On January 2nd, 2018, I drove through Salt Lake City’s snow-covered streets and pranced into the Visible Equity office like a 5-year-old boy excited about his first day at kindergarten. Although I started working for Visible Equity in the spring of 2015, this marked the first day in an entirely new role as a product manager. I was determined to be successful despite having no previous experience as a product manager. Honestly, I knew that it would be a steep learning curve, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Here are my key lessons through the first nine months of product management.
1. What we want to do vs What we need to do
There is a lot that we want to do; there is a lot that we need to do. Differentiating between our needs and wants can be a challenge. We have a tremendous backlog of features and concepts that we’d like to implement into our software for user consumption, but everything must be taken in stride. We’ve tried to stay focused on developing ideas and features that are needed most immediately, while forcing ourselves to table items that will have to wait.
2. Setting a specific time table is hard
“Hey, Dave—when will Feature X be ready?” Each time I get this question I wince just a little bit. I want to be able to reply and say that it will be ready on this date at exactly 8:15 am…but it is rarely, if ever, that easy. We do our best to estimate how long it will take for something to be released, but there are plenty of factors that have to be considered. Does that feature fit into the scope of the current project? How many people are or would be affected by this change? Are we a day away from the next release date, or two weeks away? The result of so many factors to consider often creates a moving target.
3. Individual time management is vital
To piggyback on lesson two, keeping myself tasked and on track is key. If I’m not on track with my own work, the development team will likely get off track with their work (because they are waiting for me to pick up the slack), and the moving target I referenced just picked up the pace and got a few more meters ahead of me. I write down EVERYTHING that I will potentially need to do, even if it won’t receive my attention for a few months or more (I just checked my list and I have things planned out as far as June 2019 right now) and then prioritize from there.
4. What I think people want…may not be what they want
We throw around a lot of ideas here at Visible Equity. We are constantly brainstorming and trying to figure out which of the 10,512 paths we are looking at is the best one to take. Bad ideas (yes, we have those…occasionally) get thrown out, but more surprisingly, good ideas don’t always make the cut either. Just because an idea appears to be good on the surface doesn’t mean it will serve a good purpose; it may not even be what our users want. I’ve learned to concede ideas even when they seem like they have potential to be great and to do so without taking offense.
5. The gap between client success and development is an important one to bridge
Personality types between developers and client success representatives tend to be quite different. Shocker, right? No, actually, not really. I worked for nearly three years in a client success role and, as a result, became an expert in how to use our product and gained a valuable understanding as to how our clients do use and want to use our product. As a product manager, I now work much closer to our development team. While I’m no better at coding now than I was at the beginning of the year (actually, I’m probably worse in that regard now), I do have a much better understanding of the development world than I ever had previously. I find it important for these groups to understand each other’s roles, and as a product manager I attempt to speak the client success language to dev and vice versa. Understanding goals and priorities of both sides facilitates us being united in strategy.
6. Client feedback is worth its weight in gold
Receiving feedback from our clients was always important while I worked in a client success role. It truly is the single-most driving factor to helping us make new features and identifying where we need to make improvements. If you are reading this as a Visible Equity user, please don’t stop sending us your feedback! We’ll continue to use it to make your experience better.
7. I can’t look at anything now without wondering how to make it better
From cooking utensils in my kitchen to software tools I use (outside of Visible Equity) to changing the diaper on my 2-year-old, I have a hard time looking at anything without wondering, “How could the functionality of that be improved?” I suppose that’s a direct result of the new mindset that I’m trying to develop here at Visible Equity. The good news for our users is that when I do ask myself the question above, it is specifically to improve one of our products more often than not.
8. It’s all about love
We here at Visible Equity love our jobs. I definitely love mine! The best compliment that we can receive is to hear how much our clients love our product. While I’m product manager here, you can bet that I’ll stay focused on building a product that you can learn to love and continue to love for years to come.
I have plenty to learn still, but I can say that it has been an incredibly enjoyable ride as I come to the close of year one as a product manager. I’ve found a vast amount of resources to improve my knowledge and skills as a product manager. My current favorite right now is a book entitled Lovability, which shares quality information for building great products as well as great customer experiences.
– David Royal, Product Manager