How to Graduate from Product School and Revitalize a Product Department

Bruno Batalha PM Brazil

Here, we tend to reflect the careers of aspiring tech professionals who aim to complete the transition to Product Management. There are, however, other alumni who take the course even though they already are Product Managers. Why? It is very simple. Product School’s course allows them to revitalize Product Management teams, taking their skills to the next level. This was Bruno Batalha‘s case.

Bruno actually had his first Product Management experience back in 2008. After a decade of different product opportunities across different sectors (from entertainment to sports), he decided to take our Product Management course. He is currently Head of Product and User Behavior Analytics at Jüssi, an Internet marketing agency in São Paulo, Brazil. His path seems like a straight line, but it was actually full of obstacles and lessons. Learn how he made the most of his Product School experience and applied some of the course’s essential materials to improve his current operations.

The Supply Gap in Product Management Education

The Product Management pathway is not still an established career. Of course, this is not necessarily a disadvantage. For those who do achieve a position, it helps them keep away potential competitors. Equally, it makes it easier for any professional, whatever their background, to transition to product. Engineering or Data Analytics, for example, have better-defined transitions and therefore only a handful of possible routes into them.

At the same time, for product lovers like Bruno, it was a big challenge. Any other disciplines have established traditions in every country, so it does not matter whether you are in Mumbai or Hawaii. But Product Management, in Brazil’s case, was still relatively new when Bruno sought to learn more. Equally, most of the relevant content is only available in English (BTW, did you know that Product Mindset is available in English, Spanish and Portuguese?) Did Bruno feel that local business schools were ready to cover the Product Management gap when he started?

“Not at all. They are not even close to where the market is right now.”

Business school students are stuck with the “ideas first” approach. This means, roughly, “I will fulfill my product vision, but I’m not talking to customers”. That’s it, I pursue my big idea and I will find funding and build this, but I never talk to customers, I avoid focusing on problems

“I joined a founders’ organization as a mentor and a bunch of those entrepreneurs found me on LinkedIn and chatted with me. I realized that 90% of the time, they had never spoken with customers. They were hooked up to the ideas. When I made them see that they were not approaching customers the right way, they got frustrated. But it helped them understand how to build better products.”

Empty waiting area at airport

“For me, universities are too generalist. The course is more specific. At university I learned about the broad subject, I didn’t go deep into what I was learning. For instance, they taught me how to use Photoshop but it wasn’t deep enough or developed in context. Supposedly, they taught us about media planning, but I didn’t have the knowledge to do it.”

There is an often understated challenge in Product Management, which is sector-specificity. While it is true that the PM skill-set is highly transferable between jobs; in practice, you need business acumen. It is not the same to work in transportation, or to work in health. A considerable amount of previous knowledge about the industry, its needs and trends, will help you a great deal. This type of business acumen feeds into disparate things: your pricing strategy, your developmental timelines… It is almost intangible, and yet, it is essential for advanced Product Managers.

Likewise, dealing with B2C or B2B customers completely alters your approach to product development and improvement. In both cases, your stakeholders will radically change in number, ease of access, frequency of contact… At the same time, if you work for a large company, your pool of internal stakeholders will certainly be a lot bigger than your direct team. It takes a great deal of honest self-assessment to understand your gaps and work to fix them. This was Bruno’s own process.

“I have always enjoyed working with technology. My dad had a consultancy, so I started to get acquainted with Quality Assurance from a young age. After a couple of years, I got a job at a startup in Brazil. I started there as a Quality Assurance Manager, but after a couple of months my supervisor allowed me to see that what I was really doing was “product”. Of course, I was interacting with developers all the time. However, at the time, I didn’t know what Product Management was.”

sao paulo

“I was more of a Product Owner at PlayPhone, member of a Scrum development team. I had to understand business goals and build user stories. In QA, I was at the end of the process. Here, I was looking at the entire thing. It was tough at the beginning. For example, I didn’t have the knowledge to interview users. I got business requests and I had to come with methods to answer these requests.”

“The actual PM transition took place after PlayPhone. Over there, I was proud of tackling a big issue. Landing pages for the marketing team usually took a lot of time. What we did as a product team was to build a landing page creator so we could focus our development efforts on things that really created value for customers. We created a CMS for marketers so they could make content, create new offers… It wasn’t for the end user, but for internal customers.”

“On LocalWeb, a hosting company, I managed one of the top performing products within email marketing. I had to manage the end user and also technical stuff. This is what is attractive about product management: sometimes you don’t have a clue about a subject; then you go so deep that you become an expert. I thought “I’m a product manager now because I can define my vision for the product and the direction of travel for the project” I had KPIs like churn, revenue… This is where I started being metric oriented.”

