Alicia-Dixon

41/ No Such Thing As The ‘Perfect’ Product Manager

Description

Not every product management role is the same. Each requires a different skill set balance, a different temperament, and a different approach to problem solving. Why is that? Because users are individuals. Unique individuals. And while we share basic needs, ranging from physiological to self-actualization, each of us draws satisfaction and delight in different ways and from different sources.

Given all that, can there be such a thing as the perfect product leader – the superwoman or superman who knows everything there is to know about a product, technology, market, set of users, and the team who builds it? It seems the space too complicated for that to be possible, right?

That’s precisely why, in this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul were so eager to speak with Alicia Dixon, senior product manager at Apartment List. Alicia brings a hands-on, no-nonsense approach to doing product.  And she speaks from a rich, wide-ranging experience. Alicia started in product as a technical designer in the fashion industry before bringing her perspective to software.

Alicia comes from the “builder sense,” she says, “the wanting to make things, and getting a sense of joy out of seeing someone use or wear what I worked on.” No matter your industry, she adds, “You really have to put yourself in the shoes of [each unique user]. I took the same approach then as I’m doing in product now. You know, understanding the user, knowing what their problems are, and solving for those problems. There’s actually a continuity there.”

Lean in for more of today’s pod to hear Alicia discuss how equity and inclusivity must be part of every product conversation. Catch her thoughts about whether product managers can remain relevant as the lines between specialties begin to blur. Her takes on these and other topics are seriously on point!

[02:09] Product managers are high achievers and go-getters. It’s a common thread that connects us.

[02:09] Job descriptions for products managers stink. Not every product management role is the same, and some roles need skills that others don’t.

[03:58] Three steps to building better product teams. Be intentional about team needs. Take time to develop people. Target specific learning.

[05:28]  Driving equity and inclusivity in the product space. If product people are to serve a diverse set of users, we must do more to reflect the composition of our markets.

[06:56] Tangible benefits of addressing inequity. There’s definitely an economic side to addressing problems.  There’s a very real return on investment.

[07:42] Portability of product skills. Making things, experiencing someone’s joy, connecting with users.

[08:08] Empathy. My work is to understand the user, know their problems, and solving for those problems.

[09:16] Diversity is empowering. Geography, socio-economic, experiences…all contribute to the perspectives we have and can bring to the table.

[11:32] Are product managers still relevant? If we get to a place where all those specialties can talk to each other and everyone’s working toward a shared goal and not their individual KPI, product management could go away.

[13:13] Flow. We’re living at the intersection of everything, and it’s very hard to stay in flow.

[14:28] Leading big products vs. leading small products. The elements of your day-to-day are similar, but what changes is how much you roll up your sleeves to help out.

[15:51] Ambition. The trait that (almost) all product managers share.

[16:32] Product manager’s dilemma. Where do I want to go? When am I most happy? Why do I get up for work every day? Answer these and then define success for yourself.

[19:09] Toxic intellectualization. The act of over-thinking and delaying action.

[19:58] Using a framework to solve a challenge. I would bet that most successful teams didn’t start with the framework. They started with a, “let’s get something done,” mindset, and that’s what they worked toward.

[20:53] PM’s future. As long as we continue to add value – making someone’s life easier, releasing a product that helps us save money or time, or creating a thing of beauty that can be appreciated – there’s a long horizon for product to continue.

[22:06] Find your own intrinsic satisfaction.

[23:07] Why there’s still no Product Management Book of Knowledge. Even though they spent years writing it, what they came up with didn’t resonate. It’s too big a question.

[25:14] Innovation. The process of coming up with a new way to do an old thing.

Alicia’s Recommended Reading

It’s About Damn Time: How to Turn Being Underestimated into Your Greatest Advantage, by Arlan Hamilton and Rachel L. Nelson.

More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say), by Elaine Welteroth.


About Alicia

Alicia Dixon is a Senior Product Manager at Apartment List, a platform that connects renters with apartment listings through an online marketplace. She brings more than 2 decades of experience building products and creating technology solutions for consumers and enterprises.  Her specialty is software product management, where she enjoys focusing on new product development, product strategy, and market research. 

Alicia has held management positions at leading companies including Hilton, UPS, Dell, and Fruit of the Loom.  She is a proud alumnus of Howard University, where she earned her Bachelor’s degree, and holds an MBA from Baruch College, CUNY, and an MS in Marketing from the University of Alabama.

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Nancy-Neumann-and-Lisa-Young

Special Edition / Delivery + UX = Client Value

Description

Strong leadership and eager collaboration serve as the hallmarks in the long list of contributions made by ITX veterans and Vice Presidents Nancy Neumann and Lisa Young, the company’s most recent additions to its Board of Directors.

In this special edition of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome fellow ITX leaders Lisa and Nancy to better understand the secret to their decades of success.

Individually, they are responsible for establishing, growing, and retaining ITX’s global Delivery and User Experience organizations, respectively. Together, they share in each other’s challenges and successes, building a collective product team that delivers client value and improves users’ lives.

“We look for people who have the right core technical competencies,” Nancy says, “but we also want people who are a fit for the work we do and how we do it.”

Nancy and Lisa believe in ‘hiring hard, managing easy.’

“What’s really important,” Lisa adds, “is that we encourage the growth of our people, helping them to feel related to each other. So that’s the collaboration we have…and it stems from the leadership team’s capacity for caring. It’s what makes people very sticky to ITX.”

Listen in to catch more leadership insights about hiring, mentoring for growth, and empowering teams toward autonomy.

