Women in Product Melbourne Meetup

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Join Laura Cardinal (Global VP Product, Xero) and the Melbourne Women in Product Community for our inaugural event as she shares her own personal experience as a senior woman in product.

An opportunity to listen, share and learn as we discuss:

  • What it’s like being the ‘only one’ in the room, and how to not lose your sense of self when your human need to belong is so strong.
  • Whether or not it’s ok to cry at work and what to do about it when it inevitably happens.
  • Why we need to get over whether or not it’s appropriate to use words such as ‘girls’ or ‘guys’.
  • Why how much of our own reality is shaped by our own perceptions and what we can do about it
  • Why we need to stop blaming our vaginas, penises, cultural background, weird brain or personality quirk for everything that goes wrong, and;
  • How we can all build resilience, be our best selfs and just get on with having an amazing life and career

See you at Women in Product Melbourne Meetup (and yes, there will be wine…)

Diversity is a broken product in tech. FIX IT.

This is a re-post of the article originally published by Bo Ren on the 15th of July 2016.

Bo has articulated (much more eloquently than me) many of the experiences and issues within the overtly gendered role of product management. Many thanks to Bo for her courage in sharing her experience and highlighting the need for change. Her article is re-published here with her permission. 

Please note: my last day at Facebook was Friday, July 8th, 2016. I am no longer a Facebook employee nor am I writing on behalf of the company. This is my own personal experience and opinion on cracking into product management from a diverse, nontraditional path as a female minority PM. The intention of this story is to raise awareness about how complicit people in power are perpetuating a broken system that is not merit based to minorities and women. I want to raise awareness to invisible forces at play by pointing out disparities and equipping my readers with coping mechanisms and a call to action for reform.

Facebook recently released its diversity numbers. Despite its best efforts — hiring a global diversity chief and marshaling resources — it continues to struggle with hiring women and minorities in technical and leadership roles.Not much has changed in the last two years.

If diversity were a product that launched 2 years ago it would be considered a failure. A product that stagnates for two years has a growth problem.

When I wanted to become a product manager five years ago, I was told by countless people that I wasn’t technical enough (no CS degree), that I needed a MBA, that I didn’t fit into the Stanford cookie cutter mold (I went to USC on full ride scholarship instead). A lot of nay sayers. At my first startup, the director of PM told me he had never met someone like me before (I didn’t fit easily into a box). At my second startup, while aspiring to transition from being a technical project manager to product manager, the incoming VP of Product from Google changed the PM profile: you either had to have a CS degree or MBA to become a PM. Even existing product managers thought this was absurd since they would not have made the cut based on the new criteria. The invisible bar I had to hit to become a PM kept moving.

All the things that I secretly thought — I was lesser, different, and discriminated against coming from a non-technical, untraditional PM path — were true.

Words have power and the narratives we are told penetrate deep into our psyche. If you are told enough times that you’re not technical enough or good enough for a job, you start to believe that. This is stereotype threat in full effect.

A few weeks ago, I was shocked to see how blatantly easy it was for a white male colleague to become a product manager.

I had been training him to backfill my job after giving notice that I am moving to New York to join Tumblr. I had been training him for about a month to backfill my role so the team could operate smoothly in the next half (six month stretch) after I left.

Here are the facts:

  1. My manager wanted to promote him to a PM despite internal HR requirements that internal transfers be on their current team for at least a year. He was still three months short from meeting that requirement. My manager bent over backwards to promote this guy and override HR.
  2. In order to become a Facebook PM you need to go through the PM circuit where you are interviewed by three PMs for various aspects: execution, leadership, product sense, etc.
  3. During our last 1:1, I asked him if I could help him prepare for his PM interview circuit. To my surprise, he replied“[They’ve] got my back, I’m not worried about it.” They referred to the two men in power in our organization.

I was taken aback by his arrogance, bravado, and confidence. Facebook’s PM circuit is not an easy interview process. In tech and other fields dominated by men, we over index on confidence instead of competence.

To pass the PM circuit at Facebook, I had done interview practices with multiple engineering and PM friends, read Jackie Bavaro’s book Cracking the PM Interview, crawled Quora and Glassdoor for practice questions, and whiteboarded whole weekends solving Fermi problems and product hypotheticals. You can read more about my interview experience at Facebookhere.

I had pored over 100 hours preparing for my PM interviews whereas this dude thought he didn’t need to prepare because two men in leadership had his back.

