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What is a Head of Product? Decoding technical jobs

head of product

Jobs in the tech sector, such as Head of Product, can be hard to understand and that’s why we decided to ‘decode’ them by chatting to our colleagues at the Rakuten Group, often called Rakutenians, via a regular blog column called: Decoding technical jobs.

We’re very pleased to have an opportunity to leverage the enormous depth of technical talent that we have in the group in order to inspire, encourage young generations but also boost diversity in our sector. And today we’re discovering what it means to be a Head of Product as we are talking to Nour Dagher, from Rakuten Aquafadas.


Head of Product: Nour Dagher


Hello Nour! Thanks for taking part.


Tell us about being a Head of Product

It’s a very interesting job where you can practice it in a very liberal way. Meaning there’s no secret recipe or hard coded methodologies to it. Every company has different expectations from a Head of Product. Some see it as a marketing role, some see it as mini CEO, and others consider it as a CTO with a roadmap.

Truth is, a Head of Product is the magical mix of both. If you want to build a windmill and you have no clue about simple basics of energy or no insights about its economical and environmental benefits, the costs of building and running it, you dont know how to pitch it to investors and sponsors then you’re definitely failing in building your futuristic windmill


What’s your typical daily task?

A typical day is when you get to your office, start looking at your roadmaps, check release dates, making sure the marketing team are aware of the latest development, sharpening your sales pitches with pre-sales and sales team, capture product development challenges from tech leads and product owners, bring solutions and test them. Maybe on lunch break while waiting for a food truck to deliver your wok you can discuss competitions, some R&D findings and some conferences to attend and of course latest series on netflix we’ve been watching lately!


What’s exciting about your job?

The possibilities. The possibility of bringing everyday a different solution to the same problem.
To question your products everyday. It is the best way to  not to take success for granted and nurture a culture of critical thinking


What’s most difficult?

Balancing three key pillars in a company. People, Process, Technologies. That’s the secret recipe to building successful products. Having a brilliant new idea that is going to generate millions of revenues is worthless if you don’t have man power, technology and formal processes to bring it to life.
Another difficulty  in a lifecycle of a product you need to extend legacy, introduce new line of products or features and kill some others that havent proven any attraction or growth and costing more money than its generating. Those choices come hand in hand with organizational changes and adjustments and it take a lot of soft skills and power of influencing to win everybody hearts and minds. My experience in a Japanese company helped me nurture the skills of reaching a common consensus. The Nemawashi seemed to work on other western culture to my big surprise.  Nemawashi (根回し) in Japanese means an informal process of quietly laying the foundation for some proposed change or project, by talking to the people concerned, gathering support and feedback, and so forth.


What kind of training and skills you need to become Head of Product?

The eyes of a company are always turned towards Heads of Product who build, innovate and promote the benefits and merits of their products. They are responsable of  a successful user experience, design impactful services and keep an open eye on the market trends, embrace when time is right new technologies. All the lifecycle  power is in their hands, build, maintain, extend and even kill services. On the other hand, power comes with responsibilities and the above require a set of skills that are crucial: entrepreneurial, business critical thinking,  design thinking, logical thinking, previous experience in people management, good public speaker and influencer background in IT and in business management and knowledge in marketing. Every Head of Product should know his 4 Ps (Product,Price,Place,Promotion)  and 3Cs (Company,Customers, Competitors) and control his P&Ls (Profit and Loss). So a little bit of accounting notions can come handy !


How do you think your job will evolve in the future?

It’s a job that unlocks a lot of possibilities and become a C-Level executive once you’ve built a track record of successful product lunches and measurable business impacts. It can as well help you build a lot of self-confidence, to be self driven and drive change. You can easily become a CEO or incubate other startups or services. IT allows you to acquire generic skills that are not domain related. One year you can be in the IT and the next few year you can go switch to an industrial domaine and the required skills would still  be the same. It can be an interesting job for those who are seeking a drastic career change as well.


What makes a Head of Product laugh?

A Head of Product is the realistic person balancing optimism of a CEO and stakeholders and the pessimism coming from dev and  operations teams. Balancing between these two extremes can be challenging so a sense of humour is always essential to lift peoples spirits and bring down the dreamers from their comfy clouds in a smart way ! One of my favorite quotes in this matter  :A Sense of Humor is the art of leardership, of getting along with people, of getting things done” Dwight D. Einsenhower

If you are passionate about the technology sector, don’t miss our latest articles in which we have decoded the following jobs: Data ScientistSupport TechnicianProgram Manager.NET DeveloperNetwork EngineeriOS DeveloperBlockchain EngineerBack End Developer and more!

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