Product Management Interview: 8 Questions With… Product Camp Boston’s Sarela Bliman-Cohen

"Sometimes, even when you have the data to back your decision, you cannot change the outcome." - Sarela Bliman-Cohen
“Sometimes, even when you have the data to back your decision, you cannot change the outcome.” – Sarela Bliman-Cohen

Today, we’re continuing our series of candid, one-on-one interviews with product management professionals.

In the spotlight this time is Sarela Bliman-Cohen, officer and organizer of Product Camp Boston, and a former president of the Boston Product Management Association. What advice does she have for aspiring Product Managers? And what did her biggest mistake teach her? Read on…

Sarela, how did you first enter product management?

I started out as a software engineer and transitioned into product management because I found myself dealing with so many customer issues. The more I talked with customers about their problems, the more I realized there was a gap between business and technology that I could successfully help bridge.

How long have you been in product management?

I’ve been in product management for over 15 years. Currently, I’m a product management consultant working with high tech companies in the Boston area.

What’s a highlight from your career so far?

First and foremost, getting great products that addressed a need into the market. One of my favorites is Rovi Guide for TV, which helped service providers deliver next-generation entertainment discovery experiences to their customers. I’m also proud of mentoring aspiring Product Managers.

What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made as a PM — and what did you learn from it?

I once managed two concurrent, closely-related products where the smaller product was supposed to fill the gap in the market until the larger product was ready.

During market research, it became clear that our customers were willing to wait for the larger product; there was no need to distract ourselves with the smaller product.

I made a data-backed proposal to kill the smaller product so we could apply all our resources to the larger product. However, I was overruled by the executive team who felt we needed to deliver a product in the interim.

Lesson learned: Sometimes, even when you have the data to back your decision, you cannot change the outcome!

What’s the best career advice you’ve received so far?

Make sure there is a product/market fit.

What would you advise people interested in pursuing a career in product management?

If you want to be a Product Manager, find a mentor who will guide you along the way. I mentor Product Managers at the companies where I consult, and I’ve been a mentor for Product Management 101 at Harvard Business School.

I feel potential Product Managers also need a certain aptitude or proclivity. I coined the term “The Three C’s” — Communication, Consensus-building and Collaboration — for what I expect PMs to do. That is, let people know what you want to accomplish, build consensus (it doesn’t have to be 100%), then collaborate to get the job done.

How important is specific domain expertise in product management?

To be a good Product Manager, I would not say it is necessary to have specific domain expertise. If you have a good understanding of product management practices, you can pick up domain knowledge.

You’re very involved in the product management community in the Boston area. What’s the most exciting trend you see in product management?

Product management is now recognized as a “must have” profession. Harvard Business School has been teaching Product Management 101/102 for the past two years, which is an exciting testament to the importance of this profession!

Follow Up

Thanks, Sarela!

For more information about Sarela or to connect with her, go to:

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