Vestberry has been very successful in attracting female talent from the IT sector. Mirka Uhnak, the CEO of Mini Tech MBA, an educational platform that opens doors to the world of IT for all women, has interviewed one of our bright young women, Tereza Kmecová (Terez).
Terez, our Product Manager, talks about her role at Vestberry and the path that led her here. Before her mid-teens, she didn’t even think about ending up in IT, and now she leads a software development team. She is someone unafraid to take charge and jump at opportunities. Terez talks more about what makes a good product manager, how to lead a successful life thanks to an excel sheet, who in the company knows the product the best, and what’s up with Vetberry’s founders and explosives.
Hi, this is Mirka from Mini Tech MBA. Today I’m talking to Tereza Kmecová, a product manager at Vestberry. Terez, I see the product manager as a vital part of the software development team. Please try to describe a little more what is the content of your work and how you perceive responsibility for product development.
Sure, it’s as vital as a programmer or a tester. It can’t be done without all the parts. I perceive my responsibilities as collecting inputs and information from multiple sources. What is the competition doing, what does the market look like, and where is it all going? The company must remain at the same level or better than the competition. Then there are the potential clients. We must listen to their needs, what they would expect from the product or what they would like. There are also existing clients with their requirements, and even though we have already signed them, they need various things. Finally, of course, there are also some internal requests and ideas, things that come from the team that would be nice to do. So it’s my job to bring all these requirements and knowledge together and turn them into one list of things to do that are prioritised in some way.
Therefore, understanding the connections, being able to decide what is most important at the moment and being able to communicate it to the team. An essential part is also a good definition of the solution, that is, understanding the problem and finding a solution ideally with the team. It is not necessarily the product manager’s task to come up with everything alone but rather to discuss it with the people who will actually execute it. And then manage it in some way and oversee the development process. At any time in the process can happen that ‘Aha, we didn’t think of this at the beginning.’ So being able to make adjustments as we go.
At first glance, it might seem that the roles of a product manager and a project manager might be similar. Someone considering a career in IT might think these roles overlap. How do you see the difference between a product and a project manager?
From my understanding, a product company works on one product or thing for a long time, expanding and improving it. So a product manager is a person who really understands the connections in the long term. I always try to create some compass or a vision, and according to that, we make decisions in the area I am responsible for. So it’s like an ongoing thing.
On the other hand, project management is more about delivering on time because it is more limited. It is a clearly defined work that must be completed by a specific deadline. It is also more work with the budget, for example. In smaller companies or early-stage companies, the same person often does both project and product management.
For example, we currently do not have project management in the company because we do not have any projects for clients. We deliver to them some new features or new parts for our product, and we ourselves determine the priority. We make the decisions, whereas there are project companies that also deliver and develop software, but they work on a specified order from a client with a set deadline.
Therefore, project management is more about managing time and maybe the budget, and it is a perhaps more general skill that could be applied in software development as well. We can also manage a project by, for example, organising a conference or event and the like. However, I perceive that product management is much more specific to software development.
As a product manager, I assume you know the product back to front? Are you the one that knows the most about it? Or would someone in your company trump you?
Some certainly would. I am sure Matej would, our co-founder. He was at the very birth of everything. Definitely all our partners and him. As we grow, there are probably areas or parts of the product that I, as a product manager, was already in charge of delivering to clients. There, I dare to say that I may already know more or the most.
On the other hand, developers and testers know their parts much better. I understand the principles, but they just really know how all the parts fit into each other. Therefore, it depends on what part of even a specific feature of the product someone would ask about.
Suppose you had to describe your product in one sentence. How would you describe it to someone such as mine or your grandmother?
Overall, the product provides investors who give money to startups or some starting entrepreneurs an overview of to whom, when and how much money they gave. That’s the very simplified version.
I work on a system for collecting the so-called KPIs (key performance indicators), i.e. some results that the company I invested in achieves. To put it simply, it’s who I invest in and how they are doing. Therefore, we have a part in our product where we allow our clients to collect these KPIs and do some analysis. So this is my part, and we also provide them with the option of exporting the data to Excel so that they can look at many other things.
Let’s take a closer look at the product manager profession. What makes a good, high-quality product manager? What knowledge, education, characteristics, and skills do they have?
To me, a good product manager consists of several parts. Education is not irrelevant, but there is not necessarily just one school for it. Our team is also made up of different backgrounds and different schools. Of course, a technical education certainly helps, but at the same time, I did not specifically study computer science. I studied management mathematics, so some mathematical economics and a little bit of computer science.
