After a whirlwind of a trip to London (including one hilarious “Book of Mormon” show and one REALLY bad choice of Pret A Manger sandwich), I’m finally back home. As Appsee’s CMO, I recently sponsored the MTP conference and decided to go with the team this time. Part because I wanted to meet my buddies Chris & Analisa from MTP, part because I’ve heard this show is a great place to see truly enthusiastic people, listen to enthusiastic speakers, and get charmingly enthusiastic together. I’m glad I went. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t actually attend any talks or workshops, because of the fully packed lecture hall. But they tell me they were good..?
In all honesty, I feel I learned more walking around the awe-generating Barbican halls then from attending the actual talks. Sure, I met a few other vendors, saw some cool tech, but really, I mostly spoke to a lot of product managers. And let me tell ya, it wasn’t what I expected. For once, instead of me doing all the talking (pitching and educating about mobile app qualitative analytics), I got the chance to listen. We spoke about Brexit, the best pizza in Berlin, their daily work routines, lows and highs of the job and just about everything in between.
While I’ve marketed to product managers in the past and talked with a fair amount too, I now realize I never really got it. Never got why people call them Chief Everything Officers, never got why you get a thousand opinions on what’s a good PM, never got the struggle. While most of the guys/gals I spoke to loved their jobs and being product people, they all kept mentioning similar problems. They all had the SAME issues affecting their daily work routine, with solutions ranging from poor unsatisfying patches to accepting defeat and raising a white flag because “you can’t win all wars.”
Who are PMs?
I’ve always had this certain image of a mobile product manager in my head and for the most part I was right (a surprising fact all together according to my Growth Team). If you think about the fact that there were few to none mobile PMs 10 years ago, you realize they paved a major path to get there. An accountant knows what counting means and with some minor changes, it was the same occupation 10 to 20 years ago. However, what was a PM even a year ago..? If I had a risk averse personality I would get anxious just thinking about that career path. PMs are (and quite frankly have to be) highly driven, goal-oriented individuals. They have to know how to juggle a lot of tasks at once and constantly communicate to and with all stakeholders. Know the phrase “you can’t please everybody?” Well, forget about it. If you’re a PM, you probably do. Most are highly creative, innovative (sometimes verging “wacko”) and nowadays also technical (I’ll get to that point later). And let me tell you, this group of individuals are intelligent. I have not met one semi-intelligent product manager to date. I have a feeling it has something to do with their responsibilities and the personality it attracts. Also, most of them possess a go-getter, positive attitude. And before I finish generalizing (don’t worry, not really gonna stop generalizing) – they all give me the feeling of somebody who’s seen a lot. It could be a junior PM who’s only worked for 3 months in a utility app, they already have a calmness to them that you only see with senior marketers, for example (not including this writer).
So I got more and more interested, and I started asking more and more questions, because when you meet people with different views than yours, you want to know how they look at things, and wear their glasses for a minute.
According to most, key responsibilities that guide their day are:
- Manage entire product life cycle
- Represent the needs of the end-users (through user feedback forms and questionnaires)
- Communicate with all the stakeholders (usually every department)
- Staying up to date on market trends and new innovations (keeps it interesting but could also be exhausting)
PM lessons learned
Too Many Hats
Now, as a marketer (who has worked in startups), I’ve had to wear many hats and it can be uncomfortable. Some hats don’t fit well while others fit perfectly, and other hat- related metaphors. Point is, for product managers, every day, if not every hour, is a new hat. “What should I do now? Oh, mockup this new feature, ok. So UI expert. But, to be smart about it, I better get the data from the last feature release, that didn’t turn out as I wanted. So yeah, I’m looking at this crazy pivot table I created and it tells me how to proceed with the prototyping, but how about some user feedback first? From a managerial point of view, is this the best step forward? What would marketing think? This was their vision, no? I better ask around again. Yep, a different answer for the 3rd time..” – If it sounds like a one way trip to a psychologist office, it probably is.
“I have about 20 subordinates and 20 bosses. They are the same people,” a senior PM in a big retailer app based in Europe told me. The product is basically the justification for a company to exist, therefore, everyone is interested. Everyone has something to gain or lose from the product being the way they want it to look. It’s bordering politics in many companies actually. Another thing to consider is many positions are closed-loop. Nobody from marketing can add their thoughts on how neat the software engineer’s code is, and no one from IT can pass judgement on those intimate enterprise sales meeting with clients. But if your company is a mobile app, EVERYBODY has something to say, because we’re all professional app users. The experience and visuals of an app is an open book, and you bet people are gonna give you advice. Some will deliver it in a friendly manner, some will make you want to burry them in the ground. That rage also comes up when colleagues that don’t know anything about product try to assess timing for a product roadmap. That’s when they really lose it.
