A day in the life of a Product Manager

Associate Vice President of Great Learning, Abhishek Gupta, speaks about a typical day in the life of a Product Manager and spills the beans on his transition journey from a software engineer to a Product Manager.

While talking to our applicants about our PG Program in Product Management and Analytics, more often than not, we come across these questions: What exactly does a product manager do? Can an engineer become a product manager?

And that is when we thought about publishing this interview with Abhishek Gupta because nobody better than a Product Manager from engineering can answer these questions. So without further ado, let’s read about his journey in his own words. 

Edited excerpts:

Question 1: What does a day in the life of a typical Product Manager look like? 

It is all about donning multiple hats in the workplace but not getting overwhelmed with the amount of work. As a product manager, my work revolves around: 

Understanding the Users  

1) Understanding customer situations: As a product manager, I must understand the needs and pain points of my customer/target audience

2) Understanding user experience and feedback: We need to understand the existing product with the help of tools, customer interactions, and surveys

3) Gathering Inputs: Basically, gathering inputs from researchers, analysts, and customer-facing teams like marketing, sales, customer support, etc.

Then comes the Strategizing: 

It revolves around: 

1) Researching a product, service, market, or competitor analysis. It revolves around deciding whether to build or buy, package, launch, or expand

2) Now that a Product Manager has appropriately researched the product, now they need to create a product vision and roadmap in alignment with business goals

3) Also, you need to prioritize the task and maintain backlogs

Execution: 

1) Documentation – You must focus on \every detail while defining the problem statement, product requirements, meeting notes, and user acceptance testing.

2) Now that a product manager has all the details, it is now clear to communicate with the stakeholders and be the advocate for customers inside the company. A product manager must communicate the problem statement, product vision, requirements, product metrics, and product status. 

3) Collaborating with stakeholders and aligning the team on the product vision – for example leading the team meetings and conducting scrum meetings.

Through my experience in product management across early-stage startups as well as large organizations, I have observed that the tasks of a product manager depend upon the size of the organization they are working in. If it is a large organization, there will be multiple stakeholders like marketers, analysts, and researchers who help in gathering inputs and the primary role here is to align stakeholders on the product vision. However, in a small organization, a product manager doesn’t have to spend a lot of time aligning stakeholders but rather does more work on defining a vision and seeing it through.

Question 2: As a product manager, do you need to be careful about challenges? 

There are many, I would say. So, here we go with three key challenges that Product Managers usually face: 

  1. Finding the product-market fit: It is a big-time challenge for a new product/feature. And to face this challenge, they need to be careful about: :

Value risk – For all those who don’t know, this is identifying the market need by determining whether customers will buy the product/feature or choose to use it? 

Usability risk – Can the user figure out how to use it?

Feasibility risk – Can we build it?

Business viability risk – Does this solution work for our business?

Like every other problem has a solution. There are specific product discovery or market research techniques to address above mentioned risks.

  1. Managing the Stakeholders – As a Product Manager, I must collaborate with internal and external stakeholders. Often, I am overwhelmed with many ideas, suggestions, and requests from multiple stakeholders, some of whom are passionate about their opinions., Product managers need to graciously handle those requests without losing focus on the overarching goals and ensure decisions are made on facts instead of opinions. 

I need to first focus on understanding and defining the problem and resist the urge to jump into solutions. And that is why I need to quickly validate a hypothesis by gathering some evidence with minimal or no development effort. In such a situation, a product roadmap and prioritization framework help to streamline the product development process.

  1. Meeting deadlines – constraints of resources, time, and budget are inevitable. Product managers should use team-driven deadlines by involving the relevant stakeholders during planning and estimation. If there’s a delay in delivering a task, product managers should give a heads-up to all the concerned stakeholders and tell them why it is happening. 

Question 3: Do Product Managers Need to Code?

No, Product managers don’t need to code; however, they need to understand the technology to the level that they can have a good conversation with the tech team members. Product Managers should be able to appreciate what is feasible to be achieved through technology. However, my prior background in coding or other tech roles comes in handy while doing the effort estimation of the roadmap tasks along with the tech team members.

Product Managers should have basic knowledge of existing technologies. They must stay up-to-date with upcoming tech trends and innovations as it will help them stay ahead of the curve while designing features and providing solutions to solve customer problems uniquely. For example, product managers working in IT firms should have a high-level understanding of how the internet works, how Google search works, how the SEO works, how API works, etc. (A good book for reference is ‘Swipe to Unlock’).

Question 4:  How do you determine what customers want and need?

This is an excellent question as it plays a crucial role in determining the success of the product or feature launched. A customer’s need is a problem the customer is trying to solve.

Well, coming back to your question, I would suggest six techniques for determining the needs of the customers:

  1. Customer interviews – there are some proven methods to conduct customer interviews; I would recommend the approach suggested in the book titled ‘The Mom Test’.

Note – I want you to give a heads up here. Sometimes we might get socially acceptable answers instead of actual behavior because people might present themselves as highly rational people or they consider their ideal self for what they will do in the future. There could be a gap between what customers say and what they eventually do.

There are a lot of other factors like biases and social pressure which influence the decisions. Understanding the customer behavior and other environmental factors that could affect the decision is the key to success in solving the customer’s problem. We should prefer ‘what they do or have done in the past’ over ‘what they say.

  1. To look at competitors as allies for market research – Check customers’ feedback on similar products or competitors’ offerings (if available) – to look at the top complaints they are receiving.
  2. Gather feedback via polls, surveys, user navigation studies, and focus groups.
  3. To gather feedback through social media and third-party review platforms.
  4. For an existing product, pay close attention to the customer feedback received through the support email, Google play store, and Apple app store reviews.
  5. Keyword research – Sometimes, checking what keywords customers use to search gives enough indications of their actual requirements.

Question 5: Why did you move from engineering to product management?

I started my professional journey as a software engineer at Infosys and learned a great deal about the importance of documentation and being process-oriented while working there for two years. During my stint at Infosys, I was inquisitive about the ‘why’ of every task, which helped me understand the bigger picture and the importance of the small tasks I used to own and deliver. In 2006, after working for two years, I left my job to do an MBA to understand the business fundamentals and broaden my knowledge. 

Post-MBA, I re-joined the IT field as a business analyst and eventually transitioned into product management. That said, my experience during the initial years of my career as a software engineer has greatly benefited me in my subsequent product management roles while working closely with the engineering team.

If this interview with Abhishek Gupta has piqued your interest in Product Management, then take the first step by enrolling in the PG Program in Product Management and Analytics. You can call us at 080-4680-7753 or drop a message in the comment box below. 

Abhishek Gupta, presently working as an Associate Vice President and Head, Product Management for Great Learning, has around 16+ years of experience in Product Management, Business Analysis, primarily in the field of Ed-Tech, e-Commerce, Payments, Mobile Financial Solutions, Customer Experience and Retail Banking; with a proven record across different clients & geographies at multiple Technology Organizations. He has also worked at high-growth startups and MNCs like Amazon, Freecharge, Snapdeal, Infosys, and Wipro.

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