7 Years Of Brainmates With Nick Coster

At the same time that Rebekah Lambert from Unashamedly Creative interviewed Adrienne, she also spent 10 minutes picking my brain about the past and the future of Brainmates. Here is how it went…

What led you to first get into Product Management?

I didn’t initially think of it as Product Management at the time. This first Product Manager role was for a dial up Internet Service Provider and the objective was to try and remove any barriers for customers to engage with the product in an attempt to reduce call centre costs. It began as a cost rationalisation role but then evolved into a Product Development role. I was tasked with looking at areas of improvement for the product and exploring new opportunities for business growth.

Why did you decide to start Brainmates?

It was actually Adrienne who kicked Brainmates off. We both saw that Product Managers were either really busy, or ridiculously busy doing lots of things and keeping lots of plates spinning at the same time. We saw there was an opportunity to provide Product Management assistance by providing short term resources without the need to actually hire an additional head count, which was often a barrier in a lot of organisations. So the idea was to be able to dial-a-product-manager with experience, flexibility and a practiced methodology and approach to doing things. We believed that this was quite an attractive offering and that was really the genesis of the business.

Where is Brainmates heading?

Brainmates is growing up. Along with delivering our Product Management hire model we have also championed the idea of the Product Manager as the internal head of business strategy. This is because many of the activities Product Managers do reflect the overall strategy of the business, and are embodied in the products they deliver. We see Brainmates evolving to help organisations at a higher level to identify their product strategy, their product design and the implementation of those products into the market place.

Everyone learns from mistakes. Describe a mistake you have made and what you learnt from it, and how it made you a better Product Manager.

One of the mistakes I hark back to was when I was working with Optus and I was the Product Manager for Value Added Applications. Rather than focusing on perfecting the customer’s product experience I got overly focused on the technology that was being used.

At the time I was looking at delivering an anti spam solution for the Optus internet ISP product and ended up battling with the Technology Manager, pushing the solution I thought was best rather than communicating the customer needs and how they needed to be addressed. What resulted was a damaged relationship with the Technology Manager and a product that didn’t deliver the best result for customers.

So one of the things I take away from that is to make sure as a Product Manager I am able to focus more on what the customer needs are, and to use this as part of building the relationship with my Technology Manager or Solution Providers. I have learn to trust they will be the experts in their field and deliver the right outcomes to satisfy my needs and the needs of my customers.

What is your least favourite task when it comes to Product Management and how do you motivate yourself to tackle it?

I really enjoy the creative process that goes into exploring new product and market ideas. However the act of clearly documenting the idea is the piece I love the least. As an internal communication tool documenting ideas in a well structured way is important so we are always looking for ways to minimise or streamline that process to ensure we are writing down the right things, necessary things, as opposed to writing documentation for documentation’s sake.

My approach is to not try to write everything at once. We structure our documents as a series of logical questions that need to be answered to the meet the objective of the project. This way I can provide quick answers and then flesh the ideas out later.

If you could take the Product Manager you were aside and give them some advice, what would it be?

7 years ago we started the company and we were delivering the personal experiences that we had developed in our preceding careers. At that stage we believed there was a better way of doing Product Management, so part of the Brainmates journey was to work out a clear methodology. So while I had all the pieces in my head and understood most of the activities that formed the foundation of good Product Management, I didn’t necessarily have a clear process for describing and completing the activities in the right order. I would jump from solution and then backtrack to the Business Case and this was often driven by commercial or business pressures.

My advice to the Product Manager I was then with what I know now, would be to take a breath, to start with an understanding of the market and exploration of unmet needs in those markets. Only then should I start to go through the process of writing it down. Capturing the idea on ‘paper’ is illustrative to myself and can be used to communicate the vision to other people as well.

I would advise myself to better understand the process of Product Management and to be disciplined enough to use it to deliver better outcomes for customers and the business.

What do you see as the single biggest influence on Product Managers in the last 7 years?

I don’t think there has been a single influence. I think there has been a growing awareness of the different types of activities that get bundled into Product Management. The fact there is a developing community on the internet gives Product Management a stronger voice than ever before. Product Management exists in every business but it may not be labelled as a Product Manager role. Product Manager is an emergent job title that tends to appear as organisations begin to separate out roles like sales, marketing and development. Having conversations and discussions online about the challenges we face, both locally and particularly internationally, has been very useful for us and I think has been great for Product Managers we have been interacting with.

Where would you like (to see) Brainmates to be in another 7 years?

We’d love to see Brainmates working with organisations to really marry up their business strategies with their product strategies and working with their teams to deliver products that customers love. The genesis of the Brainmates business of being a provider of skilled Product Management resources or staff has been great so far, but to really leverage the value Brainmates can deliver, we need to be able to work more closely with the business decision makers. Through our expertise in Product Management, we really have something of value to share in aiding businesses as they decide which markets to go for, what type of products to create and what business objectives should be met. Brainmates has developed a lot of insight into how to approach that and we’re looking forward in the next 7 years to become an Australian leader in the business and Product Management strategy space.