Product management 101

Yesterday, I attended a Product Management bootcamp. I was trying to figure out if I had any transferrable skills from what I already do as a Project Manager. One takeaway was that Project Managers dealt mainly with people and tasks while Product Managers dealt with vision and features.

This definition made me think back on all the projects I have worked on. One was an iOS project I “inherited”, a maintenance project for X life science company.  It was for a native app they launched for their Japan team. I confess: a great deal of my frustration with that project was that it was already built. The company created a system patterned around how business was conducted in the United States. They then pushed the app to their international teams without realizing that business processes were different in those countries.

If I think about the app in terms of the people I managed and the tasks I had delivered in light of the requirements I was given, sure that part was taken care of.  But the app itself was a product.  The product was simply not designed for Japan which had processes that were characteristically unique.  I had to rethink the way I had to do my work because there I was, talking to a guy in Japan who was telling me that the business logic of the app didn’t work for their team.  If the point of the app was to automate their process, then I had to listen to Japan and post them as valid concerns about the product.

I guess, a Product Manager would have been tasked with strategizing this in the first place.  If they wanted to create value for this product to Japan, then some consideration should have been made about their business processes.

Another thing I picked up from the bootcamp was the idea of thinking in reverse.  I am a huge fan of this when it comes to anything. There’s a front and back. Top and botton.  Left and right.  In and out.  Beginning and end.   Conventional wisdom tells us to start at the default but more often, the inverse approach gives an insightful view about any subject whether you are planning a project, writing out user stories or doing QA.  If you can break something down in reverse, you can definitely build it.

Southisms PL: January 2015

Holy crap! It’s 2015 already?

Ah, January 2015 – a year anew. From here on out, I’m going to start a series of playlists on the 3rd Wednesday of every month.  If you have a Spotify account (you should get one if you don’t have one yet), make sure to follow me here or search my handle (1221023542) to get the latest playlists I curate.

This month, I turn my ears toward some recurrent tracks and some delightful releases from 2014.  Check out some of my favorites below:

Dark Waves – I don’t want to be in love

Asher Roth – Fast Life (feat. Vic Mensa)

Chet Faker – Talk is cheap (Live at WFUV)

Sohn – Lessons

Shura – Touch (I wanna touch you but there’s history – damn!)

MV FEATURE TIME: I’m plugged in to music wherever I go.  Some of the best music I listen to are in the shower and is when this song came on.  I can’t stop listening to it.  The Blackjoy remix of this is a thing I can listen to every morning and be instantly put in a great mood.  Just listen to the Latin-laced percussion and throw in some organ, synths, clean guitar and uplifting bass line.

Also, this video feeds my obsession for…anything falling.

Career story: being a Project Manager

I enjoy being a project manager.

Project management is how I imagined it’d be like to tame a beast. It’s not for the faint of heart and I have been asking for it.  I have been in many types of work and I have longed for one that I could truly enjoy, would feel challenged by and would keep me…cognitively occupied.

At one point, I thought it would be academic research. But that felt like a long drawn out affair.  The hours were long, the pay low and the work was isolating.  Then there was the time I was freelancing in basically everything (read: hustler). I was a writer, videographer, organizer, disc jockey, all around production hand – to name some.  I loved those days even though I felt like I was running around like a headless chicken.  I did this throughout college and learned a lot more outside the classroom. It was a hectic time.

I decided to make a jump into tech – it was accidental. In 2005, I put together a music blog. I had my own radio show and I wanted a way to connect with my audiences online. This is how I got in to WordPress and learning about how to use this platform. I started going to meetups organized by some friends, the same group of friends that was responsible for bringing in the first WordCamp in the Philippines!

Fast forward to 2013, I was looking for positions at something that would let me dip my hands in to WordPress again. I found a meetup and it was organized by the founder of a small agency in Huntington Beach.  They were looking for a production assistant who knew WordPress and Adobe Creative. Bingo.  I applied and researched the crap out of the company. (This really helps and yes, there is such a thing as LinkedIn stalking).  A week later, I got a job.


