I’ve just attended the Mind The Product Conference in London 30th of September 2016 with 1400 attendees and speakers, among others, Marty Cagan, Lisa Long, Simon Cross, Jeff Gothelf, and Jeff Veen.
I co-organize the Product Tank Meetup, after attending the first one ever in Oslo organized by Lisa Long and the crew in late 2015. Therefore I was a volunteer at the conference in London, helping out with everything from registration, to sponsor care and guiding people to the after party.
Next Product Tank in Oslo 27/10: Matchmaker: Creating Corporate/Startup Powercouples
Next Product Tank in Stockholm 6/10, sponsored by Schibsted: “A day in the life of a Product Manager: what does the role look like in different companies, industries, and levels?”
After organizing the Women In Tech Conference in Stockholm earlier this year, I thought this opportunity to volunteer at the MTP Conference in London was both for learning more about organizing large conferences like this, and also for networking with Product Managers from all over the world.
What I enjoy the most, after hearing about what challenges they are battling or what disruptive or life-changing products they are building, is to hear about how they entered the role as Product Manager.
There are so many varieties of the role to start with. Product Managers exist in the businesses of hardware, services, software, retail and much more. They are in small startups and in huge organizations. They come from different backgrounds such as tech, UX, marketing, customer support, recruiting, sales, etc.
While a Product Manager at a startup might be an informal role because of the need of wearing so many different hats, a Product Manager at a large corporation could have a thought out career ladder going from Individual Contributor to VP, leading not only product development but also leading teams.
What ties them all together is the desire to work with a problem from many different angles. They enjoy and should be quite good at talking to the sales teams, aligning product goals with the business goals. They should also be comfortable sparring with the technical teams, using data from the data science teams and customer support teams to improve their product. They should know what metrics they should observe and last but not least they should build products that users love and dare to challenge the status quo.
They should also be strategic thinkers and informal leaders, having influence over that many different functions and teams without any real mandate over those teams. Aligning stakeholders, prioritizing features to build after careful consideration of the business plan and what the users want, and will love.
But let me get back to where they came from and how they entered the role. So many of them ended up in Product Management by accident. The customer support and sales person that were talking to customers all day, knowing what they would pay for if they could get it in a product, steadily learning the needs of the users. The software engineers that constantly suggested not only new technical solutions for a problem, but helped find and understand the problem itself. The UX- or marketing-person that learnt through analyzing data, conducting interviews with users, and constantly wanted to improve the look, feel and experience of the product. And perhaps the wild card; the recruiter that knows the business goals and the strategy, that knows all the roles in the company and what they do, that manages the expectations of the stakeholders and conducts interviews and identifying candidates needs all day.
For my own part, going from working as a Technical and Product-recruiter to Product Manager is not a far-fetched idea. I have the technical background, and the curiosity about technology and solutions since young age. I started at the “technical program” at High School where I dove into programming, networking and design. I couldn’t really choose between the tech-specialization and the design-specialization. Nor could I choose to leave extra languages or subjects such as psychology out of the mix. Knowing what I know today, I’d say I had the beginning of a mindset of a Product Manager already back then.
Continuing my academic path at KTH, Media Technology, I thought I would still be able to dive into both technical and design-problems. I turned out to be right. Studying subjects as maths and physics, computer science and programming, marketing and design, and media and perception, continued to broaden my scope of interest.
When I started to look for a job, my first job after graduating, I did not know what I was. I didn’t really fit in to any of the job descriptions out there. I had a passion for the digitalization of the culture heritage (libraries, museums and archives) as well as the re-invention of the newspaper, digitally. But it was too early to find relevant jobs for me, as a new graduate, in these areas. So I thought I would become a consultant, as so many other of my friends did. I thought that as a consultant, I would get to work with a lot of different things and not having to choose my path just yet. I was quite wrong. Many consultancies make you choose from the beginning, do you want to go in to management OR technology? And if you are kick-ass at being in the middle there, you did not fit in. OK, so my interest for psychology and people felt like a safe bet, and I got a job as a technical recruiter, with the ambition and promise that I would get to do something else after a while. The second was a lie, as it turned out, I would not get this opportunity at my former employer, so I switched.
I started in Schibsted Media Group about 1,5 years ago as a Technical- and Product recruiter. We started from scratch, building Schibsted Products and Tech, which been a great journey! I’ve learnt so much! I was managing stakeholders in different locations (at one point in both Stockholm, Oslo and London) and building processes while working full time as a hands-on recruiter delivering 58 hires over the past year. I’ve learnt much more about different roles and what they do (Data Scientists, Software Engineers, Product Managers, Business Analysts, Interaction Designers etc.). I’ve learnt how to build successful teams and how important culture, communication and collaboration is in a changing and growing organization. I would say my people skills have evolved, and my understanding of people and how they make choices, and why or why not they perform or develop.
I have received the opportunity to try my wings as an Associate Product Manager in Schibsted. Not only have I finally found a role that is cross functional, but I will also get to work in Publishing alongside fantastic teams that are developing the new digital newsrooms and challenging the way we consume news today.
I don’t say I will be a flawless Product Manager to start with, I have so much to learn, and I’m excited! I will have to learn more about data and metrics, building analytics tools for different audiences. I will need to learn to fail fast, learn and iterate. I will need to learn new tools. I want to learn more about existing and new technology to stay on top of what is coming. I want to improve my influencing skills, and being listening, humble and yet communicating clearly with all these different functions. I will enter a team that I know is great, and will help me on this journey, and together we’ll develop and launch a new product in Schibsted not long from now.