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What I Wish I Knew When I Was Starting In Product Management

Updated: Feb 14

article from ronke

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Great product leaders are made because they are self-effacing; the experiences and lessons they have learned along the way nourished, shaped, and formed who they are as a person and as leaders.

This blog is dedicated to aspiring and new product managers I have had the privilege of getting to know. I am excited about the incredible journey you are about to undertake. I am incredibly grateful to witness your footprint and the mark you will make in the universe by building products for all communities that will shape and impact our lives for the better.

Being a product leader is a humbling opportunity and a privilege as you build products that impact your customers' lives. Remember, the journey is not meant to be smooth or easy; there are many ambiguities and uncertainties along the way. We are here to do the hard work, the projects and endeavors that will be difficult, and challenge us and our partner teams. These events and actions will polish and make us better human beings and leaders.

Here are the lessons and insights I wish I knew when I was starting in product management:

Passion for Product.

Make sure you understand why you want to be a product manager. Is it because you want to make a difference by building people and products? Do you want to create products that communities around the globe can use and matter to their lives?

Get a mentor.

This advice carries immense value, especially for those embarking on their journey in product management. Having a mentor can be a guiding light in navigating the intricate landscape of product leadership. A mentor's insights, drawn from their own experiences, can give you a clearer perspective on challenges, opportunities, and strategies.

Ask for help.

There will be times when the challenges seem overwhelming. In these moments, reaching out for assistance is not a sign of weakness but a demonstration of your commitment to delivering the best possible outcomes. Seeking guidance from peers, seniors, or even cross-functional collaborators can provide fresh insights and novel solutions. Through this openness to seek help, you'll find resolutions to complex problems and foster a culture of collaboration and growth within your team.

It is okay to say I don’t know something.

This is especially true when interacting with customers – honesty builds trust. Rather than providing inaccurate information, it's better to promise to follow up with accurate answers. In the world of product management, embracing the unknown fosters a culture of continuous learning and collaboration, driving both personal growth and successful customer relationships.

It is ok to have only some of the answers.

It is humbling to admit to your cross-functional team members that you do not have the answers to their questions or queries, but you find them.

Make friends and build a coalition.

You need people who will be invested in your success and coach you. Foster relationships and build allies, as they help you get through the most difficult days and challenges you might face.

What is the right fit: Product-led vs. Engineering-Led?

Focus on something other than the money they are offering you. Make sure you research the organization you are about to join. Are they product-led or engineering-led? If you are customer-obsessed and believe the customer should be at the center of all decisions, then a product-led organization might be the best fit for you.

You must make decisions.

As a product leader, your multidisciplinary team and leaders need you to make decisions and determinations and don‘t be afraid that you will make the wrong choices. It is okay if your verdicts are incorrect; you will learn and grow from them.

Own mistakes and failures.

We are all humans and make mistakes; own the errors and failures you and the scrum team might make, and never blame your colleagues. Lead and look for opportunities to remedy the breakdowns.

Elevate your interdisciplinary partner team.

Building people means bringing out the best in your colleagues and magnifying everyone‘s voices, ensuring they are heard and validated. Even if this means they get promoted before you do, your opportunities will come along.

It is imperative to use your voice.

Using your leadership voice means eliciting change, which can only transpire when we use our voice and speak up. Don’t wait for other people to do it. If someone else had not used their voice, you would have the opportunities you have today. Speak up to make the road easier for those coming behind you.

Your future aspirations.

Give careful thought to your future aspirations. In the realm of product management, it's essential to remember that your managers and leaders aren't mind readers. Articulating your professional and personal goals is a proactive step that enables them to provide guidance and support. By sharing your aspirations, you create a roadmap for your growth within the organization.

Take advantage of skip-level meetings.

If you are offered a skip-level session with your organization‘s top-level managers. Take advantage of it. This is another opportunity for you to make them aware of the projects you have led, your successes and lessons learned, share concepts and insights, and communicate your professional and personal goals.

It is okay to demonstrate gratitude; it does not make you look weak.

Product leaders who express gratitude safeguard that their customers, interns, direct reports, scrum teams, teammates, colleagues, partners, and stakeholders are seen, valued, and appreciated. They ensure that the more significant impact of their contribution to their organization‘s goals and objectives is not neglected. The recognition impacts their well-being, mental fitness, and organizational citizenship disposition.

Take a vacation.

Don't underestimate the value of taking a vacation. In product management, where dedication and hard work are crucial, it's easy to overlook the importance of stepping back. However, allowing yourself the time to recharge is a strategic move, not a sign of weakness. Taking breaks doesn't just prevent burnout; it rejuvenates your perspective, enhances problem-solving abilities, and fosters innovation.

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