Every so often I meet an intern, an engineer, a marketing guy or somebody that asks “How do I become a PM (product manager)? What makes a good PM that builds great products?”
Usually my return question is “For which products do you consider yourself a power user?” I get this quizzical look – what’s being a power user got anything to do with being a product manager?
Turns out, a lot!
If you are in the tech industry, depending on your role, you use products like Outlook, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Jira, Adobe Illustrator, iOS/Android/Windows/Mac etc. for a few hours everyday. If you spend a few hours everyday on these products, did you take the time to get a deeper understanding of how these products work & use them better? Some examples:
With a 90% market share, chances are that you have used Microsoft Windows for dog years.
- Ever use the Windows registry to customize the OS or any application to suit your needs when such a customization is not available via the usual “Options” route? See some examples here…
- Ever used Windows “Event Viewer” to diagnose any problems?
- Ever customized Windows “Power Options” to suit your own needs?
- If you send regular emails to a set of people, did you ever create a “Contact Group” – a personal distribution list (not the corporate distribution list) of those people and use that for your emails?
- Ever install and configure an Outlook plugin other than what’s already installed by default on your computer?
- Ever setup your work email and personal email in the same Outlook instance so you can conveniently switch between work and personal email?
- Did you ever go into “Settings > Data & Storage Usage > Storage Usage” and see which groups are consuming too much storage? Deleted videos that take too much storage?
- Ever posted messages with bold/italics formatting? Here is how you do it…
- Ever used WhatsApp on a desktop browser rather than using it on a phone? Here is how you do it…
- Did you ever customize the master slide design & layout to suit your needs and save it as your own theme to use it on an ongoing basis? Do you understand how customizing the slide master affects other layouts in your deck?
- How good are you at using the advanced animation effects in PowerPoint – e.g. the motion paths animation?
- Do you customize the deck for 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio of your monitor/projector?
Hopefully you get the drift of where I am going!
If you are a power user of any product, you will observe & learn 2 things:
- Product design patterns
- Attention to detail
Product Design Patterns: Successful products usually offer a breadth and depth of capabilities that are well layered. Take Microsoft Office for instance. A novice can easily get started on Office products. As the user’s needs grow, Office can keep up with its breadth and depth of features without being too overwhelming. As a power user, if you can leverage a product’s breadth and depth of capabilities to your advantage, you have a better shot at being a good PM that builds sophisticated products by applying similar design patterns to your products.
Attention to Detail: Great products offer a refined user experience driven by attention to detail. If you appreciate the attention to detail in great products, there is a good chance that you will build products that have similar attention to detail. More on that topic here…
Incidentally, I find it a great interview question when screening PMs – “Which products do you consider yourself a power user for?”. If the candidate is a power user of a few products, this person has a good shot at building better products!