Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of first-hand accounts about transitioning from a customer support role to a product management position. Product management lacks a straightforward career path and PMs generally come from other areas of the organization. It is rare for someone to come out of college and become a PM, unlike other roles in software development. As we’ll see in this series, real customer support experience is invaluable when it comes to managing a software product, with some important caveats.
Before working in product management, I spent my days on the phones in Customer Support. It was a great experience and helped me truly understand our customers. I heard firsthand about the challenges in their business and their difficulties with our product. I remember thinking, “Why did we choose to build that new thing instead of fixing this long-running defect?” or, “Man, we missed the user needs completely! If I had designed this, it would’ve been a lot different.”
Eventually I started working more closely with the Product Managers, running weekly meetings where I escalated defects and experience problems. This exposure led me to jump on an opportunity to move into Product Management. I soon learned things weren’t as simple as they seemed from the outside. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some of my observations and lessons learned as I transitioned from Product to Support.
First: You’ll have more time on your hands, at least at first. Take advantage of it.
When I was in Support, managers trained us to be as productive as possible. Whether it was calls, chats, or tickets, we were constantly measured on how many items we could resolve each day. We were paid bonuses based on where we fell compared to other support team members. Being broke and newly married, I tried to maintain a dizzying pace, moving from one call to the next as quickly as I could. At least 7.5 hours of non-stop customer interaction per day. And then it all stopped.
During my first few days in Product, it seemed like time stood still. You mean I have three hours to focus on a single thing, uninterrupted? Even if the site goes down?
Use this time wisely. Get to know your fellow product managers. Befriend the development team. Learn their personalities. Bring the donuts.
The interruptions will ramp up as you get involved in more projects and take on added responsibility. It will be more difficult then to find time for building relationships.
Once those projects start, use your “extra” time wisely. You’ll need it to fully unpack a problem, gain alignment, and build well-designed solutions.
Your first instinct will be to move as fast as possible, but don’t give in.
Speed is not priority no. 1. Action for action’s sake is not your goal either. Gathering the right information to identify the customer’s need and to design the right solution is far more important, though the pace feels comparatively slow.
The takeaway: Measure twice (or three or four times), cut once.
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