La’i loves building new things. After graduating college in Boston and working in Silicon Valley, she returned to work in Australia in 2018 to be close to her family.
There has been a huge spike in the demand for product management in recent years. How would you describe the trajectory it is on?
Absolutely. And with this demand being driven by the pace of technology, increasing customer expectations and competition, businesses (tech & non-tech) realise their continued success will depend on building a more dynamic (broad and deep) level of ‘integrated competence’ and collaboration. Businesses don’t necessarily have the same luxury of time when it comes to R&D and launching new products to market. They need to test & learn quickly. As products and services become more sophisticated, the way we work, self-organise, and deliver value to customers has also had to evolve; a sharper operating rhythm and rapid adaptability to change is required to thrive. (Cue product management.)
I think there’s still a lot of change ahead with various PM role ‘archetypes’ evolving from different business’ needs (i.e. having a technical, strategic, and/or execution/delivery slant). This presents a lot of opportunity for people from diverse backgrounds to enter the Product space; customer support, marketing, and engineering are just a few functions that people can make natural pivots from.
What are the three most valuable skills any Product Manager can have?
First, communication. Articulating ideas and problems for different audiences, but also being able to collaborate with a diverse set of stakeholders. It’s important that a PM has the ability to move between strategic discussions and then quickly pivot and dive into detailed product work. Because PM is a fast-paced, multifaceted discipline, I’d say this is an underrated and very important skill.
Second, adaptability to change. Having a level of resilience, stick-with-it-ness and adaptability to change in the face of ambiguity is important. I think this is something learnt through exposure, being thrown in the deep-end, or being responsible for avoiding failure at all costs. As a result, exposing yourself to new environments/projects as frequently as possible could be a good start.
Third, problem solving. There will be many things you don’t know the answer to – but the job of a PM isn’t to know everything – it’s to know the questions to ask, and to strategise, prioritise and drive outcomes. A willingness to learn, genuine curiosity, and an appetite for wearing multiple hats/leaning into being a multi-faceted contributor is important.
Imagine you have been charged with growing the product management function of your business from scratch. What’s the first thing you do?
Once the problem you’re solving for and opportunity have been shaped, making a few initial, intentional technical/product hires is key (Tech lead, Engineering, Design). These will look very different depending on the problem you’re solving/product you’re building. However, finding a small founding team who can wear multiple hats is the starting point.
It comes down to this: when you don’t know the answers, you want to be in a room with people who 1) know the questions to ask, 2) have the perseverance and adaptability to change to keep breeze in the sail, and are 3) resourceful, curious, and reliable team players.