Heap’s Matin Movassate on the Characteristics of a Winning Product Manager

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a two-part interview featuring Matin Movassate. In the first installment, Movassate provided insight into how he and his team at Heap are building a product that sells itself.

Matin Movassate has clocked a lot of hours working as a product manager for companies like Google and Facebook; and, as co-founder and CEO of Heap, he is the acting head of product for the company’s user analytics software, which delivers “instant retroactive analytics.” Based on both his first-hand experience and the time he has spent working closely with other product managers, Movassate has gained a lot of insight into the characteristics of a winning product manager.

Embracing the Big Picture and the Nitty Gritty

“Bad product management tends to be characterized by a lot of wasted work and uncertainty,” Movassate says. On the other hand, good product managers are able to create internal cohesion around a shared vision and roadmap. “By and large, the best indicator of strong execution is everyone being able to provide consistent responses to questions about what they are building and why they are building it,” Movassate says. “A really good product manager will do whatever needs to be done to ensure that everyone understands where the ship is headed.”

While this ability to keep the team in sync requires a big picture perspective, the product manager also needs to understand the component parts of the machine being built. In overseeing the proverbial mid-flight plane-building efforts, you can’t underestimate the mechanical details, lest the plane crash into the mountain.

The Relationship Between Feedback and Context

Collecting standalone user feedback isn’t enough. A good product manager needs to also consider the context. “I try to be very perceptive to everything, which means I need to voraciously consume context,” Movassate explains. “I read our support and sales emails every day. I read about what our engineering team is working on and what pull requests they submitted to GitHub. I have to really have my ear to the ground in terms of what’s happening so I can help unblock people.”

Product managers need to be able to thrive amidst constant context switches, a deluge of varied data, and demands to synthesize that deluge of data into actionable directives that keep the team on track. “A successful product manager is someone who is okay with jumping back and forth in different contexts,” Movassate says. “They need to feel energized by that kind of environment, not exhausted.”

Product Velocity as a Crucible for Quality

A good product manager must complement agile feedback synthesis with shipping things quickly. “Velocity can help illuminate what needs to get done,” Movassate explains. “Analysis paralysis” is real and perfectionism is a death knell for product managers.

“When you put things in front of users with greater frequency, you accelerate the rate of feedback and can use that insight to inform your product development more quickly and more accurately than if you were shipping things more slowly. Over time, velocity allows a team to converge more quickly on the right product.”

In a high velocity environment, communication is the force that holds the ambient feeling of chaos at bay. “It may seem obvious, but a product manager needs to be really, really okay with communicating clearly and frequently with their team,” Movassate says.

One Size Does NOT Fit All

There is a stark difference between the role of a product manager at a big, mature company versus a startup. “If you work at Facebook or Google, the foundation has already been built. You’re only building the last 10 to 20%,” says Movassate. “You have large engineering teams and the luxury of trying different ideas.” This is vastly different from the product management experience at a startup. “When it’s just two people building something, you can’t boil the ocean.”

“You have to pick your battles in terms of what problem you’re trying to solve. It’s an exercise in being very deliberate about what you’re building so you can reduce the scope of what you build as aggressively as possible. You need to make a bold bet, and you don’t have the luxury of screwing up.”

As a CEO, Movassate believes that transparency is paramount in hiring and scaling the product function at Heap. “Team is super important. We always make sure that prospective hires get full visibility into who we are as individuals and how we get work done,” he says. “Some people might like it, some people might not. Either way, knowing whether there’s a fit or not always results in the right outcome.”

If you find Heap’s approach to product management intriguing, you might consider joining their team. They’re hiring!

Blake Bartlett
Blake Bartlett

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