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Inspiring Stories

Transitioning to a Successful Product Manager

Published by: SkillsFuture Singapore

Photo credit to Will Lin


‘What you say No to is as important as what you say Yes to’, a guiding principle that has served Will Lin Zhi Xun well, a GovTech Product Manager who has amassed a wealth of experience in distinguishing successful products from unsuccessful ones.

The role of a Product Manager entails bringing products to the market. This requires a deep understanding of the target audience, market needs and the entire process of design to development, marketing and pricing. These are inexact science that requires both risk taking and calculated planning.

Take for instance, an online tool designed for the public sector—this requires someone who is familiar with existing processes; while a new product for medical professionals requires someone well versed with the healthcare industry.

A Product Manager’s Role in the Tech Sector

Will Lin at GovTech
Photo credit to Will Lin

 

Prior to becoming a product manager at GovTech, Will held positions in banking and finance and consultancy in the private sector. When he joined the public sector at Enterprise Singapore, he was supporting grants administration before his interest in product development led him to his secondment in this area. While new to this role, he was quick to learn on the job while picking up skills through training on business analysis, agile delivery, scrum master, product owner and agile coaching.

Will says, “As a product manager, you may be asked to work on a new or unfamiliar system. In order to chart out a proper product roadmap, you will need to learn how to engage with the product developers, internal stakeholders and the end users in order to understand what is truly important.”

“In fact, there is no real start and end date to launching a new product – there is no turnkey. A product can be launched today, but it will go through an iterative process and tweaked later as you understand your customers better and grow your market while continuing to enhance the product to better serve your users and increase revenue streams. There is no end to this process, especially in the tech sector, such as for AI products, where things are evolving very fast. Hence, I work closely with software engineers when I want to launch new tech products. The timeline from idea conception to launch can be as short as three months.”

Product managers don’t need to be experts or specialists in their industries. For instance, in his job, Will is not required to be as skilled in coding as a software engineer. What you must have is an appreciation for how technology works, be it software architecture or large language modelling, and also a structured way of thinking. “To be a product manager, you must be skilled in systems thinking. Product managers come from all works of life. Generally, those who work with systems, or those who have worked in operations or finance can find themselves suitable for this role.”

Qualities For A Product Manager

Will and his GovTech team at work. Photo credit to Will Lin.
Will and his GovTech team at work. Photo credit to Will Lin.


To succeed as a product manager, one must understand the product’s purpose well, collaborate with UX designers, understand the timeline, assess financial viability and work closely with engineers to build the product.

In addition to core skills such as stakeholder management and facilitation, product managers must also stay abreast of best practices. Meanwhile, identifying key product features that delight customers is also crucial, as exemplified by the transformative impact of the Business Grants Portal spearheaded by Will. “An example is the business grants portal I was working on seven years ago. This allowed anyone who wanted to apply for a business grant to easily apply through the portal, which changed the way we supported businesses operating in Singapore. At that time, every two weeks, the portal would undergo incremental enhancements to improve the user experience of businesses through auto-form filling when applying for grants. Now we are focusing on how to get the applications processed more efficiently so that businesses can get the support they need faster.”

As for other qualities required for this role, Will says, “You must know what your product vision is and understand the capabilities of your team. Arm yourself with core skills such as stakeholder management, systems thinking, facilitation and build a good knowledge base of product management tools and concepts, such as prioritisation frameworks and the Lean Value Tree (LVT) approach. Be open and communicative as the role involves lots of discussions with engineers.

“And know what you are betting on in order to make your product a success. This means having the gumption to make decisions to invest time and money on a new product or feature, based on an unknown future, with a focus on making your customers happy.”

Words of Wisdom

Stock image

 

Will finds fulfilment in building new products, rolling them to the market and seeing people use them – his job has a direct and tangible impact on his customers. That said, exercising prudence is as important as having business acumen. “As a product manager, you may want to build a lot of things, but what you say No to is as important as what you say Yes to. What you decide not to build is as important as what you decide to build.”
 

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SCS’s role as SkillsFuture Singapore’s Skills Development Partner

As one of SkillsFuture Singapore’s Skills Development Partners, SCS identifies essential sectoral skills through interactions with industry professionals. SCS seamlessly integrates skills development with the continuous enterprise transformation and job redesign within the sector, assisting companies in recognising and valuing employees’ skill acquisition and mastery more effectively.

Interested in enhancing your product management skills? Explore the Joint NUS-ISS and Singapore Computer Society Certification Programme in Managing Digital Products

 

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Last updated on 11 Apr 2024