My name is Pritesh Mistry, a BPDTS Senior Product Manager responsible for the new Strategic Bank Validation Service and Payment Status & Remittance Service under the Future Payments Programme. I've been with BPDTS now for nearly 16 months, initially joining as a Senior Business Analyst and progressing into a Product Manager role. BPDTS is my first venture into a public sector company.
Working in different industries and roles has helped me excel as both a Business Analyst and a Product Manager. Moving into a product management role has created an exciting opportunity to step up my existing skills and nurture my capabilities in an Agile framework. Ultimately, that's where I want to be with the project I'm currently delivering.
How did I get here?
My first years as an accountant were quite different from my subsequent roles as a business analyst and a product manager. I started my journey towards product management before joining BPDTS; I'd like to share how I transitioned my career from an accountant and business analyst to where I am today in product management.
Building the foundations
Working as an accountant for nearly 6 years, mostly in the private sector, provided me with a foundation for my time as a business analyst on several significant SAP implementations. The large-scale SAP projects required regular meetings with key stakeholders; it's here that I gained my experience as an 'unofficial' business analyst. I spent nearly 7 years working in this capacity.
During this time, I moved abroad to work on international projects; the global experience helped me gain perspective working within a diverse team of stakeholders while growing my expertise in IT transformation, especially on being involved in projects transitioning legacy systems to new systems.
The role of a business analyst
After working abroad for several years, I returned to my roots in Manchester, finally taking on a new position with the title of Business Analyst. In that role, the organisation brought me in as the only business analyst at a time when the company had only started implementing agile methods.
The role was a trial to see how a business analyst could add value to their transformation efforts by looking at things differently. The role involved research and development teams, exploring new avenues, engaging with the public through media. In this way, I worked closer with user researchers when product managers were first introduced in the organisation.
As the business analyst, I was expected to dive into questions, dig deeper, and analyse challenging problems. A business analyst must have a broader and in-depth understanding of how processes impact a project, where those processes impact the technology, and how it enables the processes to happen.
I loved working as a business analyst, meeting new people every day, tackling new challenges. Understanding what the problem is, analysing the ways people need to interact with systems, and articulating what I was learning through stakeholder engagement underpins all that I enjoy about a business analyst's role. When the job ended, I was delighted to accept a position with BPDTS as a Senior Business Analyst.
Becoming the person I looked up to
The first 12-months at BPDTS were professionally challenging. As a Senior Business Analyst, I led a project that involved different parts of the DWP business. I became the single point of contact for the business analyst community, regularly working with the Product manager and Delivery Manager.
In the role, people came to me to ask questions about how we should write a user story, tackle a problem, and document things. I've never been a "my way or the highway person"; I prefer to have the people who do their jobs well, making the decisions they need to drive the best outcome. People appreciated being empowered to do the right thing. I was always there to lean on for support and to mentor them through the processes.
Suddenly, I'd become the person I always looked up to, that guiding voice within a project; I was that person with the experience behind me that instilled confidence. From that point onwards, I worked very closely with the Product Manager, who eventually left when their contract expired. From then, it was either the Delivery Manager or me functioning as the proxy Product Manager.
Transitioning to product management
The transition to Product Manager was a natural progression. By default, I found myself doing the Product Manager role; I just didn't realise it. I ultimately drove the analysis to help everyone understand what direction we should be going. The only difference between what I was doing then as the Business Analyst and the Product Manager position was being responsible for crucial decision making. With a Product Manager on board, insight is given to the Product Manager, who then makes critical decisions.
The Product Manager is also responsible for stakeholder management. In my capacity as a Business Analyst, I sometimes worked with our stakeholders while doing the analysis, but I wasn't making decisions on things such as the road map, prioritising what we should do next, or which direction we should go with the project.
When one door closes
When the replacement Product Manager role was posted, I almost didn't apply. It was my manager who encouraged me to go for it. The final decision was between me and one other strong candidate who also knew the project and the teams inside out. Although I passed the interview with flying colours, I wasn't successful in securing the position. In a way, I was relieved, as I felt the other person was the right person for the job.
I'm glad my manager pushed me to apply; if I hadn't, my aspiration to become a Product Manager wouldn't have been known, and I wouldn't be where I am now. My initial application was unsuccessful, but only for that particular role; within a day, the interviewer asked if I’d be willing to become the Product Manager on another project. I jumped at the chance, and the next week, the UK went into lockdown. I changed roles, moving into a completely virtual team, never meeting anyone on the team before.
As it turns out, the project I was put in charge of instantly became a priority due to COVID. What had started as filling a relatively minor capability became something critical. Bank validation allows the DWP to check bank details before making a payment to citizens, ensuring any payment goes to the right person, mitigating further issues in terms of returns and rejecting payments, and minimising delays.
Succeeding in a new role, virtually
Getting established as the team's Product Manager, given there had been two predecessors before me, meant I needed to move fast right out of the gate. The programme had been set up a good few months before I'd even started; people knew each other, they knew who the stakeholders were, but I didn't know anybody.
All the skills and experience I'd gained in the last decade pointed me in the right direction. I tried to instil the way that I would have liked to work, empowering people to make the right decisions, taking responsibility for those decisions. I stepped up as the person accountable for critical decisions and stakeholder management while doing it all virtually.
