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A Day in the Life of a Product Manager [Radost]

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Greetings and salutations, dear DevriX blog readers!

Today, we will be interviewing our product manager – Radostina Tsvetkova. We’ve talked about why it is important to tackle the hardest tasks first, what type of books she enjoys, and the most essential qualities a product manager should have.

All of that, and more!

If you haven’t checked out our previous episodes, you can do so by following the links below:

A Day in the Life of a Product Manager

Hello, Radost! Thank you for this interview. To start our conversation, can you share a little bit about yourself?
Hi, Denis, thanks for inviting me, and for being such a welcoming host.

Now, about myself, I’m a product manager at DevriX. I was in sales for about 5 years before getting my MBA. I then moved to marketing communications and business development, when I decided to also follow my passion in tech and digital. I took some additional courses and qualifications as well, and ultimately, my path crossed DevriX’s, where the fun began (laughing).

My most important role in life is being a mother. I’m a home bird. What I love doing is spending time with family at home: gaming, reading books, watching movies; or going on hikes. This is what brings me immense joy right now.

Cool. We’ll get to those topics a bit later. But first, I want to ask you, since you’re a very business-oriented person, what motivates you to drive businesses forward, and what actually ignited your passion?
It evolved over time, but I realize that I’ve always gone after projects where I can have an impact. I’ve never been happy working on something where I haven’t made a visible difference. What really motivates me is being able to work on projects that have specific, but beneficial or impactful outcomes.

That is what essentially product management strives for  – achieving identified outcomes that affect both the business and its customers. These outcomes can be different every quarter (laughing), as well. The important thing is that you have a purpose and can break  down your goals. The endgame is to make people’s lives easier – to automate stuff, to make things more efficient, to make things more enjoyable – to be useful.

One of our core values is to evolve and adapt – something that is surely very significant, as you mentioned yourself. What would you say is the biggest business issue that you’ve faced at DevriX, and how did you manage to find a solution to it?
One thing that comes to mind was meeting Core Web Vitals scores with two high traffic, media-and-embeds-heavy, third-party-scripts-heavy publishers. We were able to optimize them to page load times at an average of 2.5 seconds, and meeting the CWV scores was still tricky at that point. We wanted to achieve blazing performance that would increase conversions for our users. But we also wanted to show our partners we have the clean, green CWV scores. Only a few websites had entirely green scores at the beginning of the “Core Web Vitals era”, and even fewer of those were large publishers.

We had to think outside the box, challenge limitations, think of workaround solutions to services that were hurting the scores, ask ourselves why we were doing things the way we were, reevaluate whether we really had the problems that some services were solving and if we were solving the right problems. This was particularly difficult at the start of the CWV metrics being introduced by Google – nobody knew a lot about them and how they were measured…

Typical Google.
(laughing)… initially, we didn’t have a lot of tools that were later introduced by Google for debugging and measuring, so we were not always sure which changes would have the biggest impact on the metrics. Everything was trial and error while making sure that all vital processes that ensured website monetization were not harmed. This took us months to achieve. It was super challenging, and super fun to do.

Radost, our product manager at a WordPress event

Especially, when the end result is satisfying for everyone, no? I imagine it also brings you even more joy to know that what you went through was all worth it in the end?
Absolutely. Your biggest difficulties are often opportunities for growth.  And speaking of growth and monetization, you need to discover the issues your users are having and place them in line with your goals. If you find an issue that you can fix, and if it is viable for the business, and valuable enough to be monetized – then you have a nice problem to solve. It’s more about looking for the right problems, than just solving.

That’s very interesting. Well, now it’s time for the classic series of questions – what does a day in the life of a product manager look like, apart from looking for and solving problems?
(laughing). I would say it’s very different depending on the organizations, industries, company cultures, and hierarchy levels that a product manager is at.

In my particular case, I try to start my day with something relaxing, something that’s going to energize me first, so I do not go into stressful situations straight away. I exercise, do some reading in the morning, and then when I first come into the office, I typically try to keep my interactions with people positive. After that, I can look into any fires that need putting out. I also prefer to spend time in the evening preparing for the following day, so that everyone has their tasks in the morning. When everything is organized, the first thing I’m going to do the following day is to tackle the hardest task of the day.

