Product Management from an ex-developer's perspective.

Simon Hunt, Senior Product Manager in Client Products
10 June 2021

Becoming a jack of all trades, master of none.

Being a Product Manager at Somo gives you the opportunity to work on a huge amount of really interesting products. From corporate finance houses to growing businesses and automotive markets, Somo works with such a variety of clients that growing here as a Product Manager is truly accelerated when compared to working with one product.

I’ve been at Somo for three years and first became a Product Manager for Somo after contracting as a lead front–end developer. Coming from a technical background, I had the ability to understand how to build products, how best to structure tickets, plan architecture and estimate how long features will take to build. While that skill was definitely handy, when starting out in my product journey, I had to work much more closely with designers, business–savvy people, and QA engineers as my knowledge of them was limited. I had no idea how designers liked to work, no clue as to how much time QA engineers needed and it took several articles to fully understand how to prioritise features for business needs. Thankfully, I was under the wing of one of the Product Directors here who mentored me well and sent me down the right path!

I initially spent months learning the different functions and trying to engage in how people carry out their work–thinking I could learn how to design, test and basically run an entire business in order to become a good product manager. But eventually, I had the realisation that it’s impossible to learn how to do everyone’s job well and that actually, our inability to do so is what makes product management so incredibly fun.

The Somo Process

As a bit of background, typically when working with new clients at Somo, we first take time to understand the problem through conception teams. These teams go through a process to define product experiences that truly deliver value. Once this has been decided it comes to the realisation phase, where we rapidly build products that can be released to market as fast as possible, while maintaining a level of function and design to make customers and users love the product.

Our realisation teams typically include developers, quality assurance engineers, scrum masters, UI and UX designers and product managers. They take the work done in the conception stage and build MLPs (Minimum Lovable Products). After a few weeks of development, we iterate and build features on top of the MLP that benefit users.

What I’ve learnt

After a few months of learning what makes a good team, I found that in order to become a good product manager, you don’t have to know all of the roles and skills inside out; but it certainly helps to have an interest in every function of your team to understand what they do, how they work and how to keep everyone happy within the team. Your team will operate at its best when every member has the ability to do their job properly. Our task as product managers is to allow them to do so.

Within the Somo Product Team, there are people from all kinds of backgrounds and one of my favourite things of working here is seeing how different we all are and how we all learn from each other. There’s a real culture of progression and learning at Somo that I haven’t experienced in other agencies.

A technical background has really helped when the product cycle comes to development, but I’ve had to learn other functions in order to grow into product management and successfully deliver products. As well as that, it’s easy to become short–sighted and start thinking that development is the only part of product that truly matters. Knowing what’s involved in each stage of the process is extremely helpful and I’d highly recommend learning a little about how every member of the team works – it allows you to empathise with them which helps to maximise the happiness and output of everyone but it also allows you to build better products for your customers. Seeing the product world through all perspectives gives you the ability to analyse the problem and solution more thoroughly than if you see it from your specific background. Originally, I thought if something was built well with the right technology, it would be successful. Now I think if you’ve analysed your market, understood the problem, designed a beautiful system that takes great UX into consideration, tested with prototypes, built good MLPs and released for feedback – then your product will be successful. And in order to do that, you could try to understand each role and become a Jack of all trades, master of none.