Brilliant Home Product Director on PM Superpowers
Superpowers: Don’t Limit Yourself To Just One
Last month, I spoke a bit about how it’s worth it to do what it takes to grow your product. For instance, this involves picking up new “superpowers” or learning new functional roles. Specifically, you’ll need to leverage these skills differently as it relates to your company’s business stage.
We underestimate the value of recognizing when these “sprints” require the product development team. Furthermore, it’s easy to miss the impact it can have on your company’s future and your own.
During my product career, the meaning of what I deem to be a successful PM continues to evolve over time. I ended up settling on a few traits mentioned in a past article. Today, I will focus on one theme that’s present in this series.
Specifically, I will discuss the coveted “superpowers” that we are told every PM should have. Simply put, why should we only have one?
Designing software product at Brilliant
Over the last 15 months at Brilliant, I’ve grown to believe that it’s better if it’s not just one.
Traditionally, my “superpower” had been working with Product Analytics and being able to use data to make product decisions. I started off as a product management analyst at Trulia after a background in strategy consulting. As a result, I leaned heavily on quantitative data to make product decisions.
Naturally, I excelled naturally in the analytical sides of product management. In addition, I spent time learning from my cross-functional peers. For example, they exposed me to UX, engineering and marketing. But, being at a larger company meant that you don’t get a full taste of what the function can involve. Roles are specialized and lanes are not traditionally crossed.
At a startup, you learn fast that when there’s a deadline – like getting the product ready for launch – if you feel that you can make a difference, you pick up what’s remaining. And that decision may actually influence how smoothly things go.
We launched our Smart Home Control in September of 2018.
I joined in March, and in the months leading up to it, I focused primarily on the software components to work with engineering to get it ready. When we got closer to the software lock date for what would be flashed on the hardware, I found myself in a dilemma.
There was simply too much design work for our product designer (who was also remote) to complete it all within the deadlines needed. I found myself realizing the only path forward was to split up design work between the two of us.
Initially, it started off with smaller iterations or quick fixes to help get engineering the assets they needed. The product designer was invaluable in these times to help get me up to speed on design tools like Sketch, Abstract for design collaboration, and Zeplin for design asset management.
What was interesting about this time was that I didn’t realize how valuable it would be in the future. I thought I was just doing a task that the company needed. After all, that’s what a startup is all about right?
Wrong. I was learning a core skill that I think I will use for the rest of my life.
While in the past I had delegated this task to designers, over the last year when I spec out features, I also design them, and write out the event logging and analytics requirements (a topic for my next segment).
The quality of my specs have completely changed, and actually reduce the amount of iteration needed on each product feature during the requirements stage.
At Trulia, ZillowGroup, and Shopkick, working on a consumer product meant I naturally wireframed on whiteboards and made low-fidelity mocks while interfacing with designers.
I always pay attention to design systems that are in use within a company. In other words, this involves user research methods and various UX flows that we iterated through together. I have those moments to thank as the foundation for how I learned and picked up design work within a matter of a few months.
Discover a lifelong passion
This experience has made me a much more versatile product manager, and honestly opened an avenue into a space that I did not realize I had such an interest and ability for. I find myself gravitating to UX problems, reading about design, and paying attention to aspects of the product I did not notice before.
If there is anything to learn from my experience, it is that getting your product to the finish line may sometimes bring other surprises besides just the metrics and success from that product.
You may actually discover a lifelong passion.
For me, that will be driving to the simplest user experience possible in any product I work on.