49 / The Many Paths To Product Management


There’s no clear career path to product management. And while that sounds like just another obstacle keeping you from your dream job, it should actually come as a comfort to all you PM hopefuls. Here’s why.

It’s about equifinality, which simply means that the same end result can be achieved by many potential means and from many points of entry along the journey. It’s one of those grad school textbook terms you never expect to encounter again – until, perhaps, you’re talking about the path to product management.

The term resurfaced recently, thanks to Lena Sesardic, who joined Sean and Paul on this latest episode of ITX’s Product Momentum Podcast. Lena’s own journey is a story of equifinality; she is Croatian, but lived portions of her life in Europe, the Pacific Rim, and North America. Her professional life is equally diverse. Once an innovation lab product manager and entrepreneur, Lena is now a product management consultant and author. Her recent book, The Making of Product Managers, offers an up-close look at 20 real-life humans whose varied paths to product management should inspire us all.

So hang in there, you product designers and technologists. Take heed, marketers and web developers, and you mathematicians and high school educators. If product management is the field to which you aspire, it’s very likely someone has come before you to show the way.

But don’t take it from me. Tune in to hear it in Lena’s own words. Here’s a bit of what you’ll learn!

[03:24] As a product manager, I found that writing a book is a lot like building a product. Iteration was a really big part of it, and adding important features too.

[04:46] It doesn’t matter what you did before. There’s likely to be a parallel that you can draw on, and there’s no limit to who can break into product.

[06:39] PMs require such a huge, diverse skill set. Decision-making, analytical, communication skills.

[06:58] There’s also less tangible, equally important, PM skills.

[08:32] Experience isn’t just the number of years, but it’s actually what have you done. Get a taste of everything.

[10:32] Diversity of experience is key in terms of prioritization. You really need to get the full picture, to be able to look at the problem from every perspective and think about the holes in your ideas.

[12:40] PMs get to own their role because the job of a product manager is actually carving out what their job description is.

[14:22] Predict the organization’s needs. Insiders are privy to how the organization is operating, growing, and changing. So as an insider, you might be able to predict when things are going to be needed – and step in to fill that void.

[15:49] The product manager is the glue that holds the team together.

[18:09] If you can crack the code to become a product manager, you can be a good product manager – and you deserve to be one.

[20:27] Innovation through Transplanting. Taking something that’s working in one industry, spinning it a certain way, transplanting it into another industry. Just like that, you have a new service and it’s actually Innovation.

Lena’s Recommended Reading

The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki.

Inspired: How To Create Tech Products Customers Love, by Marty Cagan.

The Mom Test: How to Talk to Customers and Learn if Your Business is a Good Idea when Everyone is Lying to You, by Rob Fitzpatrick.

About Lena

Lena Sesardic is originally Croatian but grew up in Asia for most of her life before moving to Vancouver, B.C. in 2009 to study Economics at the University of British Columbia.

She first started working in Product Management in early 2017 while being part of a startup-like team within a large financial technology organization. She then led an innovation team at a customer experience management company.

Presently she works as a Consultant in Product Management at the financial technology organization where she previously worked, while pursuing personal projects on the side. Her latest personal project is her newly launched book, The Making of Product Managers.

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48 / At the Intersection of Art and Technology


Defining the product manager role is a moving target. It’s tough to put our finger on the skill set we need to land the gig. And then we’re not always confident about what to do once we arrive.

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Josh Anon. Now a product manager at Roblox, Josh has worked at the intersection of art and technology throughout his career. A quick review of his resume (in addition to sparking bits of envy) and you’ll understand why Josh’s approach to product management – blending the right amounts of creative expression and systematic analysis, with bias toward neither – provides the balance we need for our products to succeed.

Before Roblox, Josh’s career includes stops at Pixar, Lytro, and Magic Leap where he performed roles as a software developer, cinematographer, and product manager. Josh is also author of The Product Book: How to Become a Great Product Manager, a best-seller written precisely for new product managers.

An amazing storyteller, Josh’s unique journey has led to the key learnings and important insights he shares with us today. Listen closely to find a nugget that will nudge your career forward.

[02:13] No matter the industry, product is about being the voice of the customer.

[03:08] Keep in mind that the right solution depends on the situation.

[04:22] Expect to be disrupted. Better still, think about how to disrupt yourself.

[05:52] The scientific approach to goal setting. It’s reasonable, when you’re working on different goals, to start off with a hypothesis to test.

(06:23] We can develop intuition, and we can develop good instincts over time. The more experience you get, the better you can put yourself into a customer’s shoes.

