How is product management different from solution engineering?

September 6th, 2021

Protyping a wireframe

In the previous blog, we have discussed the role of a technical solution engineer as well as different career paths one can take to become one. In this blog, we will focus on one possible career path for a solutions engineer. Please note that solution engineering and product management will vary from company to company as well as team to team.

How is product management different from solution engineering?

Focus

As a solution engineer, your main focus on prospects, potential buyers, or customers. Your goal is to ensure that the product or set of products are configured and work in a way that provides them value and meets their requirements. You are constantly tweaking, adjusting and extending existing features to make the product work for their must-haves and nice-to-haves.

As a product manager, you are less focused on a single deal or a customer. Instead, you are looking holistically at potential prospects, customers, and end-users. Your main focus is ensuring that the product with all of its features is solving user pain.

Calls and meetings

As a solution engineer, you are present on discovery calls and technical support calls, through which you gather the prospect's requirements and provide them with value propositions. The value proposition will explain how your product is able to solve their pain in a way that competitors won't. The value proposition itself comes from the product manager and closely aligns with the company vision.

As a product manager, your responsibilities include attending not just discovery calls, but also support, renewals, solution reviews, focus groups, user experience testing, and customer connects. This is in addition to internal meetings. It is important to have a direct connection to your users and be able to ask them questions about their pains.

Feedback

As a solution engineer, you provide feedback on what features need to be built or improved. However, as a product manager, you are intaking the feedback from several data sources and applying various prioritization techniques to get the buy-in from all the stakeholders in the company to decide on the roadmap.

During the proof of concept stage, a solution engineer or a prospect will spot any difficulties or gaps in your product offering. It could be that some of the APIs are missing, written poorly, are not compatible with their use case, or that there are limitations with the infrastructure or framework that they are deploying your solution on. After the PoC is completed, the prospect will test with their users. Users will quickly spot what works well, what does not, and whether or not the UI makes sense and provides a great user experience for their use case. During this time, it is important to capture as much information as possible about the product's gaps, limitations, and use cases and drive the feedback back to the teams.

Cross-team collaboration

As a solution engineer, you are mainly working together with sales, product management and development teams. You provide training to the sales reps, provide feedback to the product management teams, and seek technical advice from the developers on how to configure the solution.

As a product manager, you are working with all teams. You are collecting feedback from customer-facing teams like sales, support, customer success, and others. You are brainstorming ideas, rapidly prototyping with design and development teams during the planning stages of the sprint. You are working with the development team to accept items from the backlog into the development sprint and agreeing on timelines. You are clarifying and resolving any issues during the development. You are working together with marketing teams to clarify value props and to create content that will explain the value proposition to the world. You are working with legal to ensure you comply with all laws and regulations. You are creating sales enablement materials and providing training to solution engineers and sales.

Performance

As a solution engineer, performance is usually measured based on the volume of deals closed.

It is trickier to measure performance for a product manager. One of the ways I hold myself accountable is that for every feature or initiative I use OKRs (Objective Key Results). You set the qualitative objective, and come up with quantitative key results. It sounds easy, however, it takes time to master coming up with good objectives and ways to measure their success. Part of coming up with the objective is to define the why behind it. Why is it important? Using the OKR framework, it becomes easy to track your performance and see if you are successful in meeting your key results.

How to transition to Product Management?

Development

Start working closely with the product owner or development team lead to bring detailed feedback from the customers and the prospects you have worked with. In your calls, try to understand how a particular feature or a new feature addition will solve their pain. Perform a competitive analysis to see how competitors are solving similar pain. Compare how others are solving not necessarily in the same industry but with a similar problem. Agree on the feedback framework, or how the user story should be worded or what additional items should be captured for each proposed feature.

Design

Participate in design reviews and provide feedback based on the user's experience on the feature's wireframes and designs. Sometimes with the volume of calls, you could anticipate the user behaviour, however, it is best to mock up the design and get the actual user to try it out. This feedback should help prototype quicker.

Product Marketing

Once the feature is in progress, you should be able to explain the why behind the feature and what pain it is solving. Come up with a unique value proposition that differentiates you from the competitors. The competitive analysis should also help with pricing and packaging. Work together in announcing the feature and creating necessary content so the customers can find and learn about the feature you are adding.

Wrap Up

Let me know if you went through a similar journey or planning the transition. Stay tuned, as I will post more product management focused content.

Andrey Safonov

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