AMA SESSION WITH ADAOBI IGWE-OKEREKEOCHA

On 2nd April, 2022, we had Adaobi Igwe-Okerekeocha as the PM guest on our bi-weekly #ProductDiveAMA.

Meet Adaobi

Adaobi Igwe-Okerekeocha has over 13 years of experience in the Fintech space; exploring various roles in Software Development,  Service Delivery, Technical Operations, Application Support, Processing Re-engineering, Agile Project Management and Product Management.

She likes to see herself as a generalist and believes Product Management allows her to satisfy that curiosity and explore various intersecting disciplines as she innovates.

She loves inspiring teams to solve complex problems and believes firmly that teams build great Products not individuals.

When not seriously hacking away at a Product Problem, she can be found doing Covers of Romantic ballads or tucked away in a chair reading an Agatha Christie Novel or pondering on the mystery of Outer space and if there are any other life forms out there.

She also has a passion for mentoring, coaching, and networking with Aspiring Product Managers.

She has a degree in Computer Science (Obafemi Awolowo University) and an MBA (Ahmadu Bello University).

ProductDiver: Have you ever felt like you didn’t understand the technology on a product? What did you do to compensate? Also, do you have any tips for someone transitioning from an internal PM whose users have always been internal employees to a PM for a B2B/B2C product?

Adaobi: Oh plenty of times! And I am glad you asked that question because I believe that great Product Managers also take the time to understand the underlying technologies on which their Products are being built on.

Part of my routine is to understand who the Subject Matter Experts are on this Technology either within my professional network or from a direct work colleague.

This way, it’s interactive enough for me to have a conversation, get the concepts broken down in a way that I can understand, which  allows me to ask questions, probe a little bit further.

I usually will also do some research online to understand a bit more and see how it’s been used in the past. If I find it interesting enough.. I may take a light introductory course to help me understand it better.

I have seen how over time, I am able to leverage that technology for other products or areas because there is a firmer understanding of how the tech works.

ProductDiver: Do you have any tips for someone transitioning from an internal PM whose users have always been internal employees to a PM for a B2B/B2C product?

Adaobi: This is kind of how I started off as well. As a PM, I started off managing internal products or platform tools that other Product teams/Internal Users leveraged.

Of course, as an Internal PM or a Customer facing PM  there are common areas of intersection, but there are also areas that would have been less emphasized as an internal PM.

Usually for any transitional movement in life, you will want to start with a gap analysis.

Some of these gaps could be(not exhaustive):

  • Markets : You may not have a strong understanding of the Market needs or understand the competitive landscape, identifying what opportunities exist
  • Customer: You may not have the experience with speaking to “real” customers, defining customer problems, analyzing customer /behavioral data etc.
  • Product market fit: a firm understanding of how to iteratively build a Product but learning as you go.
  • Go to market :  value proposition design, taking the Products to customers.

Some strategies: Get the knowledge. Read up! Product Management is usually a spectrum. No one starts off being a super PM from day 1. So, get your hands on books/resources that drill down into specific areas around Market Research, User Research, Product Design, Product Strategy, Go-to-market.

The experience actually comes from doing.. So be deliberate about the next PM job you want to take or the next Product/Project you want to undertake; because it presents the opportunity to learn by doing.

Find PMs who can mentor you through that transition. Sometimes you may be lucky in having your mentor be your direct line manager at work. In some cases, you may need to proactively seek these Mentors out who you know have been successful as a B2B/B2C PM. Resist the temptation to wing it. So be sure that you are deliberately and consciously taking the learnings from personal study and from senior colleagues/mentors and putting into your day to day. It’s easy to get caught up in auto-pilot.

ProductDiver: Some stakeholders do not understand Agile Product Management. How do you make them understand the necessity of the processes involved in creating a good product.

Adaobi: This is why I usually say the PM role almost requires you to be superman. Aside from building your product, you are ultimately accountable for the success of the product and that means fixating also on the underlying processes used in building products. That is why great PMs also fixate on the Product Delivery Process and how to optimize it for efficiency.

Let me say first, that some organizations are beginning to see the value of Agile Product Management, others are still trying to catch on.

When Product teams build out all their feature/functionality out before engaging Customers, they are incurring a lot of risk/uncertainty. It becomes a hit or miss matter. There is a certain element of “Know it all”, which is dangerous.

But changing organizational behavior is not work that you do in 1 day.  It can be challenging but not impossible.

Some of the things you can explore are:

  1. Education : The Organization needs to understand the concept of Agile to begin with. Why it is important and what the organization stands to gain by adopting an agile way of delivering Products/features. More importantly, you need to educate across the different levels; executive management, managers etc.  Who are the key stakeholders who are critical to decision making that need to be educated/trained etc
  2. You need to get buy in:  You can throw light on current gaps in the product delivery process and show how including Agile practices will help solve/reduce these problems. You can share case studies of other Organizations that have transitioned and how their bottom line has improved.
  3. From experience, 1 and 2 never work in isolation, you will need to prove the concept (POC) to increase people’s faith in your recommendations. Sometimes, people don’t get it until they see it. So can we isolate a specific Product team (just 1 Product team) and show how the team’s efficiency increases over time. I find this is an easier way to win these conversations and get your foot in the door.