“In time, I obtained SCRUM and other certifications in Silicon Valley. Selflearning is always an option, of course. Sadly, a lot of relevant content is not available in Portuguese, so you have to read it in English. Marty Cagan’s writings, for example, were really inspiring. However, I never felt like I was closing the circle. Learning how to succeed in interviews, understanding go-to-market strategies, accessing the right numbers… These were areas where I wanted a deeper understanding.”

san francisco

Taking Product Management to the Next Level with Product School

How can one squeeze a learning experience to the fullest? Bruno’s goal with Product School was to extend his insights beyond immediate concerns; he sought to gain an overall vision of the whole product challenge. Did the Product Management Certification increase his understanding?

“Through Product School’s 8-week course, I had the chance of seeing the product from scratch: interviews, services, Product Requirement Documents, user stories, go-to-market planning, knowing about KPIs… This is for me the biggest difference. We are still thinking in Industrial Revolution terms where we teach everyone the same things at university. Today, it is a fully different world: we should incentivize creativity instead.”

Incentivizing creativity might seem like a tech buzzword, but it is truly important to have intuition as a PM. In a way, you must craft your own way to the position. For many, this means slowly auditing your functions and realizing that they actually amount to a product position. This is how Bruno transitioned from a freelancer product consultant position to his current job as Head of Product and User Behavior Analytics. What did he learn by becoming a Senior Product Manager?

businessman in the desert

“That’s a funny story. I knew the Product Director here and he had a big furniture company as a client for which he hired me as a freelancer. In the middle of that job, the Head of Product left the company. Keep in mind that the job I was doing was very different from what previous product people were doing: conducting interviews, drafting documents, building a vision, preparing a PRD, writing press releases, etc. I think that, based on this performance as a freelancer, they made me an offer to manage Product Owners in the company.”

“One of the things that surprised me about being product oriented was making sure that we spend our money or our client’s money correctly. Will an idea move any KPIs? Or are we just developing ideas for the sake of it? We are changing a lot of things to move the product in a different direction. Do we have any data to validate that this idea will bring the numbers up?”

It is very difficult to specify the differences.

  • On B2C you need to use a “bazooka”: bring in a lot of customers and make sure that you keep them in. Your communications address many people, but at the same time you are juggling a lot of different personas.
  • B2B is very “political”: there are a lot of requests that you need to accomplish on your product which you sometimes don’t like to do. Security restrictions, passwords, levels of access… You need to do that because of contracts. You have a deal and must respect the rules of the contracting company. You also need to know your RSPs (requests for pricing) and accommodate them to do business with other firms.

“In the new projects that we are doing, we are following Product School’s “six steps”. It has been very good, we are achieving results with that approach. It makes a lot of sense when we talk about problems; we love problems not ideas.”

“Our toolbox depends on the client, but we mostly use Google Analytics or Adobe. We use them a lot of dashboards: we employ Data Studio because we like transparency when sharing data with clients. We use JIRA to manage development efforts. In terms of methodologies, we use Agile and Scrum through which we have a discovery track. This is so Product Owners, Designers, CROs… when they see anything of value, they can add it to the user story. We generally use G Suite for spreadsheets, slides…”

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What were the specific improvements that Bruno applied after his course? Here are some insights and a couple of examples.

  1. “I believe the toughest thing to learn is how to say “no”. When you start delivering value, people start approaching you to request something. Especially if you work for a big company and manage a product with a bunch of sales guys selling it. “Hey there’s this client who wants to add this…”; “This is what they want…” No! You need to stick to the plan and iterate the steps following your product vision. It is very important to set expectations beforehand. Of course, always say no politely!
  2. The second thing was to understand data. It’s hard to just trust data if you don’t talk to customers. If you just rely on data, you might be doing something wrong. You will make assumptions like these: “Oh this persona is churning a lot because they’re not engaging with the product”. Actually, when you talk with users, it turns out they weren’t seeking that value, or that it’s just a price issue. You learn this by failing. When you build a hypothesis based on data but you didn’t talk to customers, then you realize that their lack of engagement had another justification.
  3. Third, talk with developers at the same level. Because when you are not technical enough, it’s easy for developers to trick you with deadlines and goals. I have learnt how to talk with them by making them part of both the problem and the solution. You have to share goals, metrics, so they can feel like owners of the product. They need to view the best approach to fix this problem so they don’t feel like they are coding forever, without a purpose. “

“This is what I have learnt over the last 10 years: remember to make developers part of your decisions, not just task killers.”

businessman on a sofa with a computer

Bruno finished by giving some extra advice. First, who are his favorite Product Management leaders? And finally, how can a future Product School student ensure that they get the most out of their 8-week part-time course?

  • “Do all the assignments, they add a lot of value! Sometimes, you might feel like you don’t have time. But spending an hour with assignments will grant you the full experience. One thing I have learned is that, even if you don’t know how to do something and fail; if you keep doing it you will keep improving. Try to come up with new solutions, fail, and try again. PRDs, Interviews… it’s just like products you are aspiring to manage: the first version is never the best.”
Product Mindset

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