Product Manager has become a buzz word in the IT industry, and definitely one of the most sought-after occupations on the global market. What does this role actually entail is the topic of our interview with Peđa Rajković, experienced Product Leader who created development strategies of dozen digital products with different teams, from an idea to launch, from one to million customers. Some of them are now globally recognized brands from telecommunications domain, digital media, and TV industry, such as EON TV platform developed by United Cloud.  

Peđa, please tell us what is the role of the Product Manager, and what is the most exciting thing related to this job?

Each company with product or service needs a visionary that will truly understand the needs of end users and transfer this vision into product development, and the people working on it. This role is usually called Product Manager, although the actual name may vary in different industries. 

In the IT industry, that I come from, Product Manager is someone who monitors the product from the idea on creation, research of everything it should resolve for the customer, creating presumption on the solution, creating prototype, and development. Launch of the product on the market provides further challenges in our job, since it is necessary to monitor the entire ecosystem in which the product lives, from reactions of customers to developments in the entire industry on global level. 

The bigger the number of customers, the more our job becomes exciting. In such environment one of the key roles of the Product Manager is to bring positive energy, vision, and commitment to the team to perform, see things through and motivate others to do the same.  

What type of companies require Product Managers and why? 

Any company with product or service, start-ups wanting to launch their ideas, entrepreneurs wanting to start their own company, all people wanting to start their own business. In a small company, Product Managers are usually founders of the company, but, at some point, the company starts to grow, and as the complexity of products rises, there is a need to hire a Product Manager. It is very difficult for me to imagine a large company with own products that could function without a product manager. There are 14 production lines is the company I work in, each with a person from the product management domain leading it. Additionally, within more complex lines, along with the leader of the line, we have several product managers working with different specialties. 

What does work in a product company look like and why is it the best place for career development?

There are several examples proving that a company developing own products is an ideal place for someone wanting to develop in the area of product management. This is the only place to gain experience, where you can go from an idea expressed in one or two sentences to the final product used by hundreds of thousands of people. 

In a company I work for we have launched more than a dozen of products from scratch. Some of them are in mature phases, with millions of users, while others are in Discovery phase or have special purposes. 

One of the most popular ones is EON TV, a recognized brand used on markets with a total population of 40 million. This is one of the first products that provided the people with the option to change a classic way of watching TV. By recognizing their daily needs and way of life, we developed an option of watching video on demand and rewinding content backwards, with the classic manner of watching TV live. This brought significant improvement to customer experience and introduced television to modern way of life. 

Therefore, for me, this is the most exciting part, when we collect reactions of customers all over the world, developing the solution further and learning what the future of watching TV will bring.  

What attributes are important for a person intending to be a Product Manager? 

There are people observing life and work with great curiosity. They wonder why things work in a certain way. This is why I think constant and persistent curiosity is one of the most important features of a Product Manager and that “why” is our favorite question. 

I wish to emphasize that a good Product Manager is not (only) a technical person with sound overview of its product, Product Manager should primarily understand people and their needs. Namely, products are there not to be beautiful or functional, products are there to solve problems for people. Thus, Product Manager should be a visionary that does not give up easily and a natural born leader able to transfer vision and inspire people to follow him/her.  

If I were to sum up the attributes, I would say that these are:

  • curiosity
  •  empathy 
  • perseverance 
  • leadership 
  •  communication skills 

What are the advantages of working on own products? 

If you wish to manage products, there are two options: work on own product or work on a product belonging to someone else. The level of impact you may personally achieve on development is drastically different between these two cases. I consider myself extremely lucky working on own products, that is, the ones my company develops end-to-end. Not only that I help in creating certain functionalities, but I also impact the future of customer behavior and success of the company. Also, when I look back, I see actual results the team delivered and together we keep track of new things we brought to the market. Your friends, acquaintances, and a much broader audience see and use the thing you created, and you become proud of your work. In this process, you grow and perfect product development methods that turn every product you work on in the future into subsequent success.  

Give us a practical example of phases in the development of a product or feature?

An interesting example would be work on customized TV profiles in EON TV, and I can explain it through an example of creating children’s profile within EON TV application. While the design of adult customer profile was based on current EON design, the appearance of children’s profile was unknown to us. It was necessary to build not only a visual identity of the application tailored to kids, but also the entire organization of content that would be logical to the young ones. 

We started from the standard Product Management principle – always ask the customer. This time we were dealing with kids 6 to 11 years old, which were invited to discovery workshops. Finally, each group of kids made a sort of a mock-up of their own profile that we put on the walls in the company as an inspiration during implementation. 

After launching profile, we performed a survey with the children and their parents. This is where we understood how they are actually using our product, which avatars are their favorites, how do they reach desired content, do they use content categories we created, etc.  

Can only people with technology background plan development of their career in Product Development? 

Actually, no, this depends on the product itself to great extent. If the product is a bit more “technical”, that is, less exposed to end users, it shall require a Product Manager with deeper technical knowledge. On the other hand, with products focused on end users and their interactions, technical knowledge could present a disturbing factor. The thing is that Product Manager should focus on the customer and the problem being solved. Therefore, it is not necessary to have significant knowledge on technology, but also, every Product Manager will have to develop a certain level of this type of skills in his/her work. 

We have Product Managers with background from economy, mathematics, naturally, engineering, marketing, even philology.  

Can you give us examples of successful people on global level that developed their careers as Product Managers? 

Every person running their own company or product, start-up, whether such person is called CEO or CMO, or VP of Product, if this person creates vision and makes decisions, is actually a Product Manager. 

In this sense it is easy for us to imagine Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Larry Page!