Product management is unique. Unlike many other professions, product managers must forge their own path. They must build roadmaps, plans, and strategies, and they must collaborate with engineers to build the actual product. So, how can product managers ensure their success? This week on Product Talk, Transfix Director of Brand Content & Sustainability, Patrick Blute, interviews Notion Chief Product Officer Madhu Muthukumar on how to successfully navigate the product management journey.

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On the beginning of the product management journey

Doing something entirely new takes courage and determination. If you are beginning your product management journey, you are an incredibly privileged person. Product managers work with the top designers and engineers in the world to solve problems. And in order to do so, you need to understand the complexities of your organization and product. This is what is important to know at the beginning of your product management journey:

“The first is to realize you’re playing a long game. You’re a person who’s responsible for working with the world’s experts, you’re in a super fortunate position. You’re working with a designer who’s the expert in thinking about problems, you’re working with engineers who dedicated their life’s craft to building, you’re in a very privileged position.”

The second part of that is, if you’re playing that long game with that team, it’s a lot about building trust with the people around you. Because at the end of the day, PMs are in the position to make difficult trade-offs, to make hard decisions. And you can’t do that if you don’t have people around you who understand who you are and what you value.” 

“Get deep, get really deep. Be curious, and learn things. The number one skill that I look for especially in a pm is, can you learn? Can you learn things? Because the only thing that’s true is that everything gonna change.”

On fixing processes that are broken

Oftentimes, product managers are dropped into the center of a company’s problems. And it is their responsibility to correct the processes, strategies, and roadmaps. They are responsible for creating a culture of development and accountability that empowers their team to make hard decisions, and for leading their team on the product management journey. So, how do you fix the processes when you are in a new role? Here is what you need to know about fixing processes in your company’s product management journey:

“In a company that’s going through hyper-growth or even fast growth, the thing you have to remind yourself is that everything is gonna break. The good things are gonna break, and the bad things are gonna break, everything is sort of gonna break.”

“The first thing is to recognize that while the process is really important for creating scale, probably about 10% of the process you look at is really what matters, but 90% of it is just going to break and it’s going to change and it’s going to be different, and you should be open to that.”

“The second thing is you should explain why you are changing the process. All too often process changes can just be sort of like leadership flex. I think you should really challenge yourself to ask the question of like, okay, why am I changing this process?”

On managing the product management journey remotely 

One of the most important aspects of a product manager’s job is communication. They must communicate with their teams, stakeholders, and design and engineering teams in order to develop innovative products. The vision and direction need to be clear along the product management journey. These are some strategies for managing product teams in a remote culture:

“It just means that you have to be a better manager. You have to understand who the people on your team are and what motivates them. You’re gonna have to give them clear direction, vision, and something that guides them. And you have to trust them. There has to be autonomy, there has to be accountability that comes with that.”

“It shifts the communication culture. When you go remote, or you go global, as soon as people are not physically close to each other, you’re going to have to find other ways to communicate.”

“There are times and purposes and real good reasons for us to be face to face on a zoom, getting to know each other in small groups and communicating. But there’s also a need for us to communicate in a structured format that everyone can see and that everyone can get access to. That’s truly more equitable and inclusive than a campfire in the first place.”

On what makes a great product

Great products deliver value to their customers, have a clearly defined sense of purpose, and solve real problems. But more importantly, they help people tell a story about themselves. Throughout the product management journey, you always have the end-user in mind. Great products are designed to enable end-user, to take control of their life. If you want people to care about your product, you have to create something that they care about. Here is how to build a great product:

All products I love let me tell a story to myself. And most of them, let me tell the story to someone else. Instagram tells me that I’m a great photographer. And Foursquare tells me that I live an adventurous life. And the trigger smoker that I just bought tells me that I value barbecue and care about the taste.” 

“I look at stuff like virality, or I look at things like why does a great design matter? It matters because it enables people to tell stories, it enables them to evangelize on your behalf, and go out until the next person. If you want to get people passionate, if you want to get people to talk about it, you can have to build something pretty great.”`

“I’m always in awe when I see things that people are super excited about that seemed really boring. That, to me is like, wow, that’s a great product.”

About the speaker
Madhu Muthukumar Robinhood, Head of Product Management Member
About the host
Patrick Blute Transfix, Director of Brand and Sustainability

I am the Director of Brand & Sustainability for Transfix, a leading transportation solutions provider, combining tech and a best-in-class carrier network to reshape the future of freight. I am also a host for Product Talk helping bring product leaders together to answer the question: "What makes a great product?"

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