By Rebekah Campbell
The title ‘Product Manager’ didn’t exist much more than a decade ago. These days a product manager is central to the success of every business with technology at its core. Lyndon Maher is one of Australia’s highest profile product managers. He was part of a team that created the ‘product’ function at Domain Group and has spent the past four and a half years transforming Domain into an innovative product-led company now used by millions of Australians to buy and rent property.
We asked Lyndon to describe his career in product management, what makes a great product manager, and what existing and aspiring product managers should to develop new skills.
How did you first get into product management?
I studied a double degree in business and information systems and La Trobe University in Melbourne. My first job was as a programmer working on the yellow pages backend database. I didn’t love programming but, in 1999, there were lots of jobs for programmers and I wasn’t sure what else was out there. I started doing some business analysis and I got to meet with lots of customers. I really enjoyed this work much more than programming so I worked overtime to build up experience in a new area.
By the mid 2000’s websites like Flickr and Facebook were emerging and technology companies had started to think about product development as an ongoing cycle. The term ‘agile’ had emerged and the best products were being constantly improved based on structured feedback loops with customers.
When I returned to Australia I applied for a product management role with CarsGuide. I wasn’t sure what a product manager was but I was so inspired by the interview that I came home certain that this was the career path for me. I worked at CarsGuide for several years before moving to BigCommerce and more recently I’ve built and led product teams at Domain.
What do you enjoy most about Product Management?
I love working with customers, understanding the customer problem and designing innovative solutions. The Product Manager is at the intersection of technology, marketing, sales, customer support and design. You own the development and success of the product and interact with every part of the business. It’s a very creative and strategic role.
What’s been behind the transformation of product at Domain?
Four years ago we used to spend a lot of time writing detailed product specifications and we’d build and release new features every couple of months. Our aim was to change our culture and processes so we could ship new code to production at least every day. We achieved this within six months and developed a momentum that became infectious and exciting to be a part of. We now break every project into a series of micro-experiments that we can design, test and learn from. We’ve built a talented, diverse team. Early on, some of our techniques were seen as unconventional, but we’re using the world-class, cutting edge practice.
What do you look for when you’re hiring a new product manager for your team?
Product Management is such a new field that often applicants don’t have a lot of direct experience. There’s no one career path and they’ll often come from a customer service role, engineering, marketing, business analysis or design. The most important traits for a product manager is passion and curiosity. You have to care about the customer and their problem and be hungry to learn and be mentored. This is what I look for in candidates because these character traits can’t be trained.
What kind of training is available for product managers?
I still haven’t come across and formal courses that are turning out great product managers. Most product leaders have learnt on the job by working with a great person. Reading a broad range of current books on topics such as analytics, user testing, agile project management and leadership will help you to develop your knowledge.
You’ve created a one-day product management intensive. Can you tell us how this works and who should come?
I constantly get asked to meet with product managers and give advice. There’s only so much I can share in a 30 minute coffee so I developed a one-day, small-group program to share all of the best techniques I’ve developed at Domain and BigCommerce so others can apply them in their businesses. The program is suitable for existing product managers, aspiring product managers, engineers, designers and founders. Everyone working in a technology company benefits by improving their product skills.