3 Key Qualities for a Successful Product Manager: Dmitry Orlov, Senior Product Manager
We continue our series of articles about 3 key qualities for a successful product manager according to the version of Rikers. In the first part, we spoke with Anton Danilov, group product manager, and in the second , with Yuri Golikov, director of engineering. Today we’ll talk with Dmitry Orlov, who is responsible for Wrike mobile applications for iOS and Android.
- Hello, Dim! Please tell me, how long have you been working at Wrike? And how many years in general have you been working as a product?
- Hi! I’ve been with Wrike for two and a half years, I have been working as a product in the area of 8 years, and before Wrike I worked in Zvooq and Yandex.
- As part of my interview series, I ask about the basic qualities of a product manager. I have already talked with Yura and Anton: they emphasize expertness, a sense of taste and ownership. And in your opinion, what qualities should a cool product manager have?
- Three things come to my mind: systemic thinking, curiosity and communication. The product has only two responsibilities - to make decisions and convey them to people so that they understand and do the right thing - these are two very large parts. You spend half the time on the first, half on the second, somewhere on the second even more. It is important not just to convey, but to verify that all these issues are correctly resolved.
If we talk about the first quality - systemic thinking, then, of course, there are principles that can be applied depending on the context, company, market situation and the product itself.
The solution must be complete, because you need to be able to see the situation from above: understand what forces are acting on the market, realize what will happen over time, including the actions of all competitors, and finally figure out what you will do next, where you want to be with your product and present the path to this vision.
There is another extreme where you can be - in a situation of a high level of uncertainty. In this case, you move forward in small steps, looking back all the time, to understand what the team achieved in a short iteration. You work with analytics, with research - with qualitative and quantitative, constantly collect data to fuel your decision.
A product always balances between these two extremes, and systemic thinking is needed to understand how to develop a product and how each of your actions will affect the future history.
Here it is important to have a deep understanding of not only your product on a micro scale, but also a holistic understanding of the market for which this product works. This is systemic thinking.
- By the way, you are the first among the interviewees to mention systemic thinking. Tell me more about curiosity and communication?
- Curiosity is also an important quality, since you, as a product manager, constantly need to challenge your decision and be interested in what is happening in the domain of the product that you are engaged in, well, in some kind of related things.
As for communication, it is, to a greater extent, connected with the second part of the work of the product that I mentioned. You interact with a large number of stakeholders, and the team consists of different people who have different roles. You never manage people in the literal sense, the specialists from your team are not your subordinates, you work in the same scrum team. At the same time, they all expect from you that you will explain that their work is not meaningless: they expect confidence and leadership from you, even though you think in different directions.
It turns out such a symbiosis: you think more like a systemic person, and the team is focused on the details, and different experts on different details. But at any time there may be difficulties in communication. It is not enough for you to make only the intuitively correct decision, your task is to clearly convey it to people. This is the communication skill that comes with experience: it helps to understand how to work with the team at each stage that the problem is addressed, how to make them understand what needs to be done and do the right thing.
“You said that the product manager is not a manager.” Relatively speaking, if you have a final vision of the final result, then your task is to convey this vision to the team, right?
- In most cases, yes. It is important for people to know that what they do is right, it is beneficial. The task of the product is to convey this vision to the team, because sometimes the work goes at a crazy pace and there is no time to think about the correctness. But in most cases this is a compulsory story. This is where communication skill helps: you need to present a vision, convey the meaning of the team’s work, and without competent communication it’s difficult.
- As part of your role in Wrike, how do you work with other teams, given that you make a mobile product? What is the process of informing other teams about their plans and a given development vector? And how is communication with other stakeholders built?
- Communication outside the team with other stakeholders can be very different, depending on the product, team, company and so on. For example, in Wrike, communication takes place at different levels - with other product teams, with a product director who determines the vision of the entire product, with customer service specialists, and marketing.
In our case, the interaction with the marketing team is not as close as in other companies, but at the same time, marketing is very dependent on what is happening in the product. For example, there is the concept of “unit economics”. This is such a framework that allows you to look at optimizing the sales funnel within a product, mainly a client. The funnel consists of two parts - there is a marketing (all communications that occur before contact with the product) and a product component (everything that happens from the first contact to the purchase). Marketing is responsible for its part, and the product team is responsible for its own. Our common goal is to optimize the funnel together with marketing from both sides simultaneously.
In Wrike, many teams are highly interconnected. I’m mobile apps and many teams influence us. When they change something, we immediately change the application logic, and there is a need to respond instantly. We always follow changes in Wrike. Fortunately, we have many events where all teams share plans with each other, so I have the opportunity to pick up something that, in my opinion, will affect us.
We have a general product strategy, which consists of high-level points, and all teams think about how they can contribute to each of the points - in collaboration or on their own. We do not have chaotic movement, each team has a separate trajectory, but we all work together on the same common goals, so we interact a lot. Here the OKR planning system helps us a lot .
- How much do you think the role of the product has a lot of creative freedom?
- Freedom can be at completely different levels of abstraction. There are high-level solutions that determine the directions in which we are strategically moving: our plans for the year or for several years to come. But there are other levels, including low, for example, how the feature works specifically.
Influence at the strategic level, of course, is. We do not have random movement, we always move in one specific direction. Sometimes, of course, there is the opportunity to change something in your segment or offer something that will become part of the strategy. That is, we, in principle, are free in this, but there are limitations. At the micro level, everything depends only on us, since the growth of a product is expected precisely from a product manager.
It seems to me that in the IT industry there is no other way. Growth is always expressed by specific metrics, and they can be very different, depending on what our team and the company as a whole are focused on now. But no one dictates a product decision. Rather, they are waiting for him to come to decisions that will help achieve growth in certain indicators. And here comes creative freedom that allows you to do anything you want. Often, this is not easy: you are looking for a solution, trying all sorts of different things, do not forget to follow the competition, and the market remains your main critic. You can’t do anything, you have to do what the market will accept and what will give the maximum return.
- Do not miss Dmitry Orlov's speech at the Product Sense conference on April 15