Product Management Dharma: Your Code For Success
It has been a crazy yet amazing year at Brilliant. I’ve already seen the company double since I joined last March. I now lead Product UX and Design on the Brilliant Control and Mobile Apps, Product Management, and Product Analytics at Brilliant.
For those that don’t know what Brilliant is – it is a smart home tech company that is building a Smart Home Control that revolutionizes how we think about a smart home. Our mission is to create an experience that humanizes the smart home for the average user. After all, it is your home – everything should feel natural.
If I think about the five years that I’ve been in Product, I’ve personally seen or heard of hundreds of Product Managers – both senior, peers, and junior to me succeed and fail in their respective product areas.
Each time I heard or saw the stories, I tried to put together why PMs failed.
We can surmise why into a single philosophical concept – dharma.
Dharma is an ancient concept that has no single-word translation to English. In philosophy, it includes aspects of duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and the “right way of living.”
In the frame of our current conversation, I think of it as what I can set as my own personal code of duties, rights, laws, conduct, and virtues regarding Product Management.
What you define as your own Product Philosophy can itself become a self-fulfilling prophecy of how you fare on teams and for product successes or failures.
But let’s first define what is required for success…
When I think about being successful as a Product Manager, there are five core tenets. These should be part of your duties as a Product Manager, non-negotiables to your role.
- Cross-Functional Collaboration: You have a cross-functional team of engineers, designers, and others that collaborate on common goals.
- The PM is actually a PM: You work as a cohesive team to strategize and execute on your goals, with the PM as the lead on product decision making.
- You are listening to your Team: You fail fast and forward, but as a team – this means you need to be able to recognize and acknowledge failures in strategic direction and act fast to counteract it. A key input here is listening to your team.
- Make your Roadmap Known: As a Product Manager, upward and cross-functional management/evangelism of your strategy and roadmap. It is not about you succeeding. It’s about you, your team, and primarily, your product succeeding. It is easy to forget that internal buy-in is critical to getting there.
- Meet your Product Goals: And most importantly, that your product is performing well for the goals set by your team. This requires, inevitably, a core focus on adaptable design – both from a UX and technically – to allow for changes in strategy but also to bunker down for fundamental tenets of your product vision and principles.
What core skills does this require?
Communication and EQ
- Emotional intelligence is something I’ve talked about before – here. I can’t stress how important it is, not only to communication skills but also to being able to work effectively with your team and therefore grow the product.
Focus on Data and Goals
- It’s important to note here to consider the stage of the product and company – but with a laser focus on the end user.
- For example, perhaps when you are a team of 5 and testing out prototypes of your product, you may want to focus on in-depth user interviews and research rather than any quantitative data analysis. Yet as you continue to grow and have a sizable user base, you shift the % influence your qualitative and quantitative data sets have on your product decision making.
- It’s definitely something I have had to consider while working at Brilliant. You sometimes just don’t have data at the beginning.
- As a Product Manager, you need to learn how to be your team’s salesperson internally. Simply put, you need to be doing what it takes to visibility and buy-in across the company.
- Is the final decision maker the CEO? Is your team even behind your product roadmap? Are your business partners? You should probably make sure that is the case before you launch a new product in the wild. Cohesive product strategy with buy-in will allow you to handle the everchanging nature of product development.
Technical Savvy and Knowhow
- While you don’t need to have an engineering background to be a Product Manager, I do believe it is within the role to understand how the Product functions technically, including higher-level architecture.
- Take the example that you are in a Sales meeting and you are brainstorming about a potential product idea. Are you able to provide a high-level overview of why a bug appeared? Are you able to decipher new product ideas that the Sales team recommends as red flags for engineering?
- You should never promise dates or releases without the commitment of your engineering team, but it is a boon to be able to predict whether product ideas will be exceptionally difficult. You can take these thoughts within context back to your engineering team, and it will actually be helpful for them to think about how you are thinking about the product feature and why you may think it is difficult.
Personal Growth to recognize and adjust to failures
- How introspective and adaptive are you as a Product Manager? In other words, can you recognize and acknowledge when you have a made a mistake or a failure?
- In my experience, honesty and humility go a long way to earn the respect of your team. People will appreciate that you addressed it and have a step forward.
But how does this become dharma to follow?
Last but not least, we cannot forget the experiences and how to tie them together. It is up to each and every one of you to take your experiences to create your own code of Product Management.
Take my own journey:
Growth Product —> Core Web and Mobile Product —> Generalist PM —> Product Leader
My set of experiences above has led me to adopt the set of values I’ve discussed above. It allows me to be adaptable to different situations. It doesn’t mean it’s gospel for every situation.
Work to build your own product management philosophy. Users will be better off with more Product Managers leading with dharma.
About the speaker
Gaurav is a Product Leader with more than 5 years of experience across all aspects of Product Management, Design, and Strategy. He is passionate about companies with a mission to better people’s lives in a tangible way, and is a large proponent of product management through collaboration and emotional intelligence.