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A day in the life of the Product Manager

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“A great product manager has the brain of an engineer, the heart of a designer, and the speech of a diplomat”, said Deep Nishar, Vice President of Product at LinkedIn

Sounds like a tall ask? Well, for all budding and aspiring Product Managers, meet Tejas Vyas, VP and Product Head at Big Basket, who decodes a day in the life of a product manager for us.

Product management is an Intense role and having a planned day is critical. But, it does get difficult when the elements of ambiguity multiply as the experience grows. Having said that, each day comes packed in multiple areas ranging from strategy to tactics.

For Tejas, work hits sharp at 9 a.m. It usually gets started either by heading in physically to work or by planning a hybrid way of working.

The first hour of the day Tejas spends in 1:1 meetings with his team. It’s his everyday morning ritual to ensure whether team members are moving forward with a clear direction or alignment towards their goals or not.

By 10 a.m., there is a convening of product managers. This is a discussion on specs for new products or features. During these discussions, product managers and associate product managers present product specifications, flowcharts, screen shots and mocks for planned product releases. The nuances of engineering are discussed right from apis which need to be designed to use cases in need of solutions. The discussions are often intense. What’s critical is to ask “why” for each problem and to drill down on the right metrics.

By 11 a.m. there are problem-solving discussions with senior stakeholders across business units. Practical challenges in existing products or features are brought to these discussions. One among them could be resolution of complaints. It is important to quantify how critical this is for business. For example, by understanding if one or two customers faced an issue vs. hundreds of customers facing an issue. Sometimes, there can be over 200 line items on the log of things to take care of. Bringing in the right problem solving attitude and a healthy amount of conflict help crack the deal. They brainstorm on possible solutions. Could there be a process solution? What could be done in the interim? What are the critical priority areas? In Tejas’ experience, 7 out of 10 times, non-tech solutions can be found for some of these issues.

The product manager has to play the role of the problem solver for the business and it could mean a lot of arbitration between teams to ensure everyone is happy with the outcome.

By that time, it’s almost noon. Another key aspect of Tejas’ work is to conduct interviews for new product managers. Hiring is an always-on process for him. The first couple of rounds of discussions are done by the existing team product managers. As he does the final round, he checks for a few things:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Design thinking and customer obsession
  • Data-driven approach
  • Last but not the least, a culture fit.
What’s paramount for Tejas is the attitude, and not just the pedigree of the incoming product manager.

With that, it’s lunch time. And a time to catch up with people and enjoy the best of the hybrid work culture.

Instead of keeping the email inbox always open, Tejas checks his email for a few minutes every hour so that he can get more work done. He has a way of prioritizing urgent issues with his team. A level 3 issue is something that can be sorted out over an email when sending a response in a couple of hours won’t be of any damage. A level 4 issue which needs more immediate focus is addressed over slack. And a level 5 critical issue is usually the one that ends in a call.

Post lunch, it’s time for a detailed product roadmap discussion. These are strategic discussions which start right from where a program is heading, to what could be causing a delay in a launch, to how to course correct for that, and what can help meet timelines. Multiple programs get reviewed and discussed in these discussions.

Multiple issues get called out from bugs to support tickets that are yet unresolved to bugs that might be breaking the site. It’s critical to identify how something might be broken. For the critical ones, a war room strategy is taken to solve them on priority. There could be other areas that require painstaking work to solve. Throughout the day, Tejas keeps looking at ongoing user complaints to ensure there are no surprises.

His key learning: No solution can be superficial in product management. The best product managers delve into multiple levels of detailing to crack an issue. Curiosity is welcomed. “Asking the why” could be a three-word job description for the role.

The next hour Tejas calls his quick fix hour. These are smaller fixes in features which could take between 2-5 days. These may not be big enough to be part of the broader product roadmap but still, need to be addressed.

As the clock strikes around 5 p.m., the focus moves to the more strategic view on product strategy. This involves getting multiple people from marketing to operations to business strategy together to focus on key questions on increasing throughput and on planning the numbers.

As evening falls, the focus shifts to key engineering problems. This part of the work involves translating specs into engineering requirements. That means spending time with technical architects in defining the architecture and suggesting possible future use cases. All of this stems from a strong understanding of the business problem. A product manager may not need to know Java or Python but she/he needs to understand the systems’ view and the use case view in terms of input and output. Not just that, they need to know if something is done and what can be the outcome or failure.

For example, if there is a latency issue, say the latency is 1 second instead of 100 milliseconds, can there be a small message to solve it? Or is there a bigger engineering fix required? These are questions the product managers need to solve.

During the last one hour, Tejas works on evangelizing the product to senior leadership. This part of the hour is all about evangelizing the product and wearing the sales hat. This involves working with the executive committee and going through key metrics. For example, what actions were taken last month and what improvements are seen from that. Screen shots are shared with the executive committee.

With that, it is time to call it a day. Edward De Bono talked about the six thinking hats as a way to brainstorm collaboratively. The product manager role requires a single person to don and juggle multiple such hats.

  • The scientist hat allows them to ask why and to keep digging into data.
  • The designer/psychologist hat allows them to understand human behaviour and to build hypothesis based on that.
  • The Engineer hat allows them to look at patterns and to ensure stability, scalability and platform thinking.
  • The sales/diplomat hat that allows them to evangelize and t influence
  • The strategist hat that helps them balance the requirements with creativity to arrive at optimum solutions
  • And the project management hat that allows them to stay focused on outcomes and timelines.
And with such a variety of hats to juggle and decipher, Tejas feels that a philosopher’s hat might come in handy too, to keep the balance.

Undoubtedly, it’s always a multiple-hat crown on a product manager’s head.

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