The ability to understand the connections between things or to have the capacity to connect different things is essential. I call it creating structure out of chaos. As I mentioned, many inputs that come are the basis for decision-making. It looks like complete chaos at first. There are e-mails, meetings, calls, and many other things. All of that has to be distilled into something that makes sense and to find the priorities there. This really requires quite strong structured thinking.
The second is certainly the ability to communicate clearly and intelligibly. This is more of a soft skill that can and should be practised throughout life. However, there definitely could be some predisposition there or some experience from school, presentations, communication, and maybe from leading people.
That brings me to my next question. Which of the skills or abilities that you need to have as a product developer help you in everyday life as well?
Well, having the structure. Everything sometimes helps, sometimes not; sometimes people laugh at me. I have extremely detailed and extensive monitoring of personal finances. I have a terribly large excel sheet with statistics and who knows what else, which helps me a lot in my life. It helps me plan everything, have an overview, to save, invest and so on. Therefore the skill to arrange everything, and then definitely the communication. In almost any profession, it is essential to be able to communicate effectively. But the role of the product manager is mainly based on the fact that they are a router of various information that needs to be translated from the client’s language to the language of programmers. I’d say it’s an essential part of the job.
When you reflect on your time at Vestberry, or perhaps in the world of technology and startups in general, can you recall any moments when you surprised your colleagues with your qualities?
It’s something that happened yesterday. When someone asks how I’m doing, I’m doing really great, and I feel incredible both at Vestberry and at my position. I really feel that it suits me, and it was such a nice surprise that a completely random skill I have from something utterly different I could use here. Back when I was dancing, I learned how to cut videos that we needed. Therefore, I can edit very basic videos in iMovie. Now we needed to make a product video for clients for a huge release. We were giving them some new options for our product, and since we are still a small company, I can’t just write to someone and tell them to make a product video for me.
So far, it seems that it is the fastest when it is done by a person who really understands it in detail. So I sat down to it. I made a video, which was sent to the clients, and yesterday my colleague Roman came to hug me, saying how amazing it was and how we improved communication about the release. So that made me very happy. And yeah, I definitely felt some pride there.
That sounds beautiful. Such a hug is definitely encouraging. On the other hand, when you come to such a new role, the beginning can be difficult, and you might make mistakes. Were there any mistakes that you made as a product manager at the beginning of your career and would have avoided today?
Maybe from the previous project, I worked on. In the beginning, it was sometimes difficult to explain all my thoughts clearly. Especially when a person is younger or just starting out, they understand some principle based on a few experiences, but they haven’t quite sorted it out yet. And then, when I wasn’t necessarily talking to another product manager or a more technically oriented person, I kind of had a problem explaining why I think we should do this and not that. But that’s exactly the communication thing. Learn to be clear, understandable and concise so that even people who are, for example, more business or marketing-oriented can understand it.
At Vestberry, one of my initial mistakes was a little impatience. Even though you may have known each other for a long time, and of course, you know your own capabilities, trust between people is always created based only on a shared experience of what that person will show in the new job. So for me, it was to be a little more patient in what I expect people to put me in charge of when I am only in a position for the first two months.
You have again raised the topic of the importance of communication. So how do you manage to ensure understanding or effective communication between people? Between those who are specialists, maybe in finance, and those who are very technically oriented, maybe programmers and other roles.
One crucial thing that I’m still working on, but I think I’ve done enough to eliminate it, is not to have assumptions in communication that something should be obvious or to assume somebody knows something they don’t. Assumption gives the person a blind spot, or as they say, “Assumption is the mother of all fuckups”. The first thing to do is not get upset when I find out somebody doesn’t know something I thought was obvious. Indeed, a salesperson may not know something I encounter every day, which is very clear to me and vice versa. Therefore it is important to take a little step back and look at it through the eyes of the other person. Get rid of such expectations or assumptions and ask a lot of questions. So, rather than starting by explaining a lot, it’s better to ask. ‘Do you know about this?’ and not ‘ How come you didn’t know about this?’
Disclaimer: This article was translated and written by Adam Petrek. It is based on the audio recording from the interview between Mirka Uhnak and Tereza Kmecova.
Vestberry is hiring
With global expansion on its way and a growing client base, Vestberry is rapidly expanding its team. There are several positions available for driven and talented individuals who like to take ownership and make an impact. You can join Terez and the rest of our team at a crucial stage when the company from a small country in the heart of Europe is beginning to take on the world. You can be part of something really big. If you have any experience with fireworks, you might have a leg up with our founders.
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