May 2, 2023 | Product Management

Learning to be myself: What a career in product management taught me

Learning to be myself: What a career in product management taught me

I’ve worked in digital product for more than a decade and have learned plenty from my mentors—the most important of which have been around the way I show up in the workplace. More than any technical knowledge or industry expertise, acting authentically and with empathy toward others has been crucial to my success. 

Why is being human so critical within the world of product management? Glad you asked. 

Meeting your client where they're at 

One of the biggest keys to success in any client-facing role is to meet your client where they're at. No two clients are exactly the same—and each has different needs, expectations, and desires to truly transform their organization. As digital product experts, it's our job to listen to our clients, understand their goals and concerns, and work collaboratively to find the best solution. 

I remember working with a client once who was really struggling to articulate what they wanted. I could tell they were feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, and I knew that if I just tried to plow ahead with my own ideas, it wasn't going to end well. 

Having a wealth of tools, methodologies, and best practices in your back pocket is critical—but equally important is knowing when and how to deploy them and not force process on your client. 

So instead, I took a step back and really listened to what they were saying. I asked open-ended questions, paraphrased what they said back to them to make sure I understood, and assured them I was on their side. I slowed down progress to meet them where they were at and adjusted the way we worked to fit better in their company culture. At the end of the engagement, my stakeholder took the time to specifically call out how important making that adjustment was to the success we ultimately had. Sure, it took a bit more time and effort, but it allowed us to build a strong connection that led to a better product and lasting relationship. 

Act like you're working for them 

Not them as in the business they work for. Them as in the human being that is your primary stakeholder. It's easy to get caught up in the politics and bureaucracy of the corporate world, but at the end of the day, it's the people we're serving that matter most. I always try to approach my work with a servant mentality, asking myself "how can I make this person's life easier?" It's amazing how much of a difference it can make when you're genuinely invested in someone else's success. 

Being authentic and empathetic 

Showing up with authenticity and empathy is crucial to building strong relationships with your clients and coworkers. It's not about being a doormat or letting people walk all over you—but rather about being open, honest, and vulnerable with those around you. When we're willing to show our own flaws and imperfections, it creates a safe and supportive environment where others feel comfortable doing the same.  

I have done this on many occasions with my clients, and doing so has made the work much less stressful. I’ve shared my feelings of anxiety and worry with a few of my key partners, and in doing so heard back from them that they had similar doubts and fears as the ones I had expressed. Being vulnerable with one another helped us both give each other the benefit of the doubt and made the working relationship much more effortless. 

So next time you're working with a difficult client or feeling overwhelmed as a product manager, remember to take a step back, listen with an open mind, and approach your work with a servant mentality. Trust me, your clients (and your coworkers) will thank you for it. 

Thanks for reading, friends!

Remember to keep exploring and learning new things. 🌲 

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Ben Steinbach

Ben is a senior product manager in West Monroe’s product experience & engineering practice.

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