While Project and Product Managers often work hand-in-hand, there are a few more differences between these roles than just two letters.
Curious to learn more about the role of a Product Manager? We connected with Jeff Rambharack, a Senior Technical Product Manager at Amazon, to discuss the role, what it takes to be successful, and how you can get involved in this growing field.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and what you were doing before joining Amazon?
I started my career as a Product Manager on the PowerPoint team at Microsoft. There were three incredible things I realize now about that opportunity that I didn’t know at the time:
- Product Management is awesome. I had never heard of the role before Microsoft and I really didn’t know until I started doing it that I would love it so much.
- Mentors are the greatest. I was really lucky to join a team of rockstar experienced Product Managers and there’s no way I could have learned as much as I did about the role so quickly without them.
- I was lucky to start out as Product Manager. At most companies, it seems Product Management is a more senior role requiring a few years of experience. I’m really grateful that I got to start in a role that I love and it has shaped the way I think about products.
What does a day in the life look like for you?
The Product Manager job does always change because the market changes, your customers change, and technology changes. There’s no textbook or answers on Stack Exchange on what’s going to make your product great.
We tend to talk a lot about the mechanics of Product Management – writing requirements, prioritizing the backlog – but the hard part is building the relationships and having the conversations that get you the input to make those decisions wisely. The secret sauce is the creative thinking you do when you’re walking to work or listening to your favorite song. I try to protect some time every day to think about what we could do better because if I’m not doing that kind of thinking, I’m not adding any value.
We’ve heard Product Managers have to wear many hats. What does this look like for you?
I really believe in adapting your role to solve the biggest problem. Over my career, I’ve written specs, designed UI, come up with the vision, managed projects, been the admin for tools and infrastructure, created sales collateral, done demos, written RFPs, and managed Product Managers as well as other roles. When I start a role now I begin by trying to understand what gaps there are in what customers, the product, and the organization need then I think about what I need to do to push things forward.
Do you feel it’s necessary for Product Managers working at tech companies to be well-versed in tech?
I don’t think it’s necessary. I do think it can help. Again, products and the role itself vary a lot. I know product managers who work specifically on pricing and need to know way more about P&L modeling than API, and I know some in the reverse situation.
I think this is an important question for aspiring Product Managers to ask themselves is what problem do you want to solve? Are you more interested in a specific niche or soup to nuts? Then find a Product Manager role that best fits your interest and becomes the expert in your space.
What are some skill sets that are essential to the role of a Product Manager?
Half Kirk: Creative, charismatic, courageous, pushes his/herself and those around them, will bend rules in order to win in impossible situations
Half Spock: Strong logic, cool under pressure
What is the key (or keys) to achieving prioritization?
I think the key to prioritization is to just genuinely do it. If you say you’ve prioritized and you say five things are your top priority, you haven’t prioritized. What’s the most important thing? Are you willing to give everything else up to achieve it? Why? What would happen if you didn’t do it? Then what’s the next thing after that? Answering those questions with solid rationale and data is the way to get there. There are frameworks that force those questions but you can’t really avoid them.
If someone is looking to dive into Product Management, what are some resources they should become well-versed in to prepare for that interview and get a taste of the field?
There are some great blogs and books on product management now. There are also a few great courses available now. The resources are much richer now than they used to be. I still think having great mentors is one of the most important things and I encourage aspiring Product Managers to find a few people in the field and talk to them about their experience.
You teach Product Management at BrainStation. How would you describe the typical student?
I’ve been surprised and delighted by the range of students we’ve had in our classes. We’ve had the range from people that have worked in Product Manager roles at tech companies to people that have no tech experience and sometimes no work experience. And what I’ve found over my career is that the best Product Managers aren’t from any particular background and not necessarily more experienced. I love having a variety of perspectives in the class and learning from people that know way more than me about something outside my realm.
Over the course of a product release, how does your role change as the product goes from ideation to launch?
In a way, the role doesn’t change at all – my job is to understand customers and deliver what they need. In the beginning, I’m figuring out what it is they need and why, and in the end, it’s much more about how to get it in their hands successfully. The common thread is thinking about what would make a great customer experience at every stage.
Want to accelerate your career with Product Management? Learn more about our part-time Product Management course.