Product Management in a Small Ukrainian Company
The role of product management in product development is often left out of attention compared to some other, more popular professions in the IT industry. Let us start with a short introduction on the topic in general, and then, we will share some experiences we have had with product management in our practice.
What Is Product Management
What makes a successful product is not just the technical side of things, or product design, or even the marketing plan as some may think. More often than not, a well thought out product vision and a product roadmap that travels along the line of product owner’s business goals will make or break your idea.
Product managers help to create a product vision and goals to ensure the success of your idea. An ideal product manager is someone who is up to date on all market trends, someone who knows their product really well and their competition even better. It is a person who operates on the basis of strong knowledge and confidence with a firm product vision and a strategy in place.
People who venture into this career come from different backgrounds. Most clients we work with are part-time managers, who’ve started out either as businessmen in their respective fields or as CTOs looking to enhance their team’s effectiveness through outsourcing. A good product manager starts by defining their business goals and product strategy with precision — they determine the “whats” rather than the “hows”, which often means they won’t be going into technical detail to the same extent.
Sometimes, a small company such as ours has to deal with product managers who spend their time developing a marketing strategy and raising funds. The best product managers we have met were the ones who put out a successful product and devoted their time solely to the product vision and to planning and double-checking a product’s life cycle.
Below, I have compiled an overview of the three types of product managers I have had the pleasure to work with and some pros and cons of dealing with each of them.
- has a varying degree of coding experience
- may have owned an IT company of his own
- knows IT business well
- works alone
- doesn’t have any documentation or user story written down
The first thing “The Entrepreneur” does is sharing their product vision and telling you that “together you can make it big”. Yet, this approach to product management is lacking a clear plan of what the product is going to be exactly or in which order new features will be implemented. What “the Entrepreneur” does have is the urge to show something to their potential investors or product owners ASAP in order to get the budget for the next sprint of the product development. Their mantra is “once the investor buys in, we’ll create more projects together”. In reality, chances of an American investor letting his company outsource a project are slim to none, especially taking into account the recent legislative implementations. Nevertheless, “The Entrepreneur” is convinced that their product idea is going to make them a fortune.
Another thing they do not have is the passion for the product itself. What they call “flexible methodology” really means: “when I change my mind, you just follow the instructions, regardless of whether or not it’s technically expedient”. Later on, if you fail to adapt to the constant change of demands, which most likely you will, they will consider the product’s failure to be your fault. On top of that, you will get tired of constant setting and dismissing of estimates, negotiating rates, and determining what you should and what you shouldn’t bill for.
Pros: You are encouraged to come up with solutions and proposals on your own, which gives you a certain level of freedom.
Cons: There is no clear product roadmap. You are going to feel like an archeologist trying to piece together a clear picture of the project from bits of information given, correspondence leftovers, and notes you took during calls. You may well have to become a visionary in order to satisfy the expectations because there is not likely to be any paper trail or even a user story written down.
- is obsessed with quality
- a lot of things “are given”
- needs to keep in touch 24/7
The “Know-It-All” takes product management seriously and sure knows their way around Google. When they tell you “We’re not going to use ES6 here, because it isn’t supported by all browsers”, it really means they’ve just googled this, and there is absolutely no arguing with them to get your message across. There is no way they would waste their time researching what “babel” is and why we need to use one more extra technology.
If, by any chance, you were reckless enough not to include any of the following into the estimate:
- writing automated tests;
- writing documentation;
- re-factoring a code, which has been written by someone else before you, so that it complies with the “new” code-style, which you are expected to use;
- complying with the customs of git-flow;
You will end up working day and night in order to meet the deadline because they take it for granted.
Pros: Projects like this give you an opportunity to gain a lot of communication skills and experience.
Cons: Exhausting and time-consuming communication, where you have to justify, debate, and battle over every technical decision you make.
The “Business Owner”
- knows what they want and has clear business goals
- will talk and listen to you in order to find the best possible solution
- stays polite at all times
- often is knowledgeable on the matter
- is well aware of the risks
The “Business Owner” has a clear product vision and product strategy. Chances are, the product will be an enhancement, perhaps automation of a process for their company. This type of product management includes a clear product roadmap and a vision statement. But since the product owner is not exactly an “IT person”, they’re likely to have someone who advises them on product design and technical details needed to create a successful product without putting any external pressure on the developers. Being the product owner, they are not interested in impressing a potential investor in the near future, they simply want to make their customer’s experience better, and therefore, they will not try and cut corners when it comes to agreeing on estimates or acceptance criteria. However, the “Business Owner” will not tolerate any delays.
Pros: By far the most pleasant type of product manager to work with. You end up learning about what successful product management looks like.
Cons: Earning their trust is extremely difficult.
Product management is an essential part of building the product. A well-qualified product manager can help you learn how to create product vision and strategy that will align with your business model and help you with creating a product vision board to go off of. They have the potential of either saving you time and money or creating a lot of unnecessary headaches for developers.
Every product manager and every client has taught us valuable lessons of being flexible and open to working with various types of individuals and companies. We are proud to say that we customize our approach for every need and every situation, and any challenges we come across only make our small company stronger. Because when creating something of value, size doesn’t matter ― quality does.