My “Product Firsts”

Alex Mnatsakanov
3 min readJul 19, 2022
Photo by Jo Szczepanska on Unsplash

Happy #WorldProductDay!

This year’s theme is #ProductFirsts so I figured it’s a good opportunity to look back at how I came to be in Product.

Some time ago, after hitting a plateau and not being challenged professionally, I volunteered to join a team from my company to work along side Pivotal Labs team to build an app. (By volunteer I actually mean I knocked on every office door to make sure I get onto the team).

I began my Product Management journey working along side an amazing PM Nick Tomaszewski and later Isabelle Berner and a designer-extraordinaire Mike McDearmon. My learning was by doing, and the doing was eye opening. I spent the previous few years as Infrastructure Project Manager (and years before that in various roles in IT Security), so the world of user-centric design was new to me. But I remember how quickly it made perfect sense and with it the thought of “Why aren’t we doing everything this way?”.

I spent 4 months working along side the team at Pivotal Labs. Taking to users, sifting through data, prioritizing, ideating, solutioning, talking to users again, prototyping, user testing, launching an MVP. I came away from my experience with a few things that are still true today:

  1. Product Management is part art and part science.
  2. Product Management is where I want my career to be for the rest of my professional life.
  3. Asking ‘Why’ is key, and I will now do it more (and I have over the years, sometimes driving people bonkers in the process)
  4. Engaging with users, customers and stakeholders from the beginning, and keeping engaged with them throughout product development lifecycle is crucial to the success and provides immeasurable other benefits.
  5. Confirmation bias is a real thing.
  6. Don’t assume, but if you do…test the assumption.
  7. Don’t expect your customers to tell you what they want and how they want it, rather try to understand what problem are they having.
  8. A PM doesn’t need to know everything, but needs to know the right people in right domains of knowledge, and have those people in the right conversations.
  9. There’s no project checklist. Product Managers have a toolkit at their disposal: frameworks, workshops, facilitation techniques, etc. Use the right things from the toolkit for the right project.
  10. Laugh and joke and build rapport with your team. You own this product as a team, and the team needs to not always worry about work.

This isn’t revolutionary by any means. I have applied it in my work over the years, as I changed areas, companies. I was fortunate enough to learn by doing, but since then I’ve taken various workshops and classes. My decision to continue my career in Product Management is as true today as it was back then. The demand for PMs is only growing, which means more and more companies recognize the need to approach projects as products and problems to solve.

And hey, we even have World Product Day now!

Alex Mnatsakanov

Dad to Sophie, immigrant, world traveler, amateur photographer, product manager. Instagram: