Being a Product Manager comes with a day full of excitement and challenges. From actively listening to customers to collaborating with stakeholders, these challenges can seem quite formidable. In this article we spoke with Bianca Soliz, Product Manager at VTS, to discuss these daily challenges and ways to mitigate them. We also touch upon the importance of passion, empathy and practicing core values. Read on to find out what how the challenges of Product Management can also be what makes the role most exciting.
Product Gym: What is your definition of Product Management?
Bianca Soliz: Product Management is a role where you are wearing a lot of different hats and managing many different stakeholders, but at the end of the day, it is mainly focused on solving the problem at hand. It is also making sure that you and your team are learning about the customer to drive the decisions you make and to add customer value. As a Product Manager, I’m constantly refining my understanding of customer problems to ensure my team and I are focused on solving the right problem in the most impactful way.
Challenge #1: Finding Time to Listen to Customers
Putting the customer first and listening to their problems is a core value of mine. It is really important to approach the problem with empathy and curiosity.
Fortunately, I have the opportunity to interface with many of our customers and really understand their current problems and more importantly their goals. My team and I use their input to inform how we think about the problem and potential solutions. It’s difficult to strike the right balance between giving customers the solution they think they need and a solution that achieves their goals in a more efficient and impactful. We’re often pushing our customers to be more progressive and open to new ways of getting their job done.
Everyone should be very passionate about keeping our customers’ benefit in mind. It’s been easy to stay passionate about building products, when I keep the customer’s needs top of mind. I constantly remind myself that we’re not here just to build features, we’re here to make our customers better at what they do. As a Product Manager, you’re constantly listening to negative and positive feedback and applying the feedback to your product. Partnering with our clients to get their perspective throughout the product development process has been critical for me and my team. Thinking about how we can improve the way we partner with clients also keeps me excited. I’m constantly thinking: how do I use my domain expertise, customer empathy, and passion for making people better at what they do to form the shape of our product?
Challenge #2: Evaluating Trade-offs and Saying “No”
There are many trade-offs that have to be made when building product and that often comes with saying “no” to certain stakeholders. I’ve found that it’s important for those involved to understand your decision-making framework. Stakeholders have differing priorities and perspectives, so there are always going to be people who challenge you. Though collaborating with various stakeholders can be challenging, this collaboration brings a diversity of thought which should inform the way you make decisions. I don’t try to optimize for complete consensus. If a few of us have the conviction that we’re headed in the right direction and some of us disagree, that’s okay. As the product owner, I’ve found that it’s key to be transparent about differing opinions and important to share why there are differences and plan on moving forward.
Challenge #3: Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone
You need to be okay with both the ups and downs of Product Management. Just be open to feedback and learning along the way. This is a role with an opportunity to break out of your comfort zone and really push yourself to learn new skills.
In my experience, Product Managers are in charge of owning the product, defining and executing strategy, communicating with clarity, and rallying stakeholders. In my role as a Product Manager, I have been able to work with just about every department in our organization. There‘re not many roles that afford you that opportunity. I am constantly learning from stakeholders across our organization. I believe to be a successful Product Manager, you have to be passionate about the mission of your organization, enjoy being scrappy and collaborating with a cross-functional team to solve a problem, and are committed to honing your craft, which requires being curious and open to constructive criticism and feedback at every step of the way.
Challenge #4: Building a Productive Team
Product Managers are becoming more and more collaborative. To be successful you need to be able to not only empathize with your external customers, but also with your internal customers or team members. Every time I have a new team member, I try to ask them, “What are your goals? How can I help support you in getting there?” I believe that when your team members know you are invested in their happiness and goals at work, it makes for a more productive and positive working environment.
Challenge #5: Managing Yourself
I think everyone has their own set of core values that power the way they approach problems, make decisions and interact with others. As a Product Manager, I feel that it’s important to continuously reflect on your own core values and use them as your guide. Ideally, your own core values will align with those of your company, which keeps you excited to come into work every day and collaborate with your team.
I was once told that being a Product Manager is not a glamorous job, and I repeat these words today. However, while unglamorous, the nature of this type of work allows me to learn something new every day. It allows me to continue to be curious and flex various muscles to be able to collaborate with others and solve problems.
About Bianca Soliz:
Bianca is a Product Manager with a demonstrated history of analyzing customer needs. Prior to her current role as Product Manager at VTS, Bianca was a Senior Customer Success Analyst for Hightower, Inc.
Bianca has a B.A. in Public Policy Studies from Trinity College.