developed (and desired) reports from Product Managers that provide:
- Key capabilities in motion and desired in the coming quarter
- The associated customer/revenue impact (if clearly known)
- Some sense of what is one key thing achieved and what is one new roadblock/customer pain-point discovered.
In large organizations, often times this rotates back to the positive/negative (+/-) style and can often become a status report of weekly and bi-weekly ongoings. What are the top three to five things being done and what will be dialed down and why? The bigger the depth of the organization, the more this becomes a status report rolled for management to get a pulse on the ongoings of the organization.
I joined a new company as a Product Manager. What are the achievements I should make in my first 3 months?
First off, if you haven’t already, please take the time to read The First 90 days by Michael Watkins. Excellent book for any leader (Product Manager is a leadership function) to get a strong foothold in a new organization.
Some key things that I focus on when joining a new org:
- Get maniacal about understanding the product inside/out. Take the extra effort to install/deploy/use the product and leverage any documentation that already exists. If it does not, identify what is needed. Be verbose about your experience and write it all down.
- Identify the gaps from your perspective, but hold on to passing that information to any of the existing product teams. You were not there for when a decision was made and may not fully understand the trade-offs just yet. In other words, be a sponge, listen, rather practice active-listening, and not pass judgment.
- Understand and learn about the team members, meet as many as you can face to face. Never eat your lunch alone, especially not in the first 90 days. You will learn so much more about your product, customers, and team members by being with them and listening to them. When the team involves remote members, offer to meet at a time that’s convenient for them. When introducing yourself, offer to help and see how they respond.
Lastly, create an explicit 30/60/90 day plan and ensure your managers are on the same wavelength for what’s expected in that time. Most importantly, know that first 90 days are crucial and that experience won’t ever come back. Have fun!
What do you think are the top 3 skills needed for an effective PM?
Thanks for asking an important question! Different Product Managers will answer this question differently. I fundamentally believe that a PM is an enablement function. PMs enable the core assets of an organization to optimize the available resources and deliver efficiently on customer needs to run a profitable business. Essentially, you are in the business of communication. You need to communicate your customers’ needs, your management of objectives, the features and capabilities of your product over competitors, etc.
In order to communicate all of these different needs and wants to everyone in a way that they’ll understand and walk/run in coherence – one needs:
- The ability to succinctly articulate the messages and communicate effectively
- Strong time management and prioritization
- A very solid grasp of people skills including empathy
If you had to start all over again in another city or country, how would you build your network and look for Product Management jobs?
That’s an excellent question. Thanks to Product Management Meetups and organizations such as Product School who organize events around the world, I would tap into the folks who are currently in the PM function and seek their 30-45 mins for a coffee/lunch.
I would also not hesitate in looking people up on LinkedIn or some such professional networking website and write emails to see if they would be open to sitting down to share their experience. I would urge you though to keep the emails short, articulate what you need, and be willing to offer how you can help.
A short intro with 3 bullets, as mentioned above, will go a long way. Don’t be disheartened when you don’t hear back right away, eventually, you will. And implement the strategy of 100 seeds (emails). A 10% response rate means 10 people who can focus on that and not the 90 that could not get back to you for a variety of reasons.
In sales functions, there are often frameworks deployed to help salespeople be successful. Is there a similar product framework that can be used in the product world?
If you are not familiar yet, please do familiarize yourself with Kano Model, Scorecard Method, Value/Complexity Quadrant, RICE (Intercom), MDE (Optimizely) etc. While these are top of my mind as I write this response, there are several others out there. Having said that, allow me to elaborate a bit on the importance of prioritization and the groundwork required to be ruthlessly efficient about it.
Prioritization should align with the strategy and vision. Executing towards specific goals set for a year is crucial for a company’s growth. It always helps to break ties and resource allocation when one can clearly see the correlation of features being considered with the goals.
You have a unique advantage to work with the customer-focused mindset. Remember though that your purview now includes all the current customers and unlocking prospects to become one. Keeping the big picture always in mind should help.
I have some Project Management and marketing experience. What technical skills or certifications would you recommend in order to gain the knowledge to be successful entry-level PM?
To the specifics of technical skills – what industry attracts you the most? It will determine how much and what all you need to learn. Some fields, for example Security, require quite a bit of in-depth knowledge of the domain before you can start contributing. Therefore, not a lot of entry-level PM jobs are there. Some others, such as collaboration/productivity software, do not require that much to begin with. We all use productivity software and can associate with common workflows – ex: Evernote.
I would leverage your experience in Marketing/Advertising and create a marketing plan for successfully launching yourself. Start with your career as a product. What value proposition (capabilities, skills) do you have for your customers (your future employers)? How would you articulate your differentiation from all the other products (candidates) in the market? What is your unfair advantage (perhaps knowledge of a domain, certain expertise in a particular industry that you are currently involved with)?
Be agile – take some informational interviews, pitch your story and see what works and doesn’t. Understand that the PM role has gained a lot of interest and has people from all backgrounds – are there some that you can relate with? If so, reach out to them and seek 30 minutes of their time to seek guidance. Be crisp with questions (2-3 max) and always be able to articulate how you could help them now or in the future.
Another way to think about this – Are there adjacencies to which you can make the next move? For example: seek a Product Marketing role in your current industry first and then look to move towards Product Management. Happy to dig further if this comes across as generic.
How does a Product Manager best transition into a new industry?
Understand what part of your current skillset can be ported to the new industry. Also, take stock of all the different skills you will need to be really successful in the new domain. The latter can come by speaking with a few people who are in the domain, doing the function that you desire to undertake.
It also helps to start reading up on the new industry to understand the jargon and be able to comprehend the challenges and opportunities. Participating in your local meetups or being on online forums such as the Product School Slack should enable you to explore the people that have the gig that you want.
Please know that to become an industry-agnostic Product Manager, you ought to have nailed down the PM function. Your ability to apply the methodologies and frameworks learned over time as a PM would be an asset as fresh perspectives always unlock new potentials.
Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?
- Communicate – well and in different formats. When in doubt, over-communicate.
- Learn to say “NO” – you are the gatekeeper to your customers and dev teams. Protect them from feature proliferation and useless work.
- Actively prioritize – pick a cadence that works for you and your org and prioritize ruthlessly. Resources are always limited, how you deploy what you have is the difference between a kick-ass product and an also-ran.
- Be ok with “I don’t know” – you are not supposed to have all the answers or be an expert on everything. It’s OK to admit that you don’t know something and to bring in someone who does better than you.
- Never stop learning – make it part of your routine. Listen, learn, implement. Rinse, repeat.
Have fun building things and challenge yourself to make it simpler each time you touch any feature or product.