As product focus is more important than ever in building startups in a very competitive market, the product manager role is increasingly getting more common and is highly valued.

But to many it’s a job description that’s a bit vague, and often means different things from company to company.

We invited three product people from the startup ecosystem in Barcelona to discuss the topic: Former PM at Google and currently product consultant Itamar Gilad, CEO and co-founder of Factorial Jordi Romero, and CEO and co-founder of Quipu Roger Dobaño.

Long time product expert Gilad says it’s hard to explain the PM role in one sentence:

The position has changed so much over time, and it’s still changing. I like to define the PM as the person who’s the expert on the users, the customers, the market and the competition, and manages to deliver this context to the product team in a good way — it’s a super man basically!

From product to customer first

From the left: Sindre Hopland, media manager at itnig, Jordi Romero, CEO and co- founder of Factorial.

The last 10–20 years, tech companies have shifted their focus from trusting their engineers more than market, to lifting the customer and the users as the number one priority in making the product, says Gilad that for the last six years has managed products such as Gmail and Youtube:

The first time I heard the term product manager was back in the 90’s, and back then it was very new. The thought was that engineers always knew best, but that has changed a lot.

Also Romero, CEO of Factorial, recognizes the attitude from earlier times when he worked in other SaaS companies in the US and in Barcelona:

I remember we first defined ourselves as a product-first company, then a sales-driven startup and later a customer focused company. It think these terms are hard for startups that alter and change the way they do business often.

Dobaño is both CEO and head of product at accounting SaaS Quipu, he defined the product role like this:

You’re the CEO of the product, but it’s not just about making a great product, it’s about continuously solving problems for the customers and making an impact in your customers life.

All the responsibility, but no authority

The product manager is found somewhere between tech, business and the UX/UI team of the startup. © 2011 Martin Eriksson.

Even though the PM has the word manager in the title, all three guests agrees that the only thing the PM actually manage is the product itself.

Romero points to several challenges connected with this kind of responsibility:

An issue I’ve seen in many product teams, is that the PM is managing the team itself, and not only the product and process. I think this is a real problem that is hindering the communication in the organization.

Itamar explains that the PM is there to fill all the holes of work that aren’t being worked on, which means that the person needs to be diverse:

The PM is working closely with both customer service, the business side, designers and engineering, it’s more about creating a pattern for collaborations and a good flow of progress. It’s needless to say that soft skills are in high demand.

He continues to say that a startup needs a designated PM when the startup is at a scale where the business people and the engineering team start arguing what to build next, and you don’t have time as a CEO to deal with all the discussions.

How to become one

From the left: Itamar Gilad and Roger Dobaño.

Romero says he believes a lot in promoting PM’s within the company that share the original values and vision of the founders.

Itamar explains that it’s not necessary to know how to code, but many big companies require it:

In companies like Microsoft, Apple and Google they alway prefer someone with a coding background. However, the personal also needs to be interested in the business side of the startup and have strong soft skills for team management.

Dobaño thinks many companies are setting too high requirements for their PM’s:

What you’re describing here is a unicorn. I do agree that PM’s should have a computer science background, but my job is to empower one person within each product team, and I’ll then make sure the communication flow is good between the company.

Romero repeats how vital soft skills are to this profession:

To have all the technical skills is one thing, but to be able to both do a sales pitch and to convince the developer team that what they’re building is the right thing to focus on, that’s tricky.


This post was written by Sindre Hopland, media manager at itnig and produced together with Masumi Mutsuda.

https://upscri.be/285782-2

Previous ArticleNext Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

O.

On sales leadership

These are some values that I learned that define a leader:

– A leader is somebody who reaches their goals and achieves beyond their individual abilities aligned with their own values and the organization’s values. A leader without a team is not a leader. A leader works for the team, not the other way around.

– Humbleness. Leaders must get to know themselves first, acknowledge their limitations. Acknowledge they have no recipe for success (no one does). They will succeed only by being curious and trying things faster, testing, changing things again, failing again, learning as fast as possible. In sales, everybody notices when things work well, success is measured in € vs budget. A leader must embrace results with no buts and take action to reach the goals.

– A leader works harder, a leader cares about the goals more than anybody else, they took full ownership of the goals. A leader does about anything to remove bottlenecks away on his team, they assist, train, support everybody, anything it takes. They are always the best resource for their team.

– A leader will always be available for everybody in their team, for personal and professional issues. They go the extra mile. They make sure everybody knows that. They earn the team’s trust.

– A leader makes everyone aware that teamwork is not negotiable. Without a cooperative team, there’s no leader. Lone wolves kill the growing/changing organization. Growth happens only WITH the team, not at their expense.

– Leaders communicate all the time, they don’t keep things to themselves, they are honest with their team. They share good and bad. They share the why’s. They trust their team. Trust precedes process and it is the only path to grow at a scale.

– Leaders learn fast and learn mostly from their team. The team has the most valuable knowledge a leader can get, it doesn’t come from books, blog posts, degrees or mentors. The team gets the real shit from the front line. A leader listens to their teams’ impressions and ideas, they explore them all and give feedback. Leaders generate a culture of idea generation and idea sharing. Leaders stay away from guru preaching.

– It’s important to understand people’s personal and professional ultimate goals and motivations. Leaders spend time asking them on their one on ones and they think about them. They write them down. Everybody is playing the movie of their lives, a leader must find out which one is it, they make sure each team member keeps being the hero of their movie.

– Leaders always lead by example, not by title. They show real bravery. Leaders go first to battle. They call leads and close customers. They apologize to customers when the company screws up. They take the shit first. They don’t leave anyone behind. They don’t show their rank, their status, their difference, their pedigree. Startups are flat meritocratic organizations. Leaders must understand well the company goals and they put them first, they are prepared to step down, or step aside, or leave the company at any moment if needed. Company goals are what matters most. Leaders show this to everyone. Company/collective oriented leaders always thrive.

– Leaders celebrate every victory. They visibly show the pain of every defeat. They take every opportunity to show they care. They analyze why/what/how and find out always changes to be made. Then they go and make the changes. They change anything or everything, but never keep on doing what doesn’t work. They shake the whole company inside out before/when goals are not met.

– Leaders set goals that are both ambitious and achievable. They work along the team to make sure they meet the goals. They are flexible when the goals are set wrong. They are implacable when goals are not met.

Most people will never be a leader. It takes time and patience, it takes survival skills, it takes real personal strength. But after committing to all these things, things start to work. Leaders are such when and only when they brought teams to make things work, nobody becomes a leader just by trying it. True leaders make sure they don’t leave the boat until things work (as they will work, ultimately!). They don’t leave the job undone.

– Bernat Farrero CEO at Itnig