Don’t forget, that like any transformation journey, it will take some time, effort and commitment to get people to see the big picture and patiently navigate them one step at a time. Remember the agile concept believes in iteration.

ProductDiver: Do you experience imposter syndrome as a PM? How do you deal with it?

Adaobi: Very well! But I think I have figured a way to harness it. It’s kind of like a blessing in disguise. It’s natural. Everyone at some point will doubt their abilities.

We are human. But guess what, for me it signals there is a new challenge, an opportunity for growth, something that will push me and stretch me.  So it triggers me to ‘name the problem’, identify the gaps, create a plan, and work towards it. Working through that phase may be hard, but guess what, like every other thing in life, it gets easier, right?

After all, the people who are successful in that area, don’t have 2 heads.

What I dread the most is remaining in a state of comfort. It could mean you are not growing.

ProductDiver: How do you approach product discovery for a b2b product at an unstructured company with a small team?

Adaobi: A few things come to mind. Since it’s a small team, you want to ensure the team is spending their time building something that really solves a big problem; otherwise there is an opportunity cost being incurred as we could be spending time building something else. B2B products are typically more complex.

You want to be as close to the customer as possible not just at the discovery phase, but iteratively throughout the entire build process… Think Co-creation. If you are able to find one customer to build with at the initial stage, you will unpack a lot of insights as you go along. But talking to more than 1 is more important, because B2B customers typically require some level of customizations and integration (due to legacy systems they may have) and so ensuring that you are building in a way to address the larger needs of a Vertical/Industry is very important.

For B2B products, there are usually 2 categories of Persona you want to keep in mind at all times. That is  The User and The Buyer. They are usually not the same person/user arch type.

Their motivations are different. So factor this as you engage the different Personas during your discovery process.

The other thing to consider is your company’s org. Is it set up for a B2B Product. B2C and B2B products typically differ significantly in certain areas:  the sales model, the customer support structure. This could actually impact the success of your Products. Certain organization may make buy decisions simply on how well you are able to provide them  ‘after sales support’

ProductDiver: Pls I am very new in product management. Pls what can I do now or how can I become a well grounded pm

Adaobi: I don’t have a lot of context about where you are coming from. So I will just make some generic comments. Usually, I like to have more direct One on One conversations with people around this area.

But let me give some general feedback:

  1. Get some formal training. Product Dive offers an excellent program around this. So leverage that if you  haven’t. It will be a good introduction to the Product Management Discipline.
  2. Be invested enough to do some personal study, research, learning (continuously). Like any new endeavor, it feels like you are reading ‘greek’. But it gets easier I promise. Sometimes, it takes repetition and continuously being exposed to Product Management resources/materials to finally begin connecting the dots. So you have to do the work. Don’t forget as a PM, you are learning about the Product Management Discipline, but also the domain of the industry you want to play in , the technology (current and emerging) , the Organization (if you are already working in one), The People and processes etc. 
  3. Which leads me to the next point. A lot of people say they want to be PMs, but what specific areas are you passionate about because it helps you narrow down to the specific things you want to master.
  4. The experience you need to be grounded comes from actually  practicing and “doing”.. if not it just becomes head knowledge. So seek out the opportunities, interview for jobs (I tell people this is also. a skill to develop)etc. Now, I also see a chicken and egg problem, where Organizations are not willing to hire new or aspiring PMs but prefer candidates with some years of experience. So see if you can explore internship opportunities, paid or unpaid, part-time or full time. Do the work. Get the experience one way or the other!
  5. Create a support system : Find mentors that can support your progress and development and that can give your relevant feedback based on where you are in your journey and that can motivate you towards your PM Goals.
  6. Lastly, I want to challenge you with another question: ‘WHY Product Management’. A lot of people assume it’s the easiest route into Tech. They can’t be any further from the truth. So you need to want this for the right reasons. Answer this question with conviction and I promise you,  You will excel!

ProductDiver: Have you ever felt out of place in a team as a PM?  Maybe because you do not know much or have an idea of the technology or the product being worked on at that instance. How did you overcome such?

Adaobi: Part of my routine is to understand who the Subject Matter Experts are on this Technology either within my professional network or from a direct work colleague. This way, it’s interactive enough for me to have a conversation, get the concepts broken down in a way that I can understand, which  allows me to ask questions, probe a little bit further.

I usually will also do some research online to understand a bit more and see how it’s been used in the past. If I find it interesting enough.. I may take a light introductory course to help me understand it better.

I have seen how over time, I am able to leverage that technology for other products / areas because there is a firmer understanding of how the tech works.

ProductDiver: Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers.

Adaobi: Maintain a posture of continuous and life-long learning. I think that is what separates good PMs from great PMs.

Connect with our guest PM on LinkedIn at Adaobi Igwe-Okerekeocha
Join the ProductDive Slack Community here.

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