How a quick role-switch alters the view of the bigger picture – five take-aways of being a member of the product team for two weeks


“Successful teamwork is based on mutual understanding and the knowledge of one’s team members workflows.” Philipp Greiner, working student in Communications, likes the variety his job brings and moreover the possibility to constantly dive into new topics. To gain a better understanding of the agile work environment at Elinvar, the methods used for development and the challenges that come with it, he switched his position. Philipp joined Elinvar’s product team for a two-week internship so he could see the company from a different angle whilst also gaining different experience. He, as a Millennial, has summarized his learnings as a listicle:


1. Good management needs even better communication.

Whether it is implementing a new design idea, adding functionality requested by a partner, improving customer experience, or an engineer’s wish to optimize the codebase – there are many different initiatives and motivations to continuously improve the Elinvar platform, and why there are so many stakeholders involved in the product development. The overall strategy of the product, a vision that everyone is working towards, is ultimately determined at the director level. The product development itself is an agile and iterative process, divided into two-week long sprints, so Elinvar can handle new requirements and priorities on the fly. For the team, however, this means that everyone needs to be aware of the overall roadmap of the product. Therefore, seamless and transparent communication is key. This is achieved by not only using smart communication tools but also regular face-to-face interaction. When everyone is on the same page, resources are most effective. This is driven by the right company culture – smart tools alone will not foster trust and reliability, both are based on open and transparent communication.


2. You can (almost) take on whatever you wish – but stick to it.

More than 70% of Elinvar’s team members are directly involved in product development; a mixture of engineers, product managers, designers, QA, scrum-masters the list goes on.
Product design is not only concerned with the aesthetics and the ease of use of a product (User Interface, UI), but also with the overall user experience (UX) one has. Can I save time by using this application? Does it make my life a little easier when I can find information quicker? These are questions involved in a product’s design process. That is why they are also of relevance for the product managers. (To find out more on UI and UX, check the interview with Mara Dumitru from Elinvar.)
The task field of a product manager is manyfold. One colleague holistically assessing the project progress of two teams, therefore being able to anticipate possible interruptions even before they can cause delays or setbacks on quality. Like a scout she is, therefore, helping teams being successful, securing progress as planned.
Hence, it is crucial that every team member takes ownership of their own deliverables without losing sight of the success of the team. To ensure this, sprint planning, sprint review, sprint retro, and daily stand-up-meetings are essential as they ensure communication within and across different functional teams.
As described above, product management is not just about managing the production process but does involve design decisions as well. This is particularly important with regard to the optimal usability for all users. However, purely aesthetic considerations also play a role here.
The product manager is in a constant mediation between the most different requirements to the products. For that matter, design matters are just one aspect. Other changes and developments are may be voiced by partners or result from new regulatory requirements. As Elinvar operates in a regulated environment each and every decision, also on the design of the product, needs to be compliant. This, for instance, could affect the design of questionnaires of the provision and presentation of important documents.


3. There is just so much to learn!

There is not a single path to becoming a product manager. With such a broad landscape of focus areas, product managers come from a myriad of backgrounds. One colleague here at Elinvar graduated in business administration, another has a background in the history of medicine. What unites them here at Elinvar is the passion for the product, the curiosity and the willingness to learn and grow. (To find out more about what makes the Elinvar culture so unique, read the interview with Sam Love, Director Product at Elinvar.)
When taking in-depth meetings with engineers on technical solutions, zoning out when unknown vocabulary appears should be just as much of a no-go as phubbing one’s smartphone. What matters most is to be a vigilant listener and to ask questions whenever things are unclear. This is exactly where the different backgrounds of the Elinvar team make a difference: the best solutions are sought together, taking into account all the different perspectives.
As a product manager one also should not be afraid to learn some new words. Personally, I would have imagined that a smoke test is rather an after-work activity than a standardized testing procedure used at Elinvar. A smoke test is used to test new features for their functionality and how their effect on the overall platform stability.


4. To get from A to B, sometimes you have to go via C.

Thursday, 10 am at the Elinvar office: product managers and engineers have met for sprint planning to discuss the delivery plan for the upcoming two weeks. Everything had been clear; the sprint should have been new feature focused. However, the plan had changed. It had been determined, that some groundwork needed to happen first in order to deliver the best solution: to get from A to B, a stopover at C was necessary.
The change of plans was frictionless and already an hour later, an updated roadmap had been decided: under consideration of the long-term product strategy, product managers and engineers had agreed on the new way forward in their sprint planning meeting. Open dialogue is not aimed at finding one-stop solutions. As team members of different seniorities are taking part in sprint planning, all can profit from the combined wealth of experience.
This case, in particular, has shown how valuable it is to have a long-term product strategy that is also open to short-term planning changes. This at the very least brings more sustainability to the entire development process.


5. A laughter a day keeps the worries away – and also brightens up your workday.

I love a good joke and not one day passes by at Elinvar where I do not get the chance to have a laugh with my colleagues. And there’s no difference to that in the product team.
That doesn’t mean that our company could be mistaken for a 90’s sitcom, but having a friendly and dynamic, yet still, focused atmosphere does help to bring joy to handling numerous deadlines with even more internal as well as external stakeholders. It might be, that the focused atmosphere of the product team is related to the fun they share outside the office. The team is frequently seen in a few of Berlin’s boulder clubs and is also known for their excellent banana bread.