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Transitioning from Engineering to Product Management

Different Skillsets
New PM

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, shares his views on transitioning from engineering to product management emphasizing the importance of differentiating the problem and solution space.

Problem

During my career, on several occasions, I was able to help engineers transitioning to product management. It seems that all of them had encountered the same challenges since engineers share a unique engineering mindset. As soon as you start talking about a problem, engineers will immediately rush to offer a solution, even before you elaborated on the problem. One of the main challenges for transitioning engineers is to be comfortable in the problem space -- I don’t know yet what is the solution and I don’t care what is it -- I need to understand the problem with all its ramifications.

Actions taken

I would recommend a book called The Lean Product Playbook that stipulates that there are two spaces: a problem space and a solution space. This can be a useful theoretical framework for people to map their own problem and solution space. Oftentimes people are struggling to conceptualize the problem space and to feel comfortable within that space. So, the first step forward is to understand the concept -- what is the problem space and how to navigate it to be able to grasp customer needs and user persona or how to analyze a problem from different perspectives.

Product people should learn to trust engineers to come up with solutions. They may have their own ideas but they should keep it for themselves and let engineers do their work. This is particularly tempting for people with an engineering background.

One of the main challenges was to prepare transitioning product managers on how to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity that working with customers entails. Customers are not precise, they have a variety of interests and subjective impressions and often express them incoherently. This unstructured and unclear expression of interests and needs is something that many engineers find perplexing. Engineers are used to receiving data from the product team without being directly involved with users and without a complete understanding of what it takes to come up with that data. Suddenly, they need to talk with various people -- from users to executives -- to obtain that data. This requires good communication skills and an approach adjusted for different audiences.

Lessons learned

  • An effort has to be made to understand problem-related concepts. It takes work and time as engineers have been trained for years to dwell in the solution space. Before learning anything new, they have to unlearn that. This transition is equally about unlearning some things as learning others.
  • There are different communication styles that you need to learn and apply if you want to successfully convey your message. A uniform communication across roles and ranks will not work and product management is much about clear and efficient communication.

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