Thank you to lucidLIFT for underwriting our new Product Management Leadership interview series!
What does Product Management leadership mean to you?
When I started out in product, I thought it meant having a vision. But after several years, I now think product leadership is about connecting with people and the problems they’re trying to solve, determining if any of those problems are worth solving in terms of your own business goals, and if so, approaching those problems with genuine curiosity.
For me personally as a PO, I feel I’m doing a good job when I can facilitate cross-functional collaboration in a way that yields a better outcome
for our customers than I could ever dream up on my own.
When and how did you get into this aspect of technology? What is your current company/title?
I’m a Staff Product Owner at Code42. I joined Code42 as a technical writer about six years ago, and at that time, I wrote for our support site. Our development teams and technical writers have a close relationship that I think is really unique, and I had the opportunity to embed with several development teams. I totally fell in love with the development process. I’m really lucky in that Code42 leadership encouraged and supported me as I transitioned my career toward product.
Why do you do it, what inspires you?
I think product development is really fun and a little addicting. It has its highs and lows, but it’s never boring. I’m inspired by the people I work with – their talent and their dedication. And I’m energized by talking to customers and uncovering their problems. If I can help channel the talent at Code42 toward helping customers, that’s a good day.
Do your technology teams use agile software development methods, or another approach?
We are an agile shop, and most teams follow a scrum framework. A few teams have dabbled in Kanban. In the last two years or so, the teams have also started incorporating DevOps principles into how they work, and that’s been really transformational in terms of how we approach development.
How do you ensure that your efforts and objectives are aligned with tangible business outcomes?
Every year at our company kickoff event, our CEO lays out our “big rocks”. These are our company-wide objectives for the year. Because our business goals are very plain and clear, it’s easy to connect our development efforts to these goals. The ongoing challenge is ensuring that we have ways to measure how effective our product initiatives are in a way that can serve as a leading indicator to the business. It’s an evolving process.
What software tools do you regularly use and for what?
At work, it’s Slack, Google suite, Jira, and Confluence – pretty much all of these are used for collaboration. Outside of work, it’s mostly apps on my phone. Some of them, like Mint and Google Sheets, help me manage my life, and others, like Twitter and Instagram, mostly help me waste time…
What is your favorite product management book/blog/resource?
People probably get tired of me saying, “I read this John Cutler post or tweet about XYZ.” Basically, if John Cutler wrote it or recommended it, I’m interested.
What is your favorite product of all time?
I think it would have to be the iPod, even though I no longer own one and it’s been superseded by smartphones and streaming services. As a music enthusiast, MP3 players in general were really exciting to me and the iPod was just so elegant in its design.
What is the size of your team and how is it organized?
There are 9 product owners, and we all support 1-3 teams. These teams do vary in size, and have different areas of ownership. I currently support a development team of 9 people, which is a mix of backend, frontend, automation, and QA engineers. For our more recent development efforts, team ownership aligns around the microservices a team supports.
How do you see product management changing over time? What are some of the challenges and opportunities ahead?
As technology teams adopt practices that allow them to ship one or more times a day, like building cloud-first microservices and using DevOps, I think there’s an opportunity for product folks to leverage this speed to test ideas and pivot quickly for better results. But honestly, I think keeping up with that speed and using it wisely is really a lot easier said than done. The challenge and the opportunity in my opinion is to harness the speed at which development is happening to make better product bets.
What advice would you have for someone who wants to get into Product Management?
It’s hard because I think you have to try the role to know if it’s for you. The PMs/POs that I know work really hard. It requires some passion and you have to like the challenges. For anyone starting out my advice is: don’t be afraid to admit what you don’t know. I had a lot of imposter syndrome feelings initially. I can still feel that way, but now I know it’s not a good use of my energy. It’s a lot easier to admit what you don’t know and benefit from the collective smarts of your team.
What excites and or concerns you about where business and technology are heading?
From my perspective, we continue to see exponential leaps in software development practices that allow teams to dramatically change how they work within relatively short time frames. In the ~6 years that I’ve worked at Code42, I think I can identify at least 3 really distinct eras in terms of how the teams worked and developed software. Those were positive evolutions within our development teams. But, that’s a rapid pace to keep up with from a business perspective. Like I said earlier, I think that’s really an opportunity and a challenge.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I enjoy spending time with my partner, Emily. We love living in NE Minneapolis and taking advantage of all the food/drink and parks/trails around us. We bought an old house with a big yard a few years ago, and that feels like a part time job. I’ve also played in an indie rock band The Dirty Banks for the last 6 years or so, and really enjoy music in general.
What is a quality question we should to add to this list for the next Product Manager/leader?
Because PMs fulfill so many different types of responsibilities, I think it’s safe to say there is no “typical” day for a product manager. But given that, what are your favorite days as a product manager, and why?