The Realities of Life as a Product Manager

Yasser Nafei, the former senior vice president of strategy, sales and product management at LG Electronics, recently spoke about his job with students from Northwestern's Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program.

Yasser Nafei recently spoke with students in Northwestern's Master of Engineering Management (MEM) program about the opportunities available in the world of product management, and in the process shed a light on the multiple layers and responsibilities required to succeed as a product manager.

Yasser NafeiNafei, who until recently was the senior vice president of strategy, sales and product management at LG Electronics, talked about the unique challenges and exciting aspects that come with product management. Since leaving LG, NEFE has co-founded two startups called JustTagIt and PinkByte. 

After talking with the MEM students, he shared his thoughts on his talk, his job at LG, his new startups, and the value of product managers.

First of all, how did you feel your talk with MEM students went?

The presentation went well, and I really enjoyed the questions that the group of students asked. I tried to share real-life scenarios about the working world and real-world dynamics in order to help validate the theories they are studying in MEM classes. My other goal was to demonstrate that product management is not all driven by the end-consumer. There has to be a two-way type of development that creates an overall positive experience. While the product needs to be valuable to customers, to succeed you need a strong internal team that can drive the development of a product. That includes validating designs with customers and your consumer base. 

What were the most important messages you tried to get across to the students?

One of the most important things I wanted to emphasize was that it's not sufficient to have a good idea and think it will be successful. You can't go through corporate bureaucracy by yourself, just like you can't go to war by yourself. One of the biggest challenges for product managers is the need to be able to assemble a team that shares your vision. You need to be able to rally people around your ideas. 

Additionally, you have to have a passion and vision for your product. If you're launching a new service or product, you have to have a connection to it. Imagine you want to design a new piece of equipment for a gym. If you're not a frequent gym user, this product will be foreign to you, and as a result, you won't have your heart or mind fully invested. You also won't fully understand user pain points.

What were your responsibilities as senior vice president of strategy, sales and product management at LG?

I had multiple functions, and they varied based on the day. At the end of the year and in the early parts of the first quarter, I was focused mainly on strategy, asking questions of how we could be successful and make money. Otherwise, I spent my time:

  • Making sure anything built was sellable, including confirming that we had the product marketing and distribution channels
  • Looking at sales numbers, customer concerns, and pain points
  • Understanding how the product was doing

I also spent time with ongoing product management and ideation. I constantly had to ask questions such as, "What's coming next?" or "When can we bring a new product to market?

What do you think would surprise most people about LG?

LG is a great company that has tremendous innovation across so many spaces. There are so many diverse technologies, solutions, and offerings. The great thing was our ability to bring it all to the marketplace and not have it be exorbitantly priced. 

I think people would also be surprised by the complexity of building smartphones. There is a lot of work needed to bring a product to market. Our biggest challenge is how can we compete effectively with Apple and Samsung, two goliaths that control a big part of the marketplace. They've invested a lot for marketing and commercials, while we're more focused on the product so it's within reach of our target audience. 

How can you balance your go-to-market strategies and be able to be effective while also fighting establishments and existing market leaders? Innovation is a good way to do it, but right now, it feels like innovation is taking a back seat. A lot of phones look the same. The functionality is the same. Maybe there is different hardware or an updated camera location, but the pace of innovation is slowing down, and that means companies need to rely on their prices to stay in the market. So the question is, how do you make yourself sustainable?

How do you describe your new startups?

JustTagIt is the creator of a patented technology that enables any internet user to monetize their data, participate in the hashtag economy and enable them to register dynamic hashtag domains. It provides a suite of hashtag services like websites and webapps and makes it possible to track conventional and dynamic hashtags ubiquitously across the internet. 

PinkByte is the creator of an application virtualization platform that enables users to run any software on any hardware to provide users with complete digital freedom to access and operate their apps on a wide variety of end point devices. The platform provides four key benefits that sets it apart: efficiency, cost effectiveness, simplicity and security.    

What are the biggest challenges you face as a product manager?

For me, the pace of change is so fast. I've found there to be a major disconnect between my generation and the new generation that is entering the workforce. This new group is fast and not worried about bureaucracy. They are disappointed with the status quo. Execution is what matters. Conversely, the older generation is more bound by reviews and documentation as we try to validate and safely execute what we're trying to do. 

There is frustration on both ends. There is stereotyping on both ends. We think about millennials and Generation Z a certain way, and they think of us as dinosaurs. The biggest concern I have is how to balance both views and achieve something. We need both in our companies. How can we develop and prepare people for the corporate world so they understand the process and give them the opportunity to evaluate and critique existing processes?

What do you enjoy most about your job?

When you see the outcome of your strategy or product in the hands of people, that gives you satisfaction.