The accidental product manager

Back in the good old days of Lavalife, where I spent some seven years of my working career, I thought I had invented a role that was unique and special. Turns out, I simply didn’t know what a product manager did.

I went to the head of operations for Lavalife Australia with the idea of a “product design coordinator” role. It was a job description which I made up to match my particular skill set.

The basic premise was (besides creating my own dream job) was to marry the communication between the technology and marketing departments into something useable and cohesive.  I was taking the vision marketing had with the technical approach employed by the systems team and translating the end result into something customer service could sell.

I honestly thought I had invented the concept

It was like being a polyglot able to speak each department’s unique language. It was based on my own experiences in each of the three departments (I bootstrapped my way up the Lavalife ladder) and identifying the need for a communications bridge between them.

I loved that job and its challenges. From running tests on new features to writing up sales kits for the front line staff,  to speaking geek and marketing on a daily basis, I got a massive kick out of solving problems and communicating the product message around the office.

It wasn’t until six weeks ago I knew I had somehow fluked entry into one of Australia’s most misunderstood and under-marketed industries.

What I called product design was actually product management

Product Management is about looking at the whole picture and choosing areas for improved communications flow to ensure growth and viability.

It’s about looking at the needs of various different stakeholders from consumer right through to the visionary who is dreaming up a new product or product enhancement, and balancing their needs and speaking their language.

As the product manager, become a living, breathing knowledge bank for all of those who work with it can draw upon to learn and help bridge any gaps in their understanding.

You become the person who translates the needs of a business into each individual person’s perspective.

Product Management, despite the fairly dry sounding job title, is a heck of a lot of fun, varied and especially challenging and rewarding.

Speaking the product manager speak

In marketing, technology and sales, there are quite a few buzzwords that get thrown about.

There is talk of innovation, WYSWYG, consumer trends, real time, optimisation and customer experience. But what do they actually mean beyond pretty texta phrases on the whiteboards and flipcharts or trying to point score in teleconferences?

To a product manager, these words still have meaning. In fact, it is more than meaning, it’s a cornerstone to their understanding of the product and how to help it reach its potential.

Product managers dig through data, they obsess over the end user and what they see. They spend time with the tech team, and they inject reality into marketing based on a solid foundation. And they are forever picking up their product and turning it around to see it from every different angle.

Product managers are amazing jugglers

Product managers keep one foot on the ground, another on the ball and have their hands constantly in motion feeling their way through everyone else’s interpretations of what a product is.

They are the down to earth siblings to marketing who know how to get a sense of humour and humanity out of technology whilst being able to talk to a variety of different cousins from the family leader to the guy who just wants in.

I’d be bold enough to say any company who has a product manager has a finger more on the pulse than most for the simple fact the communication is improved as a side effect simply by having one on staff.

If this sounds like you, or something you may be interested in, there is a community in Australia you may be interested in. It’s called Brainmates. 


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