[02:36] Access to experts in every department is key to our ‘special sauce.’ We work with our teams to break down the silos that divide us, which makes us much more collaborative.

[03:51] We’re a collective product team. When we need expertise outside the team, it’s easy to reach out because we’re not just one team of one particular specialty.

[04:48] It’s all about the people. Teams of people working with people to build software products that improve people’s lives.

[05:10] Hiring hard, managing easy. Candidates need to have the core technical competencies that every manager is looking for. But we look for the person that is a fit for the work we do – and how we do it.

[05:40] Passion and curiosity. We need people who have a passion for technology and are curious around where it has been, where it is today, and where it is going. That’s what’s going to drive innovation in digital product design.

[06:16] Context. Putting together all the threads that make up a user in a way that we’re able to walk in their shoes and build empathy so that we understand the experience we’re delivering to them.

[07:49] Finding the right fit. Our culture is so important. New hires need to be a good fit for our culture and our values.

[09:51] There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team.’ If we find great individual contributors that love shining on their own, that’s really not what we’re about.

[11:53] Capacity for caring and management continuity. It makes people very ‘sticky’ to ITX.

[12:48] ITX designers don’t ‘push pixels.’ We give our designers ownership of their work and turn them loose, empowering them to participate in our client’s work and in internal initiatives as well.

[14:13] Relatedness, Competence, Autonomy. Self-Determination Theory personified.

[16:37] Our job is to make people’s jobs easier. We have to get what we’re doing out into people’s hands to find out what’s working, what’s not working. And be prepared to respond to change really fast.

[17:39] Heartfelt congratulations. We can’t think of two more qualified individuals to serve on ITX’s board of directors; and we’re excited to see how your fresh perspective helps ITX craft and realize its long-term vision.


About Lisa

Lisa Young’s career in IT spans 35 years. Over the last 15 years at ITX, and in her current role as Vice President of Delivery, Lisa has built a world-class, global organization of passionate technologists. Under Lisa’s guidance, her Delivery team’s passion and expertise transform our clients’ vision into reality by creating software products that solve their complex business challenges.

About Nancy

Nancy Neumann has been actively engaged in the high-tech industry for more than 20 years. As the VP of User Experience at ITX, Nancy leads our Interaction Design practice, which has become a key source of differentiation, thought leadership, and customer value creation. Under Nancy’s leadership, her group brings a passion for technology, an appreciation for UX as a problem-solving discipline, and a belief that experience is the product.
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Mark-Cruth

40 / How A Well-Told Story ‘Weaves In Your Why’

Description

The simple act of telling a story well helps the audience believe that the story is actually happening to them. Whether you’re pitching a product idea to a group of users or to your team, the well-told story resonates. It identifies the key players. It describes the conflict. And as the plot unfolds, it delivers the  narrative and dialogue that best describes their journeys. And at the story’s climax, it reveals how the conflict is resolved.

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul catch up with Mark Cruth, part-time storyteller and full-time Enterprise Solutions Architect at Atlassian. When product managers weave just the right narrative, Mark says, we help our teams connect the dots between themselves and the experience they’re creating for users. We help them understand who they are, who their users are, what their mission is, and how they add value to the organization’s larger ambitions. In other words, we Weave in their Why.

Tune in to the pod as Mark weaves his own engaging narrative about the power of storytelling.

[02:17] The difference between user stories and storytelling.

[03:29] Knowing your persona(s).

[03:55] Anti-patterns – e.g., does our product serve only one persona?

[06:57] Storytelling is how we talk to people, how we sell them on our ideas.

[07:53] Oxytocin, dopamine, and cortisol.

[10:25] Use the backlog to tell the story of your product’s evolution.

[11:26] Value stream mapping the product backlog to describe your user’s journey as a narrative.

[12:29] How the story plays out in product, we can build a better experience.

[14:59] Integrate a team of teams to weave the story together.

[17:06] Rapid prototyping to potential users.

[18:21] Build advocacy by sharing the product story with users and the product team; both benefit by knowing what the next stage will be.

[20:54] Communicating value. “Hey, we contribute to this part of the journey.”

[21:45] Product Manager tip #1: Ask your teams to create their own canvas; talk about who they are, who their customers are, what their mission is, how they add value.

[24:47] Product Manager tip #2. Ask yourself: When we implement this, what do we expect to happen? Make it a quantitative metric…and then measure it over time.

[30:20] Connect the dots from the organization’s strategic level down to each individual user story.

[31:36] What’s the why? Stories have a way of helping organizations discover their why and communicating it to their teams.

[33:11] Innovation. Innovation is something that we do all the time. It’s allowing ourselves to let go of our preconceived notions and think differently. Thinking differently, that’s innovation.

Mark’s Recommended Reading

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, by Chris Voss.

Long Story Short, The Only Storytelling Guide You’ll Ever Need, by Margot Leitman.


About Mark

Mark Cruth is an Enterprise Solutions Architect with Atlassian, working with organizations around the world to improve the connection between the work being done and the goals being pursued with the help of Jira Align.

An Agile advocate since 2009, Mark has made it his mission to inject the values and principles of Agile into everything he does. His deep knowledge in Agile product development and team dynamics stem from his diverse experience supporting transformation and value delivery as an Agile Coach, Scrum Master, and Product Owner across several different industries, including Manufacturing, eCommerce, Big Data, and FinTech.

When not heads-down in the latest book on self-management or deep in conversation with a leadership team, Mark can be found reading one of his favorite sci-fi novels (specifically anything by Brandon Sanderson) or playing with Legos with his kids.

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