So, you want to be a product manager? Great. Chances are though, that as a product manager, you’ll inherit most of your product to begin with, or else you’re building from ground up at either your own company or a very young company. Since inheritance is more popular, let’s focus on that. What do you do when you walk into an environment with an established product and existing stakeholders who are accustomed to driving the product forward?
I’ve been in that situation and here’s the basis of my approach:
1. Establish your domain
Figure out what you own and what your boundaries are. Then, become the expert in that domain. Learn everything the product can do, what people use it for, how it works behind the scenes and what people want it to do for them. Then go up a level and figure out the business value of your product and the pervasive market problems it solves. Identify where your product is headed (existing roadmap?) and work towards figuring out with data and a bit of market intuition how to course correct if necessary.
2. Collaborate with stakeholders
Your product didn’t get to where it is when you joined by magic. People worked hard before you got there and if you want them to work just as hard with you, you’re going to need to invest time and energy in fostering a collaborative working relationship with your stakeholders. They can range from engineering to management level resources, but it’s just as, if not more so, important as understanding your domain.
3. Change things…slowly
The engine is already in motion and the activation energy to recover from a stall or restart can be high. Pick your battles with care, and make sure you’ve got good justifications for the paths you head down. Recognize and embrace the fact that you won’t win all your battles, but that, in the end, you’re marching down a path towards better product success, however you measure it.
There are a lot of really good books on the subject of how to build products and the philosophies of product management. Read them all if you can and learn. That’s another key component of being a product manager.