Traveling as a Product Manager gives you opportunities that are open to the very few. Getting a glimpse of what it is like to actually live in a different country is open to you in a unique way. You will learn things about people, cultures, environments and see perspectives that you had not even thought of. You will broaden your thinking, your understanding of people and you can have a lot of fun doing it without spending a dime. You will end up with a much deeper sense of how life is in another country than you get from a vacation and build strong, rewarding relationships within your organization.
Those that have been in the workforce for twenty years or so likely led a very different life initially as a Product Manager than the life we now lead today. It was a lot more common to have an office with the engineering, sales, marketing, finance teams, HR team etc. all co-located. These days it is a lot more common to have an engineering team in a different location, often in a different country. It is worth jumping on the advantages of this now, as another common theme that is getting more and more popular is having a completely globally dispersed engineering team. Those of us in the prime of our careers now can benefit. When looking for a new position, it is always worth taking a good look at the geographical makeup of a company before taking on a new role as there are a lot of personal advantages to having an entire engineering team based in another country.
Building credibility and trust across the teams you work with is paramount to your success. With engineering teams in different countries, you’ll get no end of benefits in your working relationships if you spend some time visiting and getting to know the team and a bit about the culture where your engineering team is based.
If you work with an engineering team, of say 50 engineers and you generally work with one Engineering Manager, imagine the day to day interactions of those 50 engineers as they work on tickets with your name on them. If they have never met you, or never spoken directly to you, you’ll be simply be that PM in our HQ office. Once you have taken the time to go and visit the office where your engineers work daily, you have already improved your relationship and added an element of trust.
Ways to enrichen your life by travelling to visit your engineering team:
- Don’t stay too close to the office; I’ve had the best experiences by staying about 15 minutes’ walk, or 15 minutes using public transport away from the office location I’m visiting. Some of my favorite experiences are (i) Going to work each day for a week or two on a train that passed over the Sydney Harbor bridge (ii) Walking across the huge cobbled main town square on a 15 minute walk each morning in a small town, Pilsen in Czech Republic (iii) Driving down narrow tiny country roads with dry stone walls and plenty of sheep each day when staying about 20 minutes away from the office in Galway, Ireland.
- Be sociable; you’ll usually find a few people that embrace showing you around their turf as you visit. If someone offers, accept. Go for a dinner, go for a coffee or a beer and take the time to get to know them in a non-work environment. They will no doubt take you to places that you would not know about, or choose to go to yourself.
- Learn a few words; if you are visiting a country that has a different language, being able to say hello, please, thank you, goodbye and a few other words will break down some barriers. Using a few basic words is polite, respectful and courteous. Americans are typically known for ’expecting’ everyone to switch to English, and even for thinking that people are rude if they do not. Well, if you are in another country, English is not their language. Often engineers can speak English but speaking it for a whole hour can take a tremendous effort for some. Give them an ’out’ from time to time.
- Do a little bit of research; to enrichen your perspective, and to get the best out of a visit, get an understanding of some basics of the country you are visiting. Who is the current Government head? What languages are spoken? What is the main religion? Is there a major event (an Independence Day for example) happening just before or just after your visit? Find out the latest relevant local news headline. This will aid in your conversations, will make people feel that you care about their world, and broaden your knowledge.