Felix Li


3 Success Principles For Novice Product Managers in Startups

Principles I’ve learned to have while going through my product management journey

Photo by Lindsay Henwood on Unsplash

When I started working in my first company after university graduation, I had never thought of going into the path of becoming a product manager. I started as a delivery team member, who was responsible for creating and delivering customized products, i.e. mobile Apps, on behalf of clients I worked with. With a large variety of skill sets I obtained as a technical product specialist, I was using my best ability to discover a profession that I could continue to grow in that could create a much bigger impact.

Eventually, a product team was formed within the company after a few rounds of investment funding was confirmed. I discovered that product manager could potentially be the role I was looking for — I could make an impact on not only a few clients that I worked with but a wide range of clients that used the product.

My determination to become part of the product team had paid off with the blessing of my manager and the trust of the company, I became a junior product owner within the team, working with two other product managers.

Working in a newly formed product team within a startup company, I placed myself in probably one of the most challenging positions, but at the same time a very important position for the company’s future.

In this article, I want to discuss some key principles that I found very important for product managers and product owners, especially ones with little to zero experience, to have a higher chance in succeeding within the company.

Build trust with the CEO and leadership team as early as possible

Being a product owner, I was having the same work mentality as I did when I worked in the delivery team — to serve my direct managers and people I worked directly with. I identified needs within the team and filled in holes that the team lacked. I leaned on the information and updates from my direct manager and used those as my guideline to determine my priorities.

Until I started taking more and more responsibilities on determining the product roadmaps for a specific team, I realized that the leadership team had so many opinions and suggestions on the product I worked with that I never heard about. I asked myself: “How do I get these feedback first hand, rather than through other media?”.

Eventually, I discovered that I failed to build trust and a healthy relationship with the leadership team. There was always something that they discussed on the product that I did not know about. As a product owner, I did not actively communicate product ideas and feedback directly with key stakeholders, thus, failed to make informed decisions on the product.

Reflecting on this, if I was to re-start this journey, building a great relationship with the leadership team would probably be the most important thing I have in mind.

Pioneer the culture of product management

As I was transitioning to become a product owner, there was no such culture of product management, nor agile methodologies. Everyone was working with the mindset of a service agency — to make whatever the clients asked for. There wasn’t any system to properly process asks and feedback of the product, as a result, it was impossible to get everyone on the same page how we, as a company, determined what to build next.

This was where I felt that the product team should take the most responsibility of — to build a culture of product management within the company. Being part of the product team, it was our responsibility to educate everyone why product management is important to us, what product management is and how everyone should work together to transition from a service-based agency to a scalable product company.

It took time to build a solid culture, but first, it came down to whether the product team and leadership team were aware of the importance of it and stood their ground on actively bringing awareness to the rest of the company.

This brings up the importance of having a solid trust and working relationship between the product team and leadership team, once again.

Seek mentorship and perspectives from product managers outside the company

I was narrow-minded enough to think that my team, my coworkers, as well as clients who we worked directly with, were the only people I could seek perspective from in order to make the right product decisions. The fact is, there are always perspectives, ideas and suggestions that a third person would be able to provide that anyone who worked directly with the product wouldn’t think of. Thus, later on in my career, I started to ask individuals outside the company for their perspective in order to give me a different angle of looking at a problem.

In addition to that, I discovered a whole lot of areas I could improve on by seeking mentorship from product managers who work in other companies. Leaning on a community that I had no direct stress from helped me to identify new ideas that I could implement in the company I worked with.

My last advice to all novice product owners or managers who work in a fast-growing start-up company — your confidence directly impact how successful you are. You are the worst enemy of yourself, and no one including your team is responsible for your success. Stand your ground and do the best you can.

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