Interview with Amity’s Product Manager: Why remote product management only works when the right tools are used

What does it take to effectively manage products, liaise with dispersed stakeholders and keep the roadmap on track when everyone is working remotely? Here, Meenakshi Agrawal (Product Manager at Amity) shares her best practices.

June 26, 2020
Lauren Feille

Product managers (PMs) play a key role in governing the overall success of a company’s product deliverable, which requires constant communication with stakeholders and juggling multiple product roadmaps in parallel. Is it still possible to achieve this with teams working remotely? We spoke to Meenakshi Agrawal, Product Manager at Amity, to learn about some of the best practices she has to share when it comes to working with a dispersed team.

As a PM, are there any unique challenges that come with working from home? How have you navigated these challenges?

The main differentiating factor is having to coordinate and collaborate from a distance, which means relying even more intensely on our digital tools. We need to feel in control and be on top of all item statuses so that we can maintain a sense of assurance and confidence in the product we’re building.

The ideal tool for product management connects both the strategic, prioritization and planning elements, and constant communication across the teams. Amity has been a huge help here. There are various features in the platform that help streamline your work and allow for continuous check ins with your teammates no matter where they are.

Product management involves collating different information and data from various sources—both externally and internally. How do you streamline communications from a distance?

Written communication to different teams is very important to keep the requirements consistent. It is a more unified way to exchange information about a feature that every team member should be aware of. This is the reason why PMs invest their time in maintaining documentation of every task concerning the product. It helps us identify the answers to all the “whys” revolving around the main product. Writing everything helps us to make crucial decisions and get answers right at the beginning for questions such as “Who is the product for? ” and “why does the app need to be developed?”. Having it documented and visible to everyone eliminates any chance of confusion and mistakes.

Monitoring the progress of each project is crucial to delivering good results on time. How ensure accountability and productivity that sticks to the roadmap timeline?

We follow four different steps to make sure we stay on track and keep everyone  on the same page.

  1. Planning - Planning is very important. When managers document their vision in a clear and proper manner via creating stories, sprints, and goals, the whole development team is able to create a feature aligned with users needs.
  2. Support Timely Execution – Plans are just plans if they are not implemented on time and in the right manner. To turn a vision and strategy into a real and well-functioning application, we use documentation and establish written communication with designers, engineers, etc. to help them execute in the right direction.
  3. Keep Team Members Accountable – By keeping documentation of all the tasks related to the product, a PM can access the information about what team members are doing and make them accountable for their share of tasks. Keeping a record of everything ensures transparency.
  4. Customers Needs Are Fulfilled – By documenting everything for features to be developed by planning and correct execution, PMs can easily access what features should be included in the application and what should be included later. They can pass on this plan to the team in a detailed and clear way so that the end product is exactly what users need.

As you can see, these steps revolve largely around inclusive, clear and real-time communications. Using digital tools and internal employee platforms to tick all of the items on this checklist ensures a successful product delivered on time.

How should companies adjust their product roadmap and strategies with the COVID-19 and working from home set up in mind?

Most companies have a roadmap defined for an entire year. Usually, the product development cycles are long and require a good amount of time to plan and to put things in motion. In this pandemic, the situation has changed and people are working from home. From my perspective, launching product features right now which are not specifically aimed to ease the lives of people who use the app is a bad idea. Instead, adjusting the roadmap to find a balance between the needs of the users during this pandemic while also supporting  the company’s business continuity is key.

Do you have any advice for product managers navigating the COVID-19 situation and its impact on business?

As we all watch the world deal with the COVID-19 crisis, we see many organizations and people act in various ways: some in a very responsible way while others are panicking, some working on assumptions while others base their decisions on data. This is the time in which a good product manager can make a difference. Our job is to keep things calm, put them in perspective and make sure that the right team is solving the crisis to minimize the impact to the rest of our plan.

First, we need to analyze the crisis and make sure we get the right resources. Second, we need to make sure to control the information flow. We must ensure that the team working on the tasks has all the right data on the situation. We need to make sure that the rest of the team gets timely updates and does not interfere with the team working on the tasks. We actually have to protect this team from getting overloaded with other tasks. Lastly, once things are in motion we may need to shift priorities, update the plan and move things around. Navigating the situation will be all about adjusting to the crisis both as it happens, and as we begin to recover and return to a new normal.

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