Critical success factors
Starting a new position is always a hurdle, but the projects I’ve worked on couldn't have been more interesting or satisfying. In the new role as a Product Manager, the uncertainty around the pandemic meant I was stepping into an unknown.
So, let's look at the critical success factors that helped get me where I am today.
#1 Ask questions until you fully understand
For any new Product Manager (and any new position), taking the time to read and digest things is fundamental. Sometimes people regard not fully understanding something as a sign of weakness and are afraid to ask questions. Not me; the mantra for me the whole of my career has been “don't be afraid to ask because no question is a stupid question". It's a cliché, but it's true. Asking questions gets you to the answers; having the answers enables you to do the job you need to do.
#2 Make a conscious decision to keep learning
I've kept busy reading and taking courses to increase my knowledge of where my interests and capably took me throughout my career. Moving from project to project, I kept acquiring skills through formal and informal ways of learning.
On the technology side, I pivoted into the supply chain area. The move was a conscious decision to move away from finance; from there, I focused my efforts on developing skills as a Business Analyst. My learning path included as many courses as possible to accelerate my journey to acquiring the core skills that a business analyst needs.
#3 Adapt to new ways of working
The learning curves you need to overcome include more than skills. Transitioning to new roles requires new tools and ways of working, too. A Business Analyst needs to fully understand the processes to be able to understand and document process maps. As an accountant, spreadsheets played a significant role, but, as a Business Analyst, Microsoft Visio, Jira and Confluence became my new best friends.
Learning how to apply Agile as a new framework has helped me spread my wings and use the knowledge I'd gained through experience, courses, and constant reading, rather than relying on others to validate what I was doing.
#4 Take the time to clarify how people think and feel
Now, 6 months into my new Product Manager role, virtual working hasn't come without speed bumps. For starters, it takes a bit of practice to run stand-ups virtually. In time, you discover what meetings need to be run face-to-face, as a group and as a one-on-one; you also learn what conversations are best as a quick phone call.
Collaborating and communicating through video and audio conferencing can be draining. Avoiding miscommunication takes more effort; it's harder to read a person in a video than when you are in person. You have to reiterate what you hear and seek clarity on what you believe a person is thinking or saying; visual cues are only part of gaining that level of understanding.
#5 Don't be afraid to have difficult conversations
Our team can put a face to a name because of video calls, but I've never met any of my key stakeholders in person. Difficult conversations are hard in person and on video. In any product manager role, difficult discussions need to happen. That's the time when you need to know what the best communication medium is; opting for a short phone or video call rather than a 60-minute call can quickly clarify a grey area.
Perfecting your communication style will help you get to the outcome you need. State your position, provide evidence, lean into the user research, be concise, and logically make your points.
#6 Fail fast, learn quickly
I've had ample opportunity to use the collected experiences from the last 8 years. In some instances, the decisions I made on projects were successful; in other cases, they were learning opportunities; in other words, not every decision was the right one.
Not everything works; sometimes, it's trial and error. These experiences helped me grow as a Business Analyst, gain a greater appreciation for the relationship between a business analyst and the product manager. They helped me to drive home the value a business analyst can bring into an organisation.
#7 Invest time in mentoring
I was a mentor in the Business Analyst community with BPDTS. I keep in touch with my mentee to check that they're okay and to help them with their career progression. I also had an informal mentor who was the Product Manager. It was this individual who helped me gain the confidence to try things out.
I learned so much from this individual; they allowed me to fail on certain things where I said, "I'm going to do something in a certain way". Letting me find my way, even if it didn’t end well, helped me learn. The time wasn’t wasted time, it became a lesson to be analysed and discussed retrospectively.
#8 Take responsibility and be accountable
The key to success as a Business Analyst and Product Manager is good stakeholder management. The difference between a finance role and a business analyst role is that the deliverables and managers are quite regimented. You focus on a piece of work; that work gets signed off by someone else, which rolls up to the CFO.
As a Business Analyst (and Product Manager) everything is down to you. You’re the person people look to for knowledge and understanding of a subject area within the project. The input and contributions from a Business Analyst make a considerable difference to the project. As a Product Manager, having a direct line of accountability is empowering; it draws you in.
#9 Trust your team
I've experienced a fair share of challenging moments. Working closely with the Delivery Manager on your project will set your project on a smoother course. In my current project, the BPDTS Delivery Manager, Matthew Scarth, has been instrumental to the project's success.
Matthew helped to establish the team, enabling everyone to continue working full throttle throughout the lockdown. Matthew also provided tremendous support while I got up to speed with the products and where we were with the backlog. Once that happened, I was able to quickly engage with the stakeholders and get our user research underway.
After only a month into the role, I was asked to manage another project as the product manager; so, I must be on the right track.
Plenty of support
BPDTS invests in its people and gives employees access to various learning sources, such as Pluralsight, Skillsoft, Udemy; they also fund external courses. I’ve never had an issue finding a course or not doing something I wanted to; the key was to allocate my time to attend as much of what was available to develop myself.
Having a line manager who believes in your capability, understands what your aspirations are, supports your personal development plans, and, in my case, encourages you to interview are considerable advantages to working at BPDTS.