Building a product and developing it for a global audience requires a lot of effort and modeling. And product management plays a huge role here which isn’t completely understood. Here, we get in touch with Evelyn Horng, who has been a product manager for close to 15 years in the Valley and has now started up Roonga. (read complete story)
Excerpts from the interview:
YS: Tell us about your journey? What made you startup?
Evelyn: I've worked for a number of different companies, and during my last job, I decided I wanted to try something different. I partnered with my co-founder Frank Tadman because we have common values about how we want to work and the types of things we want to do. In the end, we both wanted to make a meaningful impact in our corner of the universe in ways that we had control over.
YS: How did you evolve into becoming a product manager?
Evelyn: When I graduated from Stanford, I started working for a startup, ironically. One of my first lessons was that it was hard for a newly minted college graduate to really contribute significantly to the business world. So I transitioned into a strategy consulting firm for 2 years, where I worked with really smart people trying to solve difficult business problems. My goal was to learn as much as I could as a first tier analyst, and then transition back into the corporate environment. Which is what I did. After working in consulting, I started working in product management -- initially as a business analyst and working my way up to a product manager and beyond.
YS: What exactly does a product manager do?
Evelyn: In my mind, the product manager is the person who analyzes the marketplace, translates those findings into actionable plans and detailed requirements, and then works with a technical team to make it happen. On the business side, the product manager assimilates a wide array of information from customers, market analysts, competitors, and internal audiences (included Sales, Customer Support, and Finance). This information is used to derive product plans and priorities, and then ultimately to define requirements in sufficient detail for developers to work with. During the product development process, the product manager works with developers to make decisions based on functional and technical tradeoffs, and to ensure that the requirements were properly translated into the working product. The product manager must also work with the quality team to monitor the appropriate testing, and then with the business operations teams to roll out the product internally and externally to the marketplace.
YS: How is the role different if you're in a big corporate compared to when you're in a startup?
Evelyn: In the corporate environment, your role is much more defined and likely specific to an individual product, or potentially just a piece of the product. So you're like a small gear in a large machine, with specific goals and defined deliverables. At a startup, while you are a product manager, your role is likely more chaotic. There is more churn in the work, and potentially more creativity, as you try different approaches to see what works and what doesn't. You may also be called upon to pitch in on other areas -- for example, user experience design, supporting key customers, that sort of thing. Some people can do great in either environment, but definitely, for those who prefer a stable environment, the large corporate environment is a better fit.
YS: What is the biggest challenge for a product manager?
Evelyn: When I hire product managers, I look for a couple of key skills -- probably the hardest skills to find are 1) the ability to be a high-level strategic thinker while also delving into the nitty gritty details, and 2) the interpersonal skills to intelligently work with many kinds of people, but most importantly, the technical team. Except for some very technical products, I don't believe a product manager must have a technical background, but in order to gain the respect and confidence of the technical team, you must have the skills I mentioned. You wear a lot of hats as a product manager -- and juggling the roles and moving everything forward is not a job for just anyone.
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