What the product manager (PM) is responsible for, whether his responsibilities depend on the company, what professional qualities are important to him — we talked about this and much more during WN Winter’21 with Chong Ahn, Head of Product Management at Electronic Arts.
App2Top.ru : Let’s talk to you about the basics. Now you are the head of product management, previously worked as a producer, director of games. These are different positions, but they all affect the sphere of game management as a product. Can you tell us in detail what EA understands by a product manager today and what is his difference from a producer?
Chong AnChong: Product management at EA is still a developing direction.
In most cases, the PM as a whole is responsible for various systems and services that affect earnings. PM is often a key figure in the calculation and forecasting of business indicators (primarily when it comes to user engagement and acquisition).
Considering the above, a huge number of tasks are assigned to PM as a direction. Many of them depend on the project itself (at what stage of development / operation it is, what tasks it faces, what audience it has, and so on).
As for the main differences between a traditional producer and a traditional PM, the first is focused on releasing a product, and the second is on making it possible for him to earn. Of course, in some aspects their responsibilities overlap, but I gave an assessment without diving into the details.
App2Top.ru: You were responsible for games in many companies. Including in such large ones as Ubisoft, Square Enix, Scopely, Take-Two. How much do the PM’s responsibilities vary depending on the gaming company? Can you give an example (or better several at once)?
Chong: In some of these studios, there is no such role as PM at all. For example, it is not in Ubisoft. When I worked there, we had an Active Game Management direction. This position combined the duties of a production manager, a product manager and a marketing manager.
By the way, about the production manager. His responsibilities vary little from studio to studio. Sometimes some of his tasks overlap with those assigned to the product manager. That’s it.
Going back to PM. The most specific product responsibilities were outlined in Scopely. However, it seems to me that everyone has it today. The market has matured.
Yes, often the “historical context” influences who is responsible and for whom. Therefore, some of those with similar positions (for example, executive producer) may behave like PM’s.
App2Top.ru Q: What qualities do you think are important first of all for a specialist in this field?
Chong: I ‘ll give you a list:
- the ability to perceive complex ideas and process them into a compact and easily digestible form;
- the ability to influence people without resorting to authority;
- talent for turning any form of data into a narrative that gives practical insight into the situation.
App2Top.ru Q: Is it important, as a product manager, to play your project regularly and generally play anything regularly?
Chong: I’ll say this: you have to play. And do it without stopping.
You have to become an expert on the genre. At least an expert in the field in which your product competes for an audience. It is even more important that you are aware of the various systems, design approaches, tools and other things and practices that are used for self-education.
You also have to play your own product. Still, it is necessary to be aware of how the game being developed correlates with the expectations placed on it. And, of course, you have to love what you’re working on. Otherwise, it’s better to change jobs.
App2Top.ru: Let’s talk about the structure of EA’s work. More precisely, her grocery department. How is it built, can you tell me?
CHONG: In my company, PM’s are distributed in several directions. We have groups that deal with analysis, analytics, economics and system design, and there is a group that focuses on operations, tools, content pipeline and the like.
PM often interact with most, if not all, CFTS on a regular basis (this often depends on the development stage at which the product is located). Working closely with a producer or project manager is fundamentally important. Without this, you cannot be aware of the situation: whether all requests and business tasks are solved on time by suitable specialists.
App2Top.ru Q: Do you have any conflicts between product managers who are always fighting for quality, and project managers who say that the task should have been completed yesterday? How do you solve them?
Chong: To resolve such a conflict, it is enough to check whether all parties share a common vision of the product or whether someone has changed it.
Our common task is to make a high-quality game and try to release it on time, despite restrictions, unforeseen expenses and so on.
Speaking about the case you specifically raised, in this case I would try to understand why this project manager is in such a hurry, why he is pushing so hard, especially if there are still questions in terms of quality. Perhaps there are other factors that somehow influence a person’s motives. And they may not be related to the product. Finding the reason, trying to understand why such a problem or conflict has arisen is the key.
App2Top.ru Questioner: And once we started talking about deadlines. How does EA manage to release games on time? What planning systems and tools do you use?
Chong: I work closely with key personnel on the product to identify risks and then try to eliminate as many of them as possible. An ordinary PM day is just a story about how you are constantly fighting with forces opposing you and each other. So it is very important in our profession to take a realistic approach to setting goals, keep in touch with colleagues and try to coordinate the efforts of the parties. We are not talking primarily about releasing the game on time. The main thing is to ensure that everyone pushes the boulder in the same direction.
As for the tools, I use Excel, JIRA, Confluence and my new favorite, Miro. I also use various frameworks, like RICE, which helps in prioritizing tasks and data (helps in making decisions). They also work with their own custom solutions created over the years of working on games.
App2Top.ru: We have now touched on the topic of tools and systems. Let’s develop it a little. Should EA employees keep detailed records? For example, write reports in the spirit of “I’m doing this” and “I did this today”?
Chong: I can’t speak for everyone at EA, but for the most part, no. We have to collect reports, presentations and the like, but nothing beyond the norm. Often this is only good, especially if you need to keep someone who is not part of our group up to date.
We do our best to exclude optional reports from the work, since their value is reduced to zero. We also try to automate as much as possible those reports that we still have to do.
Summing up: after all, we are engaged in a business focused on creating values, which focuses on meaningful work and the development of a strong, sound culture that carries a mission. What you described in the question does not apply to EA.
App2Top.ru QUESTIONER: I see. Thanks for the interview!