Immersed in the world of finance since the beginning of his professional career, Jan Schütz, Partner at finstreet, shares his knowledge and experience about creating products that address real customer pain points.
Before becoming a Partner, Jan was a Senior Product Manager.
In this episode of Product Management Insights, Jan, who has an extensive product management background, explains why focusing on the users’ problems is extremely important for a solution’s success, and what distinguishes a good Product Manager from an average one. He also discusses why the widely-adopted Scrum framework is not always the right approach to product development.
Being an outstanding Product Manager requires combining a methodological approach, creative thinking, and people skills. How does it work in practice? We answer this question in the Product Management Insights miniseries by presenting proven frameworks and battle-tested tips from top experts who contribute to creating valuable and effective products.
📜 The most important elements of good "product" stories
When it comes to product-related stories, we at finstreet have a saying: “Fall in love with the problem first!“ This goes for the overall project story, as well as for the specific stories and tasks we create for developers.
Only when everyone involved in the development of a product has a similar understanding of what your customers are struggling with, you have a chance to include a problem-solving dimension into development and therefore help your customer and clients deal with any issue they face.
Customer- and client-centricity in the bits and pieces will allow you to not only treat symptoms but also the sources of the customers’ problems and develop a product that offers value to the end-users.
🗣️ Tips for communicating product vision and strategy to get others engaged
A typical IT answer — it depends. You need to focus on the customers’ problems and solve them. If you are struggling with communicating it, then maybe you haven’t found the root cause of the problem.
Stakeholders will always want to know about the benefits and strategic opportunities your next feature or epic (and the related investment) will bring to them. So, we are back at problem-solving again — if you convince customers to use your product, then you have all the arguments on your side to use in stakeholder communication.
Last but not least, developers are an important part of the puzzle. If you give them the relevant business background (what and why they are doing), they’ll provide valuable input on your journey to finding the right solution. Remember to treat their input as it is: valuable! Keep communication on the same level — a Project Manager does not have a monopoly on the truth.
🎯 Decision-making process when defining strategic bets
In private life, I don’t like placing bets on something I’m not at least 75% sure about. Why do it in business?
Try to gather as much information about a decision you are about to take. If possible — ask yourself, do research, ask your clients. Only then you are able to assess possible scenarios and their outcomes and prepare for the short- and long-term influence they have on the product.
Or, as Littlefinger from “Game of Thrones” puts it: “Fight every battle everywhere, always, in your head. … Live that way and nothing will surprise you. Everything that happens will be something that you’ve seen before.”
✔️ Three favorite product frameworks
At finstreet, we don’t follow one framework, we use a mixture of them. We take the best from each and every framework and we try to create our finstreet approach, our way of work. Here you can learn more about the finstreet framework for digital projects, products, or ventures.
Work and talent
👌 What distinguishes a good Product Manager from an average one?
There’s a set of skills and traits that make a great Product Manager.
Ready-to-move-position: Relevant for skiing, football, or tennis, but also in business. After all, everything does not go as smoothly as planned and you will always encounter challenges that will influence your plan. If something happens out of the blue react — but don’t overreact — take the situation as it is and use a “divide and conquer“ approach. And as mentioned before: if you are prepared for different scenarios, they won’t surprise you.
Divide and conquer: As a Product Manager, you can’t let yourself get overwhelmed with situations and problems. You need to have the possibility to drill down complex topics into easier, smaller bits, and cover them step by step on your way to overcoming the next challenge.
Communication is key: Since you are the interface between stakeholders, customers, and developers, you need to be a skilled communicator.
Technical knowledge: You don’t need to be a developer or an architectural expert to be a good PdM, but it helps. If you want to discuss the input of developers in detail or assess whether it’s a better solution than yours, you need to understand what they are talking about.
❓ Three favorite interview questions when hiring a Product Manager
When hiring a Product Manager, I usually ask these three questions:
- How do you react to feedback and suggestions for optimization?
- What was the biggest unexpected challenge you faced and how did you react?
- What do you think about Scrum?
In general, I want to assess how an applicant fulfills the, from my point of view, key personality traits and skills. Plus, Scrum is an excellent framework when it comes to developing the first version of a product or an application, but it lacks flexibility when you work with a bigger application on a production level. Most of the Product Managers I’ve talked to agree about this, and I’m purely interested in whether the applicant has discovered a different approach.
📅 Top PdM habits you follow every day/week
I start the day with a good cup of coffee and get an overview of development boards and the status of tickets. After that (and throughout the whole day), I take time to answer questions from developers in detail and jump on calls with them if necessary.
The rest of the day is divided into time for focus work and calls with clients, stakeholders, etc. Having slots where you can work fully focused on product-related topics is extremely important to constantly have the product backlog filled with ideas on how to solve customer’s problems. The focus also helps with prioritization – you know which problems to solve first.
💬 Top habits, rituals, and frameworks for gathering insights
We are not a single product company, we use a lot of approaches including A/B tests, usability tests with eye-tracking, followed by interviews. We also try to gather feedback from the clients or our clients, so end-users, to learn about their potential problems.
However, we operate in a highly-regulated field, sometimes we can’t just focus on the customers’ clients, but we have to focus on our customers to meet their expectations.
Since we are all users of digital services, we also draw from our own experiences.
📖 Book that every Product Manager should read
Obviously Innovation-Booklet by finstreet, but jokes aside, there is not one specific book I would recommend that I especially liked. The crucial thing is to have a broad knowledge about different approaches and discuss them with fellow Product Managers — following little tips and tricks from their everyday work brings many benefits!
🤔 Essential resources to stay on top of the Product Management trends
- I follow Product Managers on LinkedIn
- Medium articles recommended my coworkers
- Netguru podcast
Want to be a part of the Product Management Insights series? Shoot me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn from other product experts:
Product Management Insights #2 — Ask the Right Questions with Pedro Sousa
Product Management Insights #3 — Understand What’s Vital For Customers with Davide Vitiello