When I transitioned into product management I was nervous and unsure. Although I had experience working with Agile software teams I lacked any formal technical background and had never managed a backlog or run a planning meeting.
My lack of confidence in my own decision making was so obvious that it was echoed almost unanimously in the peer feedback I received three months into the role. Getting told you need more confidence does not exactly build one’s confidence.
Now that I’m more established in the role and have switched to a new company I’ve had a chance to reflect on how I was able to get over this hurdle and build my confidence in my approach to building products.
Find Your Whitespace
It’s been said that the role of the product manager involves ‘filling in the whitespace’ on the team. I’ve found this to be an accurate summary of what the job entails in the wild. You’ll be forced into a variety of activities, many of which you have no experience in, but are needed to be done by the team. Since you aren’t the person writing any code or developing any software it is essential that you find other value-adding ways to contribute to the success of the product and team.
Although you may not be confident in your ability to ship products right off the bat, there are likely other ways you can contribute positively. For me, this meant getting my hands dirty talking to users, conducting user tests internally and externally, and helping out with product testing all while sharing the feedback with the team.
The lesson here is to rely on your skills and interests to help out initially while you learn and build the other skills required to do the job effectively.
Lean on Your Team
When starting out I had the misperception that as PM I had to be the one to make all the decisions. While decision-making is absolutely a critical part of the job, the decisions are not being made in a silo. Building products is a team sport. Your developers, designers, analysts, and stakeholders should all have a valuable perspective on any decision that needs to be made. Take the time to ask dumb questions and gather their input. They’ll appreciate the transparency and involvement in the decision-making process and you’ll gain more empathy for the different people and roles on the team.
Most decisions that are made on a day-to-day basis are easily reversible. Jeff Bezos calls these Type 2 decisions. It is important to know the difference between a reversible decision (Type 2) and a non-reversible one (Type 1) but know that Type 2 decisions can be easily reversed and corrected and should not be feared.
Observe Other PMs
Fundamental tasks like preparing for and running meetings, documentation, writing user stories are daunting at first. Talk to other PMs inside or outside of your company. Ask to shadow meetings and review their work to get a sense of their working styles. As time passes you’ll learn and develop your own style but seek out other product role models you can copy as a starting point.
I would also recommend meeting 1–1 with your team to better understand what is working or not working well for them. Treat your processes as part of the product and be constantly experimenting and evolving them to find what works for you.