Being a Product Manager comes with days 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.
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. 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, as a product manager.”
Challenge #1: Finding Time to Listen to Customers
Putting the customer first and listening to their problems is a core value. It is really important to approach the problem with both empathy, and curiosity. You need to make the customer acknowledge that you care about their ideas.
Fortunately, I have the opportunity to interface with many of our customers, as well as 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 want or need, and a solution that achieves their goals in a more efficient and impactful manner. Our customers are at often times pushed to be both more progressive, and to be more open to new ways of getting their job done.
Everyone should be very passionate about keeping our customer’s benefit in mind. It’s been easy to stay passionate about building products, when I keep the customer’s needs at the forefront of my mind. I find that I am constantly reminding 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 both 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 my team and I. 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 products and oftentimes that 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 will challenge you. Although collaborating with various stakeholders can be challenging, this collaboration brings a diversity of thoughts and ideas 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, then that’s okay. As the product owner, I’ve found that it’s key to be impartial about differing opinions and learn the importance of sharing:
- Why there are differences in ideas, among other subjects.
- The plan of moving forward.
Challenge #3: Breaking Out of Your Comfort Zone
Being a Product Manager has its’ positives and negatives, and it can be difficult to overcome the fact that there will be times where it will have its’ downsides. Just be open to feedback and learn 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 the strategies, 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 that a major part of being a Product Manager is to be passionate about the mission of your organization, enjoy being scrappy, and collaborating with a cross-functional team to solve a problem. You should also be committed to honing your craft, which requires being curious and open to constructive criticism, as well as feedback at every step of the way to being a successful Product Manager.
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 otherwise known as your 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?” It makes for a more productive and positive working environment, when your team members know that you are invested in their happiness and aspirations at work.
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 help collaborate with others and solve problems.
About Bianca Soliz:
Bianca Soliz 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.