Life @ localz: 3 months
It's been 14 weeks since I joined Localz. I am still here, yay!
Shortly after I joined Localz, I had a chat with our co-founders Tim and Melvin on their expectations and set my 3 objectives:
1. What can I help to make localz the last mile Iconomy category king;
2. Build great products and practices;
3. Contribute to great culture recognised internally and externally.
From there, over time, I gradually worked on 12 key things, with 146 to dos across product capability, product development and design. Up to today, 113 are done, and 33 are outstanding at the end of this sprint.
Looking back I feel fulfilled I helped refresh product roadmap structure and prioritisation ( with a lot of support from other product managers and executives); Conducted 2 rounds of user interviews and user testing to refine the new design of our replatforming mobile app; Work closely with the development team and explore the ways to collaborate from design to code, while building up UI kit. And starting the process to differentiate and streamline product build vs bespoke service, so we can do estimation and pricing proposal efficiently, and build our products scalably.
There are still many unfinished businesses, challenging work awaits, while I continue to build up the product management muscles (this article sums up all the key skills I am working at). The art of balancing great user experience, product development velocity, and commercial commitments are easier said than done.
I think this is a perfect moment for me to look back what I have learnt and things worth to share.
Here are 10 things I've learnt over last 3 months
Things I could get better
1. Managing priorities
There are 2 sides of managing priorities: one is about what comes into the priority list, and the other is about the order of them and how quick I can finish them.
The more opportunities present, the more focus you need. One of the reasons my list is growing, and growing fast is because I love the spontaneous and creative side of startup and able to work on something exciting, but soon enough I realise the excitement could also be problematic for growth stability, individually and even as a company. If we keep on increasing the number of priorities (such as entering different segments of target market, expanding market, build different products), the priority lost the meaning of being priority and individuals and teams can experience burnout.
Once I am clear of the priorities, it doesn't mean I have to do them all by myself. Undeniably, if you remember the total to-do I have created to track my work, there were 146 over last 3 months, and the number grows as I get better idea of some of the tasks (similar to breakdown user stories of an epic). Are they all the things I should be working on? The mentality in startup is do whatever you can help with, but I think I could offload some of the tasks to free up my mental power and work on something else to add more value.
2. Be more realistic and accurate:
Sometimes be realistic is more helpful than optimistic: I definitely tend to underestimate how long it took me to do something. In reality, it took twice or 3 times more than my estimate. This may come better as I practice more, but it's important to set the right expectation, otherwise, either I will burnout trying to compensate the under-estimate, or risk professionalism to buy more time.
3. Providing feedback to management
We often react emotionally about things not working as our expectation. And it maybe crystal clear from personal perspective about the issues but clear as mud to others. This is a good tip I get: try to rephrase from the perspective others care about.
4. Understand commercial reasonings
This is one of my weakness as a product manager. My lack of understanding of commercial rationale also gave me a lot of headache trying to understand why priorities keep on changing. Hopefully I will learn more and more over time.
5. Teamwork and leadership:
What does team mean to you? Who are in the team? Sometimes have a clear definition of your team is easy to work together, other times, when you belong to multiple teams, you feel you are pulled at different directions. Are you in development team because you are a product manager? Are you in product team because you work with other product managers on roadmap, priority and process? Are you in broader team because you work with sales, pre-sales and executives on new opportunities. What if there are clashes?
Recently we had some passionate unfiltered debates within product team on slack, and I caught myself defending the development team using the term the team. To me, that's the moment I saw myself lost empathy of other product managers, as a member of the product team. To be a true leader, one shouldn't take a side, but to think holistically and be able to relate to people from different perspectives, so one can understand the underlying concerns and talk about issues objectively and constructively.
6. Spend time to recharge yourself
This is probably the worst among other things on my list. I have similar priority issues at personal life. I have house renovation project going on, with outstanding purchases items. My passion of illustration and art didn't even get me to do 1 drawing a week. I have a few brewing ideas I want to work on. And I have bought 1 year subscription of framer (a prototyping tool) and skillshare with many unfinished classes. AND I am often mentally exhausted at work. I have a fear of missing out and become irrelevant if I don't stay in the circle, but I know I need to change that, I know I need some me time to recharge myself, and balance work and life, for sustainable growth, both at work and at home.
Learnings from reflection:
7. Learn to negotiate and ask for help
I have moments of feeling disconnection and doubt my value added, but I examined internally and externally and was able to think about whether it's capability gap, the role fit, or not getting enough support. Shortly after I reached my 3 months period, I did an assessment of myself in Localz, and had a chat with our founders again on my role. We come to the agreement that my role as a product manager will transit out of project management and account management. I am very happy we are on the same page and I am provided support and endorsement in a dynamic startup environment.
8. Do not seek for recognition and do not have ego
When you achieved something, don't think you are better than others. I think I am a modest person in general, but admittedly i have moments of egos secretly. I should say the ego including how you think, even if people don't see it. Now look back I feel I am able to say I was proud of what I have achieved, but I should constraint myself from passing judgement.
9. Maintain critical thinking:
Following and finishing a process doesn't equal to a closure, you have to think about the achieved objectives. In my 1st month, I felt nervous of not knowing enough about our products, and not knowing enough technical components. Things would be easier if I just follow existing process, but I reminded myself not to lose critical thinking because I am here for a reason, to challenge, to change and add values.
10. Know what maturity means and act maturely:
During my journey to become a product manager, I have been through the imposter syndrome while building up my toolkit. One of the things I did was trying a bit too hard to prove myself. I didn't realise it at that time, but looking back now as a product manager, I was able to turn that awareness into actions.
I realised having a toolkit doesn't mean you have to use everything in that toolkit, or at least not all at once. Think about what can add value to the team. Is it design, scrum, project management, or product management? Use whichever that benefits the team most at that point of time. And don't expect and force your way of working to the team, even if that way worked in the past.
It is about shifting your mindset and think from the team's perspective, instead of yours. If you have a moment of seeing every problem as a nail because you get a hammer at the hand, it's time to shift your perspective. And it is definitely harder than you think, even sometimes you are aware of it. There may not be a better solution than what you know of from your background and experience, but there maybe, so keep an open mind and open up the dialogue to include other people.
The other side of maturity is about delegation. As you build up your toolkit, you have a better feeling of the quality you are aiming for across different aspects, and sometime you cannot help to compare the output you will produce with the output from others. But it's a key skill to have by delegating and trusting other to do the part of your job that can free you up. It is also important to keep in mind you need to free up your mind, so communicate, collaborate and coach people if needed, but don't micromanage once you delegated the work.
Learn to delegate tasks that you have experience with and love to do is hard. I love design and don't want to lose my craft, so I naturally picked up design role as part of product manager to keep the work going. I now clearly understand that the team needs a dedicated designer locally to work with them. So, instead of me doing all the detailed design work, I should look for a designer to help out. Also, I think my personal interests of design doesn't always align with the work needs to get done, so I could exercise and perfect design skills at personal project instead.
In the next 3-6 months, I hope to continue to learn from talented people around me, get better at product management, and have some downtime to work on my personal project.