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Relocating to Manchester : Adam Warburton

Manchester continues to be a vibrant home for tech in the UK and it just happens to have retained its title as the best place to live in the UK. So, is moving north the new moving south? We caught up with Co-Op’s newest Head of Product, Adam Warburton.

Hi Adam, welcome. Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. What was the motivation for moving back to Manchester from London?

I’m someone who loves to learn, and I’ve always wanted to surround myself with people I feel I can learn a lot from. When I moved to London a little over two years ago, it was because the product management scene in Manchester was almost non-existent, while in London it was thriving. I went to London to surround myself with fantastic product managers and immerse myself in the product scene; from building a product team through to running my own meetup, The Product Group London (the 8th largest PM meetup globally). It was a brilliant two years, and a period where I grew as a product manager.

In the last two years, things have changed in Manchester. There’s been a real acceleration of its digital capability and talent, and being involved in the evolution and development of that is something which appealed to me. You only need to look at the team assembled at The Co-Op to realise that depth of talent working in the city now.

Why do you feel Manchester is now, more than ever, a great city to relocate to?

There’s a real buzz in the city at the moment regarding digital, with ever more companies expanding into software development (software is eating the world, you know).

It’s a great time to come to Manchester and help shape and drive the digital agenda here. There’s also fantastic academic support from The University of Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan University for any new tech businesses looking at starting out and/or needing some help. On top of that, it is officially the best city in the UK to live in with lower costs of living and an excellent transport infrastructure.

When the opportunity came about, what were you thinking when you knew Co-Op Group were interested in securing your services?

Excited. The assembled team there is fantastic, and the opportunity to go there and learn from the likes of Mike, Tom, Ben and Roberto was too good to pass up.

The Product Recruiter at ECOM, Sam Howell, did an excellent job of explaining the ongoing change at Co-Op and that sold me on the opportunity.

We live in an age where almost anything is possible with the right team of people and looking at The Co-Op team excites me about the art of the possible. Coupled with this, The Co-Op goes about business the right way, and that was reflected in every interaction I had with them during the interview process. Being customer centric is natural to them given the nature of being a cooperative. All of the above make The Co-Op an attractive place to work.

With this current buzz around “Product”, if my nan was to read this, what is Product and what does it mean?

My favourite definition comes from Marty Cagan in his book Inspired, where he explains the role of product management to be about discovery, to “discover products that are valuable, usable and feasible”. That’s probably too abstract a definition for your nan, though. Practically, product management is building products through the effective leadership of teams/people across engineering, user experience and business functions. You can always elaborate on ‘building products’, which breaks down into generating customer and business value through the delivery of a product or service.

When explaining what I do, I always find people struggle with the concept of a ‘product’. It’s easy to see a tin of beans as a product, as that’s familiar terminology in that sector, but when you explain that an app, or even a feature of an app, is a ‘product’ you can often lose people.

I’m not keen on the job title ‘product manager’. A product manager often has no direct authority over the teams they’re working with; instead, they rely on persuading other teams/people to buy into and contribute to their product vision. This involves becoming the organisational glue, a master collaborator. It shares far more attributes with leadership than it does with management. For me, product managers are product leaders.

Why does everybody want to be a Product Manager and what advice would you have for somebody looking to step into Product Management?

I think the growing interest in moving into product management stems from a wider global trend of people more and more wanting to effect positive change in the world. Product Management offers a sense of ownership around solving a customer problem, which by proxy is arguably ownership over effecting positive change in the lives of the customers using the product. I’ve worked with designers and engineers who’ve made a move into product management, and overwhelmingly ownership and driving change are the prevailing factors behind the move.

There isn’t a specific path into product management, which makes giving advice on getting into the discipline difficult. I do believe there are some behaviours that great product managers share, and these should be the starting place for anyone looking to make a move:

  • Natural curiosity — product managers need to be naturally curious, with an insatiable desire to understand how things work, but more importantly why things work. A great PM doesn’t see a pencil as a pencil, they see it as a communication method. And further to this, they’re fascinated as to why people choose a pencil over a pen, or even a telephone (products with similar and tangential outcomes)
  • Storytelling — as I said earlier, product managers have no line management authority over the team. Instead, they rely on their ability to persuade and influence team members to work towards the product vision and goals. Storytelling is a critical attribute needed to make the team fall in love with the customer problem as much as the product manager does.

One common myth I’ve heard is that product managers need to be extraverted. I just don’t see this as holding true. Sure, it helps in certain circumstances, but I don’t see it as being a critical product manager trait.

As a function, product management often lacks diversity. This is something the wider product community needs to address, as products and product teams would be richer with an ability to see problems in different ways were the discipline more diverse. There’s no doubt an amalgamation of reasons for this, but the lack of a defined route into product doesn’t help. I’d encourage anyone who’s naturally curious to consider product management, no matter what their working background is.

Why do you love working in Product Management?

For exactly the reason I stated above; wanting to influence and lead positive change.

Nice! Finally, Red or Blue?

I’m a red through and through. You’ll find me most weekends in the Stretford End… come on United!

Thanks, Adam. All the best at The Co-Op.