Hi, I’m Ida, the product manager (PM) on the Product Platform team. In this post I’ll share three things I learned during my first year as a PM at Otovo – the energy company of the future!
First things first: Yes the people are great. All super competent, engaged and lovely! Otovo does not hire a**holes. Now to business:
Those who have changed jobs recently may recognise the feeling of knowing absolutely nothing. Of course it isn’t true - your experience got you hired! But going into a new organisation, in a new industry, to take over a complex product area which is already years in production is daunting! My job description states that I am the person who knows the platform best - but one year later I’ll still have to murder at least 15 people for that to be true. (Not to worry, working remotely due to covid makes it logistically too challenging to pull off). But after one year as Product Manager for Platform I can honestly say that I finally feel like I (almost) know what I’m doing.
About me: My first PM experience was with an established corporation where the digital product discipline was in its infancy. I was learning by doing without an established product organisation to lean on. During that period, I was lucky enough to manage two platform products, both B2B or with a B2B component. I realised that product management was my path. While those conditions can get you running fast very quickly, there is a limit to how far you can progress by yourself. Just as I was starting to look around for a place where I could work alongside experienced product people, an opportunity at Otovo came knocking.
Starting as a PM in Otovo was a big change for me in several ways. As I have only worked with product in two organisations, my basis for comparison is limited. But here are three lessons from year one (as extensive research shows that quantities of three generally make people experience an optimal mix of curiosity and comfort).
Don’t be dazzled
When I was preparing to interview at Otovo, I spent time playing around on the website, generating prices and panel layouts for my house (and for a few nearby dream houses which I own in my imagination). I started wondering what it would be like to work with this established platform which had a proper product organisation backing it - an organisation which actually employs all the roles Marty Cagan talks about! The platform seemed so smooth I figured it would take scientific accuracy to tune it up those final 5% to complete awesomeness. I was actually really relieved when I finally peaked behind that shiny curtain and found there was still plenty of shit to shovel! I could go right to work. In hindsight I expect this is true everywhere. Building new capabilities fast means something or other will be pretty awful at any given point in time. So don’t lose your confidence in the face of shiny products - they don’t shine all the way through. Common sense and a big shovel can take you a long way, trust me!
The need for speed is really felt at Otovo. Working with business critical products in a young company with great ambitions for growth means pace is paramount. Strategy is happening continuously - and the company can only scale what the platform can scale. You’ve got to prioritise what’s really needed and get the minimum version into production quickly. The tolerance of imperfection to accommodate speed feels liberating at first, because the team can get so much done when we settle for minimum. Decisions are quick and there is considerable willingness to take risks and try things out.
But remember that intention you had to observe the feature in the wild and circle back to it! Most times, the minimum version is only meant to facilitate learning and reduce uncertainty about what the long term solution should be. In these cases, insight gathering and iteration has to be a real thing you actually do! Talking about an iterative approach is easy, but weighing that iteration against the next MVP is a constant challenge. Throwing everything into the next big road map item is so very tempting and rewarding! This balancing act is a very big part of the job. Get used to it!
Don’t think all the good ideas have to come from you
As I come from wearing a lot of hats at once I was very curious to find out what a product manager actually does and does not do when some of those hats are on other heads in the organisation. One great thing about being a PM at Otovo is that I don’t have to be the originator of every solution. So much of what we have created started in the brilliant minds of people across Otovo. This company is full of experts on the technology, the hardware, the market, financial processes, the installations, the installation partners and everything else that touches the platform. A big part of my job is constantly talking to people to spot and grab the problems and ideas just floating around our offices. Spending a couple of hours hanging out in the kitchen area can be extremely productive!
As I am not a developer, I also have the luxury of telling my team “you tell me how you think this can be solved”. They’re so great at coming up with ways to refine ideas and solve user needs with tech. I keep being amazed! While I’m always in the loop, I don’t always know all the details of every solution as it progresses. Team members talk to users and other stakeholders directly so I don’t become a filter between problem and solution. Listening to those conversations is like watching magic sometimes! Quoting my PM colleague Rikard, who’s quoting Marty Cagan:”If you’re just using your engineers to code, you’re only getting about half their value”. We are certainly getting more than half the value at Otovo!
Final thoughts So that’s three things, I hope they are useful to you. You may have noticed the non-prominence of users in this post. I previously wrote a post dedicated to staying close to users while scaling across different markets.
Here’s me stuck working from my basement, longing to hang out at the office again. Oh, by the way - Did you know we’re hiring? Come join me as a designer, developer or PM! Check out our job listings. 😉