Product All-Star: 6 Questions with Christiaan Steyn
Building products is an adventure. That is what makes it the best job in the world. But it is not for everyone — true product success requires decisive action, continuous effort, and a relentless pursuit of value.
At Aha!, we have the honor of being connected to companies and product experts who go boldly and bravely. We are asking folks to share their knowledge with you in the hopes it will inspire you in your own product career.
Christiaan Steyn is a product manager at Caseware Africa, a leading global provider of auditing and financial software. Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, Christiaan currently manages six products that fall under Caseware's assurance and analytics software suite. He enjoys interacting with clients daily — incorporating their feedback to shape products tailored to what they need.
Outside of work, Christiaan dabbles in trail running and at-home DIY projects.
Editor's note: This post uses South African English spelling hereafter in keeping with Christiaan's location.
What was your first product role?
"Growing up, I always wanted to be in a corporate job where you wear a suit and tie. When taking my secondary-school career and personality tests, a couple of areas stood out to me: auditing and accounting, and IT.
I began my career as a trainee accountant at a medium-sized audit firm, completing my university studies on the side. After I finished my degree, I decided to look for a role where I could apply my auditing and accounting experience to IT.
A small software firm was looking for someone to help it develop its audit methodology, and this became my first product role. The job description met all of my interests from the career test, so I felt like I hit the jackpot. And in hindsight, I really did. I had to do everything from answering the support line to developing features and prioritising the backlog. This well-rounded experience set me up for success in all aspects of product building.
Now, I am a product manager at Caseware. No, I have not worn a suit and tie in ages — but I still absolutely love what I do."
What are the most important traits for a product builder?
"Understanding and empathising with the end users' needs, desires, and pain points is fundamental."
“I am fortunate that I have done my customers' job before. Building products that truly resonate with users results in successful adoption and satisfaction. Teams can quickly fall in love with their own features and ideas without really understanding what the user needs and the problems they are trying to solve.
A product builder should also be able to assess potential risks and develop contingency plans. But at the same time, they should not be afraid to take on risks — they need to be brave. I have seen too many features descoped because the product builder was put off by the potential risk of failure."
"Calculated risk-taking is necessary for innovation."
What would you recommend not to do when starting out in a product career?
"In my first product role and even today, something I still struggle with is perfectionism. You need to realise early that striving for perfection can lead to delays and missed opportunities. Meeting deadlines and managing project timelines is crucial. Effective time management ensures that products are launched on schedule and remain competitive in the market.
That does not mean taking shortcuts to hit your deadline. I cannot stress enough the importance of not rushing to launch without proper testing and refinement. Launching prematurely can lead to bugs, poor user experiences, and negative reviews.
And throughout the entire process, make sure you conduct user research and secure feedback. When you stay close to customer input, you avoid unnecessary features and complexity. That helps ensure you are bringing the right product to market.”
"Simplicity often leads to better user experiences."
How do you stay motivated when complex challenges arise during product development?
"When I am faced with a complex situation, the first thing I like to do is set clear goals. Having specific targets to work towards provides a sense of direction and accomplishment.
After setting my goals, I break them down. I take each goal and divide it into smaller, more manageable tasks. Tackling these smaller tasks step-by-step makes the challenge less daunting and more achievable.
Lastly, I stay engaged with the challenge. I schedule time to think, work on small tasks, and try solving the challenge at hand, even when it is tough. I avoid procrastination as much as possible and maintain a consistent effort to avoid losing momentum."
"I try to embrace every challenge as an opportunity for growth and keep an eye on the rewards that lie on the other side."
What is the most exciting aspect of your current role?
"The most exciting aspect of being a product manager is the ability to drive innovation and bring impactful ideas to life."
"At Caseware, we are at an exciting stage in our products' lifecycles. We finalised the transition of our desktop-to-hybrid solutions and are now focusing on the next generation of cloud products. I have the unique opportunity to shape the direction of our products, and in my case, also the audit industry. This is close to my heart given I started my career as an auditor.
As a product manager, I am constantly learning about new technologies, market trends, user behaviours, and more. This continuous learning keeps the role dynamic and exciting."
What will change most about product development in the next decade?
"The integration of AI and automation technologies will become more prevalent in product development. AI can support data analysis, predictive modelling, and even code generation — accelerating the development process. I believe this will significantly reduce product testing time and enable quicker development iterations and more rapid releases of new features and updates.
I also think that as people expect more from products, product teams will have to think of ways to make their offerings more personalised and customisable to meet individual users' needs. Advanced technologies, such as machine learning, will enable products and teams to adapt and tailor experiences based on users' preferences.
Although these trends offer a potential glimpse into the future, it is important to note that the landscape is highly dynamic. Adaptability and staying informed about emerging technologies and trends will be key to thriving in the evolving world of product development. I look forward to seeing what the next decade holds for us."
Read more of the Product All-Star series.
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