Rule #1 - PM roles vary by team, product and season
My role here at AWS is vastly different here than in my earlier roles as a PM for Global Strategy at Alibaba Group, as a PM for Partner Integrations at Quixey, or at several startups where I basically coded and designed! Continents apart. In all of the 5 products I manage, it differs there as well. Yet, all of these are flavors of product management and I love it. Own it, learn it, operate in it, succeed in it. In essence, "Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things."
Rule #2 - Have a 'yes day' and a 'yes' career
I say yes to a lot of non-PM requests. PMs are often torn about their role. I try to remember to do everything it takes to push the product through the finish line. It's personal and it's a proud moment for me to see all features - big, small, gargantuan to the finish line with my team. Yes, without the amazing people I work with, this would not be as much fun.
I have been asked to say "no" to things by many mentors in my professional lifetime; and while I have gotten better at saying no more, I still tend to say a resounding "Yes, it will be done!" a whole lot and it works. More opportunities, new projects, more trust, more career growth. When you're mid-career, you are expected to have complete ownership, so learn to say "no" 5-7 years into your PM career.
Rule #3 - Enjoy the deep end
I get thrown into the deep end and the go-figure-it-out-equation a lot. Funnily, I get entrusted with ambiguous initiatives to bring structure into not just my product work, but also for design, engineering and the business. To get organized quickly, and in a manner that makes sense to all your collaborators is an art more than a science. I learnt this while I was at Alibaba and I had fantastic mentors to help me stumble through the building blocks. Two practical things that work well for me at AWS: 1/ product, engineering and design need to speak the same language and I can't stress on this enough. Seems trivial, needs to be deliberate. 2/ master the art of building trackers to get organized really fast and exude confidence in the plan.
Rule #4 - Drive certainty across the board
I lean on showing certainty in roadmaps, timelines (approx.), team progress, milestones to achieve the end goal, about the capabilities of the team. It’s super hard. Most PMs know deep down what is going on and feel torn. Saying "I don't know" is a tough skill to master, one which I am still learning. AWS is the right place to learn this; hearing this in conjunction with a proposal to solve for it is as common as coffee.
Rule #5 - Be the canary in the coalmine
I love informal 5-min hallway updates when my team talks to me about their work. And, I do the same. This helps Product Managers be the canary in the coalmine. I cross-collaborate with ~15-20 stakeholders on a weekly basis and a ton of others with lesser frequency; these updates help me keep up with the pace of decision making at AWS. When things are going well, product feels it. When things aren’t going well (in any org like sales, design, engineering, business), product feels it. Catch them early, plan for them. Say "yes" to fixing the situation for them without being tempted into the he-said, she-said world.
Rule #6 - Skin in the game doesn't come easy
My decisions impact my team (design, engineering, business) directly. My developers are going to invest the next 6–12 months marching in a certain direction with their heart and soul. My designers are going to spend countless hours perfecting their UX along the same direction. And, because we are building this, we are NOT building something else. The source of that decision? The product manager. PM's, in the every few minutes they spend to "do some actual work" in the day are re-evaluating, re-thinking, reading, researching, getting coffee with neutral feedback providers, with other PMs, to make sure that their direction is solid. Because, "skin in the game" doesn't come easy.
Rule #7 - Play ball, Product Manager!
A PM's role is a vague role, one that cherishes ambiguity, where you go 80 mph, above the speed limit, thrown at the deep end to be an expert, SME, ship products, lead, and make tough calls. You make decisions for other humans, and they’re liable to start doubting you when things inevitably don’t pan out (because it is hard). You rely on your team, and they rely on you. And when things go wrong….
What does your day look like as a Product Manager? :-)
Surbhi is a product enthusiast with an obsessive dedication to UX, to build products that delight users, drive performance metrics and drive overall business strategy.