The role of Product Manager (PM) is listed as one of 2019’s most promising jobs in a recent LinkedIn article, and there are an increasing number of digital companies in industries such as Healthcare, Banking and Finance, and Media & Entertainment. But the survival of such large companies depends on great products and product managers. PMs are the connector between marketing, design, and engineering, and have emerged as a stand-alone business function within the tech world. Although there is debate about their role as “mini-CEOs”, PMs strive persistently to satisfy core business functions, and to bring emotion and ingenuity to a digital experience built merely on 0s and 1s.
With more companies driving towards digital innovation, the timing for the discovery of my interest in product management was perfect. After receiving my Masters in Engineering Management Program from Duke University, I wanted to apply my product management skills in the tech world. But I was surprised that while a large pool of highly skilled product managers in the for-profit industry exists, there is a dearth of product managers in nonprofit companies. Nonprofits are typically short on resources and leaders need to wear multiple hats skillfully, much like product managers. After learning about this shortage whilst hungry to create a societal impact, I signed up to work as a Product Manager at Advancing Women in Product(AWIP), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
Two Google and Amazon PMs founded AWIP in 2017 with the goal of eliminating the existing workplace gender gap by empowering more women to take leadership and executive roles across the tech industries. AWIP launched its first chapter in San Francisco, and have since expanded to three other national locations (Seattle, Boston, and very soon NYC), and three international locations (London, Paris and Berlin). Since AWIP was founded fairly recently, it mirrors a startup in how it is trying to establish itself as a key contributor for empowering women in tech, and expanding its footprints to an international level. AWIP empowers women to take more challenging roles in their jobs by offering them skills-based training and executive mentorship. AWIP does not make any profit, and any financial support received is reinvested to improve its current service by organizing more events, opening new chapters, and organizing the AWIP Executive Summit. The Executive Summit, in particular, is an important annual summit geared towards next-generation product leaders, and brings together a panel of handpicked inspirational and accomplished speakers from the industry.
I have grown and challenged myself immensely during the last five months I have worked with AWIP by flexing my entrepreneurial muscles, thinking independently, and using my imagination to solve numerous challenges. In order to serve audiences better, AWIP is soon planning to launch a membership portal, which will become its flagship product. I have put together a list of four actionable insights under the guidance of my AWIP mentors for those interested in learning more about how it is like to break the norm, and to be a product manager for good. I hope you will utilize these even if working at a for-profit enterprise:
1) Build Empathy Towards the Mission of Your Organization or Your Customers
First recognize and acknowledge your ambition towards creating an impact on your organization’s mission. You will find yourself more engaged when you take the time to understand the overriding problem your organization is trying to solve. The idea of making an impact on society inspired me as I grew up watching my father, a dedicated doctor, selflessly and diligently serve his patients. Therefore, when I first learned about AWIP, I was driven by my inner motivation—not by external influences. This same reasoning can also be applied in the case of for-profit companies. When you possess internal motivation, there are higher chances of staying proactive, having greater productivity, and connecting well with customers for the company’s benefit.
2) Get to the Root of the Problems
Obtaining a firm grasp of the problem you are trying to eliminate with your service or product is an essential responsibility of a product manager. Connecting to consumers and learning more about them can achieve this clear picture, and are therefore skills that will lead to the success of nonprofits. AWIP conducted a study (Future of Women) to understand how confident women feel about their careers, and what gaps persist in achieving their goals. Tatyana Mamut , Executive Advisor for AWIP and the Chief Product Officer at Nextdoor, believes that AWIP’s FoW report is deeply significant for the meritocratic progress of women and other underrepresented minorities in the workforce.
3) Be Data-Driven When Working Towards a Solution
There are many metrics in common between for-profit and nonprofit organizations for indicating success. Some of the important ones include conversion measured by the success of campaigns or how many people are actually donating for the cause. Engagement measured through social media channels which the members are using, website for which Google Analytics can be leveraged to dissect the audience by location, demographics, devices used, and organic referrals. Another metric includes retention derived from how many people perpetually return to the platform, month after month. Lastly, Return on Investment, which for the nonprofit is measured by growth of organization, and the level of impact created by the community. Keep a track of these important metrics and simultaneously leverage them to achieve the goals set for your organization or product.
4) Learn How to Be Influential
One of the biggest challenges for nonprofits is the lack of sufficient workers necessary to run the organization smoothly. Distributing tasks is not an option when there are so few people, and it is the leader’s job to pull up their bootstraps, and to complete the work. To lead nonprofits towards success, these leaders have to cultivate strong relationships with peers and stakeholders.
I am incredibly lucky to be a part of Advancing Women in Product. AWIP helps me advance my career with thought-provoking content and unparalleled access to product leadership through regular workshops that takes place across six international and national chapters. I am building strong relationships with other amazing women, taking on challenging projects, and identifying ways I can positively impact the lives of other women in product. For other women who are seeking opportunities to advance in their career, I highly recommend getting involved with an organization like AWIP, which emphasizes executive mentorship and skills-based training. Come check us out on our website, Facebook or LinkedIn. I hope to see you at our next event!