What do you know about the realities of Product Management in emerging markets? Our alum Oluwakamiye Adelemoni has worked across Nigeria and Uganda. He graduated with an Electrical and Electronics degree, moving onto Web Development. With solid coding foundations, he then progressed towards Software Development in Andela and TIMWE Group. He finally settled at SafeBoda, where he moved horizontally from an engineering to a Product Management position.
Product School is a truly global community: while we started in Silicon Valley, our students and alumni today span the whole globe. Product people like Oluwakamiye reveal the digital dividend waiting to be unlocked in emerging markets. Check out his story!
Upgrading the Team: An Efficient Product Management Transition
Here in Product School, we have seen many engineers and other technical people transition to product. However, in our stories we tend to focus on individual efforts to make it happen. This is certainly important. Without a degree of personal commitment to finding your first product role, it can be extremely difficult to make it in tech. At the same time, one productive avenue for a product transition is a team upgrade.
“In my previous situation, I had taken on some product management responsibilities alongside my software engineering duties in the past. So when some product management positions opened up, it was a lot easier to be considered since I had already shown my capabilities and desire to transition into product management.”
Indeed, as your company’s needs evolve, perhaps they will realize that a Product Manager is fundamental to improve operations. However, rather than posting an external job ad, internal upgrading provides a cost-effective and interesting alternative to fill the position. This is exactly what happened to Oluwakamiye in SafeBoda.
“I officially got into product a couple of years back when there was a product manager vacancy in my company and we needed someone internal to fill the role fast without having to hire. I’d always seen myself making the transition from software engineer to a product manager at some point in my career but definitely not anytime soon until the role came knocking and I decided to try it out. What better way to see if it’s a good career path than to jump right in?”
Of course, this means that you should show readiness to take on the new challenges. This is not the case for all of them, but many software engineers tend to assume that they already have all they need to make it in product. This is wrong. The transition requires a change of mindset, expanding your immediate concerns from certain products or features to considering the whole product process. One fundamental principle is to keep users in mind.
“From my experience and learning, product management is all about what to build, and software engineering is about how to build it. They both exist to create software solutions that [hopefully] users love, but only if done right and both responsibilities don’t overlap.”
Moving on from your audience and coming back to the office, internal stakeholders are the second most important collective you need to care about. Certain engineers, especially those in smaller operations, are not so used to including the concerns from other teams. But this is actually another growth driver. Particularly, because efficient marketing operations can feed back into development activities and vice versa. This can save work for everyone, accelerate iterations and get rid of chances to make mistakes.
“Ask tons of questions and as much as possible, take time to practice the product development cycle with as many products or ideas you can find. The questions would guide you in the right direction and practicing the product cycle would get you used to thought process a product manager goes through in their job on a daily.”
What Makes a Product Manager in a Growing Market?
Of course, enough online infrastructure has been laid out across the world to make this a connected planet. However, for too long it has been the case that Western-based companies have imposed their own ways of doing things on emerging markets. Rather, it is pretty interesting to understand how the local tech industry is shaping its own destiny. In the case of Oluwakamiye, he soon understood the new responsibilities involved in the Product Management role.
“One big difference is the change in expectations, and this isn’t just about the new OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) that are required for the new role. Yes, the key responsibilities have changed and you need to acquire (or leverage) new skills to perform well in the new role, but the biggest realization is the fact that your past contributions in the previous role will no longer be considered. It is pretty much like starting a new job but with familiar faces. You have to be ready to learn afresh like a new team member, and many of your old skills will probably not be useful in the new role.”
Looking closer at their operations, Oluwakamiye also discussed the challenges of developing a transport product. In this case, like similar platforms in the sector, their offering is divided in two. First, there is a customer-facing set of features. Secondly, there is a driver-oriented platform to help them out carry out their tasks. Both are equally important, but they involve a different set of challenges.
“At SafeBoda, we have two core products, the passenger mobile application and the driver mobile application. I am the product manager for the driver app and as much as we have a lot of things in the roadmap, my main responsibility is to ‘build them the right way’. This means making sure the ideas actually solve the problems behind the roadmap features by getting user feedback and using analytics to measure if the actual outcome is the desired outcome.”
Of course, the journey is not always smooth. One particular difference that he noted was how much information he was expected to manage. This is often the case for fast-growing firms in emerging markets, where competition can be fierce and it is really important to move as fast as you can.
“I think the fact that I had to be the all-knowing-being for the product actually caught me by surprise. All of a sudden, I had to know about the metrics, the users, the business, what the underlying business goals were and I definitely had to know when some deliverable would be possible when for the most part, I controlled none of that information.”
Thankfully, Oluwakamiye’s own experience and the Product Management Certification stressed the importance of soft skills. This realization is vital for many PMs who emerge from tech-centered roles.
“As for what I was ready for, I knew going into the role that over communication and soft skills was very important. So at every point, I had to re-invent ways to communicate most effectively with both the necessary stakeholders, either via email updates, or slack messages or during one on one meetings. I was definitely prepared to iterate a lot to find the best ways everyone would understand the information that was being passed around.”
Following the Top Product Management Gurus
Where are software engineers at an advantage when transitioning? One aspect many aspiring people fail to take care of is cultivating their relationships with fellow engineers. You need to build over your existing community to make the most of growing within the tech sphere. Oluwakamiye learnt a lot from working with his colleagues on delivering projects.
“As a software engineer, I had always loved the end result than the process. In focusing on the end results in the past, I had always cared more about getting software out fast and then iterating to make things stable and more useful with better performance. In a sense, I think that allowed me to understand the value of iterating quickly with end users in order to understand the best solution for them.”
Of course, this sort of “informal mentoring” becomes necessary as tech keeps evolving while educational institutions remain anchored in the past. It has been really challenging for universities and business schools to adapt to the new situation. Here is what Oluwakamiye thinks. Do you agree?
“In general, I believe most schools that aim to equip their students with the necessary skills to survive in the digital economy need to update their curriculums often, probably as frequently as software updates happen. Things change rapidly in the digital work-space and unfortunately, most (if not all) schools in rising economies are still stuck on very old academic programs and curriculums. The best people I know working in tech in Nigeria and Uganda are mostly self-taught or acquired their skills and knowledge outside the traditional educational programs.”
Thankfully, there are plenty of alternatives: one of them, is to never stop reading. Many PMs can point out to the particular book or influencer who guided them in the early years. The best thing about good business books is that you can always revisit them and learn something new. What are your personal favorites?
“My favorite product book is Inspired by Marty Cagan. I believe anyone who wants to get into product, or at least understand what the ideal product manager does should definitely read the book. A close second is The Product Book by Product School which in my opinion, breaks down the complexities of the product role and gives a good step by step guide of all the processes and steps involved in the typical product development cycle.
Another great recommendation is The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen.”