Pandora Sr PM: Hardware or Software Product Managers?

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Managing hardware products for three years at Cisco, and later spending three more years working on pure software products at Zoosk and Pandora, Ross shares his perspective on the differences and similarities in managing Hardware vs Software, as well as B2B vs B2C, products.

Despite a somewhat controversial belief that a good Product Manager is product-agnostic and that performance will be great regardless of what type of product the PM manages, Ross also discusses the psychological differences in the work approaches and tries to identify what type of product might be a better fit for you.

A Product Soldier Through and Through

Ross Yesikov is an entrepreneurial product leader with 10+ years of experience managing cross-functional teams and building new products in B2B and B2C domains.

A strong military background and corporate managerial experience equipped Ross with skills that allowed him to found several successful social and gaming advertisement-based startups. At Zoosk he leveraged his experience to completely rethink the product by integrating advertising into what was previously a subscription-only service, boosting the revenue by close to 10% in under 6 months.

Ross is good at predicting what customers would love, setting a long-term vision, analyzing huge sets of data and monetizing all of the above. This passion, combined with his passion for music is what brought Ross to Pandora, where he’s busy “serving them ads so good they won’t want to listen to music”.

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Should You Be Product-Agnostic to be a Good PM?

Most of the companies have cliched requirements for the role of a PM but Ross challenges all of them.

For example, companies demand that PMs have strong technical acumen. Ross suggests that an engineering background is the worst background for a PM to have. From his own experience, he states that he spent most of his time thinking about the easiest way of doing something than focusing on what his customers actually needed. The other cliched requirements are having a data-driven mindset, A/B testing experience and experience with agile development.

However, the real skills that are actually required for a PM are creativity and open-mindedness, ability to influence others, and having the drive as well as bias for action. But it doesn’t stop right there. Other requirements for being a good PM are having the excitement to read product articles and learn from them, and motivating yourself to constantly innovate while progressing on the performance of the product.

Differences Between Hardware and Software Product Work

Hardware Companies are mostly B2B, with very few of them being B2C. If you are in hardware, you are most likely dealing with components like chips, boards, screens or B2B products like factory robots and medical devices. If you are in companies like Cisco, you will be working on connecting devices like switches and routers.

Some of the key differences between H/W (hardware) and S/W (software) are as below:

  • Product Life Cycle: In H/W, the usual life cycle for a product is between 3-5 years whereas in S/W, new features are added every week. Most of the work in H/W focuses on 5 key things: documenting yourself, blueprints, white-prints, internal wikis, and marketing documentation unlike S/W, which only focuses on features. Other important processes in H/W include manufacturing, installation, maintenance and usage of products.
  • A/B Testing: There is no A/B Testing involved in H/W whereas in S/W, every pixel is A/B tested.
  • Stakeholders: There is heavy vendor management in H/W where you will be dealing with operations managers, supply chain managers, and other stakeholders whereas in S/W you are mostly dealing with internal stakeholders.
  • Financial Responsibility: There is not much financial responsibility involved in S/W as much as in H/W.
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Getting the PM Job and Becoming Excellent

Ross suggests:

  • If you have no coding background or A/B testing experience but have experience managing vendors and can do well with inventory forecasting and financials, you are more fit for a H/W PM’s role.
  • On the other hand, if you have mostly worked with engineers before and can’t stop thinking about the improvements for your app, S/W is a better fit for you. However, it is also important to choose a role that excites you.

To excel as a good PM:

  • You need to be open-minded and have the ability to influence the stakeholders that are involved in your product.
  • You must also educate yourself about the domain that you’re a part of and drive the product with a bias for action.
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This post was adapted from content summarized by Varsha Jayaraj

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