Academy Xi Blog

So you think you understand Product Management?

Unless you are a product manager, chances are, you’re wrong. It’s not uncommon for confusion to surround the particulars of Product Management. People mix product management with similar professions.

And I don’t blame them! Product Management is not an intuitive name.

You might already be involved in a process, implementing a skill, or overseeing an activity that is an inherent part of Product Management – without even realising it.

To clear things up, we’re interviewing a bona fide product manager and optimisation expert – Holly Joshi. She’ll help us tease out the crucial processes and strategy-based decisions behind the scenes of any good product, service or experience.  

Let’s start at the beginning.

What were some major decisions or checkpoints that have led you to where you are now?

That’s a tough one.  I’ve had a lot of career experience in different industries. Starting in economics and its influence on behaviours, I’ve been in finance, IT, interning at NGOs (the likes of the World Bank and Organisation of American State) and industrial engineering at an automotive company.

None of that seems to fit together right? The thread that runs through here is consistently considering what we are delivering and what goes into an experience.  This is before customer experience became a thing that you can identify, package and sell as a service.

So what is product management exactly?

Where does product management and customer experience sit in relation to each other?

Right next to each other. You need to get your journey map and take any analytics you have and layer them onto one another. You can then start to know where to test. If you see there are friction points or spikes, you should probably check it out. We use this information to frame a problem, or find an opportunity for a new feature. Is there a lot of traffic? Are people continuing on or are they leaving? When you tie analytics and product management together, you can show behaviours, observations and friction points so you know where to make changes.

“My career has always been international. It has always been thinking about how people behave differently or adapt differently to different things. This plays a key role in what product management is.”

So quite a different type of problem solving to industrial engineering? I can see the relation though–understanding a product and bringing it all the way

Yeah definitely, I would say the difference is that time is compressed.  In the automotive industry, creating a new car is a 10 year process – prototyping happens within 5 years.  First, I was thinking about how are you building a car and now it’s how are you building a website. You have to think faster, change faster, identify needs quicker and talk to your customers more.

I think product management overall seems really complicated, but when we really break it down it’s just solving a problem.

From what I understand you fill the gap between engineering, marketing, sales and ultimately the customer. How do you get those different areas to talk to each other?

Communication and Negotiation. Those are the biggest things to consider.  Your key role is being the one in the middle that oversees and orchestrates the entire process. You may not HAVE to make the decisions, but that’s what you end up doing. Your findings, based on observations, research and analytics mean you have a deck of recommendations.  It’s your job to present and justify them and demonstrate tradeoffs for decision-making. You need to understand the communication styles of everyone in the room so you’re already talking to them. CEO’s are a good example, they’re always busy, so you have to put ‘dessert first.’  Explain the key takeaways at the start of your presentation.  But you also need to consider other people in the room, they may need the story and then the key takeaways.  The expertise is in adjusting your presentation of recommendations accordingly.

What are the essential skills in the PM process?

The three key pillars are the communication, negotiation and the trade-off conversation – justifying and convincing people of decisions based on insights. They don’t seem like technical skills, the reality is that if you don’t nail those, nothing that is right for your customer will be developed, or it won’t be developed at the right time. You’re an orchestrator in that sense.

What other roles or professions employ these skills?

Pretty much everybody!  It’s like you’re a mini-ceo; but you may not have the title or salary. You have to understand a little bit of every department to understand how decisions will relate and impact specific people. It’s important to always put numbers behind what you’re creating or the decision you’re making – an important thing that most people don’t think about.

So you would be identifying these problems through analysis of different interactions and then you convince others that these problems are worth fixing?

Yeah and you usually tie numbers to them.  The way you find things out is to REALLY know your customer. In my last job I’d go out with the field team to find out what was happening. I’d wait in line with the customers and watch what they’re doing, see where they have hangups and pretend I don’t know what I’m doing so I can ask them to explain it to me.

These are all general life skills. We don’t realise we A/B test, change behaviours and adapt all the time.

How come you’ve decided to start teaching people about what Product Management is?

Easy, because I see such a need. People do it and don’t even realise that they are doing it. A lot of product managers are undervalued and thus don’t feel empowered.

Teaching others gives this inherent way of operating some structure.  It is also about forcing people to face business fears; using financial modelling or building a business case.  I would just cringe every time someone would ask, “give me the business case for that”. I used to hate numbers.

It takes a bit of time, and it is painful adjusting, but now a whole different world has opened up and I can help people get a little bit less fearful about that kind of thing.

Many shy away from areas like negotiation or justifying decisions, but once you get the tactics and you understand the tools it becomes a lot easier. We all do it in other aspects of our lives – why can’t we do it in this one? Just go for it!

Interested in Product Management? Check out Academy Xi’s Product Management courses here