#AFEXTechDiary 6: Prioritization is the most important skill to have as a PM

Mustapha Damilola Akanni is a Product Manager at AFEX. In this article, he shares his journey into the world of product management, insights into what the role entails, and what skills are required. His learnings are quite interesting and useful for anyone hoping to land a product role. Enjoy reading.

Tell us briefly about your career path into tech

I studied Business Information and IT at the University of Middlesex. Before my degree, I did a diploma in Software engineering which made it easier for me to transition into business information systems. It also gave me a great learning experience on what it means to be in the tech space and be able to code and carry out other tech related functions.

Additionally, my university degree taught me the soft part of tech i.e., strategy, time management, prioritization, etc. which are undervalued in the field because product development and management are not all about software development but also how to apply the right strategy to meet the specific needs of your customers.

Interestingly, I did a year in the Strategy department of an insurance company. While it wasn’t quite a major tech job, I was still deep into strategy and improving tech solutions in the business. I consulted for a few months in a similar role before I got the call to work as a Management Information Analyst at AFEX. The bulk of my job then wasn’t only about managing the infrastructure or anything tech-related in the company, I was also managing the systems which is a big part of product management as well. Then I got promoted to my current position as a Product Manager.

How does your involvement with ComX/Workbench impact lives? What are some of the activities you’re involved with?

Starting out as a product manager at AFEX, I was everywhere, I worked on both Workbench and ComX. When the role became solidified, my major deliverable was to move Workbench 2.0 and upgrade it to 3.0 i.e., to make it a software as a service. this means any business who runs a similar model to us will be use the platform as well.

That step was important because it broadened the ecosystem. It allowed more players in the value chain to have access to our market and that has improved our reach. Currently, at AFEX, we have over 100 warehouses across Nigeria and that means a lot. By letting others use our platform, they can reach more farmers in their circle, which would continue to impact more lives out there.

Tell us about what you’re working on now and what your biggest challenge is?

I am currently working on the ECN (Electronic Communication Network). This is an exchange network that connects ComX and Workbench together. Working on this has been interesting. Initially, this was a platform that you can’t access directly, but as the business grew, we saw the need to build an interface for it. However, this is tricky because when you are making changes to the system you must account for things that can catch you unawares and might have an adverse effect on the entire eco-system. For everything you do, you must think about the long-term effect and be deliberate on how your process change will affect things.

The ECN is a tricky system because it controls what happens in the market via ComX in connection to what is being aggregated on Workbench. Hence, from a data perspective, we are not allowed to make mistakes, we must be thorough with our testing and thorough with the effects of whatever we are changing. Beyond that, I particularly like my job, so it isn’t too stressful. I do it because I like it.

What excites you about working as a product manager at AFEX?

It’s very well-tailored to my strengths. It’s about taking the time out to figure out what is important and what is not. Different things can be made important in different ways that can bring value to the business or to the customer. Could be how easily customers access our systems or something as little as the user experience and design. i have to ask questions like “how many clicks does it take to make an action?” or “is this button placed the right way?” I have been called a critic because I tend to drill down to the tiny details that make the entire system whole. Being able to do that day in, day out is fun for me.

Who would win in a fight: Gates, Musk, Cook, Bezos, or that kid at Facebook?

Bezos definitely. Mans has been hitting the gym and he would probably win.

In a tech fight though, these guys are simply businessmen who have been able to leverage technology to fix specific needs. But Musk is an engineer, and he is the smartest of them all to me. Technically speaking, he pays attention to the most detail about what is being done rather than what the market expects to be done.

What skills should someone in your role look out for?

The most important skill to have is prioritization — the ability to tell what is important. The ability to focus on that one thing and finish it. There are usually so many moving parts that there is the tendency to do so many things and leave them all half done. if you do that, you’ll inevitably be disappointed when things start to fall apart. Focus on one thing, do it well, keep that going and it should be good.

What do you see as the future of tech at AFEX?

AFEX is growing at an unprecedented pace and so is the workforce. In the tech squad, we were like 10 people on the team, now we are 20/25 and more diversified. We are scaling to manage our processes and data appropriately. We are driving towards being able to use data to make informed decisions. When we get that right we would unlock opportunities that we didn’t even know exist. That is one big goal we are moving towards.

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AFEX

AFEX’s infrastructure and platforms drive capital to build a trust economy in Africa’s commodity markets.