Tips on Transitioning into Product with Ad-Juster Head of Product

This week our #AskMeAnything session welcomed Stuart Moncada, Head of Product at Ad-Juster, to talk about transitioning into product.

Stuart Moncada is a Product Leader with more than 18 years of experience in building software products in the mobile and web space. He also has deep industry experience in the marketing and digital advertising space.

Some of his specialties include:

  • Product line strategy
  • Team Leadership
  • Machine Learning / Data Science
  • Analytics
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Stuart has multiple product launches under his belt for multi-million dollar award-winning products. Currently, he is the Head of Product at Ad-Juster. Prior to becoming a Product Manager, Stuart worked as a Software Engineer at several companies, including over 5 years with HP!

Transition into Product Management

Can you share your experiences on transitioning from Software Engineer to Product Management?

I started as a Software Developer and then I transitioned into Engineering Management roles such as Team Lead, QA Manager, and then finally into Product.

It was a gradual transition, but I found myself gravitating towards the more customer and business side of product development.

Any tips for a Business Analyst looking to transition into Product Management?

Look for Business Analyst roles that are closer to the product side of the business. Many companies even have a “Product Analyst” role that would be a natural stepping stone for you.

Do you have any advice for recent graduates?

Product can sometimes be hard to get into initially because it is a bit competitive but there is also a large need for it. Don’t overlook taking a stepping stone role such as Product Support that exposes you to the product and to the customers.

What stepping stone roles are there (such as Product Support) that would be a good way to get exposure and experience leading into Product Management?

I think you can always transition from any role if you show initiative and learn the customer and the product, but the most common roles to transition into product from are probably Product/Customer Support, Engineering, Business Analyst, Product Designer, and Project Manager.

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Do you have any advice on being able to make an impact and come up to speed quickly as a younger PM on the team?

Don’t be scared to not know everything at first. You can rely on your dev team to understand the technology and other roles like Support or Account Management to start filling the gaps.

However, you should learn your customers/users in and out as soon as possible as that is what the development team will come to you with questions on. When there are questions or ambiguity on how something should be implemented, an experienced dev team will come to the PM and ask how users will want this implemented.

How can I position my experience of developing a feature (rather than a product) in a resume where I’m trying to get a foot in as a Product Manager?

I try to tailor my resumes for each specific role that I apply to. You could definitely highlight a specific feature that you developed if you think it is large enough and relevant enough for the given role. I would just be a little careful to not get too in the weeds in the resume. You can always use the actual interviews to elaborate.

Do you think it is possible to find a job as a Product Manager without being a native speaker?

It depends on the language spoken at the company. If you can find a company that people speak your native language, then yes, you should be good.

It would be however pretty challenging to find a job where everyone spoke English but you spoke no English. Communication is one of the top 3 skills I would say a PM has to be good at and if you can’t speak the same language, it is just a massive hurdle.

Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?

Same advice I give for success in anything… Focus and determination will get you everywhere.

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Product Management Skills

Throughout your career, how did you keep up with the latest developments in Product Management?

Being proactive to continuous self-development and learning is key. I went back and got my MBA at a fully employed program. I also read a lot of product, technology, and business books and material. Teaching Product Management has also helped me stay current.

How does the product team ensure the customer is successful at using a complex product?

Focusing on the UX and usability that is built into the product is probably the best thing that can be done. After that, the onboarding experience is critical.

In the B2B space, you have the advantage of having a direct relationship with your customer. Continuously performing usability studies and iterating on the product is key.

Any tips on improving the aspect of story-telling?

This is definitely a critical skill for a PM as you are constantly telling stories to be persuasive. There are many books on this that you can find. There are a couple of relevant chapters on this topic in Cracking the PM Interview.

Practice is key because you will get more comfortable speaking in front of groups the more times you do it.

As a Senior PM, do you use data or intuition to make decisions? Can you please give an example?

I am constantly using both data and intuition. You will never have a full story of the data so you will have to rely on “intuition” at times.

A lot of times I do what is called Quant on Qual which is quantitative analysis on qualitative data. So quantitative data such as data from your product analytics tool will tell you what users are doing but it won’t tell you why they are doing things. That is where qualitative data comes into play from customer interviews, focus groups, surveys, etc.

You cannot always interview every single customer so many times I will take my qualitative data such as interview notes and organize and structure it so I can draw some themes and do a bit of quantitative analysis on it.

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How much time should we plan for the MVP development duration?

With many questions in Product, the answer is it depends. The faster you can get something in front of customers to begin validating assumptions, the faster you can mitigate risk and wasted efforts.

I don’t know if there is a specific time frame I would recommend because that also depends on your definition of “MVP” which is a long debated topic. Some people like the ‘P’ to refer to “Product” and others say it should stand for “Prototype”.

I have had MVPs that took 2 months and some that took 4 months to develop. In both situations, I had many iterations where I validated prototypes/mocks/pre-MVP versions with users/customers along the way.

So I would say you want to be continuously validating things with customers all the time. If your MVP is going to take more than 6 months to develop, it probably can be broken down into a smaller version.

What areas of technology do Product Managers need some level of subject matter expertise in?

It depends on the product role you are in. If we are talking a Software Product Management role, then I would say some basic understanding of how the software works and is built is also required. This doesn’t mean you need to know how to code but being able to speak the same language with your developers is a huge benefit and builds trust. Basic understanding of business and marketing is also needed.

How do you think the role of a Product Manager has changed in the last 4-5 years and how it is going to change in the coming years?

I think the role of the PM has changed dramatically in the last 5 years. The current PM role of high performing tech companies used to be handled by multiple roles such as Engineering Manager, Project Manager, Scrum Master, marketing, business leader, etc.

A modern-day Product Manager has a very large amount of responsibility and influence over the strategy and results of a tech company. This impact is magnified at startups.

I think over the coming years it will become much more data-oriented. It already has, but I see AI/Data science becoming a standard part of Product Management and I am not referring to AI being built into the product; I am referring to AI and data science being used on customer and product analytics and other product-related analysis.

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