Product Manager – a Juggler, a Hustler, a Composer, a Magician

“So, what is your role as a Product Manager?”, a question often asked by my family and friends, and am sure to my fellow Product peeps out there as well.

To answer this, let’s first understand what Product Management is. In fairly simple terms…

“Product management is all about building the right product at the right time.”

Cole Mercer

In fact, I would take this a step further, and say, Product management is all about building the right product, for the right user, at the right time.

However, while the above statement is going to resonate well with the PM community, the question still remains: who is a Product Manager and what role does (s)he play in building this “right product”?

We all know there is really no clear-cut path in getting to this state, is it? However, when I look back at my experience, I see the role of a Product Manager as someone who dons the hats of:

  • a Juggler
  • a Hustler
  • a Composer, and
  • a Magician

And that’s how I go about introducing this role… now let me explain why. 

Product Manager as a Juggler: 

Photo by Hennie Stander on Unsplash

“Much of a Product Manager’s responsibility is to juggle multiple streams of conversation and move them towards closure.”

– Catherine Shyu in this blog

This quote, in a nutshell, clearly defines one of the biggest roles of any Product Manager.

Besides attending and facilitating multiple meetings, a Product Manager, in a typical day, would end up juggling between various tasks such as, and not limited to, managing and refining product backlog, vetting and prioritising features, planning upcoming sprints, clarifying developer queries, and analysing product metrics, reviews and user feedback. Not only that, s/he is responsible for driving the product vision, short-term and long-term product roadmaps, planning out MVP’s, driving customer discovery and competitive landscape analysis, as well as enabling sales, marketing and customer support functions.

The work of the PM doesn’t just end there. In fact, to get these tasks to completion and to ensure that the “product is right”, the bigger ask is to align and persuade varied stakeholders, from multi-disciplinary teams and from all levels of the organization, to the longer-term product vision and the shorter-term sprint and release goals. This entails not only working closely with executive management, engineering, design, quality assurance, data analytics, marketing, sales, legal, and customer support teams, but also juggling with large amounts of (unstructured) information from these sources, and collating and analyzing the same to move things towards closure and an optimum outcome.

Product Manager as a Hustler:

Photo by Fikri Rasyid on Unsplash

“… the hustler knows the market, knows how to sell, and knows how to work with what they have… she knows how to connect products with customer and market needs”

– Michel Guillet in this blog

Now to get the right product out, and get everyone on the same page, a PM has to hustle her way in and out, use her soft skills and influence to persuade people and get them to work towards a common goal – one that solves real customer problems.

Engineering hustle: Good Product managers are known to build rapport with the engineering teams and hustle their way in to understand basic product technicalities in order to clearly communicate the contextual and product requirements with the teams, and work closely with them to get the “most needed” features out quickly enough and with the least amount of resources.

Design hustle: Product managers, more often than not, kick-off the product UX journey by creating low-fidelity wireframes which then lead to detailed mock-ups and prototypes. While most of us don’t really have any formal design backgrounds, but we hustle and get this job done, as these become the basis for formal product designs and user experience.

Marketing hustle: Product managers hustle, along with the marketing folks, to package the product and curate it’s messaging, in a way that can entice the early adopters, strike the right “connect” chord with the users, and keep the active user base strong and retained.

Hustle to influence: Not everything is black and white in the field of Product Management, there are a lot of grey areas to be dealt with. As Matt Grierson mentions in this article, “Product Management is very much a game of psychology…” and this is where a hustler’s ability to influence and empathise with others and being able to simply tune into their communication styles and needs, in order to find a common ground while truly preserving the overall goals, really kicks in.

Product Manager as a Composer:

Photo by Spencer Imbrock on Unsplash

“As a Product Manager, you are the CEO of the Product. Facilitating the multiple functions, empowering them… to operate at their best self is a daunting task. Making this symphony possible is a mindset that is rooted in managing… expectations without losing focus on the customer outcome and business results.”

– excerpt from Process Driven Product Design webinar

I think the above quote really sums up my thought here… a Product Manager acts as a symphony orchestra conductor, a composer, who synchronises multiple individual pieces and gets a diverse group of people to act as a one cohesive unit and create this masterpiece of a product. As Matt Grierson pointed out, “It’s impossible for a Product Manager to deliver any kind of product without a team to execute on the vision…” just like it’s impossible for a Composer to create a musical masterpiece without a multi-talented group of musicians.

