Product management across cultures: Working in Tokyo in 2020 |

Early in 2020, I got the opportunity to work for our global fashion retailer client on their flagship e-commerce site. Following from the design system we had created together, our client was overhauling their site to implement the DS and a series of new features.

I jumped at the opportunity to work in Tokyo, and bring value to an organization I loved as a customer. I was able to stay in Tokyo for three months-but the pandemic cut my six-month work placement in half. Though my time there was short, I learned a lot about creating value as a product manager in a new culture. Here’s a list of my top five useful lessons from my time in Japan, that you can apply anywhere in the world.

1. Step out of your comfort zone

2. Make time to earn the respect of your team

3. Consistency pays off

I kept the syncs with the client consistent even if we didn’t have escalations. In the sessions, I focused on ways to address problem points in their process. This not only helped the client team, but allowed me to work on improvements that would have a greater long-term benefit.

In the end, our processes were a combination of Waterfall, Agile, and a spectrum of digital techniques to clarify requirements, mitigate issues, and encourage technical syncing. While some Agile purists might turn up their noses, the reality of being a consultant is that you have to find a middle path between what your clients know, and what you want to coach in order to improve their practices. You can’t change a large organization overnight.

With that in mind…

4. Adaptability is key

5. Your presence matters

It’s important to create trust with your clients before you attempt to implement big changes to their processes and their culture, even if you know that’s exactly what you were hired to do. No matter the culture you’re in, trust is key. In order to understand your client, regardless of what country you’re in, focus on discovering what success looks like in their culture. When you know what it means to win in the unique language of their company, you can tune your goals to support what’s best in their culture.

Most of all, as a consultant you have to lean on your past experience. However, you need to frame this experience as a tool, not a mandate. No two clients are alike, no matter where they are in the world. Therefore, you should be ready to adapt to their culture with the lessons you’ve learned previously in mind, but a willingness to learn something new at heart.

If you’d like to understand more about how we consult at Rangle, and dig deeper into how you can create empathy for clients as a consultant, check out:

Injecting empathy into your consulting practice: The Flash Gordon principle.

Originally published at on January 28, 2021.

The latest in Javascript, design, and innovation.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store