How Becoming a Product Manager Taught me Valuable Life Skills
Last year I started my product management career full time, with a startup called Split Software. Previously I was a growth experimentation manager at Skyscanner, and while there I got to work closely with product managers and designers and generally dipped my toes into the product world whenever I could. My current role has been challenging but thoroughly rewarding. I’ve been learning from the best in the tech industry, developing a sophisticated product, and am one of only three product managers in the company. (The learning curve has been fierce!)
A product manager’s role can be difficult to explain to outsiders as it varies so widely from company to company. The role has previously been described to me as a midwife – delivering the product, seeing it through to the end. The designers and engineers act as the parents via their code and design.
Reflecting on my start in product management I’ve realised how much it has taught me. I can bring much of what I’ve learned into my personal life to help me become a better person overall. Below are the learnings I’ve taken to heart.
Understanding What Makes People Happy
Getting the most out of your team to deliver a product that people love is a daily ambition for a product manager. Trying to motivate your teammates by using the same approach isn’t always going to be the most effective.
This inspired me to think about the differences in my relationships with my closest friends and family and the methods I use to encourage them to achieve their ambitions and goals. I soon realised that some friendships require more tough love than others, some friends need less advice but more of an open forum to get things off their chest, some friends need some guidance on what baby steps they can take today. Developing this awareness and the ability to adjust my approach accordingly has, I hope, made me both a better friend and a better product manager.
Accepting Feedback to be Better
As a product manager you soon become a vessel for streams and streams of feedback. Whether it is from your CxOs, a variety of your customers, your fellow product managers, your engineering team, your designer – you must deal with many people with opinions on a regular basis. I’d been neglecting my health, and the people who loved me flagged their concerns to me. But I was in denial, instinctively put up a barrier, and was unwilling to accept their feedback. I realised when I receive feedback as a product manager I don’t create a place of denial; instead, I’m motivated to become better at my job and create a product that our customers love. When I transferred this mindset to my personal life I began to dedicate time and effort to my physical health and overall well-being – and have never felt better!
Developing Empathy on a Whole new Level
Creating empathy with your users helps you to develop a great product roadmap and build long-lasting acquisition and retention of customers. I’m a product manager who doesn’t code, so I decided recently to start learning how to code myself (and wow have I developed a whole new level of empathy for my engineers!). I am also starting to develop better relationships with our current customers to understand their pain points and struggles. Seeing a problem from a different perspective is an incredibly worthwhile exercise for a product manager.
I try to apply this skill to my personal life too – whether it is the rude bus driver, the waitress who overcharged me, or when I am let down by a friend – and I have learned to take a step back and try to understand that they will have a deeper story, other commitments, and unseen challenges going on in their lives.
Using the Hours in the day Effectively
Working as a product manager in a fast-moving startup can feel overwhelming. It can feel like you never have enough hours in the day to get through that ever-growing to-do list. This has pushed me to improve my time management skills and work on things like being able to time-box certain activities, not let perfect get in the way of progress, and rigorously prioritise what needs to get done the soonest.
I have been able to transfer this mindset into my life outside work. I now make sure I squeeze the right amount of exercise into my daily routine, I allocate quality time with the people I love, and I also set time aside for myself. Surprisingly, my sometimes stressful role has pushed me to improve my time management so that I look after myself more effectively. Having a firm grip on the most important tasks that provide value for the company also helps me to think through the most important daily tasks to improve my overall well-being.
I am really excited about my product management career and I strive to keep learning and improving everyday. But I’m equally excited about how I can become healthier, happier, and more motivated in my personal life!
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