I had to work 100X harder. Yet, up until that point, I felt lesser like something was wrong with myself. I had been told that “you don’t fit into the profile of a Facebook PM.” I had beaten myself up for not being technical enough, aggressive enough, outspoken enough etc. I am creative and think expansively. I am a zero to one PM who can build something from nothing instead of making micro-optimizations on existing products. Yet my strengths were viewed as weaknesses in my manager’s eyes.

I realized in that moment, shocked by what I just heard, that I had earned my place as a PM. I fucking earned it because no one gave me the benefit of the doubt.

Women and minorities (especially double minorities) who want to pursue product management, design, or engineering are constantly told that they are not technical enough or good enough to become X. But here stands in front of me this white dude with no PM experience — less than a year’s worth of experience on my team — who flagrantly thinks he didn’t need to prepare for the rigorous PM interview circuit.

Why do we doubt ourselves?

Why do we try so hard to prove ourselves?

Why do we mistake our strengths for weaknesses?

Why do we blame ourselves for failures and variables out of our control?

Why did we believe that we are inferior to men with CS majors?

Because we are told that we don’t cut it, even when we have the same or higher qualifications. There is a gulf between a privileged mediocre candidate and an excellent minority candidate. It’s the tension between the B, B+, B- folks versus the A, A-, A+ folks. Yet, even after college, there’s still grade inflation for mediocre white men.

It is flawed to look to women in power as indicators of progress in diversity. Just having Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Mayer, and Mary Barra (all white women) in power is not enough for furthering diversity. If you are an excellent, smart, Ivy League graduate who is an early employee of a big tech company, you are going to do just fine despite difficulties and biases along the way. But what about the the other candidates who are not as fortunate?

Instead what we should look to is intersectionality in race, gender, age, and culture as markers of progress. How many Asian American, African American, Hispanic women, LGBT members are leading companies?


The gap between what’s preached and practiced at tech companies creates disillusionment.

The world is not fair so let’s not pretend it is in a politically correct environment. In fact, it does women and minorities more disservice to be indoctrinated into believing that they will be treated fairly when they won’t be. When a company’s values are so inconsistent with your own personal experience at that company, the best way to rationalize that disconnect is to blame the situation on yourself. Women do this all the time asking themselves what did I do wrong? Why didn’t I react differently in that situation? We beat ourselves up even when we should be looking at the unfavorable situations where we couldn’t win in the first place.

I will tell my daughter that she will be treated differently and discouraged to pursue technical and management roles. But I will also tell her to ignore the naysayers and not let anyone tell her something isn’t possible. She is going to prove people wrong.

It’s sad reading the amount of discrimination women and minorities face in tech. Reading the stats makes me want to quit tech. Venture capitalists and tech companies saying that it’s a funnel or pipeline problem and not an actual discrimination problem makes me even more sad. It makes me sad because it’s simply not true.

I’m tired of being sad.

What is not sad is rising above all the hardships and acknowledging that you earned it. You beat the odds getting to where you are. No one gave us any breaks or short cuts, we made it here despite the naysayers, institutional bias, and tech company profiles.

I love being a double minority (woman and a minority) because I know I have earned my success. No one gave it to me.

I earned it. You earned it. We earned it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

For far too long I have been afraid to write about diversity, afraid of the repercussions, afraid that I will burn bridges, afraid that I will be viewed as a disgruntled employee, afraid that I will be deemed as the next Yelp girl. But I can’t not write about this social issue. The needle is moved when people become uncomfortable by the facts and stories. Stories build a pattern. Patterns point to a trend.

As technologists, we solve problems.

We need to be as rigorous about solving the diversity problem in tech as we are in solving product problems at our respective companies.

I am asking all companies to look at diversity as a broken product. What post-mortem analysis can we run to understand our stagnating numbers? How can we debug the reason why diversity numbers haven’t changed? What are some institutional biases we can tease out? What are some user studies we can run? Fix diversity. Fix it now. Diverse teams build better products, better products yield more revenue, more revenue creates happy investors and shareholders. Diversity is a bottomline for every business.

If you are a manager, director, VP, or founder, be conscious of who you promote. Are you promoting someone because they are similar to you or because they are competent? Are you hiring or promoting based on potential vs. proven track record? If based on potential, are you applying that fairly to women AND men? People who look like you and who DON’T look like you?

