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

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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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46 / Whether Building Software or Snowboards


One concern we product builders often cite with our C-suite sponsors is their disdain for discovery. “We know what users want,” is a frequent refrain when we recommend investment in user research. Sometimes, even we fall victim to that flawed “we got this” mentality. When we do, we limit our own market exploration by rejecting the notion that there’s always more to be learned.

With that kind of thinking, we tend to get in our own way, says Lesley Betts, who joins Sean and Paul on this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast. As Senior Product Line Merchandiser for Burton Snowboards, Lesley shows us how going beyond “our little maple curtain” – a Vermonter’s term for thinking outside the box – helps us align our role as product managers to what’s actually happening outside the industry.

“We know the product so well and as snowboarders we’re users of the product,” she adds. “But that’s where we have to challenge ourselves to do things that are outside the norm. We have to listen and be mindful of what our users are telling us.”

The lesson here actually goes much deeper.

When we invited Lesley to join the pod, we thought it would be fun to get an expert’s insights into the physical product development space. We knew there would be similarities between our physical and digital worlds – but even we were amazed how exacting they are. In fact, aside from the product life cycles, the number and nature of parallels between software and snowboards are freakishly close. As are the responsibilities product managers share across industries.

Listen in as Lesley describes her role as “the hub of the wheel” when it comes to product leadership, “… as far as identifying problems, working with the creative team, collaborating with ‘team riders’ (i.e., in-house product experts), marketing, sales, and our customers…yeah, every single one of those touchpoints always comes back to the hub.”

Sound familiar? We thought so too. Enjoy!

[02:13] Creating the correct product requires a ‘rider-driven mentality’. We had to listen to our customers. We had to be advocates for them. We had to listen to ourselves as well. At the end of the day, we’re all snowboarders.

[04:23] The PM role by any other name. Whether product manager or merchandiser doesn’t matter. I’m the hub of the wheel. Identifying problems, working with the creative team, working with our team riders, marketing, sales, our customers. Every touchpoint always comes back to the hub.

[06:25] Physical product vs. software product. The life cycles may be different, but the development process is very much the same.

[07:55] Self-awareness and trusting your team. If I were better at snowboarding, I could be the person leading that. But really, I just need to trust and lean into those guys.

[10:26] Culture, mantra, rallying cry. At Burton, we call it “The Stance.” It’s what we believe and what we do. It bleeds throughout the building, and it’s the reason people come here:  because it feels like you’re part of something bigger.

[12:11] The 7-minute focus group. Every time you ride the lift, sit with someone new. Just have a conversation: “Why are you riding that product? Why are you riding here? What brought you here? Where did you get your board? You can learn so much just from a few moments with a person, in the moment.

[12:53] People don’t trust brands. People trust people.

[14:22] Get out of your own way. Developing product, we can actually get in our own way; we know the product so well. That’s where we have to challenge ourselves to do things that are outside of the norm.

[16:16] The ‘white room’. Like an innovation workshop or design sprint, we need to pause. To remove all other responsibilities so that we can truly focus on one problem statement.

[18:53] Innovate for the little things too. We can’t always be solving the big things. It takes a special kind of mindset to maintain this concept of innovation within the day-to-day culture.

[23:05] The power of why. We learned more about ourselves in the white room process about how we need to work together as a team. By sharing your why with the team, you’re just going to get the best results.

[24:48] Innovation. If I can change something for someone. I know that seems very simple, but innovation is making something better for someone. Who that is, I don’t know. But if you take something and create an enhancement or a better experience –  a better day on the snow – then I feel like we’ve done our job.

Lesley’s Recommended Reading

I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness, by Austin Channing Brown.

About Lesley

Lesley Betts is the Senior Product Line Merchandiser for the Snowboards Category at Burton Snowboards, where she brings to life the best snowboards in the world.  Lesley’s focus has always been to bring to her job the same amount of energy, excitement, and passion that she shares for snowboarding.  When she’s not snowboarding, Lesley’s goal is to pet every dog she sees.

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45 / Motivation and Self-Determination Theory


With so many touchpoints between Self-Determination Theory and software product development, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Perhaps with this: self-determination theory is fundamentally focused on answering two questions. First, what is it that brings us fulfillment in life?”; and second, what things will accrue to high-quality motivation – that is, doing things that I value, that have meaning, that I love?”

