Going Meta — Above and Beyond
If you found this blog post. I’ve got 2 things to say to you:
First, congrats for finding the first blog post i created here.
Secondly: … why… ?
I will tell you my why, of making this post. This post is created to tell you my personal goal for this blog. My personal goal for this blog is to put up as much post as possible to drown out this first post so nobody else could find it.
I’ve got another goal of course, but that’s an interesting goal nevertheless. Because it gives you that Seinfeld effect (no, not that effect, i’m talking about this one). I realised a long time ago that the skill of writing is one of the most important skill anybody should master. Because if you think about it, most of the things we build as a civilisation requires writing in one form or another.
Not just the obvious ‘writing’ fields such as literature or poetry but lots of common tasks we do everyday, for example writing a report, a speech, a contract, a policy, business proposals, advertisements, screenplays, technical documents or even coding a software all require an understanding of general writing theory such as vocabulary, grammar, syntax, phrasing, and so on. So you see, writing has far wider reach and impact than you would think.
And as with any other skill, one of the best way to improve is by consistent practice, hence my previous goal. On a glance that seems like stating the obvious, but trust me, doing something consistently for a prolonged period of time is EXTREMELY hard. If any regular Joe can do that, the term ‘expert’ would lose its value, it will be similar to something like ‘college graduates’ (nothing against college graduates of course).
So in a way, this blog post is my way of attempting that extremely hard thing called consistent practice. If you can still easily find this blog post a year or two after its posting date, consider i have failed.
Having said that, you might be wondering what’s the other goal i’m talking about earlier? Well, since you’ve got this far (or not, depending on how well i delivered on my commitment), i guess i owe it to you to explain some of the ‘beneath the surface’ (or rather, above ?) stuff to you, as a reward of sorts. You know, like when you played a video game, you followed an obscure quest, going on tangent round and round to find a secret, an Easter egg. It won’t affect the overall game play or the main plot of course, but it just gives you a sense of satisfaction of getting a more in depth interaction with the creator of the game, of being a part of that special group of people who ‘knows’.
At the time of writing this, i am on a transition phase in my life. I have been working for 15 years without any sense of a career whatsoever, meaning i went from one job to another without having any clear direction or some kind of a goal to pursue. Other people at this point of their career probably can say something like, i’m a banker, i work in the advertising, i work in the government or anything like that. Me? My resume was a like a hotpot, a mixture of lots of things but nothing specific.
I won’t bore you with the minute details, but here’s a glimpse of what my previous jobs/roles look like:
- Administration for exporting company
- Training content developer
- Business process designer
- Event organiser
- Data analyst
- Property developer assistant project manager
- Clothing store clerk
- Retail operations manager
- Warehouse manager
- Finance administration staff
Now you can see why i use the term ‘hotpot’ to describe my career. It was a mixture of lots of things, it was messy, and for me at the time, it was nothing to be proud of.
What’s worse, from the early years of my career i already have this nagging feeling, of wanting to find that one profession that i could focus on, to make my own. I thought i would find the right job for me eventually, like other people. But after 15 years, i’m still confused. It’s like my worse fear come true.
I felt like I've wasted the productive years of my life without any achievement or success. Sure i got plenty of experience and learn various different things and gain a wide perspective of how a business works. But other than that i’m not going anywhere, i’m stuck. It’s really frustrating and i sincerely hope you won’t have to experience it.
Of course, it’s not like i’m completely confused. My experience when trying to put together the puzzle pieces of my strengths was like going on a trip in a foggy road. At a distance you could see a silhouette but you can’t know for sure what it is, only that it resembles a car, for example. Only after closing in on it you would be able to see more clearly exactly what it is. And that has been my experience. At first the vague silhouette for me was ‘management’. i’m quite sure i have the skills and aptitude for it, but exactly what kind of management? What specific role in management am i talking about? A clerk filling a document and a CEO having a strategy meeting could both be described as ‘doing management’. And after 15 years i think i am beginning to close in and can see more clearly what the silhouette really is.
To me, the most basic definition of management is : “any action towards something to achieve a goal”. You can manage anything: tangible, intangible or combination of both. In a business setting we typically manage specific things such as sales, finances, people, operations, risks, brands, assets, etc. But i have found one particular term that is quite special, and that is : product management.
Product, like management can also mean a lot of things. It can be a real, physical thing you can see and touch. Or it can be a service or even an experience. And what’s more: product management is a field that is both specific and broad at the same time. Specific because there is a dedicated career path for it, the position and responsibilities for the product managers or PM for short, are well defined (okay, somewhat defined. People have tried) and yet, this field requires an amalgamation of multiple discipline and knowledge.
