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Product Managers: Leaders, Not All-Around Experts

Product Team
Different Skillsets

27 February, 2020

Juan Fortunato
Juan Fortunato

Senior Director of Product and Engineering / GM Argentina at Basis Technologies

Juan Fortunato, General Manager and Senior Director of Product at QuanticMind, explains how product managers should position themselves as leaders of their teams without trying to match the technical skills of other experts on the team.

Problem

Many product managers like me have no technical background. I studied business and my first job was accounting within a larger project management framework. Later on, I became interested in project management, particularly, the intersection of management and technology. I moved into actual project management roles working with different methodologies. I discovered Agile and made efforts to implement it in my own company. By helping other companies transition to Agile I learned a great deal about management in a software development environment. Unlike some product managers, I never thought of not having a technical background as a drawback and I never felt intimidated when surrounded by experts from other fields. As a product manager, your key responsibility is to be a leader and not to compete with other experts.

Actions taken

From early on, I was set to learn as much as I could. My interests are fairly diverse and they lie beyond reading ready-made, instructional guides. I prefer to learn about novel concepts and methodologies that I could adjust and apply to my own situation.

I always appreciated partnering and building strong relationships with experts in various fields. I would regularly meet with product managers from other industries -- from consumer goods and pharmaceuticals to large infrastructural and governmental projects. At the same time, I was building strong relationships with experts within my team. The tension between engineers and product managers is commonplace in many organizations and is often justified by assumed conflicting interests they may have. I vehemently disagree with this view and I like to be perceived as their partner, not their opponent. A product manager should try to understand what motivates engineers, why they want to avoid doing something (that will cause problems later on), etc. The way I approach it is that I think of engineers as users -- not of my product, but of my work -- and I try to manage their UX. This approach nurtures trust and you can rely on them both as experts and partners.

I was always focused on my strengths instead of my weaknesses. As a non-technical product manager, I was never concerned that my lack of coding skills or a deep understanding of a certain technology would limit my ability to contribute. I know a great deal about management -- both its theoretical and practical aspects -- that engineers typically know nothing or little about. Instead of competing with them in their field of expertise, I try to complement their knowledge with my own expertise. Throughout my career, I was often the only non-engineering person in the room and was able to offer a unique and complementary perspective.

Lessons learned

  • Always keep on learning! I would recommend Product Managers to expand their learning horizon beyond their current day-to-day work and include more comprehensive reading that details the role of product manager, different methodologies and how they can be implemented in different settings.
  • Build strong relationships! Whenever I change a job I bring with me some of my former colleagues. Over the long run, having a network of trusted people is more valuable than any single project. Because there is no good product without a good team. Teamwork is perhaps the most essential part of product management.
  • Trust yourself and be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses. Focus on your strengths and unique ways in which you can contribute to and complement the input of other experts.

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