Matej talks about Leadership in Product Management

In Meaningful work interviews I talk to people about their area of work and expertise to better understand what they do and why it matters to them.

Matej Meglič shares the importance of showing up and how that reflects on your career later in life. He is currently working in a digital agency. He previously worked in project management and owned a small professional wedding photography business.

How do your co-workers describe what you do?

They usually describe my role as a mix of Project and Product Management. They also put two labels on me: empowering and communicator. It’s really important to me that our workplace is a place where people enjoy themselves and that it’s a good fit for everyone. I’m always trying to communicate and live these values. It’s important to me that my coworkers believe that it’s possible to change and that I can lead this change by example. This also brings me to my greater purpose: I want to provide opportunities to people.

What kind of opportunities do you want to provide?

People need to enjoy doing what they do. At the same time, they need to be allowed to grow in their roles. A recent example is someone that is testing software that was able to grow into a bigger Quality Assurance role. My role in this process is to figure out if they’re really willing to put in the work to grow and then to find them opportunities inside the company to do that. In addition to planning project timelines, I’m also planning how their growth needs can be met by an existing project.

I’m also very careful to make sure it’s a choice. I recognize that they might have other priorities in life at the time, such as a new child or caring for a family member. In such cases, I try to protect them to ensure that their work doesn’t prevent them from being fully present in other areas of their life.

As a Product Manager, I see myself as a giant umbrella that’s protecting my team. It’s my role to figure out how to limit outside distractions to my team. I balance when we need input from certain roles in meetings vs. their need to do focused work.

I’m also always reflecting on my previous mistakes. My recent learning is that I need to include correct people at the right time and to empower them so they have a voice where it matters. I see all of this as an opportunity to lead by example with clear and proactive communication. I also see it as my responsibility to proactively advocate for people in my team to ensure that they are empowered by what they do.

What do you think about splitting attention across different projects?

I think that there should be a singular focus of a Product Manager on only one product. The main reason for that is that the complexity grows exponentially. So with time, it becomes very hard to be fully present for all the products as the number of feature requests and decisions continues to increase.

Is there a difference between a Project Manager and a Product Manager role?

It mostly depends on what kind of products the company is building. I see the Project Manager as someone who focuses on ensuring routine delivery of agreed-upon work. They would use their business analysis skills to create tasks, define features, and document necessary work. Someone else on the team would take this documentation and ensure the technical delivery.
The product manager needs to do all of that and also work on a product discovery level. The less company knows about the market, the more product manager needs to ensure that product discovery steps are taken. They would then report these findings both to their teams as well as up the chain so that the CEO can take appropriate company-wide decisions.

With a wide breadth of skills – why are not more Product Managers starting their own companies?

I think because you also need a larger vision for your product and how to find people that are willing to pay for it. While product management has a very important role in a modern IT-driven company, it’s just one of the many skills required. It becomes a personal decision if you take a strong supporting role in a bigger organization and support someone else’s vision vs. following your own. It’s a struggle that many product managers face.

How do you personally handle this struggle of making a decision to become an entrepreneur?

At the moment I don’t feel that I have a good enough vision to justify starting a company around it. My background is mostly in the corporate world and I’m still learning how to bring a new product vision to the company. Learning how to code helped me see many new opportunities.

At the moment I’m still in a learning phase and building small independent products mostly to test my assumptions and ideas. I’m also evaluating what skills would a potential co-founder need to bring to the company to supplement mine.

What’s meaningful work for you?

I’m always trying to find a deeper reason behind the work that we do. I keep thinking about the vision for our product and where does our work contributes to it.
I also encourage the team around me to use their skills and expertise to identify areas of improvement in the company and I give them resources to work on them. I don’t focus on the final product, but on what they’ve learned in the process.

What’s your advice for someone who wants to shift into a new role?

To start learning through all the usual channels: books, YouTube, online courses, and to supplement this with becoming an active participant in communities devoted to this topic both online and in person. Once you have some knowledge and experience you can then use your network to reach out to people that are in this role and ask them if you could shadow them for a day. Talk to them and see what more you can learn. After a while, you can take the work you’ve done to different companies that need your people and offer to work for them. It doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get a chance but it makes it much more likely.

What I learned from talking with Matej

There is incredible opportunity in how you lead your team and what kind of growth opportunities you see in your collegues.

While working on sexy and flashy products is nice there is still a lot of value of improving your mastery as part of the development process.

Be bold in your career choices. It’s now even easier than before to switch to something that connects with you more.

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