What Got You on technology only won’t Get You to products

I always had the question whether to go for MBA or not. I decided to work for start-ups as I learn by putting myself in a struggle( I read ton of books though). Yesterday I was at one of the graduation ceremonies of India Product Leadership. The presentations talked about learning by doing approach in their courses and hence decided to attend the event. Please visit their website to learn more with the understanding that they are offering a gym membership supported by a coach  Like when you join a gym and there is coach,the coach can teach you what you need to perform and not perform. It is you who has to perform and learn based on your context. This is what I have experienced with a start-up membership and not much of a gym and coach access .

Being a techie  for a decade. I have been able to  influence technical teams and stakeholders and can dream, plan, write code, prototype with the team fast, get hands dirty with testing and deployment, and ready to chew dog food to mock end user testing.  Worked with  in outsourced product development and have considered myself to be product of product team and had a fantastic democratic transparent development  experience and the only goal was to take to make things better for the end user.

Any new idea gets discussed  end to end and we reject idea or accept as features for current release, or future release.  This need a good amount of time  to learn the pros and cons of the idea in current context and understand what is impact of the idea in big picture, what takes to get it done without changing the release dates and how critical it is to the end user experience and come to a decision. The time to implement might be shorter than time to reach the decision whether to have it as feature or not and both parties engaged till we arrive at a decision. With this type of personal passion and energy to co-create, I jumped in to product owner role to learn “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There“.

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I started with no background  when I started my product owner role except for reading on the internet and listening to free session including IPMA/IPL ones. Felt motivate to take a strategy role and the following are my learnings.  These learnings are listed in the sequence where I started to realize them.

First, there is no more a team to report in to you and need to talk to development owner.  Every one comes with a unique style and would be different from yours. Lot of them are  interested in planning and delegation and might not come with passion for the product to visualize or have limited time to visualize  to co-create.  Now the interest is more to deliver what is promised, than what is needed for the end user.  My technical background created a good amount of expectation and too and this can  intimidate others.   I felt the need to slow down , trust others and let go some of the old habits. 

You learn more of product management role and motivated with emphasis on how to create value to customer and how to differentiate and how to make user experience better.  You come with your value proposition and idea for features.  You need to sell them to different stakeholders and you have no influence on them.

Second, need for user interface mock-ups. Earlier, you had a UI designer or smart UI developer and worked with product guy to come with user definition screens. You do not have team and cannot expect technical team to share their resource. I felt the need to  have ability to develop user interface to enable others to appreciate the need for the future.  You need not create yourself.

Third, the need to come with product marketing. It was fun to come with website, collaterals like course brochures, corporate brochure and flyer. I was entirely wrong to think it  was easy to come with content based on my blog experience.  Content creation is challenge and to get feedback from end user was more trickier and none of other stakeholders can help you much. Only market can respond and it is not easy to hear the response of the market.  Another experience was coming with company blog, interacted with PR firms( come at huge costs). I felt the limitation to write content with clarity and purpose ( not to satisfy my ego, but to connect with needs of the end user) and arrive at right Call To Action.

Finally , the need to influence sales team.  Then they are more focused on numbers and how to make things simpler to sell and do not see interest to look at the user problem from value perspective.  With no sales experience to start with and sales team has constant pressure to get numbers, you get bold by the Google. “Go out and sell and we also would learn”.  In addition, when end user asks for stuff that does not exist, sales folks are focused more to bring clarity and purpose for the current features and are not ready to engage to come with new value. May be they would respond as ” We will share the input internally. This is what is available today, what is need to make you buy this. ”  I felt the  limitation of not having learnt sales and started to go to markets and getting used to cold calls. My old company gave opportunity which I have not utilized well.

I have just learnt the gaps and what is needed and there is lot more to learn to transform and there is self doubt and frustration. It is not easy to allow yourself to be vulnerable after 15 years of your career and fear kicks in.  I am also asking myself why I have not learnt some of these functions till this long.   If I need to perform a similar role again, My order would be little reverse. what would be my order to become product owner.

  • Let go of the expectation on technical team to work hard and discuss based on your past experience.
  • Create a way to create user interface. Seeing is believing for most of the stakeholders.
  • Start with sales or working with pre-sales in your organization
  • Learn to write content about product as value proposition and not as features.(product marketing)
  • Build trust and you need to let go some of your old best practises.
  • Then learn to influence other stakeholders and try to be a product owner.

Remember there is lot of responsibility on you and you cannot exert influence or control and the customer is not the only stakeholder.