If you are a recruiter, don’t hire on “culture fit”. This is a BS rationalization of promoting one culture — white frat boy “brogrammer” — over all others. Please stop telling your candidates that you are hiring them because they are diverse candidates. Tell them they earned it. You nip the impostor syndrome in the bud when you tell them they’ve earned it. Tell them that they got the offer besides embodying attributes that fit into your hiring quota. Tell your candidate that he/she is just as capable as someone who comes from privilege.

Do your part. Don’t become complicit in this broken system. Let’s take a new look into diversity and solve its growth problem. Together, we can do this.

Thank you Ellen Chisa, Julie Ann Horvath, Lesley Grossblatt, Stephanie Szeto, Katie Tsang, Ashley Dotterweich, Bruna de Goes, and Henry Soong for giving me the strength to publish this piece ❤

Yours Productly – Jobs To Be Done

job-to-be-done

JTBD takes the focus away from feature sets. Instead the core focus moves to understanding what it that the product is solving for; the customer need; the job the customers are going to use the product for and how to solve for that.

Want to know more about the Jobs to Be Done framework?

Visit Yours Productly and listen to Ravi Kumar and I discuss the key concepts and how #JTBD can be applied in product development.

The product managers’ bookshelf

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Looking for your next product management read? Check out the latest additions to ‘hit’ the Product Managers’ Bookshelf.

Happy reading!

 

Don’t confuse a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) with a Go-To-Market shortcut

minimum viable product shortcut

As a Product Manager I am often working towards the launch and development of an MVP – Minimum Viable Product. An MVP is a great means to launch quickly and effectively in market; to test and learn, iterate and refine. It should not, however be confused with a go-to-market short cut.

In developing an MVP you can’t negate good product management disciplines:

  • Know what market or customer problem you are solving for – what is the job to be done?
  • What does success look like? How will you measure success – unit sales; conversion; customer satisfaction; utilisation. Make sure that you have defined measures which are actionable. If you can’t do anything against your measures then they are worthless.
  • An MVP does not mean you don’t have to take care in both product and user experience design. Test your MVP before you take it to market. I like to do this across a number of iterations and/or channels; internally, online and with real, live prospects/customers.
  • Engage the business. Make sure that your key stakeholders across the business understand the value your proposition will deliver and their respective roles in testing, iterating and embedding it in market.

Lastly, make sure you have a well defined exit strategy. Hopefully your MVP has been strategically developed against a set of core business objectives. However, if for some reason you take it to market and it fails, you need to know when to pivot, when to refine and when to exit.

Product Talks Sydney – gender in product management

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Join myself and the Sydney product community as we discuss and explore the role of gender in product development. The 2016 Pragmatic Marketing survey found that 63% of product managers are male, increasing to 79% in more senior roles. What role does unconscious bias play in product management and what does this mean when engaging and influencing diverse stakeholder groups to drive deliverables? It’s bound to be an interesting and robust discussion. Hope to see you there.

Does Gender Play a Role in Product Management?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016, 5:30 PM

Brainmates HQ
Level 6, 100 Clarence Street Sydney, AU

44 Product People Attending

The 2016 Pragmatic Marketing Global Product Management survey found that 63% of product managers are male, increasing to 79% for more senior product roles.While gender equity issues persist within corporate Australia more generally, in a role where stakeholder influence and the ability to manage across multiple domains is critical, what role does …

Check out this Meetup →

The intersection between product management and diplomacy

 

dr spock

While product management discussions often focus on the more technical aspects of being a product manager, (such as road mapping and prioritisation) it is important not to overlook the equally critical skill of stakeholder engagement.

For all product managers, the need for strong stakeholder relations  is essential in driving initiatives to market; in course correcting and iterating, and refining in-market propositions.

As a product manager you need to be commercially and technically skilled as well as a consummate diplomat in order to navigate and drive alignment across the business.

Engage key stakeholders early

make it so

I’m often surprised at product managers who assume that they can get traction and endorsement for their proposition at an executive steering committee or decision forum without prior engagement of key stakeholders.

A skilled product manager knows that you need to actively engage your stakeholders prior to any decision points. This enables you to have an early view of likelihood of support as well as an indicative understanding of  any likely points of contention or concern. Early engagement means you are able to respond, clarify and intervene where necessary.