Not only that, just like the Composer, a Product manager guides and coaches the team members towards hitting the right notes at the right time, and keeps making tweaks as per feedback received and new information gathered during the multiple rehearsals and shows (read, multiple feature and MVP releases). 

Product Manager as a Magician:

Photo by Fengyou Wan on Unsplash

“Exceptionally well executed magic shows wow the audience at quick intervals. People look forward to what’s coming up next as they watch glued to their seats and cheer the show.”

– Jagan Ganti in this blog

Same is true for a great symphony masterpiece with regular, and often magical, ups and downs in notes and tones and of course, for a great Product as well. Getting the right product out is surely nothing less than Magic as all the tricks need to work smoothly and in sync with each other. 

Not only that, as Jagan further points out, one of the tricks of a magician is “showing something that isn’t there” and that’s what a clever product manager can do with a bare-bones MVP – gauge the user interest and engagement and utilize the take-aways to sharpen the magic (read, features) or simply pivot.

For us Product Mangers, we know that the show doesn’t end by simply releasing an amazing product, but the magic needs to go on and at regular intervals to keep the users “glued” and “wow’ed” with new feature rollouts and better user experience, all this while continuously interacting with them, getting their feedback and keeping them involved in the tricks of the trade.

My Pivot into formal Product Management

pivot (dictionary meaning):
noun: the central point, pin, or shaft on which a mechanism turns or oscillates.
a person or thing that plays a central part in an activity or organization.

pivot (as used in product management):
refers to a shift in the strategic direction of the business. usually the decision to pivot a product is the result of competitive changes, new findings about the market, or shortcomings in the original strategy.

In everyone’s life, there comes a defining moment, a pivot if you will, that changes the course of their lives – whether personally or professionally. I know I have had a couple of those enlightening moments.

While I do realize now that I may have been doing Product Management in my earlier career as well, without even knowing about it, or maybe that term wasn’t very popular then. In fact, when I look back, I have been leading product life cycles and working with cross-functional Agile teams since 2005.

However, the pivot point for me came in May of 2015, one that really challenged and honed my Product Management skills, a field that I am now passionate about and has boosted my career path in the last 5+ years or so. In fact, this is what has made Product Management, my professional calling!

Photo by airfocus on Unsplash

Back then, one of India’s biggest conglomerates, Tata Sons, was looking to really accelerate “Digital” in all its 100+ group companies. With that vision in mind, they wanted to innovatively showcase the Digital theme in their Annual General Leadership Conference, where senior executives from all the group companies are present.

At the time, I was leading the IT and Digital Business Strategy team in the experiential agency that was given the task for planning and executing the event with a clear mandate for digital in all aspects of the experience. One of the ideas to showcase the Digital theme was an event mobile app that would act as both an informational and engagement portal for the delegates. So while it took some time and a few meetings with the Tata executive team to finalize on the app requirements and it’s features, the responsibility for leading this product and getting it done right in just about 2 months that we had came upon me.

We didn’t have the right resources in-house for the project of this scale, so the first thing I started to look for was an external development partner that had a similar experience and could churn out the product within our tight deadlines. I was able to find one in Pune (4 hours away from Mumbai where we were based) and from there on started my journey of Product Ownership right from flushing out and prioritizing the requirements, to getting the designs and UX finalized, creating prototypes and gathering feedback, and of course working iteratively with developers and testers to keep pushing out the app features. Besides creating the front-end for the app, we also built an online content management tool to manage content changes, push out polls, quizzes and notifications in real-time as well as provide meaningful on-ground engagement metrics.

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on

The end result was excellent to say the least. In fact the requirement for the App changed mid-course to have it created as a multi-event Tata Group Events App where all the group events would be hosted, and we were able to deliver that in the said timeframe with 3 back-to-back events in one go. Not only that, we were able to successfully sign a multi-year contract with Tata Sons and the events that were not even executed by our company came to us for the app part of it. The success of the app didn’t stop there – we took the case study to other clients and esp. the bigger IT clients hoped on and very successfully indeed.

We eventually decided to open a new entity, an EventTech start-up, to develop a no-code B2B2C SaaS platform for clients and event organizers to build their own event and community apps as well as manage the entire audience acquisition process; and with me at the helm of affairs as the Head of Product there.

So, this was the story of my pivot into the field of formal Product Management. What’s yours?