A curious mind can take us on paths with beautiful surprises.
When I got into product management, I had no idea what it was. The job description didn’t make any sense to me. I didn’t like the work and constantly looked for greener pastures, only to my dismay.
The question of ‘why product management’ has come up in my life at every step since then. My perspective of the field has gone through multiple iterations. It will keep evolving in future as well. For now, the answer lies in the story of Daya.
A day in the life of Daya
The cafe was already busy with people when Daya came for her shift. After a brief stand-up with the manager, she started cleaning the tables. As she carried the stack of plates back to the cleaning area, her colleague commented – ‘these people waste so much food!’. As Daya threw away the leftover food, she noticed that most of it was bread. ‘Why do people waste so much bread?’, she wondered.
She took over-the-counter duties from her colleague and spent the rest of the morning accepting order payments. She observed that every second order had a bread item. ‘People eat a lot of bread!’ she thought. Out of curiosity, she asked a few customers after they finished eating, ‘how was your experience today?’
‘The coffee was amazing!’ the typical reply. ‘And the bread?’ she probed further. ‘Meh, Eh, Okay…’ were the answers she got. ‘Any particular reason why you didn’t like it?’ Daya followed up. ‘It’s too sweet for my taste.’ a few responded hesitantly.
Intrigued by the pattern in their responses, Daya relayed the information to her manager. ‘Well, why do we care if they don’t finish the bread? They are still ordering it! Our food sales have increased ever since we introduced the bread.’ he remarked and that was the end of the conversation.
But that night, Daya could not sleep well. She kept thinking about the situation.
So the next day, she came to work with a plan. She wrote down the sugar content for each bread item on the menu. She also handed a paper slip to each customer, asking them to rate their experience.
At the end of the day, she found that the sales of the bread with the highest sugar content reduced. She also noticed that people who still ordered the high sugar content bread left a poorer rating.
She relayed the observations to her manager and colleagues. ‘We should stop serving bread immediately!’ her colleague suggested. ‘People definitely don’t like it. Perhaps we can change the recipe?’ another one remarked. Her manager was now compelled to consider the matter. The numbers were quite clear. ‘Well, we can’t just stop selling it as our sales will go down. Additionally, we will lose money if we cancel the orders for next week.’ He pondered for a while and then continued ‘Bread is the highest selling item and the sales are increasing, should we really be concerned?’
‘Yes, because they won’t come back to the cafe.’ Daya replied and showed them the result of her last feedback question. The manager finally acknowledged Daya’s observations as genuine and asked ‘What do you think we should do?’
Daya thought for a while. ‘Let’s just sell it under the dessert menu. That way, it will align with people’s expectations.’ The manager and the colleagues stared at Daya and didn’t know what else to say. The idea made sense.
‘Okay, but what if people don’t like it as dessert?’ the manager asked.
‘Let’s solve that problem if it comes up.’ Daya replied.
A day in the life of Daya continues.
Daya is a Product Manager without a title. She exemplifies the spirit of product management that can be found in any field or stage of life. The five skills that a Product Manager in spirit, with or without a title, should keep developing throughout their lives are:
Skill of curiosity
Curiosity is the bedrock of growth – personal, professional and spiritual. It is innate in humans. Daya didn’t restrict herself to her job description. She was constantly aware of her surroundings and asked why.
Skill to learn
Daya didn’t have the sophisticated tools of SQL, spreadsheets or dashboards. She used the tools available to her – eyes to observe, ears to listen and a mind to think intuitively. She combined these tools with ingenuity to validate her assumptions and iteratively move forward.
A sword is useless in the hands of a coward.
Writings of Nichiren Daishonin (Vol I, 412 – 413)
Skill to persevere
We’ll always face pushback when we strive to bring change or start anew. Do we give up or do we push forward? That is the key. The job description didn’t matter to Daya. She saw a problem, she believed in solving it and kept persevering.
Skill to embrace failure
Our first step doesn’t need to be perfect. We need to believe that we (or our products) are always a work in progress. The key is to overcome our fear of being proven wrong.
Skill to redefine boundaries
Product management is not just about following a guidebook. It is a relentless pursuit of improvement, no matter what it takes. At times the biggest problems can be solved by the simplest solutions. Only if we look for them out of the box.
So my friend, when you think about ‘Why do you want to be a Product Manager?’, ask yourself if you’re already living like one.
Unveil your inner product manager wherever you’re,
the title will follow.
you will find happiness and success in your current role.
Or the best,
you will create a path unique to yourself.
Disclaimer: The story and character depicted in this article are a work of fiction. They do not resemble any real person or event. Daya is a Hindi word for compassion or empathy. It is an important quality required in a product manager. Coincidentally, it is an inherent superpower in all humans.
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