You see, businesses these days are very similar to Lego bricks stacked together to form a particular shape. The owner of even a simple bakery shop has many other things to do to keep it running than simply baking a delicious bread. They have to manage the sales, the supply and costs of ingredients, they have to manage their stores (whether digital or brick-and-mortar) and many more. Once all of that activities and functions are ‘stacked’ together to form a ‘bakery shop’, then the owner has a ‘product’ and can finally interact with the customers and do business together.
Once you scale that analogy a few times over, you’d arrive at a typical manufacturer, a service company, or a startup, each doing very different things by organising itself through varying complexity of function stacks (and by the way, for me, that’s the original idea for the word ‘organisation’). But at the most fundamental level, all of them are trying to put their product to the market to do business.
The problem is, with increasing level of complexity, it becomes harder to actually align all of the moving parts in a business towards a singular product vision. Want proof? You yourself might had an unpleasant experience when dealing with unhelpful customer service or complaining about a particular feature of an app that ‘doesn’t work’. Imagine now you are the CEO of that company. Would you give better response than what the customer service rep gave to you? Or would you designed the app in a more streamlined and effective matter? If you answered yes, that right there is the perfect example of misalignment. The business has, in a sense, failed to organise itself enough that the product it presents to the customer has flaws or defects that sullies a customer’s experience of the product, and beyond that, the customer’s interaction with the business; because the only interface between a business and its customers is, by definition, the business’ product.
Enter Product Managers.
One of the most common definition for the role of PMs is to oversee the development of a business’ product. They basically has to position themselves as the middle-man between the customer and the business, and try to improve the product based on the customer’s needs and perception. That point alone requires the PM to have the ability to balance between seeing the product from a customer’s perspective and considering the constraints and resources a business have in developing that product. But below the surface, PMs also have to be a bridge for the different functions within a company and help align them to a singular product vision. To be able to effectively do that, is the reason why PMs need to have a diverse range of skills and knowledge. Any typical PM will have to know at least 2 or 3 different fields of knowledge in order to coordinate and communicate effectively with different functions in the company. And there you have it, my definition for the role of a Product Manager: which is to help align the different functions in a business and deliver a better product for the customer.
That brings me to the original point of this post. What is actually my purpose for this blog? At this point in my life, my mid-term career goal is to learn to be a better Product Manager. And i want to blog about the things i have learned or some of the ideas i have regarding product management.
You might say, yeah that sounds good and all. But what is it you’re really after? And that is a valid question. People have hidden agendas and motives for doing anything. To be honest i was tempted to the idea of blogging as a career tool. Lots of people used blogging as a platform to demonstrate their skill to prospective employer. To be fair, that is a good and worthy idea. But for me that is not good enough. It’s similar to people trying hard to lose weight and maintain their body image in order to attract a potential spouse. But if that is the end goal, they would quickly lose meaning once it’s achieved (by the way, that’s the reason you will find people who look slim and fit turn into fat and obese after a few years of marriage).
If i blog just to attract an employer, then basically i will be pretending to be someone i’m not. And worse, one could accuse me of lying just to get a job. Sounds horrible if you think of it that way, no?
No, what i’m really after is much more than that. Like i said in the beginning, writing is a very important skill because it’s one of those i call ‘Meta-Skills’: skills that act as a foundation for another skill. When you write, you don’t only put words on a paper (or a screen). Writing also forces your mind to be clear and concise. You will see this effect if you have tried journaling for at least a year. Try comparing your most recent entry with one from a year ago and see how much you have evolved, not just in your writing style, but in the things you write about, the opinion implied from your writing. Good writing implies good thinking. Good thinking leads to better action and better results.
No, i don’t blog just to get a job. I blog to sharpen my thinking. I blog to put my ideas out into the world, as my product, and have interactions with and learn from and hopefully build great and exciting products with other people out there who are better than me and ultimately become a better product manager myself. That is in my opinion a far better purpose.
So that’s the origin story of this blog. In this blog i will write about my ideas and observations regarding product management but also about general management and pretty much everything else i fancy writing about (this is my blog after all, so i get to decide). Of course the writing style and format of this blog will evolve along with me. I hope you enjoy this blog, but more than anything i hope to interact with you. Feedback, review, ideas, even critiques. Bring them all in. Don’t hesitate a bit.
After all, you’ve come this far.