[08:43] Product management, in a nutshell, is about who is the customer, what problem you’re solving for them, and can the technology deliver a solution with trade-offs that the customer will accept.

[12:19] Four critical PM skills. Learning, researching, writing, and experimenting.

[14:30] Storytelling and PRDs. Use documentation not as a massive, static thing that’s not going to change. But rather to tell a story about where we want to go and the key things we want to make sure we don’t lose as we execute toward it.

[17:46] What if my hypothesis is wrong? As a PM, one of the things that keeps me up at night is, what if I’m wrong about my hypothesis? Writing or telling a story is a quick way to do a gut check to answer: “is my solution going to fit into the customer’s life in a useful, meaningful way?”

[19:11] Detail matters to good storytelling. The right level of detail can help you realize, what are the features on your product that really are critically important, and what’s the stuff that just doesn’t matter?

[23:17] The technology is in service of something bigger.

[23:50] Saying no. You have to have a strong ability to say no to things. It’s better to do less that’s better than to do every single feature possible and deliver it poorly.

[24:32] The value of technology. Technology doesn’t exist because we’ve managed to figure out how to build a feature; the value in it is focusing on, what is it that a customer is trying to achieve?

[26:04] Innovation. Innovation has become a mix of, how do you have a novel solution to a problem that is way better than what people are doing now to solve it, and you’ve made it available in an accessible way that has minimal tradeoffs for the customer. You know you’ve achieved innovation when you actually see it out there and you see it being adopted. It’s not just that you’ve done the inventive process of that.

Josh’s recommended reading:

The Three-Body Problem, by Cixin Liu.

Insanely Simple: The Obsession that Drives Apple’s Success, by Ken Segall.

Anything science fiction. Says Josh: I tell PMs that they should really read science fiction. Because every day, especially if we’re thinking about user narratives, we’re imagining a future that doesn’t exist. Sometimes it’s really far out there if the project’s going to take years, other times it’s just like a month or two. But science fiction is all about, what is a future-state world that extrapolates where technology could go and the implications that that might have?

About Josh

Josh Anon is a Product Manager at Roblox, in charge of 3D creation in Studio. He started his career at Pixar as an intern on Finding Nemo and was a software developer, cinematographer, and more on every show through Monsters University. After Pixar, he switched full-time to tech as a product manager and worked on bringing sci-fi to life with light field cameras at Lytro, AR glasses at Magic Leap, and socially assistive robotics at Embodied. He’s the author of the best-selling book for new PMs, The Product Book: How to Become a Great Product Manager.”

When not social distancing, Josh can be found photographing at the north and south poles, and you can see the photos at joshanon.com.

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47 / Imagine A World Where Social Justice Reigns


In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Andrew Branch, Director of Product Engineering at Measures for Justice (MFJ). MFJ, an ITX client and Rochester, NY neighbor, is a criminal justice research organization whose mission is to make accurate criminal justice data available and accessible to all – and to leverage this same data to spur societal reform.

These data are jarring. As Andrew reports –

  • As many Americans have a college diploma as have a criminal record – a statistic that mostly impacts people of color.
  • One in three black men born in 2001 will likely be imprisoned at some point in their lifetime. For Latinos, the number is 1 in 6. For white males, it’s 1 in 17.
  • The more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. adhere to their own variation of a criminal justice system – a vast, complex system that includes law enforcement, prosecutors and defense counsel, courts and jails, and so on. On top of that, these same jurisdictions craft their own policies and use their own data systems to track it all.

These data demand answers to many questions, not least of which is how are we to make informed decisions about things we can’t isolate, measure, and compare? Thankfully, our friends at Measures for Justice are committed to building solutions that leverage technology to deliver vital societal change.

“At MFJ, we collect countywide criminal case data, from arrest to post-conviction,” Andrew says. “We then clean it up, normalize it, and package it into performance measures that provide a comprehensive picture of how cases are being handled across the entire criminal justice system. We then make it available to the public on our free data portal.”

Interviewing clients is a treat for us. So be sure to tune in. The lessons here are as vital to product people as they are to those of us imagining a world in which social justice reigns.

Andrew’s Recommended Reading:

Ordinary Justice: How America Holds Court, by Amy Bach.

Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, by Jim Collins.

About Andrew

Andrew Branch joined Measures for Justice in 2015. As Director of Product Engineering, Andrew oversees MFJ’s engineering effort to collect and manage criminal justice data and the product line to bring it to the public. Andrew brings his 30 years’ experience and passion for software development and team building to the position. He has designed and delivered numerous business and consumer-oriented products over that time.

Andrew has a BS in Computer Science from Siena College and an MS in Computer Science from Rochester Institute of Technology.

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