Zeek was a team of eight when I first started.  I was overwhelmed by the fact that a team of this size was handling the workload it had.  It was interesting to see how casual the company culture was internally vis-a-vis its large corporate accounts.  I loved that contrast.

Starting out as an assistant was a perfect fit for me.  Starting at the bottom gave me a perspective about the small details that matter. I was lucky to have assisted (and have been mentored by) our brilliant Production Manager at that time – Kelley Koehler. It doesn’t hurt that she has the mind of an engineer.

One day, I was assigned to shadow her literally.  I took up a portion of her office space, occupying a desk right behind her.  I watched her day to day: her documentation was extensive (hardly any stone left unturned), her calls and emails with clients were explicit and uncompromisingly honest. Her demeanor (mostly) collected. Needless to say, I’d be an idiot to take these lessons for granted so I assumed the human form of a sponge.

Kelley eventually assigned me bigger responsibilities.  I was gradually being assigned my own projects, handling communication with clients and managing distributed teams.  Mind you, I had no formal training in project management or any technology work prior to this.  My background is from all over the place but I have to say, it helped.  I had the perspective of someone who lacked the experience. This forced me to learn by doing and taking on some homework to catch up.  On various occasions, Kelley would introduce a new lesson: usability testing, web analytics and agile methodologies and I had to instantly apply tribal knowledge to get things done.  On project down time, we spent afternoons at the office studying.  There was no way I would have fully adapted to this profession if I didn’t learn the theory behind things.

One of my take aways from this is that I greatly benefited from having a fantastic mentor.

Of course, one must first recognize when the opportunity presents itself and step up.

One day, the team learned of Kelley’s resignation.  It was a huge blow for as I said, she was nothing short of excellent in what she did.  As for keeping daily operations intact and staff informed about project systems in place, the next person who the team could rely on to do that was me.

What do you do when you’ve only been in a job for barely a year and have no clue what’s going to happen next? Go figure. No, seriously – you go figure it out.  Coming from a place of limited knowledge and experience is actually more liberating than people think.  I was nervous for the days to come.  Do what scares you, I told myself.

Being project manager is more than just a title. From all my days of shadowing, I have learned one important lesson: By doing, you become.

My career trajectory was not a straight shot.  I meandered but I’m optimistic that I finally got to a place in my career where I have achieved flow. Let me wear my psychology hat for a minute explain what exactly is flow:

Csikszentmihalyi's flow model.

Csikszentmihalyi’s flow model.

As you can see on the above chart, flow is a mental state where the highest level of challenge and the highest amount of skill intersect.

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does. (Source)

Instead of looking for what makes you happy…look for flow. THAT is what project management is for me.

UX Mindset

Lately, I have been trying to embrace a UX mindset.

I feel that the concept of User Experience is cutting edge for many and that a few organizations, though recognizing what it is, have yet to fully understand how to integrate it as part of their process.  In my team for instance, we don’t have an in house UX designer although we may be familiar of what UX is all about.  A lot of the things we do in-house are part and parcel of what a UX designer does, except, we don’t call it that. After all, it’s all about the outcome – whether it was good or bad user experience.

We use wireframes, do stand-up meetings to wrestle with design questions, review design comps and iterate the work which goes through A/B testing.  The product owner participates by receiving a piece of that iteration which is followed by their feedback.  The process is straightforward and releases are constant – as is in Agile processes.

The only thing missing is…the input of the actual user.

One of my foremost challenges as I learn more about UX is how to apply it to an organization. It’s one thing to think about UX and then another to apply it.

Design by nature is intentional and therefore, carefully planned. UX design is not the same as graphic design which some agencies think of interchangeably. They are not the same thing. Transitioning into making UX design as part of the process seems daunting for many. The main contention being: it’s better to spend less time on processes.

I get it. But I also think design, especially UX design, is just as important as the actual development of goods and services. That the bottom line: a great experience is worth every bit of time and resource spent designing it.  In fact, Jared Spool has a very interesting talk about how this ultimately leads to more profit.

One of my biggest takeaway from that talk is that a UX Mindset is not just a creative mindset but a business one. Avinash Kaushik advocates the same idea: put your clients first and the rest will follow.