AMA with Emmanuel Bediako Addo-Yirenkyi

Emmanuel is passionate about financial inclusion, healthcare, technology and its associated social impacts. He has 7 years of experience in developing software using agile in startups at different stages in fintech, healthcare and social protection. He currently works at Transferwise as Product Manager, Global Expansion – MEA. Highly experienced, he brings his depth and versatile expertise to bear in this engagement as we can see from his very insightful answers below. Let’s begin! 

ProductDiver: How do you plan releases? What development methodology do you follow?

Emmanuel: Thanks for your question. At both Transferwise and mPharma we have worked with CI/CD and also work in a kanban board. This means that we have a set of stories which have been deprioritized  and placed in the backlog. We flesh out these stories and triage them. At TW we believe that product engineers are capable of understanding the impact of the projects they work on and give them the liberty to argue and pick the projects that they feel most akin to. In this way it gives the engineer and the tribe a degree of autonomy. 

We release as soon as the feature has been tested and is ready for production.

Depending on the size of the release, we may have a silent launch or if its a larger build like UAE which was my first release at TW, we will have a public launch which means that you have to involve marketing, PR, compliance, legal and many other teams. This is super interesting and cross-collaborative.

ProductDiver: Talk me through your preferred prioritization framework. What are the pros and cons of using it?

Emmanuel: Hi, I love the RICE framework. It really helps us understand the Impact, Effort, Reach and Confidence we have when prioritizing features. At TW, we work with a lot of data and this enables us to forecast the impact of the projects even before we start working on them.

We have quarterly plannings where as a team we deliberate what we think will be the impact of a project and essentially democratically vote for projects. This does mean that there will be bias but we try to offset that by providing as much context to projects so we challenge each other as much as possible. At the end of the day, we hate each other a little more but we trust each and know that we all have the customer’s best interest at heart.

ProductDiver: How do you manage pressing timelines especially when handling multiple products?

Emmanuel: Amazing question. My go to has been de-prioritization. As a PM you need to learn to say NO to things and be very clear about why you are saying no. More often than not, you will be working with limited resources even if you work at Google. 

This means that there are things you won’t be able to do and in order to do what you are doing and be able to deliver, measure impact and be able to scale efficiently, you have to de-prioritize. Come up with a framework which enables you to determine what is the most impact project and de-prioritize the least. Try to come up with a mix where you and your team are still challenged. As a team embrace failure somewhat. It is never good to be too comfortable as a product team but understand that a stressed team is not a creative team.

ProductDiver: Did you start your career as a Product Manager? Did you transition? What difficulties did you face at the beginning of your product management career?

Emmanuel: I started my career  as a front-end engineer and co-founder. I found out rather early that I was doing product work even before I knew what the role was called. The transition was tough because I think as an engineer sometimes we don’t take a step back to think about all the different risks that could come from our product choices but think so much about building the coolest thing.

The biggest difficulty was learning to say no and learning to give good time estimates so my team can deliver amazing quality. I learnt this the hard way during my career!

ProductDiver: What advice can you give a Research Associate in an R&D department, looking to transition to Software product/project management?

Emmanuel: Learn about what Product Managers do, watch Product School, Mind the Product, join ProductDive. But more importantly get your hands dirty working on a project and be willing to do anything to work closely with engineers or anywhere in the software development life cycle. Over time you will have the skills. You don’t need to know how to code per se.

The last thing I want to say about this is that you will realize that most top companies are saying they don’t need qualifications to hire. For product, it is more about your experience and what you have built and how you think about customers and moving a metric.

Moving a metric is key. How you moved the number of customers from A to B.

Moved conversion from A to B. Thinking like a product person means being able to think in a way that everything you are doing is creating change.

ProductDiver: What interesting data can you share on customers’ interaction with payments during this pandemic?

Emmanuel: I can share that digital payments saw a significant growth during the pandemic. We saw growth we hadn’t seen before. We also saw that people are willing to adopt new technology. We also saw that they have stayed because the service we provide is convenient .

The Middle East and Africa saw growth that we haven’t seen in monthly numbers. We also saw that players that continuously innovate and think about flexible ways to work didn’t feel any challenges with the pandemic and that the future of work is truly remote. Today for the first time in 6 months I went to the office and said that we should trust that our employees and engineers are mature and want to grow too.

ProductDiver: What certifications does a Software product manager need to have? What skills can one learn (Technical and Soft skills)?

Emmanuel: I work with some of the best PM’s I know at TW. Very few of them have certifications. Certifications show that you can do what you say you have learned but experience also says this clearly. Both are important but understand that during the interview process you may be tested and your logic and hard skills such as SQL, Excel LOOKUP or forecasting may be tested and you will need to show you can do these.

On speaking the tech or engineering, I think you need to be able to understand how engineers talk so that when they say something you can trust them. That can be achieved by working with them, starting a project, working with an engineer, getting your hands dirty, that’s the only way as far as I know. Work as an intern, sit with engineers in your company even if you are in finance. I have seen it first hand.

ProductDiver: With your transition from mPharma to payments, are there differences with how you think about customers?

Emmanuel: I have learnt a lot in the last 8 months but at the end of the day something has become clear to me, that every start up aside from maybe design firms are fin-techs. At mPharma, I was working on a Point of Sale solution that integrated with mobile money to capture sales and had an inventory management system. At the end of the day a customer wants to be delighted and wants their problems solved.

I think about customers in terms of what problem am I solving for them and which is the most important and how can I make sure that they keep trusting me to solve that problem for them. Why would they choose me or my solution over another, that hasn’t changed.

Lastly, every product creates a record which can have an equivalent credit and debit transaction  but at the end of the day figure out if this is truly solving a customer need.

ProductDiver: This mPharma POS product you mentioned, is it an internal product or is it something I can check out? What was the revenue generation strategy for this pls?

Emmanuel: This is a product that mPharma is providing for free as part of a service they provide to pharmacies that sign up to it. These pharmacies are either part of the Bill and Melinda Gates selected pharmacies or PPMVs or the Mutti-Pharmacies which you may have seen in Lagos or Port Harcourt.

ProductDiver: Take me through how you manage a product from conception to launch

Emmanuel: That’s a long question but I’ll will try to create steps:
1. Ideate
2. Conceptualize
3. Test
4. Re-conceptualize
5. Test
6. Silent Launch
7. Modify
8. Launch

Parting Shots?

Emmanuel: I want to speak briefly about empathy and the fact that you as a product manager are the voice of the customer, the engineer, operations and everyone. You need to have the listening ear and empathise with people but also be willing to say NO. That is a balance of soft skills that you can’t be without as a PM. 

You need to think through every situation and put yourself first and foremost in your customers shoes and think about the problems they face, why, why they haven’t made the change, what making the change would mean to them, what your service is working to solve, and never stop yourself from asking questions about your customer. The more you understand your customer the more successful your product will be and so will you. If I want to leave you with anything it is empathy.

We sometimes judge our customers from high horses. In order to understand your customer, live their life for a moment, that’s the way you will use your skills to solve their problems.

And that’s it guys. Quite explosive!!! 

Please follow Emmanuel on Twitter on @eyirenkyi86 and on LinkedIn with https://www.linkedin.com/in/eyirenkyi

And, don’t forget to join us on Slack so you can be part of our next AMA live via https://www.bit.ly/PDSlack

Till next time. Cheers!!!

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