In preparation for core decision forums, product managers need to:

  • Identify key decision makers – ask yourself, what is their core area of accountability? What aspects of your proposed strategy are they most likely to be interested in?
  • Identify key influencers – they may not necessarily have decision rights but can be well regarded within the business and often sought  for their opinion. Sketching out a stakeholder map can be a useful exercise in this regard.
  • Schedule 1:1 meetings with each stakeholder. Make sure that meetings are scheduled enough time in advance to be able to respond to any questions or objections raised, some of which may require additional analysis or research

Stakeholder engagement sessions can also be a great development opportunity for your team. They are an opportunity for them to learn,  as well as to share their expertise. So make sure you use them, where appropriate, as an opportunity to build and develop the skills within your team as well as credential your team across the business.

During your individual stakeholder meetings

Make sure that you actively listen to your stakeholders. Address any queries or concerns. That does not mean that you have to change your proposition (although in some cases it may be warranted), but you do need to demonstrate that you understand the core value drivers of your proposition and can manage any associated risks or issues.

Communicate and summarise the business value your product proposition will deliver:

  • What customer problem or need does your proposition solve for?
  • What does success look like?
  • How will you measure success and value delivery?
  • What are the high level financials underpinning your proposition?

Actively ask your stakeholder(s) whether they have any questions or areas regarding your product about which they would like more information or clarification.

Finally, explicitly advise them that you will be seeking their endorsement at the formal decision forum/committee and ask whether there are any outstanding issues/concerns which need to be addressed.

Follow up and drive alignment

Post your engagement meetings, make sure you follow up and close out any remaining questions.  The stakeholder meetings are not just ‘for show’, but are a genuine opportunity for you to explore, uncover and validate the key value of your proposition. They are an opportunity for you to drive alignment across the business.

Amanda System

Thank them for their time and consideration of your product strategy.

While no guarantee that your product strategy will be endorsed, effective stakeholder engagement will buy you stakeholder capital and will enable you to build trust and confidence in your proposition.

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You won’t always get it right

As a product manager you need to be able to engage across many business units and domains and drive a consistent and well-informed ‘story’ in support of your proposition. Being well informed and knowledgeable will enable you to engage with your stakeholders with confidence.

As with all stakeholder negotiation, you will encounter both advocates and detractors. There will also undoubtedly be a good degree of healthy conflict and tension in your discussions due to competing priorities, pressures and perspectives.

Stakeholder engagement is an art and skill which requires practise.

You won’t always get it right and it will not always go smoothly. But being open to a diversity of stakeholder views and perspectives will help you successfully navigate and negotiate across the business.

A continued focus on active stakeholder engagement and management will ensure that your product management career will live long and prosper.

live long and prosper

Managing Product Portfolio Financials

financials

Not just the domain of finance managers

At last year’s Product Camp Melbourne I was asked to deliver the keynote presentation, specifically in relation to financial management for product managers.

In the plethora of product management related posts and discussions around agile, UX, roadmaps and the like, managing product portfolio financials seems to have taken a back seat. Don’t get me wrong, the ability to prioritise, design products using customer led design and get to market quickly and effectively are all critical skills for today’s product manager. But equally, knowing your product financials intimately is something that product managers cannot, and should not, shy away from.

Core to product management is value creation – value to the customer and value to the business. Knowing your product financials is essential in identifying where the opportunity exists to realise benefits and deliver optimal value… at scale, and in knowing what may dilute or detract from that value.

Many product managers struggle with defining their product financials. While an overly complex dashboard only serves to distract, I am also not a proponent of the ‘single, magic number or metric’ that is espoused by some. Instead I am an advocate of a product dashboard which enables the product manager to understand in a snapshot how their portfolio is performing across a range of key measures and then drill down within each measure.

Whatever the case, your product portfolio dashboard needs to reflect the core value drivers of your product proposition:

  • Your metrics must be measurable – you need to be able to track them back to business/value driver
  • They must align to your product and business objectives
  • They must be actionable – i.e. you have to be able to do something about them; to intervene and make an impact

Eric Ries, entrepreneur and author of The Lean Start Up, cautions against the use of ‘vanity metrics’ – portfolio metrics which make you feel good but which are not actionable. Ries advocates a per-customer, per-segment focus to drive actionable insight. The ability to action and do something in response is key.

Financial management skills are also key to a product manager’s ability to influence and engage key stakeholders across the business. A strong understanding of portfolio financials enables you to build trust and confidence in your product strategy – it buy’s stakeholder capital and credibility.

It’s encouraging to see product management training increasingly including a focus on financial management. As a product manager, you have to be financially literate.

