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Lessons from My Learn-by-Doing Approach to Product Management

Maxime Prades

Product Lead at Facebook

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Problem

I often say that I became a product manager (PM) by accident. I didn't set out to become a PM. I went to business school and received a Master's in International Management and Logistics, which had nothing to do with product management, nor tech for that matter.

Actions taken

I was interning for a French startup company where I was doing a little bit of everything. I was involved in sales, cold calling, marketing and product marketing. I didn't quite know what I was doing but I did them anyway. I also recognized that I had a lot to learn. I sat down with engineers and learned how products were built, I started writing product documentation, and I developed training sessions on how to use the product. Little by little, I started getting a better understanding of products and the tech world as a whole. After three years working for the company, I realized that what I was doing was product management.

Lessons learned

  • Find your engineering soulmate. Establish a long-term relationship with an engineering partner. You've got to find your best engineering friend. Whether this person is in your company or not, you should have someone who speaks the language and who is able to teach and train you. Although engineers think and act differently, and do different jobs than a PM, they work so fluently together that it's one of the tightest relationships within a company.

I suggest seeking out your engineering lead, your engineering manager, or one of your best friends who might be an engineer. Take them out for coffee once a week and pick their brains. Set up a Slack channel so you can talk one-on-one. Exchange phone numbers and call them when you have a nagging question. Build a solid relationship with one engineer.

  • Learn about code. Learn what code is, how it works, what different codes do, how products are built, and so on. Although I don't think that product managers should be expected to write code, I do expect that they understand a little bit more than the basics. I think it's very practical to know these things, and PMs should see it as their duty to understand the technical implications of their job on a deeper level. Learn and understand how things work so that you are able to ask questions and explain technical choices made during implementation.
  • Constantly be curious. You need to always want to learn more and want to figure out more. Become a better product expert and thereby a better product manager.
  • Create a strong bond with your engineering team. Show them that you're on the same team as them. You both have the same mission and the same goals, you just execute them in different ways. It's one team, one dream.

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Maxime Prades

Product Lead at Facebook


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