A lot of founders move to Product because it’s that collaborative cross-disciplinary skills you have to influence people to make decisions, gets input from stakeholders, and then if needed service that tiebreaker. This speaks a lot to the challenges of being a founder; it’s about listening and learning as much as you can about each domain to develop a better understanding, so you can prioritize while making everyone happy. We talk to Muhammad Saigol, currently a Senior Product Management Leader at BCG Digital Ventures, to discuss the transition from Founder of a company to Product Manager.
Product Gym: What is your definition of Product Management?
Muhammad Saigol: Product Management is an interdisciplinary role where you have to be able to combine the skill sets of various different disciplines and translate between them. You need to translate business requirements into what they mean to the technology team, and you need to understand what the implications of technical constraints are for the user experience team, for example.
I like to think of Product Management as leading with influence, and not with authority. You can’t necessarily dictate to these different stakeholders, but you do have to be able to convince them and bring them along with you. You are the guardian of the product vision and making sure it shines through in all aspects of the product.
Product Gym: As a director of Dawn Media Group, what were some of your responsibilities? Why did you transition from being a founder into a Product Manager?
Muhammad Saigol: At the time, I was there to help digitally transform the organization, to find new revenue opportunities through the deployment of content on digital channels. My job was to define the products we needed to build and facilitate between the interdisciplinary teams to ensure that the right minds were involved in the development. I learned the basics of Product Management through self-study; learning how to manage cross-functional teams to produce effective, metric-driven, and beautiful products. I took that learning to my own company.
What attracted me to Product Management - and what continues to do so - is the cross-disciplinary way of thinking about problems. You have to draw from the skillsets of the user experience, design, business and technical disciplines, and get those different skillsets in the room, and on the same page, in order to build a cohesive product strategy that ladders up to overall goals.
A lot of founders move into Product because it requires many of the same skills you need when growing a new company: a collaborative approach, cross-disciplinary thinking, ability to influence people to make decisions, and the confidence to serve as a decision-tiebreaker, if necessary. You have to manage competing priorities and bring everyone along with your vision.
Product Gym: When you are dealing with so many stakeholders and its impossible to be an expert in every domain, how do you go and influence, for example, a Product Designer if you don't have that background?
Muhammad Saigol: It’s very much about listening to them and learning as much as you can from their disciplines in order to develop a better understanding of what they do.
What it is is being able to facilitate those strategic decisions. I’ll never be an expert in data science, but I will and should know enough to understand what they’re telling me and know what the implications are for the other teams, while helping others prioritize and figuring out what is the value to the user and what the value is to the business. It’s about taking the time to consider and understand other people’s point of view.
Product Gym: As a former founder and Product Manager for so many different companies, what would you say when you encounter a problem, do you have a framework of how you face them?
Muhammad Saigol: I always try to focus on what the value is when it comes to a challenge. Does the potential upside big enough to merit dedicating our time to it? Resources are always tight, so if I’m going to ask my team to work on a feature, I have to make sure that it is worth our time, relative to the other potential features that we could build.
Product Gym: I’m curious, what kind of books or blogs or resources would you recommend to founders trying to break into Product Management right now?
Muhammad Saigol: I wouldn’t say I have a single go-to source; I read a lot of books on subjects related to Product Development; I am particularly interested in how to set up teams for velocity and success. Eric Ries is a big one for me. I would also recommend reading up on the different disciplines associated with Product Management once you have a good foundation of what Product Management entails, so you can better relate to those different teams or stakeholders. Get familiar with how they think about their specific function areas. Build confidence with your teams so that they know they can trust you.
Product Gym: What did you do to build that confidence?
Muhammad Saigol: Begin by listening. Whenever I encounter a different point of view or methodology, I want to dig into it before making a judgment or analysis. Take certification courses, even if you don’t use those skills every day. Try to constantly learn and be as conversational as you can in a variety of different disciplines. Obviously, you are not going to be an expert in everything. But you can learn enough to have meaningful conversations with other disciplines, and build trust with them.
Product Gym: What’s the difference between being a Senior Product Manager and a Product Manager right now at the New York Times?
Muhammad Saigol: Right now, the difference is having total ownership of the product build, whereas before, I owned pieces of the larger New York Times digital product.
About Muhammad Saigol:
Muhammad Saigol is currently a Senior Product Management Leader at BCG Digital Ventures with expertise in leading teams to commercialize innovative, disruptive solutions. He was also the Senior Product Manager at Dow Jones, and Product Manager at The New York Times. Prior to these positions, he was the founder of Rekky, which was a venue recommendations application, from an idea to the market. He shared his experience regarding transitioning from being a founder to a Product Manager, and the main challenges he faced during and after transitioning.
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