A product manager’s specific role will vary from one company to the next. Still, all product managers must balance many aspects of their job, including customers’ needs, a vision for new products, and the project team. So what tools and strategies are needed to create a successful career as a product manager? What are the “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful Career As A Product Manager”? In this interview series, we are talking to Product Managers, founders, and authors who can answer these questions with stories and insights from their experiences. As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Marina Drazic.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers find it fascinating to trace the evolution of a person’s career trajectory. Can you give me a brief rundown of your career history, from your very first job to the position you hold now?
I started my career as an ERP consultant, which I did for about a year. After that, I transferred to the area of product management, where I’ve been for 3.5 years. My position evolved from Product Owner to Product Analyst, Product Manager, and, finally, the Director of Product Management.
Most of the product leaders I’ve talked to sort of “fell into” product management and have become passionate about the job. What was the main event in your life that led you to this path?
As an ERP consultant, I had the opportunity to work daily and closely with users. I could strongly relate to them and I developed empathy for their problems and needs. So, when I finally transferred to product management and got the opportunity to actually do something to make their lives easier, the feeling was incredible.
I’ve often heard from people who work in the product manager capacity that it’s hard to explain what they do to family and friends. What do you say when someone asks, “so, what do you do for a living?”
I usually take certain popular apps (such as social networking apps) as an example. Then, I explain to them that not a single feature or a change within those apps has been made accidentally or without being previously analyzed. Behind everything, there’s a product manager who is well-informed about users' needs and market opportunities, and they decide on what, when, and how the changes should be made.
And, it’s the same with our products—for example, Pumble, our team chat tool. Before introducing any new features, such as video conferencing or document sharing, we carefully analyze users' needs and market insights before we move to design and implementation.
Let’s pretend money and social status don’t exist—what is most important to you about your work? What is the North Star in your career?
For me, it's really important to work on a product that has a clear purpose and that I believe in. Also, I care whether my vision aligns with the company’s vision.
I want the users to recognize our apps as tools that bring benefits, not as a distraction that makes their work even more complicated.
Can you tell me a story from your professional experience that makes you a little emotional—a moment when you knew you were in the right line of work?
Why product management? I always ask candidates that in job interviews.
Every time a new product manager joins our team, I re-live the moment I fell in love with the profession.
During onboarding, I try to make them aware that product management is not a job. It’s a mission.
We have the power to change the world, and this especially refers to the IT industry. I just love that feeling.
What are the qualities that you think make someone a great fit for product management? And conversely, what are some traits that would make you hesitate to recommend this profession?
From what I've noticed, great product managers usually strongly empathize with users. They have a problem-solving mindset and are more focused on the problems they need to solve than on the solution itself. Another great product manager quality is the ability to listen and learn from users and other teams. They can both give us a different perspective, as they have a lot of knowledge and can provide useful information to contribute to proper decision-making.
Undesirable traits of a product manager may include uncertainty and indecisiveness. On the other hand, making rash decisions without proper research can also be a flaw. Blindly following your ideas and plans, without the ability to challenge or validate them can be another disadvantage.
When you think of the strongest team you’ve ever worked with, why do you think the team worked so well together, and can you recall an anecdote that illustrates the dynamic?
What I truly appreciate about working with my current team is that it nurtures proactivity. Every team member feels involved in the decision-making process and thinks outside of their job description, all with the wish to contribute to the product.
Developers or QA testers often come to us during the implementation or testing stage of a feature with an idea to change or improve something. And, they do so with the intent to enhance user experience. This practice indicates that all of us feel responsible for the product’s success.
A lot of theory around project management focuses on frameworks and methodologies. Can you recall a situation you’ve dealt with where you’ve had to toss these things by the wayside and come up with a unique solution to a problem?
We’ve never strictly followed a specific methodology. From the beginning, we’ve used a combination of different approaches and techniques that best fit us.
What’s been especially challenging lately is the rapid growth of our company, including the product team. When you have more than five product managers sharing ownership over one app, you have to be creative so as to keep everybody informed and included. So, we made a unique system of boards and meetings that help us sync and organize.
What are your “5 Things You Need To Create A Successful Career As A Product Manager” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1. Focus on problems, not on solutions. This is a common barrier even for highly experienced product managers. The problem they’re trying to solve often lacks clarity. So, before you even start thinking about the interface or features, you need to ask yourself whether you’ve understood what the users need. The problem you’re solving will greatly impact the way you’ll solve it.
Here’s a practical tip: always ask the users to explain the root of the problem. Like us, users tend to focus on solution-seeking. So, try to remind them to get back to the problem itself.
2. Listen to the users and learn from them. This may be the most important advice. Never lose sight of who you’re doing it all for—the users. Talk to them, listen to them, and give your best to understand them. Nobody has a better insight into the matter than the people who do those jobs every day. Your product is only as good as it makes your clients' lives easier.
3. Challenge your decisions. Try to be flexible and listen around. It’s good to have a plan and stick to it. However, no plan should be set in stone, especially not roadmaps.
Users' needs and market demands may not be the same 6 months from now. The world changes rapidly, and we must always step back and rethink our past decisions so as not to lose track.
With changes in the market, our team had to put some great ideas on hold, waiting for a better moment. Remote work wasn’t so widespread two years ago, and that fact highly impacted Clockify’s journey.
4. Overcome subjectivity. This one is difficult. As humans, we have a tendency to be subjective, which can hardly be avoided. However, we can try to minimize subjectivity by making decisions based on the previously gathered data. In case you lack solid data, involve as many people as you can in the decision-making process. Test your ideas and validate them before you move on to realization.
5. Learn from other teams. I rarely hear this one, but I firmly believe that you can learn a great deal from other teams’ knowledge and experience. Some teams spend a lot more time with the users (e.g. sales or support) and have a better view of their perspective. Some are more familiar with the technology and good practices (e.g. development, or design), while others better understand the market changes (e.g. marketing or business development). All these parameters should be taken into account when making decisions.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be?
In today’s business era, remote work is becoming more widespread, while the burning desire to do our best at work rises along with it. And, I think people often feel lonely and depressed, especially young people.
It’s high time we started talking more about mental health and self-care so that people know they’re not alone.
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