On 24th August, 2022, Ayodeji Ajuwon was the guest PM on our monthly #ProductDiveAMA session.
Ayodeji is a summa cum laude graduate of engineering with 5+ years of experience in building technology products ranging from basic automation to games, AR, VR & XR, Blockchain and fintech with diverse teams across the globe. He leads products at OurPass which offers the fastest one-click checkout for digital commerce in Africa.
He leads the product vision with a cross functional product, design and engineering team in collaboration with other industry professionals (customer success, sales and marketing) in building solutions, providing services for the digital commerce and financial service sector.
He is a product generalist, well polished in growth and technical product management.
Ayodeji says he has no special talent, but only passionately curious.
ProductDiver: How did you get into Product Management?
Ayodeji: I am actually an accidental product manager by the way. So I can’t really speak about product management without speaking about what I did before product management. I started tech while I was in school and did literally everything needed to build software products. So I sort of picked several skills along the way ranging from software development to product design, marketing and even selling the products through pitches. I was involved in every stage. So by default I found product management as an intersection to all of this and defined my position as a product manager. I did some courses to help me define the role also.
ProductDiver: Does it make sense to solve a use case as part of an interview especially when the use case is something the company is trying to solve?
Ayodeji: Solving a use case can be a way to basically understand how the product manager is going to solve a problem or basically see the PMs problem solving skills. You are not supposed to get it correctly actually as there are no right or wrong answers. The point would just be to analyze and see how you attempt problem solving.
ProductDiver: The company insisted on me creating a wireframe and user flow that could just go directly to the engineer.
I’m curious to know if that’s not too much for an interview.
Ayodeji: Interviews vary from company to company and most times it’s out of our control. Looking at it from the company’s side also might be an issue where they employed people who could talk their way out of interviews but couldn’t deliver.
So If that gets you the job and isn’t much work to you as an individual you can do it. Though some things might pose as a red flag. I have seen companies that tell you to build products as tests. So you also have to be self-discerning.
ProductDiver: What are the major difficulties in leading a product team?
Ayodeji: Basically, Engineering dependencies. Where one development process is dependent on the completion of another story. Managing managers also seem to pose difficulties and sometimes, somewhat stressful.
ProductDiver: What is the least part about being a product manager, I have no idea if I pitched that correctly during an interview.
Secondly, how do you deal with not meeting deadlines/deliverables?
Ayodeji: The least part would be breaking things down constantly. Not everything about building products is direct and a lot of people find it hard to grasp that. So sometimes you spend quite a lot of time explaining.
Secondly, in dealing with not meeting deadlines:
You definitely have to take responsibility for missing the deadlines, you also need to analyze how you intend to pay up your deadline debts.
ProductDiver: How does one pay deadline debts?
Ayodeji: Does your current push attain basic expectations? If not, bring some of it into a new sprint (sometimes you join them with a new sprint goal). Also, prioritize. Make sure these debts are part of your conversations with engineering managers.
ProductDiver: What do you do personally in becoming a better PM?
Ayodeji: I learn new things and read constantly. I take a lot of courses actually – I follow the principle of “The day you stop learning, you start dying”.
I build relationships with a lot of HNIs (High network individuals) and highly experienced product people in the industry. From time to time I gain knowledge from them to apply to different challenges I face. Anytime I am faced with an issue, I talk to them. Definitely one of them would have encountered such before.
I also step out of my desk sometimes, spend weekends in an entirely different environment just to forget the pressure and clear my head.
According to Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, stepping out of the office and changing the scenery can be the best way to help a product manager summon a game-change idea.
Other things I do include getting involved with product communities and picking up side projects.
ProductDiver: After your first course in Product Management, did you land a job instantly or you started with internship opportunities?
Ayodeji: My journey was quite different. I had been doing products already (3+ years) before I decided to take some courses because I felt I did not have a structured learning process.
Interestingly, ProductDive’s PM certification was the first course I had to take.
ProductDiver: How long should one be an intern before stepping up to major junior PM role?
Ayodeji: 3-6 Months. You can also have a senior /mid level PM evaluate you. You can be ready to go as early as 3 months and like you mentioned, for a junior role.
ProductDiver: How do you manage your time effectively as a PM knowing how overwhelming the role could be?
Ayodeji: I plan almost every single thing. Nothing takes me unawares. I “personally” use a Todo list every morning. I also avoid meetings a lot because it eats time. If it’s worth discussing on a communication channel, why hold a meeting?
I also use loom videos a lot to explain things to people so that they can always refer back to it anytime they forget tiny pieces of things.
Finally, I document a lot. It avoids back and forth a lot of times.
ProductDiver: How would you describe the Product culture at Our Pass?
Ayodeji: I will summarise it:
- Strategic usage of data for decision making
- Customer experience is king and should be the main focus
- You must always work with KPIs
- Continuous learning culture
- Crowdsourcing Ideas and early involvement of engineering team leads
- We win and fail together, No pointing of fingers.
ProductDiver: How do you improve your documentation skill as a PM?
Because PMs document a lot and sometimes you are unsure if you’ve clearly penned down tasks or errors or feature requirements, etc.
Ayodeji: The internet has almost everything waiting for you.
I google a lot. I get on calls with several senior managers in the industry to get their sense of documentation and see how they write theirs. I search and follow templates from FAANGs and most importantly I forget not to over document depending on the team’s capacity and size. Agile preaches execution over excessive documentation.
ProductDiver: What’s the perfect side project an aspiring PM can do to showcase his/her abilities?
Ayodeji: I don’t think there is such a thing as a perfect project. Your side project basically helps you strengthen your skills and show your basic product management acumen.
But yeah you can pick a fintech projects since they currently dominate the industry in terms of number of companies
ProductDiver: What would you say you wished you learnt earlier into your Product Management journey?
Ayodeji: Non-technical skills; emotional intelligence, empathy etc
Infact, your non-technical skills are what makes your product successful.
ProductDiver: What is one resource (book, article or tool) l you feel impacted your career growth and can recommend or share here.
Ayodeji: The Product Book. This was the first book I read in my journey as a PM.
You can find it at product school.
ProductDiver: I always hear that PMs are meant to be good communicators and always have to speak to users to understand them better. How can an introvert navigate this?
Ayodeji: The way to be a great communicator for an introvert isn’t to behave like an outgoing person or like an extrovert, it is to use the characteristics of being an introvert to listen first with enabling relational abilities, so you can get the best result with your colleagues with minimum stress and calmness.
ProductDiver: What motivates you constantly when overwhelmed by the PM role?
Ayodeji: Problem no dey finish! I rest/sleep a little, change my environment, go out just to change my mind space and then come back.
ProductDiver: Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?
Ayodeji: Network and involve yourself with as many product communities as you can. Most times you get those opportunities within your network.
Find yourself some product to lay your hands on, even if it requires volunteering. You only become better on the job.
Finally, Keep learning new things and keep reading
Connect with our guest PM on LinkedIn at Ayodeji Ajuwon
Join the ProductDive Slack Community here