By Darrius Tan
The Discovery+ Series is a series of events, delivered through online digital solutions, which give students the chance to speak directly with working professionals, and learn about careers they aspire to enter. Given the developments in the COVID-19 situation, Advisory is keen to provide support to the many students who are experiencing woes in this time of disruptions, by digitalising professional mentorship.
On 16 March 2021, Advisory organised a Discovery+ online panel: Discovery+: Product Management. On our panel that evening, we were privileged to have experienced professionals from a variety of media organisations. The panel consisted of Jenkin Au, Lead Product Manager at Grab; Benjamin Seow, Senior Product Manager, Haircare & Hair Colour (Former) at L’Oréal; Nick Kenn, Chief Product Officer at Chope; and Tan Siyun, Assistant Director, Technology Exploration at the Singapore Tourism Board. Our registered participants comprised students from various education levels and institutions with a common curiosity in the prospects in the field of product management, and what they can do to better stead themselves in entering and staying relevant as a player.
Product Management became prominent only very recently due to the advent of technology companies. As such, many people in product management may have looked to join the field of project management or other industries such as finance and technology at the start instead.
No two days are the same in Product Management. Product managers may be responsible for Product Strategy – what is the direction of this product, how can the product better help consumers, what is the roadmap in the long-term, for instance. Another responsibility would be Delivery & Execution – how do you organise a variety of people with different skill sets effectively or the implementation of the product. At a higher level, mentoring people to improve their capabilities, and reviewing one’s operations, such as by conducting Quarterly Business Reviews, are important responsibilities. Meeting other stakeholders to discuss various matters is a regular occurrence in one’s week.
From the professionals, three main points stood out as fulfilling aspects of their career. First, some raised that they enjoyed coming up with solutions collectively with their teams that they collaborated with. Product managers work on different parts of the business, be it in product development, marketing, pricing, channel development and implementation – making every team member’s contribution matter to the final outcome of whether the product is effectively pushed out. Second, some gained a sense of fulfilment from translating effective ideas and implementing them as real solutions, especially when users adopt one’s products because of its benefits. Third, this industry is fast-paced and involves a lot of action, as there are many problems that require solutions, wherein products are at the heart of these solutions.
A combination of book smarts and street smarts will be attractive to employers in the field of product management. On one hand, soft skills, especially effective communication skills, are essential. These would include how one interacts with others, and one’s ability to push one’s ideas through despite bureaucracy and limited resources. One’s attitude towards problem-solving, work and learning, and how one handles pressure would also make a difference. On the other hand, especially in the technology industry, having a wide knowledge of various disciplines that are related to product management, such as engineering, design, and sales is crucial. Having a broad range of skill sets allows product managers to work on a variety of problems. Knowing what are the needs of the consumer and the firm is also important. Data management skills would be excellent, as data analytics can inform product managers about the target audience and their needs, along with the effectiveness of one’s solutions.
Prior experience in this field will certainly be beneficial for product management, but is not needed. Most applicants for entry-level roles in product management do not have prior experience in this specific field. In the FMCG (Fast-moving consumer goods) field, there are assessment centres for applicants, where applicants are rated on their ability to multitask and on other aspects. Applicants are given a business case to analyse and present, for instance, to showcase applicant’s potential and capability. Employers may also look at how applicants structure their Curriculum Vitae, to see how they present information, and to look out for any interesting or outstanding experiences that applicants can bring to the table, such as freelancing experiences.
For mid-career applicants who are thinking of making a switch to Product Managers, employers may look at one’s base skill sets, and if these skill sets will make the applicant a good fit for the specific position. For instance, if the applicant is applying for a design role, some experience in UX (User Experience) would be good. If the applicant is applying for a role that relates to developing a technical product, past experience working with developers would be an advantage. It would also be good to have specific domain knowledge that would bring unique perspectives to the team.
It may be difficult for mid-career applicants to join this industry, first, because companies in this industry usually look at fresh graduates to take up entry-level roles, and second, because the pay cut may be significant when taking up an entry-level role. Nonetheless, if one is really keen on joining Product Management, it will be good to make a go for it.
In each industry and sector, career paths for Project Managers vary.
Locally, there are two different routes for Product Managers to take in the FMCG industry, the commercial and marketing route. On the Commercial route, one may rise up to become a Commercial Director, and on the marketing route, a Marketing Director. The next available positions would be General Manager and Marketing Director respectively. One can also enter the regional market, by working as a Manager for the Regional Market. In the Regional Market, one can enter product development and innovation, marketing, or commercial departments.
In the public sector, one will be at the managerial level. There are specialised routes, and one can move up the ladder by becoming Senior Manager, Assistant Director, Director of the entire division, and then Chief Technology Officer.
In the technology sector, there are different managerial bandings, which are allocated based on the number of years of experience, scope and compensation. One may join technology companies as a Product Management Intern, or as a Product Manager. One may become Senior Product Manager, Lead Product Manager, Principal Product Manager and then Head of Product. There may be two different tracks, for people managers and individual contributors.
For the FMCG industry, in particular, digitalisation is a challenge. Because of the speed at which COVID-19 restrictions kicked in, especially for products that usually have physical testing like beauty products, product managers had to bring product materials online to encourage consumers to purchase products. For instance, Watsons and L’Oréal collaborated to create a “Colour Me” application, to carry out augmented colour matching of makeup products online rather than in-person.
Many other industries have also been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, including the tourism industry and the ride-hailing industry. For instance, the Singapore Tourism Board had previously focused on attracting international travellers to Singapore; however, because of COVID-19, STB has focused on increasing domestic demand for local attractions in the interim. For instance, during the Circuit Breaker when a large proportion of workers worked from home and did not need to commute, Grab pivoted to food deliveries, and needed to devise methods to provide drivers with a sustainable income.