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Scott Rigby, Ph.D. to discuss the interplay between Self-Determination Theory and software product development. The fit is ideal. As product leaders strive to improve users’ lives, what better way to fulfill this mission than to embrace the needs that drive them. Scott guides us well beyond the theoretical, venturing deep into its application founded on two critical shifts since his work in this area began.

The first deals with motivation. Specifically, that motivation is ‘something I do to you’ and that ‘whatever I do to motivate you’ is good because the more I do, the more I’ll get. As it turns out, Scott says, that way of thinking is not only not correct, we just can’t get by with it anymore.

The second shift, closely related to the first, deals with empowerment. We once lived in a world in which companies and institutions held all the power and made all the rules.  Consumers existed only in orbit around them, controlled and manipulated by the way they structured our existence. Not so these days, Scott offers.

“We call it the Copernican turn; we realized that who’s in orbit around what has completely changed.” Over the past 15 years or so, the gravitational pull that companies and institutions once relied on has waned. Now they say, ‘I’ve got to do the right things to have [consumers] select me…I have to understand the thing that drives them to be motivated to make that choice.’

Understanding these shifts introduces only a kernel of knowledge of Scott’s work over the past 30 years. But it’s fundamental to the real-world application of the vast theoretical issues that play out every day across on product development teams in our space.

Listen in to catch even more of Scott’s insights. Discover what he refers to as the continuum of motivation; see the distinction between motivation and manipulation; and grasp ways to put the theory into practice – not only by creating “a consensual language that everyone can understand, but also by providing a roadmap that invites customers and team members to follow the continuum of basic psychological needs.”  

[04:35] The Copernican turn. We realized that who’s in orbit around what is completely changed.

[08:02] We humans have 3 basic psychological needs. Autonomy, Mastery, and Relatedness.

[08:12] Autonomy. I want to be the author of my life. It’s more than freedom. It’s about volition. It’s about engagement.

[09:23] Mastery. I need to feel a sense of growth in what I am doing.

[09:42] Relatedness. I don’t want to do this in isolation. I want what I do to matter to others.

[10:02] Self-determination theory – and people. We can quantifiably measure how autonomy, mastery, and relatedness are being experienced by employees in a company as they interact with  managers and coworkers.

[10:12] Self-determination theory – and product. We can see how those things are being satisfied by how products are designed…the informational feedback from user interfaces…user progression paths…and by how they are implemented in our program.

[10:29] Self-determination theory – and marketing. How are communications telling a narrative that make me feel like those needs are being satisfied?

[11:38] Manipulation and control. If we’re manipulating and controlling, ultimately, we’re undermining the delivery of those needs.

[13:25] The continuum of motivation. High-quality and low-quality; intrinsic and extrinsic.

[17:29] The problem with gamification.

[21:59] When we satisfy those needs. The consumer value for products, value for services, the loyalty that comes from that is astounding.

[29:20] The product of creativity + motivation. Yields an environment where facilitating basic human needs gives us the energy to create one’s own narrative and the confidence to know that I can do it in a way that is competent and masterful.

[35:28] Innovation. Innovation is the emergence of a new idea that has the ability to fundamentally improve well-being. Innovation is very much tied to that sense of well-being.

Scott’s Recommended Reading

The Elegant Universe, by Brian Greene.

A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn.

Scott is also reading a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh, who is a Vietnamese monk. He is very much into Buddhism and The Art of Living.

About Scott

Scott Rigby, Ph.D. is an author, behavioral scientist, and founder/CEO of Immersyve Inc., a company focusing on the application of behavioral science to organizations, products, and services. Scott and Immersyve work with both small and large companies on culture and the development of motivational best practices. He is a leading authority on predictive measurement of motivation and engagement, as well as on interventions to improve organizational culture. Clients include Prudential, Amazon, Warner Brothers, Johnson & Johnson, and Disney.