The most important task is often the hardest one – I always tell my daughter to start with the hardest part first, always. This will give you a feeling of fulfillment early in the morning – where you know you’ve tackled the most crucial thing of the day.

Typically, when something is vague and not clear, people put it off, so I try to get to that first. It’s often a different task every day too – it could be brainstorming solutions or tests, communication on specific tasks, research, thinking of additional ways to reach out to customers, or how to gather extra information for stakeholders.

Generally, throughout the day, I’ll try to put aside time to focus on research. I’ll spend time with both the team, and also with stakeholders. Throughout the whole week, I’ll try to also make time for customer discovery – where the whole team is involved in the process – engineers, designers, analysts, sometimes additional stakeholders.

It’s really important to involve everyone in the discovery process. Engineers are actually the most essential asset in brainstorming new ways, new builds, new inventions, new solutions. It’s vital for them to understand the context of a project, and if they’ve participated in the discovery process, they would have a much better understanding of why they’re building something.

We will also be creating, evaluating or thinking of tests, there will be delivery tasks as well. We work with weekly sprints, and part of the builds that we build are MVPs (minimum viable products) or tests: ways to challenge different assumptions or hypotheses, so we know exactly what we want to create.

The other part will be the actual delivery to production of the stuff that we already know that we want to release live for all users. These builds will have production-grade quality in terms of stability, and we’ll go through more QA iterations of finding edge cases.

In regard to internal and external stakeholders, I try to have at least one meaningful collaboration with someone each week aside from the regular meetings. When we’re doing a specific discovery, we want to make sure that they’re kept informed, and they have the opportunity to provide their insights early enough in the process. This is really hard to do sometimes, because everyone is so busy, and you don’t want anyone left in the dark about what’s going on.

Judging from your words, I can assume that some of the most important qualities for a product manager are time management and teamwork. Is there anything else you would like to add?
I would say, it’s customer obsession (borrowing the term from Amazon). Secondly, making sure that you’re testing assumptions, and making sure that you’re thinking of every possible  solution to each problem, and not just testing out one solution. This prevents cognitive biases that could be misleading, you to want to be able to confirm what you already know.

Next, being efficiency oriented – this is where you strive to find the smallest test you can run that would provide validation and/or useful information. Once you believe your test is as short as possible, cut it in half – there’s always more that you can simplify.

Last but not least, a product manager is the glue between the customers, the business, and the tech teams. You need to make sure that you examine all these areas – make sure  you’re going to build is something that users will want to use. Then that they’re going to be able to use it (so you’re going to have some level of usability incorporated and in your tests), and that it’s viable for the business, and that it’s something your team can actually build.

From a business perspective, there should not be any legal impediments that prevent you from creating a viable product. For example, you might want to record users and their interactions with the product, however, that might not be legal.

In terms of feasibility, you need to know if this is something you can test out and then scale in terms of production. You don’t want to spend more time in testing than you would in production.

That’s some pretty good advice there. Now, let’s talk about books. I know you read a lot, so can you share what your favorite authors and genres are, and if you have any recommendations?
I knew you were going to ask about this, so I have been thinking about my top 15 (laughing). There are so many to choose from. What I can say is this: start reading as early as possible, and a lot. I read somewhere that successful leaders read at least 60 books per year. So, read at least 60 books a year from as early as possible, and you’re not going to regret it.

I love reading about product management, because that’s important to me right now. I also love psychology, behavioral science, and I am fascinated by anything related to new health theories and neuroscience, although that’s hard for me to sometimes comprehend.

