In this guest post, Issac Vargas, Product Manager, Microsoft Graph Developer Experience team, shares the key lessons he learned from his first few months in the product.
Last December (2022) I was promoted to the position of Product Manager. It’s been a dream of mine for a long time, and thanks to the support of my managers and peers, I finally got the job. This first month has been an incredible learning experience, I’ve made mistakes and come across interesting situations. Here are 7 things I learned in my first 6 months as a Product Manager at Microsoft:
Your customer defines everything else
Whose problems and needs do you want to address? The answer to this question defines the world your product management adventure takes place in. A common piece of advice for entrepreneurs and product managers is to find a real-life problem and fix it. Even though it’s important to define a clear scope on which to focus your efforts, you need to be open and listen to your ecosystem of customer problems if you want to generate the most value for your customer. Most of the time, understanding the problem in its ecosystem helps you create solutions that drive high value and impact for your customer.
You can start a bakery and sell delicious cakes, and over time you can attract customers who love your cakes for their taste and presentation. But if you take a step back, and decide, for example, that you want to sell cakes for work teams, you can start to dive into their culture and team building needs and feel That your cakes can do more than just look and taste good. You can offer experiences and packages with your cake that bring teams together and promote a healthy work environment, for example, decorate your cake with quick questions that the team can answer based on their roles and titles. Can discuss outside to know each other better. You may also decide to sell cakes to coffee shops, and this will lead you to explore a different ecosystem of needs that you can cater to with your services. Choose your customers wisely and explore the entire ecosystem of their needs.
yes, your job is to bring clarity
Ask, listen, and investigate.
You can only bring clarity when you have clarity yourself, and you cannot create clarity without asking questions, even if they seem very basic. My grandmother used to say: “Es mejor ponerse colorado una vez que pálido toda la vida”, which means it’s better to be embarrassed once than scared for a lifetime. If there’s something you don’t understand, ask a question right away, and ask it publicly, where others can hear the same answers you can. That’s how you bring clarity. Don’t hide your questions and doubts for fear of being offended. Your main job is to create these places of clarity and where it is safe to ask questions.
I am pretty sure most of us have been in a situation where we do not understand the topic being discussed but are too scared to ask for clarification. In those moments we believe that it is only we who need to learn, and it is not until we face our fears and embrace the shame for a moment that we realize that others had similar questions or people had different conceptions of what was happening. discussed. You felt embarrassed for a moment, but your question led to a conversation that brought clarity and alignment to the underlying ideas.
Be a novice, ask questions. You can never bring in too much clarity.
Pay attention in meetings, even if it’s not related to your field. Understanding what’s happening in other places can help you identify blind spots in your own and provide inspiration to help you solve challenges you face in your product. Many times, you will find that the challenge you are facing is related to the work being done by other teams. This is how you identify opportunities for collaboration and expand the impact of your work.
Don’t be afraid to get too involved in a question or problem. Following your curiosity and immersing yourself in uncharted territory is a great way to discover opportunities for impact. If a concept is brought up in a meeting and you want to better understand it, find videos on the matter, read articles, and get at least a basic understanding that will help you ask better questions and participate in conversations. Do.
By creating clarity in yourself, you bring clarity to your team.
Pay attention to the tedious work that no one wants to do. That’s where the opportunity for impact lies! Dedicating time to working on the tedious tasks that everyone procrastinates on will help you understand why work is so exhausting and create ways to make it better for everyone.
Imagine you are part of a team of editors reviewing your product’s documentation. The review process is complex because your team has high standards of quality for user experience, and documentation is an important part of that. Writers generally struggle with perfection and editors find that part of the process especially annoying. You try it yourself and realize that the authors struggle with perfection because they don’t have clarity on the documentation requirements for each feature, and your editors need to manually compare the technical specification with the public docs. So as to ensure that all and only features being released are in the docs. The problem doesn’t impact production or user experience in a significant enough way to attract attention, but it’s impacting your colleagues’ experience enough to be annoying and tiresome.
Now, you can ask editors to create a comprehensive list of documentation requirements for each feature and automate the process for both parties: authors input details about the feature, one creates application documentation stubs, and the other The script compares the technical specification with the documentation, making sure everything is met.
