Who would have thought that just one year ago, I was happily settled in a different job, surrounded by wonderful coworkers and meaningful challenges? I never dreamed of becoming a product manager. But, as they say, when opportunity knocks, you gotta answer! And when I was offered the chance to create a product that I would have loved to use in my old role, I just couldn’t pass it up. Of course, I was excited about the opportunity, but I was also a bit nervous about leaving a job that had been such a great fit for me, especially during such unpredictable times (thanks, COVID).
At the time, I had a manager who really cared about me as a person, not just as a worker bee. They were always interested in my goals, dreams, and hobbies, which made me feel comfortable enough to talk to them about this new opportunity that had come up. I was a little nervous and unsure, but they listened patiently and helped me see that any big challenge comes with some anxiety, and that’s completely normal. They reminded me that it’s important to push myself and try new things that will help me grow. Although they were sad to see me go, they knew this was a great opportunity for me, so I took the plunge and jumped into the unknown. And here I am, still soaring (or at least trying to)!
So why am I sharing all this with you? First of all, I wanted to give some background on how I ended up where I am today. But also, I wanted to send a little love letter to my old manager: you helped me take a risk that I haven’t regretted for a second. In fact, I love it! Thank you ❤️ This just goes to show the immense value of a good (no, make that great) people manager. As Arsène Wenger put it
“I believe one of the best things about managing people is that we can influence lives in a positive way. That’s basically what a manager is about.
Okay, okay, back to the topic at hand: product management. Wow, what a wild ride my first year has been! I’ve learned so much, but there are a few key “arts” that have really stood out for me: communication, collaboration, action, curiosity, and consciousness. These ideas have been invaluable in helping me thrive in this challenging field, and I want to share them with anyone else who’s looking to take the same leap I did.
As a product manager, you’re the glue that keeps your team together. And what makes that glue extra sticky? Communication, communication, communication. It’s the foundation of success in this role. Without clear communication, it’s easy for initiatives to go off the rails and for team members to lose motivation. It’s up to you to make sure everyone is on the same page, working towards the same goals, and rowing in the same direction. That means you need top-notch verbal and written communication skills, and the ability to tailor your message to different audiences. So don’t forget to keep practicing and adapting your communication skills to fit the needs of your team and audience. After all, it’s not just about getting the job done — it’s about doing it with flair and finesse.
The saying goes, “There’s no ‘I’ in team,” and as a product manager, it’s crucial to remember this. The best products are the result of everyone working together and supporting each other, so it’s important that you know how to play nice with others. That means fostering collaboration and ensuring your team has the tools and resources they need to succeed. And in return, they’ll support you and help you do your job better.
It’s not enough to just talk the talk — you’ve got to walk the walk too. That means being decisive and taking action. It can be easy to get lost in a sea of meetings and discussions, but at the end of the day, what really counts is what you actually do. So, don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and get things done. Whether it’s making tough decisions or taking the lead on initiatives, it’s up to you to make things happen. After all, talk is cheap — it’s the actions you take that truly make a difference.
Curiosity may have killed the cat, but for product managers, it’s an essential ingredient for success. After all, the best products come from a never-ending desire to learn, explore, and innovate. So, don’t be afraid to ask questions, seek out new perspectives, and challenge your assumptions. Always be curious and never stop looking for new opportunities to improve your products and grow your business. Curiosity should be your middle name 🙂
Finally, cultivate consciousness. To navigate the challenges of product management, you need to develop the inner strength to cope and grow. The more aware you are of your own needs, the better equipped you’ll be to handle the challenges of the job and come out stronger on the other side. Whether it’s managing stress and uncertainty, dealing with setbacks and failures, or staying focused and disciplined, being conscious is crucial for your success and endurance.
At this point, you might think, “Tinsae, these ideas are basic — nothing earth-shattering here.” And you’d be right — they are indeed basic. But here’s the thing: while most of us excel at abstract, intellectual concepts, it’s the emotional, interpersonal stuff that tends to trip us up. Things like showing genuine interest in others, considering their wants and needs, and understanding their perspectives. These may seem like “simple”, no-brainer concepts, but they’re diametrically opposed to the abstruse and complex things we spend most of our time getting good at. And yet, it’s these simple things that enable us to build strong and positive relationships with the people around us. So, don’t underestimate the power of these simple acts — they may be simple, but they can so often be the remedy to a lot of the pain-points in your personal and professional life.
I hope that was helpful. If you think I can be of further assistance on your journey, especially if you’re a person of color, feel free to shoot me an invite on LinkedIn and let’s connect and chat. And now, it’s time for me to hop on a packed train and make my way up to Massachusetts, the unlikeliest of places for some of the best Ethiopian food you’ll ever taste.
Until next time 👋