A Switch from QA to a Product Manager Role

Franka Čule
8 min read
A Switch from QA to a Product Manager Role

Meet Kristijan Kotris - a Martian who shape-shifted from a QA Specialist to an organizational mastermind role - Product Manager. We sat down with Kiki to discover more about the transition process and the challenges of being a Product Manager in a Venture studio.

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Hello, Kiki! Before you tell us more about your journey to Mars, let’s take a second and see who is Kiki on Earth?

Hi, hi! Well, I’m a big extrovert with a passion for various sports. The one that has redefined me in the past 10 years is cycling, but I enjoy playing squash as well. One fun fact about me - I’m actually a professional bowler (that’s why nobody wants to go bowling with me). Besides sports, I really love to cook. It makes me, and everyone around me very, very happy. Especially because I try to cook mostly using organic ingredients from my mom’s and grandma's garden in Osijek.

From Osijek, to Zagreb and then Mars - how and when did it all begin?

I landed on Mars in January 2020 as a QA Specialist. Before I joined M&M, I swam in the QA waters of different SaaS organizations. It was, from various aspects, something very new for me. Firstly, I was the first dedicated full-time QA they had, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

M&M was also the first company I worked for that had a different business model and approach which meant a lot of learning challenges were ahead of me. Throughout my past experiences, the focus was on one single project all the time - beginning to end, and that’s it. Here I started experiencing a much more dynamic and exciting workflow with a constant switch between teams and projects, wherever we noticed the necessity. And after almost a year and a half, I experienced an even bigger transition. 

...a switch from Quality Assurance to Product Management. What was the turning point?

Well, I am really happy that one of the initial ideas came from Domagoj, our Head of Product. I’ve always shown interest in something more than just pure software testing, which is frequently 100% of the QA job. It actually shouldn’t be that way because a QA should be testing, as well as making sure that the quality standards are met, tracked, and improved (hence the term quality assurance).

In the standard development process, the QA part tends to come last, but for some reason, I didn’t like “waiting” until everything was done and ready for testing. I always loved being involved from the start - writing out the test scenarios, challenging the reasons why certain components are at a certain place, and that sparked the idea of my future transfer to Product Management.

At M&M I always had the freedom to state my opinion on every project that I was involved in, which is something that Domagoj noticed. My interest in the Product Manager position grew so we decided to “test run it”. Although we didn’t know which project I would be assigned to at the beginning, my transition was a really natural one. The project turned out to be the one I am managing until this day - Urbify.

Could you tell us a bit more about the project and your team?

As I said, I work on Urbify, a company that provides same-day/next-day delivery experience, and, as we like to say it - delivers smiles.  The team I work with is a great combination of pure skills, flexibility, and different ideas and approaches, which greatly benefit the project and the team itself. We are dealing with a mix of hardware and software challenges so it is indeed a unique experience. Especially when we solve real-world problems and provide great and scalable solutions for both.

Now, back to the project! Urbify provides our partners in the delivery industry with a logistical overview of the entire delivery process. From the moment the end customer places an order, our journey begins. We are using the provided information to create the optimized routes, assign them to delivery warehouses, and mitigate any potential issues with incorrect data. With that first step done efficiently, the daily job of handling packages gets that much easier and more efficient. Then, those created routes get assigned to delivery drivers, who, using our mobile app, know exactly how many deliveries they have for the day and where they need to be at what time.

What does your day look like now, and how did it look when you were a QA? Could you point out the main differences and challenges? 

As a QA you mostly look retrospectively at things because you have everything developed, completed, and ready to be validated and tested. You state your opinion in every discussion, it gets acknowledged or additionally taken into consideration and then decided upon by the product and design team. Afterward, you validate and test the product to assure everything has been done according to the set specifications. The PM role has all of the above, but you additionally have to maintain and plan ahead.

You mentioned validation and testing a lot - what is specific about Martian’s business approach and what does it actually means to be a PM in a venture studio? 

As a venture studio, we don’t jump on every project we can. If in the early stages we notice that we cannot give our maximum or if it simply doesn’t fit our desired approach, we don’t participate.

That’s what makes us different - we cherry-pick projects we believe will have an actual impact on the market.

Here you won’t see the classic agency “do this until then” approach, and that’s where you can see how flexible this is. We are not just task executors - we help stakeholders with their software product realization or solutions in the long run. Our opinion is very much appreciated, especially since we also contribute to product development and upgrades on a daily basis.

M&M stands for customer-centric business creation. What does the path of discovering user needs look like? Do you have a framework and how do you approach your projects and tasks?

What is unique with the projects and the approach we have here is that it is dependent on us being iterative. It is very hard to get things right from the first try. Neither we nor the stakeholders know what is needed for complete success, at least not from the start. We could blindly listen to them, but that’s not solely how we do things here. Rather than that, we always try to iterate between what is demanded or needed and go from there.

Our quest is to write the whole process, set the proper communication, produce the so-called epics, break them into smaller chunks called stories and try to validate it through stakeholders’ feedback loop. Before coming to the engineering team, we try to produce drafts to see in which direction we should go. Regarding the frameworks used, I do not have any specific ones, out of the box to discuss, precisely because we tend to be so customer-centric, the majority of them end up being fully custom and individually crafted.

We can say that the PM role is at a crossroads of tech, design, and business. What are the main skills needed for this position?

What really helps is having a general technical understanding and knowledge of data architecture, which then provides a better standpoint in discussions, effort estimations, and setting (and evaluating) deadlines.

When it comes to managing people and team, something I would also emphasize are soft skills. ‘Managing’ may sound a bit rigorous but in many situations, you have to know how to structure the core messages, filter out information you can (or cannot) share with your team, find the best suitable time to communicate critical business background, and last but not least, adapt to different situations.

Calmness is also a quality that is rather important because a purely impulsive way of thinking and leading is something we don't lean towards and something that is, in the end, not productive.

Why would someone want to come work on Mars?

We don't have a classic agency approach at M&M. Here you will see the true meaning of customer-centric experience and what it takes to build something from scratch.

We walk it like we talk it, and everything here is transparent. You can openly say what you think, and you’ll always get constructive feedback through light and alternative approaches. You’ll get what you ask for - soft, but no bullshit.

If you are a person hungry for knowledge and growth, at M&M you will have endless possibilities in learning and reaching your potential. We all have and believe in the same goal, and this kind of work atmosphere and support is something that doesn’t happen often.