Product financials are not something to fear or avoid. ‘Lean in’ to them; own and manage them; use them to take control and grow and lead your portfolio.

You can access a copy of my keynote presentation here.

Dog fooding – and why it matters in product management

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It should be obvious, but is often overlooked – good product management is not just about building and shipping. As a PM you need to understand the end to end customer value chain, in particular, how your customers use and interact with your product or service.

While consumer research and customer feedback is valuable, I am a proponent of “dogfooding” – the process whereby a product manager regularly uses their product to understand the true customer experience. Only then can they get a sense of what is working really well and what is not.

It is often the smaller, less obvious product features or service elements that deliver the opportunity to materially improve the  customer experience and value proposition.

I recently had an experience interacting with one of my products which made me realise that the language we used was jargonistic and likely to make our customers feel overwhelmed and/or disengaged. Working with the Communications Team, we put ourselves in the shoes of our customers – we stripped out the jargon and simplified our communication message. We then tested it with both customers and frontline staff. The result – higher levels of satisfaction with the product and greater levels of customer engagement. And our staff? They too related better to the proposition we were asking them to sell and service. The sales numbers went up.

Dogfooding is not an alternative to customer journey mapping and customer research. It is another tool in the Product Manager’s toolkit which can identify design issues and opportunities in both the product and service experience. Product managers more than anyone, have a responsibility and the means to amplify those things that are working and change those that are not. In doing so, they can further differentiate their proposition and make it even more compelling.

Enjoy the meal – and if you don’t, then change the recipe! (Woof)

If you are the one

 

if you are the one

Being a good Product Manager is not just about getting the job done.
I’ve been recruiting product managers for many years now. I’m a big believer in the value of diversity in my teams and have recruited many product analysts and product managers from non-product management backgrounds. For me in hiring, I look for attitude and skills as well as cultural fit. It’s about the value these can bring to my team and the opportunity for that person to both contribute to and grow within the role. I also want people in my team who are open to learning and new ideas.

I’ve debated with many the merits of recruiting ‘hard core’ product managers over those who have a passion for product but have other domain and career experience. I’ve hired both – depending on the needs of the team and the needs of the business at any given time.

Either way, it still surprises me how many candidates present at interview (both experienced and would-be product managers alike) with their own experience as their primary point of reference for the world of product management.

Let me give an example. I recently interviewed a product manager who was looking to join my team; to transition from a product role that was limited to BAU product management. She wanted to expand her experience and move to a role which offered both BAU product management as well as product design and development opportunities. During her second round interview, I asked her to outline her approach to product design and development.

“Well, I don’t really develop products, I just manage them”, she replied.

My response was to then ask her what framework or approach would she take if tasked with designing a product proposition for our business.

“Umm..maybe talk to Sales?”

Not a bad starting point and definitely a source of valuable insight, however not an answer which demonstrated her understanding of best practice product design.

My advice to anyone wanting to further their career or move into a role in which they have limited experience, is not to let that constrain you. Take the time to keep up to date with current debates and best practice in the field you are in or want to be in.

Had she done so, this candidate could have answered my question along the following lines:

“In my current role I don’t have the opportunity to develop product propositions. However, as part of my BAU management role, I have to assess product performance which means I actively monitor, analyse and understand how my products are peforming compared to key competitors and whether they are still delivering value to our customers. To inform this view I regularly talk to and observe customers, talk to sales and other channel owners such as our digital team. I am also very interested in exploring the jobs to be done framework in designing products.”

There are many fantastic resources available to product managers – both incumbent and aspiring. Whether you are an experienced product manager or someone just starting out on your product management journey, take the time to grow and learn; take inspiration and insight from other sectors, other product managers and people making a difference in the businesses they work in.

To start your journey of ‘exploration’ here are some of the people I regularly follow and resources I refer to:

Product Management and Innovation

Brainmates 

Mind the Product

Eric Ries, Author of The Lean Startup

Leading the Product, Australia’s National Product Management conference

Inventium and Founder, Dr Amantha Imber

 

Design

The Design Council UK 

Cass Sunstein, Professor at Harvard

The Science of Us, a playful look at human behaviour

Dr Dan Lockton

John Maeda

No one can afford to have their own experience as their single point of reference.  Whether you are already a product manager or looking to become one, to be truly effective and innovative you need to continuously grow and learn. Think of it as your own, personal continuous improvement program. Good luck – hopefully next time you go for your dream role, “you will be the one”!