Graham Reed and the Challenges of Product Management

Communication skills are a given with almost any role, but it is the ability to listen - really listen, to what is being said by users, customers, sales teams, about what they want from a product.

2 years ago   •   5 min read

Ferhan Gül
Prodminds by Producter

Team Producter: What skills should a product manager have?

Graham: For me, it is all about the skills that no certificate of course can teach you.

Communication skills are a given with almost any role, but it is the ability to listen - really listen, to what is being said by users, customers, sales teams, about what they want from a product. From this, then being able to tease out of stakeholders what value can be brought to the table, either to the end user or to the business (ideally both). Great communicators are also then able to convince others of this value and justify why it is best to focus on this initiative, and not others.

A good degree of pragmatism is also key; to be able to see past the demands and wants of everyone, and understand what you should deliver (again, based on value to the business and the users) and what you can deliver, with the resources you have available to you and your teams. Newer product managers can easily become overwhelmed with the opportunities to change the world on a shoestring (resource) budget, and become disenfranchised when they cannot deliver. Know your capacities, your team’s limits and business constraints, and work within those and you will deliver consistently and reliably, and build trust from your staff.

Team Producter: What do you believe the most challenging aspect of being a product manager is?

Graham: Mental strength and resilience, without a doubt.

Product Management is a fantastic role. It just is. The possibilities, the opportunity to make a real difference, the variety in who you work with day to day. It is a role that is still, in 2022, being defined and can be extremely varied from business to business, team to team. And it is a role that many product professionals, even the most seasoned, fell into somewhere along the line.

Product Management is also a unique role, and with it’s unique challenges, pressures and pitfalls. Many of the technical challenges are well documented and ideas on how to overcome them, from some of the very best, most experienced and most vocal within the Product Management community.

The personal, psychological, and wellbeing challenges of the role, however, are far less documented, far less publicised and far less supported in most teams. Managing conflicts in requirements and priorities, or complaints, from departments or customers; dealing with issues or disappointment; pressures from all angles, teams and senior leaders; upskilling in new platforms, challenging others or established norms, overcoming imposter syndrome (common to all jobs!). These are just some of the challenges that Product Managers can come up against.

This is combined with whatever the professional also has going on in their own life outside of work. Anything from existing worries or wellbeing concerns, to more serious, established or diagnosed mental health issues.

While much of this is common in most roles and for most people across the working world, the role of Product Management specifically is a unique area.

Team Producter: What value is this feature going to bring to the customer/user?

Graham: Assuming that x feature is going to be doing one or both, then starting to understand the size of the value - how many customers, how much revenue, how many other features might this unlock in the future, how aligned to the company goals…

Team Producter: What is the main difference between being a product manager in a small company and being a product manager in a large company?

Graham: Usually, velocity and innovation. At a smaller company, things move so much faster in product to deliver MVPs and innovations to take to market, with less legacy technology and customers to deal with. At larger companies, you typically have more resources (money, people, existing technology) but with a larger overhead of customers to keep happy, possibly customisations to maintain, and platforms to not break and keep maintained. Typically too at a larger organization comes greater bureaucracy, more people involved in decision making, more opinions to give. Though it should be said that well organized product teams can operate well regardless of the size of the business.

Team Producter: What metrics do you think a product manager from a B2B SaaS company should be looking at before adding a feature or making any improvement?

Graham: I would be looking at the usage for that area of the product - those screens, those workflows, those data areas. I would want to know those areas are being used so the value I am going to bring will be realised and used. Or, perhaps the improvement is to GET that tool or page used more, because the metrics say otherwise but I know strategically it is important still. I want to look too at the demographics of the target audience, is it Enterprise customers, SMB, users, customers, staff, partners - and how many and what value to all of them bring to the table. If I am to spend $500k on overhauling a feature, will it mainly benefit SMBs that only bring in $100k a year? What is the value this is going to bring, what are they key sponsors of this change telling me, how will this 'move the needle' for our new business, retention, SUS or NPS scores, etc? Fundamental metrics too - will the platform cope with new processes added, a vast increase in users (at peak or continually) - do we need to provide more resilience to the platform before we go after this new feature? Hope that answers the question. I'd be keen to know of any feedback you are getting from your readers which prompted this follow up!

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ProdMinds #4 — Federico Sallemi
I think no one is born a Product Manager, simply because there is no single study course to become one. And I was no exception.
ProdMinds #1 — Maarten Dalmijn
Hello. My path into Product Management is unusual. I have no background in tech or business at all. I studied Biology and obtained an engineering degree in Functional Genomics at the Technical University of Delft.

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