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What product managers need to thrive in the workplace – Victor Olomo

What product managers need to thrive in the workplace –

Victor Olomo is an experienced product manager with a demonstrated history of using data and customer insight to drive growth at different startups over the last 10 years. In this interview with BusinessDay’s Frank Eleanya, he speaks on the role of a product manager in an organisation and how to work with teams within an organisation.

How did you get into product management?

I ventured into product management back in 2013. Despite my academic background in Biochemistry, the spark for technology had always been alive within me. Post-graduation, I found myself at a crossroads, I knew I didn’t want to go the conventional path aligned with my degree.

Upon completing my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), I started looking for different opportunities, especially internships. One fateful day, I checked my alma mater’s alumni page and came across a product manager internship role in a tech company. The prospect seemed simple enough, and given its internship nature, I figured, ‘Why not?’

I applied, had the interview, and was granted the position with one condition – I needed to acquire coding skills. Subsequently, I delved into the world of HTML, CSS, and Javascript, immersing myself in blog posts and books. This five-month journey was undoubtedly one of the most challenging yet rewarding endeavours I’ve undertaken.

The internship evolved into a full-time role, pushing me into the dynamic landscape of a software consulting firm. Engaged in diverse projects for prominent organisations, including banks, FMCGs, and startups, I discovered the allure of Product Management. What captivated me most was the ever-changing nature of the role; no two days were alike.

What’s your view on product management in Nigeria today?

When I reflect on my journey in product management in Nigeria, it’s clear that things have evolved significantly since I first entered the field. At the time, you could say it was still finding its footing. The role might not have been labelled ‘product manager,’ but someone was always fulfilling that function. Today, it’s a recognised and well-defined career path, with institutions offering dedicated courses. Our strides in product management in Nigeria have been truly remarkable.

How important is the product manager to a company, and which companies need their services?

As a product continues to experience growth, the role of a product manager becomes indispensable. Typically, as a company expands and refines its product, the need for a dedicated product manager becomes increasingly vital. Some companies, recognising this importance right from the start, bring a product manager on board early, influenced by factors like the product’s nature and the availability of in-house expertise.

The demand for a capable product manager persists at every stage of a company’s growth. However, the pivotal decision to officially bring a product manager on board depends on the company’s stage of development and its readiness in terms of resources. It’s a fascinating dance between product evolution and organisational strategy.

You’ve worked with different tech companies, which of these experiences was most defining for you and why?

All of my experiences in product management have been transformative in distinct ways. One standout experience that comes to mind is the building of a pan-African financing product. The challenge lay in harmonising the delivery of a singular product across diverse countries, each having unique local expectations. This marked my entry into the pan-African product space, colouring my professional career with a compelling and dynamic chapter.

What should companies be looking forward to in a product manager?

That’s a really intriguing question because it all boils down to what the company aims to achieve. I believe Product management is both a science and an art. Beyond the technical know-how that can be learned, what really matters are the softer skills. A natural sense of curiosity, always questioning how we can make the product better. Another crucial trait is persuasiveness. A product manager is at the heart of the business, collaborating with the sales, marketing, and software development teams – it’s like a symphony of departments. Working with different teams, without necessarily having the authority to simply give orders. That’s where persuasion comes in; A product manager has to get everyone on board with the vision.

And let’s not forget the importance of being data-driven. Backing up ideas with solid data and presenting it to stakeholders is key. Being articulate too, is crucial – communicating your thoughts concisely and clearly. Above all, people skills are a must. After all, it’s the people behind the scenes who shape the product. Managing them effectively is what ensures the product turns out truly great.

How do you work with engineers as a product manager to ensure you get the best from them for the product?

I view it as a strategic blend of approaches. Persuasion is essential. It involves articulating the objectives, detailing the reasons for achieving them within the stipulated time frame, and seeking their input on feasibility and methodologies. Depending on the specific role of the product manager, engaging with technical experts such as the Engineering lead, CTO, or someone of similar capacity, may be necessary to validate information.

Starting on a new product, feature, or work to be done, I gather all stakeholders involved for a thorough chat about our goals, timelines, and the importance of sticking to schedules. Once we all agree on a plan, the main focus becomes making sure each person does their part as promised. This team-oriented approach is quite different from just telling people what to do and expecting them to follow orders.

By openly talking and making sure everyone knows what is expected, we can deal with potential issues before they become big problems. Even if unexpected things pop up, good communication helps us handle them without derailing the whole plan. When we all work together and make sure everyone’s on board, the chances of achieving our goals in a reasonable time go way up.

Read also: RotaPad unveils initiative to enhance SMEs management, productivity

What is a day like in the life of a product manager?

Every day unfolds uniquely, even when you’re focused on a single product. It’s a constantly evolving story, with each phase of the product unveiling a distinct set of challenges. For instance, today might involve engaging with stakeholders, while tomorrow is dedicated to bringing prototypes to life; and the next, one is delving into meaningful conversations with customers. This dynamic progression through different stages underscores the multifaceted nature of the product management process.

What are the soft skills a product manager needs?

Product managers need a blend of interpersonal skills to navigate their multifaceted roles. Effective communication is key, allowing them to express ideas clearly to teams, stakeholders, and customers. Empathy is crucial too, helping them understand and consider the perspectives of colleagues and customers, fostering better collaboration.

Adaptability is vital in the ever-changing landscape of product management, as is the ability to solve problems creatively. Leadership and negotiation skills come into play when working with diverse teams and stakeholders with varying interests. Balancing tasks and deadlines requires strong time management, while a user-centric mindset ensures products meet the needs and expectations of end-users. Overall, a mix of these soft skills, coupled with technical expertise, forms the foundation for a successful product manager.