Scott has authored numerous publications, including the highly rated book Glued to Games: How Video Games Draw Us In and Hold Us Spellbound. He is the creator of the “Personal Experience of Need Satisfaction” (PENS) model, a widely used engagement model in interactive design. His work on understanding engagement and motivation has been featured by Wired, ABC News, BBC, National Public Radio, National Geographic, and Scientific American, among others. He is also the co-creator of motivationWorks, a platform that empowers organizations to build greater employee engagement and stronger cultures using motivational science. In addition to his commercial work, he has also served as the principal investigator on multiple grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health exploring the role of behavioral science to improve engagement and wellness.

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44 / Is What I Am Building Ethical?


What is an ethical product? In an industry whose mission is to build technology that does good in the world, you’d think that by now we’d have figured this one out. You know, develop a checklist of criteria that helps chip away at our assumptions and biases and answer questions like, “is what I am doing meaningful?” and “is what I am doing ethical?”

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Kasia Chmielinski, co-founder of the Data Nutrition Project and technologist at McKinsey & Company in Healthcare Analytics. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Kasia says, ethics are not black and white. They cannot be captured in a series of boxes that will be applicable in every situation. There are, however, processes and strategies to intentionally build a product, they say.

“We already have these processes,” they add, “but the intent behind them is usually monetary or financial – something about growth or ROI. If we modify our processes and strategies to instead think about the end-user, think about the potential harms, think about how people are going to use it, we’d probably have better products for people.” It’s all about trade-offs and balance, they add.

It’s a significant challenge (pardon the understatement). We’re solving big, hairy, complex problems for an audience of users whose experiences and ethics are as varied as snowflakes. With so many combinations and permutations – and so many dependencies – it’s no wonder the question about meaning and ethics remains unanswered. 

Or has it? Have a listen to the pod as Kasia methodically tackles the question – precisely as you would expect a trained scientist would – but with an added sprinkling of optimistic philosophy that suggests their answer will help us all create better products and do more good in the world. 

[02:00]  Use your powers for good. There are a lot of tools you can create that can be used for good or evil.

[03:02] The stories we tell should be true. But they can’t just be true. They have to be engaging, and appropriate for our audience.

[04:06] The user story is less about storytelling. It’s more about having the right components of the story…and phrasing it in a way that’s going to get you budget and people and resources.

[05:38] You can’t use a story to fix a bad product.

[07:44] In the realm of machine learning and AI, we’re so focused on the outcome of these models that we’re not really thinking about all the inputs that shape the outcome.

[11:05] Ethics are not black & white. And they can’t be captured in a series of checkboxes that answer the question: “Is what I am building ethical?”

[11:56] Tools are agnostic. It’s the use case that makes the difference. So we need to have the conversations and make the observations that help understand the necessary tradeoffs and balance.

[13:59] How are people using my product? And how did their use align with the moral compass we established to begin with?

[15:56] Iterate toward better products over time. That should be a big part of what we do as product managers.

[16:43] Keep your tech people really close. There are so many points at which you have to make decisions technically that also could seriously impact the product.

[18:45] It’s important to think about where we get our energy.

[20:31] When considering your next position…. Is it challenging technically? Is it interesting from a product management perspective? What are we trying to accomplish? How will it affect people?

[22:24] The Data Nutrition Project. Just this little team of people who are mostly volunteering our time on nights and weekends because we want to make the world a better place.

[23:10] The hardest thing about product management. You don’t have direct power over anything.

[23:56] ‘CEO of the Product’. I think they tell us that as a joke. It’s like, “don’t you wish?”

[24:23] Innovation. There are categories of innovation. And they’re all related by movement. Movement of an idea or a concept or a product in a direction that hasn’t been explored. Or movement further in a direction that has.

[25:44] Source of inspiration. The most inspiring things come from hanging out with like a 13-year-old. Nothing will change your mind like hanging out with a kid.

Kasia’s Recommended Reading

Underland: A Deep Time Journey, by Robert Macfarlane.

About Kasia

Kasia Chmielinski is the Co-Founder of The Data Nutrition Project, an initiative that builds tools to improve the health of artificial intelligence through better data. They are also a technologist at McKinsey & Company in Healthcare Analytics and previously worked at The U.S. Digital Service (Executive Office of the President) and Scratch, a project of the MIT Media Lab.

