A few weeks ago we spoke to Guillaume Mourier about the product manager’s role in the release of Meilisearch v1.0. But what is a product manager, actually? What is his role in Meilisearch? We decided to go after him and shed some light on this mysterious (but extremely important) job.
What is a product manager?
Guillaume says the product manager is a key role in software development and can be divided into three main tasks.
First, product managers need to understand how people use a product: what makes their lives easier, what makes their lives harder, what they want to do but can’t because the product lacks a specific feature.
Second, they need to define a strategic vision of the product’s future so development is coherent and efficient. In Meilisearch’s case, this fundamental step means Guillaume works very closely with Quentin, our CEO.
Third, based on the product’s strategic vision and user feedback, product managers decide what features to implement with the resources they have at hand.
Guillaume tells us it’s a difficult balancing act. Sometimes our choices do not please everyone. Sometimes we don’t prioritize popular requests because we believe they do not align with our strategic vision.
The good news is this is done hand in hand with our community. Guillaume first analyzes topics discussed on GitHub, as well as issues raised with our support team in our Discord server. Then, he comes up with solutions to the problems the users described, and plans when they should be done. As you can imagine, this is made much easier by the fact Meilisearch is open source.
How did you become Meilisearch’s Product Manager?
None of this is enough to scare Guillaume. Though he had experience as a backend developer, his transition into product management was, in a way, rather natural.
First of all, he tells us, he was interested not only in writing code and shipping new features, but knowing how his work impacted others. Did users actually adopt the feature he spent weeks carefully implementing and debugging? What did they like about it? What did they hate about it? He had no way of answering these questions. For him, it was like marching forward with his eyes closed—and without a map.
Rather than seeing his former job as a different career he closed the door on, Guillaume is very grateful for his technical knowledge. It gives him valuable insight in the technical challenges developers might have when implementing a feature, as well as some measure of empathy with Meilisearch’s users. He knows first-hand how good it feels to use a well designed product.
Does the product manager work alone?
One thing Guillaume is particularly proud of is having integrated product squads in Meilisearch’s development process. These working groups include one member from each team and meet periodically to discuss a feature, bringing to the table insights, needs, and challenges a proposed change might entail for their department.
Prior to the creation of the squads, Guillaume observed that a single team would make unilateral development decisions and begin implementation almost immediately. However, as other teams caught up, they would point out problems with the initial decision. Fixing these often required reworking fundamental aspects of the implementation very late in the process, which was risky, inefficient, and sometimes frustrating for everyone involved.
Product squads made it easier to establish smooth communication between teams and resulted in clearer processes leading to better and solid solutions.
What are the most and least appealing aspects of your job?
One of the best experiences for Guillaume is seeing how new features improve the lives of Meilisearch’s users, making their jobs easier and more pleasant.
He confesses that being Product Manager isn’t your usual 9 to 5 that you can simply forget about when you clock out. He has spent more than a few evenings thinking about a particular insightful piece of negative user feedback or features being worked on at that moment. One must be truly passionate to be a product manager!
What features are you the happiest about?
Out-of-the-box support for nested fields is one feature Guillaume is particularly satisfied with, especially because of the incredible amount of positive feedback. Sorting, which Meilisearch only implemented in 2021, had a similarly powerful impact for many users.
Multi-tenancy using tenant tokens is another personal favorite. He thinks the implementation is still not there and will certainly be polished in the near future, but it has nevertheless been a huge help for users working with complex applications and sensitive data.
What about the evolution of the product manager’s role?
Guillaume doesn’t truly belong to only one team within Meilisearch. This autonomy allows him to be involved with other teams and build bridges between projects and initiatives.
That said, he spends a considerable amount of time with the engine team. Right now this is good and necessary, but he would like to eventually take a step away from the search engine and look at the broader context of Meilisearch. For example, how can he help the many users of our SDKs and plugins? It’s a difference not so much in the things a product manager does, but in their scope and the potential reach of his actions.
That was an interesting peek into all the planning that goes inside Meilisearch, wasn’t it? A big thanks to Guillaume for his time. Stay tuned for more interviews with our lovely colleagues. Want to know more about a specific task, team, or internal process? Tell us all about it on our public Discord server!