In this ProductTank New York talk, Matthew Vitebsky tells the story about how he landed a Product Manager job at TIME magazine, where he assisted stakeholders with their entire brand package, including Time Fortune Money, Time Health, and Time Kids.
After just one year out of college, Matthew obtained a role as a data architect. “That job made me realize that I didn’t want to work on computers for the rest of my life,” he says. And so his roommate Eric suggested he interview at Time Inc. for a product management position. He took the time to prepare a presentation and write-up on how to re-code Time’s website to be more efficient and generate more revenue. However, while he did get the job, there are a few key points he wished someone had told him, going into the job.
Building relationships leads to increased efficiency
Matthew explains that when working in an “enterprise environment” you communicate with several teams within the large corporate building or overseas. Sometimes he would wait days, if not weeks, to get an answer from the teams he worked with. After a few weeks, he realized there were a few key people who would be able to facilitate and move things along quicker. So he got into contact with these key figures, took them for coffee and lunch, and changed their working status from a “business relationship,” to a “personal relationship.” He explained that the viewpoint shifted from ‘pushing something through for a coworker’ to ‘doing a favor for a friend’. His projects were pushed through much faster and his efficiency increased dramatically.
Honesty is the best policy
Later on in the role, after many late nights at the office waiting for the green light from QA to turn around a product on the promised date, Matthew’s manager took him aside and told him, “Nothing you do is affecting a plane from falling out of the sky. Nothing you do has lives waiting on it.” This helped him realise that honesty is the best policy with clients and external contacts. Being upfront with delivery dates and needing to push them back will create a better experience from both sides and quality work.
Matthew defines a “requirement creep” as, “You build something, it’s in QA, and someone comes up and says, ‘Hey man, I thought we were building this, or having this feature.’” After it happened more than once, Matthew learned to create a follow-up email redefining the requirements and expectations from both parties and obtaining a solid go-ahead from the purchasing party. “That way if it creeps up, refer back to that email.” Something that often appears in tandem with the requirements creep is potential indecisiveness. “It’s really important to be concise, communicate what you want…Make sure it’s clear what you want and how you want it done.” Developer time is precious and suffers losses from the indecisiveness of its product managers.
Embrace the big picture
Matthew explains that expectations often don’t align with the end goals. For example, short-term fixes and patchwork are necessary evils that every company must deal with, because “things are inevitably going to break.” What product managers want to avoid with patchwork fixes is their potential to squeeze into long-term goals. His solution? “Create a roadmap. If someone says, ‘this needs to be done in a sprint,’ guide them to the roadmap.” This way, they can see what’s in the pipeline, where their solution fits in with the big picture and gives the product manager the chance to “say that they have to wait.”
In conclusion, Matthew summarizes his key takeaways into his acquired perspective of a product manager:
Every product manager should engage the user more, create more products that make more sense, and save resources.
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