Data FOMO. Apparently it’s a thing. (I know ‘cause I wrote a piece about it not too long ago). But because of the uber fast evolution of mobile products the sense of urgency is real. Joseph Heller said, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” And in this case it’s true. Not adhering to the latest trends and conducting product research could easily result in being asked questions like “why didn’t you do it according to the new XYZ methodology?” in a board meeting, and having no answer. So it’s a 3 pronged daily effort to: A) set some time aside (which of course is non-existent) to read and advance professionally, B) finding the actual good sources for content that matter, and C) separating the fluff from the good stuff – and getting disappointed by a bunch of click-baity phrased articles in the process. (This is where I’m suppose to push our Product Mavens blog for, what do you know, mobile product managers. Happy now, @HannahLevenson?) And then there’s another issue, and that’s implementing the things worth testing into the day-to-day work, which could be challenging because of other teammates not wanting to change. So the result is that many of the good stuff gets left behind as theory only, which doesn’t count for much other than intellectual stimulation and fades away after the first after-work beer.
Recent years presented us with a new shiny title – the CPO. That’s every PM’s dream (unless they’re already coveting the CEO’s chair). The reason for this ambition, other than money, C-level status and swag (there’s more than that??), is not having to answer to 5 different other C-level executives. Who usually pull you different directions and ask for different reports therefore making some days look like an internship at McKinsey. Having a CPO is also a statement. It’s the company saying “our product is as significant here as the finances, the marketing, and the actual development of it (looking at it like that make it seem weird that not all companies have one right? exactly.) And with that, comes the focus needed from the whole internal system to allow the PM to be a superstar and take the company with him/her.
I’ve seen this question popping up everywhere: should a product manager have more technical/code knowledge? There have been many a conversation on Quora and Reddit. I’ll just say that from what I’ve seen it’s not a total must. But it definitely helps. Why? Because you don’t feel ignorant talking to a developer and because the tech background is a good basis to product roadmapping. And about half the people I worked with started off as software engineers. There are a few that came from design and UX and even marketing, but mainly have tech backgrounds. So, I guess the jury is still out on that. I will say, however, most senior PMs did have a tech background and can draw a clear career path towards the position. The rest were ones that started pretty much cluelessly, but their app took off so they grew into the position (Hey if Zuckerberg could do it, how hard could it be?)
Analytics. The word I heard the most. The widest scope of superlatives as well, ranging from “horrible” to “delightful” to “curiosity” to “serendipity”. It’s where most of them spend a lot of time. And there seems to be a frustration about the fact that no analytics platform can actually answer all needs. I’ve heard PMs talking about as many as 8 different SDKs they’re using, for their different needs. And there are platforms for every need: a/b testing, engagement analytics, data hubs, quantitative, technical, monetization, attribution, automation, push notification and of course qualitative (Appsee – rocking it). So there are a lot of different interfaces flashing in front of the eyeball in any given day. And it’s getting old. Heard some talks about some of the vendors trying to cover more areas to eventually become a “one analytics to rule them all,” with no avail, due to immature solutions, according to most of the PMs. So there’s no foreseen resolution (yet). Another issue is having too much data and not being able to dive into it and extract all the actionable insights they are using it for in the beginning. Will expand on that issue another time. Oh, and not to offend Yahoo, but it definitely seems like Flurry sucks.
Now that’s an issue. The cliches of “there’s not enough time in the day” or “I’m always behind schedule” were constantly verbalized, as casually as “I’m hungry” or “how are you?” – I’m guessing that has come to be a standard in a PM’s life. And the majority of the time wasters seem to be meetings. “Unnecessary meetings” which only makes sense having discussed the multiple stakeholders thing. However, I also got a sense that there’s a trend of “meeting haters” that find all kinds of ways to avoid those calendar killers. Some tactics I heard were having a Google form to qualify necessary meetings, stand up meetings, and using a stopper watch – all to minimize time wasting. The weirdest I heard was a PM that forced his colleagues to have meetings with him only using WhatsApp audio clips. “Having people record what they want to say makes them calculate every step of the discussion, as it needs to be to the point, and is also timeless. It was a bit weird in the beginning, but became normal after a couple of meetings. Everybody loves it now” says R, a PM from a travel app. So, to each his own.
A pretty simple one. The reason a mobile product is like it is – a million moving parts that makes sense to users – are the Product Managers behind it. Overall, PMs run the show. And understanding more of what they deal with on a daily basis will help everyone in their ecosystem have a more effective and pleasant working relationship, and get where they want to be.
Product managers reading – shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
This post was originally featured on John’s Linkedin Pulse.