Anyway, here’s a list of book recommendations:

  1. How to Win Friends & Influence People, Dale Carnegie
  2. Atomic Habits, James Clear
  3. Presence, Amy Cuddy
  4. Deep Work, Cal Newport
  5. Hyper Focus, Chris Bailey
  6. The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle
  7. Mindset, Carol Dweck
  8. Inspired, Marty Cagan
  9. The Ideal Team Player, Patrick Lencioni
  10. Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss
  11. Continuous Discovery Habits, Teressa Torres
  12. The Build Trap, Mellisa Perry
  13. Hooked, Nir Eyal
  14. Why We Buy, Paco Underhill
  15. Why We Sleep, Matthew Walker

Very nice, thank you. My next question, which you kind of mentioned, is regarding your interest in “the new science of health”. Can you tell us more, what’s it all about, why is it so great, and maybe share some tips?
In my bio, when I wrote “the new science of health”, I was kind of referring to the newer discoveries in that science, and authors like Peter Attia who are talking about the ways we can improve our health and wellbeing, and slow down aging. There is a new series on Disney+, called “Limitless”, that I would recommend as well as Matthew Walker’s book “Why We Sleep”.

I think a lot of people hadn’t realized how important sleep is, until his studies became popular. I’ve read a lot of Ross Edgley’s books, and I’m also following Metabolic Mike on Instagram. They talk a lot about the power of breathing, the power of cold water, or cold baths, managing stress, the importance of eating right, as well as fasting, although I’ve never fasted, and I wouldn’t do it, probably.

What I can further mention is the “Huberman Lab” podcast – that’s the place where I personally find all the new stuff about the new science of health, and neuroscience. It’s an amazing podcast that I would listen to throughout the whole day, if I had the time.

Awesome, I’m sure there are going to be a lot of useful resources there for our readers. Now, another interesting question: how do you inspire someone? Is there a formula that you’ve found, or is it more like following your intuition?
I don’t think there’s anything I would do or say, in particular. There’s a nice quote by Jim Rohn: “Talk about things that matter with people who care.”

So, first, you need to be straightforward on what matters, and who cares. So, when you’re working with a team, the first thing you should be clear on is the purpose. In the context of product management, why are you building something? Everyone should be clear why this is being done, what are going to be the outcomes, what impact these changes in behavior will have, and does this align with everyone’s personal values.

I don’t believe in motivation. You mentioned our team motto “evolve and adapt” earlier, you should really be able to evolve and adapt, based on every day’s conditions. You cannot possibly be motivated every day. Conditions are constantly changing, therefore you are changing. You are not going to be in a good mood every day, you’re not going to want to do everything on your list, there are going to be hard things, and the hardest things are often the most fulfilling.

Instead, I would say, instill purpose and empower your team by trusting them while also demonstrating discipline yourself. Make sure you’re consistent, and do the right things every day. Consistency is key.

Our product manager Radost on the rooftop of our office

I would add that for some people, once you’ve gotten out of bed in the morning, you’ve gone through the hardest part of the day, so it can only get easier from there.
(laughing) Yeah.

Onto my last question. Imagine that we’re playing the board game of life, what type of player would you describe yourself as: the team player, the win-at-all-costs, the in-it-for-the-fun player, etc.?
I would say I’m a team player, and I think it’s better to work together. At home, for instance, I personally don’t like it when we play “Monopoly”, my husband loves it. I don’t like it because we always start fighting about who’s going to win.

I prefer playing (team) games that are strategic or have quests, where we can all sit down and think. We can get better as we learn the game together, and this also helps me teach my kid about obstacles, how to overcome them, and how to work in a team.

Cool. Thank you again for this interview. The floor is yours if you want to share any last thoughts?
Be consistent, never give up and work on a few different things every day. As Jim Kwik said:
“If you do the difficult things in life, life becomes easier. But if you’re always doing the easy things in life, life gets very, very difficult.”

Is your business in need of a team that can handle the hardest tasks and never give up? Yes? Well then, let’s work together and overcome those obstacles together.

What Is It Like to Work With Radost?

“It’s hard to describe with words. You just have to be there to experience it. She is a joy to have in the company, and I can only hope we’ll continue working together for years to come.”

“Radost has been an invaluable part of our team over the past 5 years, wearing multiple hats while transitioning through several strategic roles. Her product ownership and accountability are a great asset to have, making roadmap development and execution so much easier!”

“Radost is a super valuable part of the DX family – always willing to help, owning her initiatives from start to end with impressive reliability. It’s a pleasure working with her.”

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