November 15, 2017

Building a Team as a Product Manager

Gaurav Hardikar

A common saying in the valley when describing the role of the Product Manager is that we are the “CEO” of the product. Let’s assume that is the intended role of the Product Manager. What would you then encompass as part of your role?

The answer, in my opinion, is anything and everything that is needed to get the product out the door and keep your users happy.

Easier said than done of course. What a lot of us forget though, is that it is about the people that are involved and the team that gets the objective accomplished. Just as the product is always about its users, the CEO must have a top priority of valuing the people that make everything happen.

To do this, I like to employ the cross-functional “pod” team structure that is common to top technology companies (Spotify was a leader in this space). The only variant here is how you spread ownership across each team member and how you build the culture in the team. A happier and goal-oriented team will produce a more delightful product so that you can relate the strength of the team to the strength of the product.

I’ve spoken previously about how to encourage a growth mindset regardless of the role you are in at your company. Utilizing this as you do your standups, meetings, and build features and spreading ownership of tasks will help lead each member—the engineer, the designer, and QA to feel like they truly own the product they are building together and they have a rightful say in it.

Your role as the PM comes down to a few core steps:

  1. Focus your energy on the business problem and the goals of the product.
  2. In areas that can be fully owned by key stakeholders, provide support and product direction but not be prescriptive.
  3. Share all business context, so each team member understands why decisions are being made a certain way.
  4. Create an environment of transparency and openness within the pod so product decisions can be openly discussed, with the PM still as the final decision maker.

There’s one example that always comes to mind when I recount these guidelines.

At Shopkick, we were building a product offering that could reward users on a variable or static basis for submitting receipts for their purchase at any retailer. The timeline of this feature was pushed up as we have a time-sensitive deal with a new client that could lead to future revenue and relationships in a specific vertical. We knew we had to build the real MVP.

During this time, we went into giving full ownership to each member of the project “pod.” Each member of the team understood the whole business context, understood the goals of each part of the feature being built so that they would never be blocked waiting for my decision on items that they could also resolve until we got to final product review. When we got to release the feature, we had a retrospective and what differentiated this experience for both myself and the team is: a) how fast we moved, b) how efficient we can be, and c) how valued each person felt in the entire product development process.

In a world where humanity is desperately trying to automate virtually everything we do, we always come back to understand that people are what matter most.  

Steve Jobs once said “it’s not a faith in technology. It’s faith in people.”

Creating a sustainable environment for a well-functioning team is the key to success as a Product Manager. And in my experience, creating an all-inclusive work culture has led to faster velocity, seamless communication between team members, and overall happiness within the team. Doesn’t hurt to try it for yourself!

About the Author

Gaurav HardikarGaurav Hardikar is Director of Product Management at Shopkick, an omni-channel commerce and loyalty product that rewards users for their daily shopping habits. In his B2B2C role, he focuses on three main “consumers” – the users, Shopkick clients, and Shopkick as a business. This materializes in product ownership of all ad products, revenue, and the kicks earned side of the user journey. This means Gaurav is always thinking about how users can get “kicks” or rewards for purchasing specific items at everyday stores, as well as how each of these kick earning opportunities generate revenue for Shopkick and deliver ROI for brand and retail clients. With a background in Accenture Strategy, Trulia, and Zillow Group, Gaurav is passionate about delivering bottom-line growth while building consumer products that delight its users.

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