You’re solving a real need for your team, creating clarity, and making the process more scalable. Needless to mention that now your customers are always getting complete information about new features without losing the human touch.
Taking something tedious and making it frictionless and satisfying is a great way to create impact for your team and customers.
If you want to perform at your highest, behave accordingly
When we search for productivity advice, people usually talk about lists, timers, reminders, and methods of time management and prioritization. However, we keep in mind the basic needs of our body. Just as top athletes take care of their bodies, we must take care of our minds as well.
The recipe is really simple: eat nutritious food, sleep well, exercise, and study. By exercising you give your brain oxygen and serotonin; By eating, you provide him with energy to function properly; By learning new things, you train your brain to think in different ways, and by sleeping you allow your mind to process the events of your day. No Pomodoro timer, batching, or lists can replace a good night’s sleep—or taking a break when you’re feeling overwhelmed. The benefits of a hike or a swimming session cannot be replaced with a list of productivity tricks. Doing these things can give your brain the resources to perform at its best.
Taking care of your health is also an investment in your career.
Your data doesn’t tell the story on its own
The map of the battlefield is not a strategy for winning a war. You can have access to all the data and information you need and still lack a strategy. You can provide a giant box of resources and content to your customers and still see churn and a decline in adoption. In point 1 I said that your customer defines everything else, and that includes strategy.
In our team, we have received feedback about a particular feature that is difficult for beginners to understand. The first temptation is to think of ideas in order to reduce its complexity and simplify the feature. But, if we listen carefully to the users’ feedback and experience, we also realize that initially it is difficult to understand, but once they get it, people love it and think that This makes their job a lot easier. We should point out that perhaps the problem is not the feature, but the onboarding experience and learning curve, and on closer look we find that people initially struggle to understand this because of the nature of the underlying need it solves. is complex and we are not providing any guidance or tutorials, we just assumed that they understand the concepts and how our product solves it. We didn’t have a story because we didn’t think it was necessary.
We are now focusing on prompts, tutorials, templates, and education content to create a comprehensive onboarding process for beginners, working on a learning curve rather than a feature redesign. If we were to simplify the feature, we would be affecting its effectiveness and value, and would still receive complaints about how difficult it is to initially understand. Our product now generates more value for the user as it helps them learn and feel confident working with these complex subjects.
If you know your customers well, you’ll know why they have a problem in the first place, and how to present a solution that helps them integrate appropriately.
comfortable is not a plus
When was the last time you had a hard time using a social media app? How often do you put off a task at work because it is complicated and tedious?
The most valuable resource a man has these days is his attention. We have tons of apps and tools competing for our attention each day, and every day, and these products are getting better at capturing them. This means, if your solution is not intuitive and clear, users will give up and leave it for another option.
In point 2 I mentioned the importance of always being a beginner, and it works here as well. If you want to reduce friction points in your product, you need to feel them. And the more familiar you become with your equipment and environment the more your perception of ease becomes distorted.
As you gain more experience, becoming familiar with your tools is inevitable and desirable, so the way to maintain a novice perspective is to exercise a growth mindset and continually learn new things. Remember point 4? Invest time in learning new things, even if they are not related to your field of work.
you’re not alone
Your team and the people you work with are your most powerful resource. Changes happen when you’re diving into a complex question, someone has explored your question in the past, or at least a version of it from a different angle.
One thing I love most about our team culture is that people are approachable. We are encouraged to reach out, start conversations and ask the questions we need to. It has allowed us to share knowledge, build a common understanding of the issues and challenges, and bring much greater clarity and alignment.
You are stronger with your team when you can combine the knowledge of different people to bring clarity. Like Isaac Newton, make sure you stand on the shoulders of the giants you work with.
I know the next six months will bring new learnings and knowledge. Every journey is different and the challenges you face each day shape your vision and character as a Product Manager. My career strategy has been to remain a novice, to approach challenges with a growth mindset and confidence that I have a great team by my side, and know that it is my responsibility to bring clarity and alignment to a common answer. Keep asking questions that create the beginning and vision for our work.
What have you done Learn in the last 6 months? let let us know in the comments below
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