Colombo ProductTank co-organiser, Chathuraka Waas, introduces us to his community and shares his experience of working in product in a country where PM usually means Project Manager.
What is it that motivates you to run ProductTank meetups?
Product Tank enables me to meet passionate product people in Colombo that I didn’t even know existed. I’m eager to listen to them, to learn about their journeys in product management and from their experiences. Here in Colombo, we want to keep ProductTank going, it’s awesome!
Who plays an important part in Colombo’s ProductTanks?
Together, Arshad Rifa, Janani Liyanage and myself organise our ProductTank.
Janani helps with planning the events and is always thinking about the different things we could be doing to improve while Arshad is the guy behind the scenes bringing ProductTank Colombo to life. He is actually the person who initiated ProductTank Colombo.
I knew about Mind the Product and ProductTank but it hadn’t occurred to me that I could initiate one here. When I saw the meetup page for the first time and realised it was happening in Colombo, I was excited. I contacted Arshad through the meetup page to say I’d like to help.
Together we sort out the locations, speakers and promote the events. I take it as my responsibility to find the speakers most of the time. Usually, I will reach out to practising Product Managers on LinkedIn. I also try to meet people at other product events but, in general, finding speakers is difficult. We want our speakers to be practising product managers.
How many members does your ProductTank have?
Currently, we have 181 registered members but around 50 members who regularly attend and have run three ProductTanks so far.
We have two categories of ProductTank meetup – one big event every quarter with speakers (for this we use a company auditorium) and one casual event every month where we meet at a local cafe to discuss our concerns, share knowledge and get to know others personally.
Our members come from startups, as well as established companies, in different industries such as Telcos, food, transportation, government services etc. There are some with a lot of experience in the industry but most are fairly new to product management.
What can you tell us about Colombo’s Product Community?
Product Management is a new topic in Colombo. Here, most people will immediately assume that you’re a Project Manager if you say you’re a PM. This is mainly due to Colombo being a predominantly outsourced destination – the products we build will have Product Managers based in Europe, the US and Australia. Here, we have Project Managers whose focus is to keep the projects within budget and scope. Most of the time companies also have a Business Analyst to act as a product proxy.
Take a US project, for example. The time difference is 12 hours which means it’s not practical for the Product Manager to be online all the time. As a result, most companies ramp up the BA to act as a product proxy so that during the daytime, if there are any questions from the developers they can attend to them. Sadly, though the BA doesn’t have the decision making power.
More recently there has been a rise in startup culture in Colombo. With that, there is now an increased interest in the topic of product management. Companies are starting to identify Product Management as an important role and to try and understand it more.
There is a body here called, SLASSCOM that runs a number of initiatives to drive growth across the Sri Lankan Knowledge and Innovation industry, one is to come up with more startups. The more startups we have, the more Product Managers we will need in the future and so I believe that it will become the buzzword in the next couple of years.
Which talks have been a hit?
We have only held three ProductTanks so far but our very first in November 2019 was very popular. Our speakers included Dhanika Perera the Founder and CEO of Bhasha, Helakuru and PayHere, and Janaka Heenkenda the Lead Product Owner at Digital Mobility Solutions (pvt) Ltd.
How does ProductTank help product people?
Before ProductTank there was practically nothing for Product Managers in Colombo – I know that when I transitioned from being an engineer to a Product Manager four years ago I didn’t have a clue what it was and I was the only one in the company at the time. There was no one to guide me which made it feel pretty lonely.
ProductTank makes it easier for Product Managers to reach out and get to know more product people. It enables the members of our community to share knowledge, discuss solutions to the unique questions they have, and to gain access to a bigger pool of Product Managers in a region where it’s pretty hard to find good and experienced Product Managers.
Most of the people I meet at ProductTank today are glad to hear that there’s now a small community for product people here. Like me, they are eager to share their stories and learn from others.
We have a WhatsApp group to keep members informed and, for us, having that direct line of communication, is so important. Our aim is to create a community where we can share knowledge and ask questions all the time. We don’t want people to attend a meetup once in a while, listen to a speaker and that’s it. We want the conversation to be ongoing.
We also use our WhatsApp group to seek sponsorship. It can be a challenge to get sponsorship, especially for food and beverages so, for the moment, we don’t provide that. I believe that everyone comes to gain knowledge from the sessions but it would be great to be able to provide food and drink for our members in the future.
Any fun facts?
One great thing about the country is that it’s small (four times smaller than the UK) which means within around four hours you can get from beaches to the Highlands and experience different climates within a short span of time.
Also, Sri Lanka was formerly called Ceylon and produces one of the world’s best cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon, which is indigenous to Sri Lanka.
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