Product Management Modes

In the Arabic podcast I appeared on with Mohamed Sherif, he asked me an interesting question about the difference between doing conversion optimization features at and building infrastructure products at Zalando.

I think there are different modes of operation when one is doing product management.

One dimension is the nature of the product. A consumer facing product involves lots of data analysis, user research, testing, release and iterations. An internal product requires lots of stakeholder management, understanding of business constraints, and lots of communication. It also has a personal feedback cycle, as whenever you screw up in an internal product the users come straight to your desk.

Another dimension that’s more generic regardless of the nature of the product is planning and execution modes. Think of a lion that’s picking a cattle from a herd. It keeps observing the herd to pick which one is the best opportunity. Then comes execution where the lion starts running until it achieves its goal (sorry vegans, c’est la vie).

The same applies in product. There is a mode where you observe, collect, brainstorm, think, and talk. Then there is the mode where the team executes and you work with them to eliminate any barriers to success.

Your influence in each mode depends on multiple factors. For example if you work with an inexperienced team, you will have to interfere a lot in the execution mode to make sure the team is working on the right things. If you are in a customer obsessed/centric culture, you will spend less effort having to convince the team why something is necessary during the planning mode.

Understanding the factors that influence your work and which of them you can influence by how much is crucial to become successful at what you do.