They studied physics at Harvard University. When not in front of a whiteboard or a keyboard, Kasia can be found birdwatching or cycling uncomfortably long distances on a bicycle.

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43 / PM101: The Influential Product Manager


What does it mean to be an influential product manager? In short, it means doing the job well. Easier said than done, right? The product manager is the one role in the organization who seems to own all the responsibility for getting things done, but none of the authority to actually do it. And that’s why influence is the key to success.

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Sean and Paul welcome Ken Sandy. Quite literally, Ken wrote the book on influence in the PM role. His The Influential Product Manager: How to Lead and Launch Successful Technology Products is a comprehensive primer for both seasoned PMs and newcomers. And as a lecturer at UC Berkeley, he pioneered and now teaches the first product management course offered in the Engineering school – choosing to ‘light a candle rather than curse the darkness.’

There’s no aspect of our conversation with Ken that you’ll want to miss. He covers a lot of ground: behaving like a product manager; conquering self-doubt; understanding the power of trust; and finding your place within the 2×2 matrix of product manager ‘mindsets.’ You’re won’t be great in each of these quadrants, Ken says, or even comfortable.

“But you shouldn’t avoid them either. You want to get in there to make sure you’re practicing those techniques, getting better at them over time. Because if you don’t, no one else is going to do it for you or your product.”

Remember, the product manager is the one individual in the organization that nobody else seems to work for. And who, it seems, works for everybody else.

Listen in:

[02:18] Influence as a key skill. How do I teach that?

[03:32] Different flavors of product managers. What connects them is how they operate within their organization – through influence, not authority.

[05:35] The four mindsets. Explorer, Analyst, Challenger, and Evangelist.

[12:26] Context matters. Especially in the product space.

[15:10] The art of saying ‘no.’ Nothing challenges PMs more than trying to prioritize competing initiatives. Saying ‘no’ to stuff.

[17:04] The prioritization methodology. You are empowered as a product manager to make the prioritization decisions about the product and the business. Don’t do that in isolation.

[18:52] Goals and evaluation criteria. If you can’t agree on the goals, you’ve got no chance on anything else.

[20:13] Build trust before you need it. Don’t wait until that first moment of having to deal with an issue or asking a stakeholder to do something on your behalf.

[22:34] Stakeholders are not always ‘senior leaders.’ Don’t overlook the broad spectrum of where you need to build those relationships.

[23:55] Communication is a two-way street. If you’re asking for something every time you talk to a stakeholder, you’re in the ‘self-interested land.’ But if you’re asking them about their goals and how you can help, you’re in a much better territory.

[25:18] Constructive conflict and psychological safety allows for everyone to put their cards on the table and kind of get down to it.

[29:10] Understanding bias. A very important skill for product leaders. The tools are getting much better.

[30:22] Innovation. Bringing together people with different points of view and looking at problems in new ways. From there, being able to create solutions to those problems that may not have existed before.

Ken’s Recommended Reading

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic, by Steven Johnson.

About Ken

Ken Sandy is a 20+ years veteran in technology Product Management. Ken pioneered and teaches the first Product Management course offered in the Engineering school at UC Berkeley, which has over 400 PM alumni practicing in industry. Throughout his career, Ken consistently defined, launched and managed award-winning, innovative Web and mobile products loved by customers and used by millions of users across 60+ countries.

Previously, Ken served as VP of Product Management at leading online education companies, MasterClass and (Linkedin Learning), and is currently an executive consultant and advisor for startup and scale-up companies in the US, Europe, Asia and Australia.

​He’s recently released “The Influential Product Manager: How to Lead and Launch Successful Technology Products” a highly practical and approachable guide to becoming more effective and navigating the challenging collaborative aspects of the product manager’s role.


42 / Shaping: A Different Kind of Product Work


Product work is rarely (ever?) as straightforward and ordered as we’d like. It’s important for us as product leaders to embrace this fact and to plan for the interdependencies among all the moving parts. Shaping puts a name to this important work. We get clarity of direction from the guardrails Shaping provides. At the same time, we draw greater autonomy and room for learning and growth. Shaping offers product manager a different kind of work; we should do more than write tickets.

In this episode, Sean and Paul talk with Ryan Singer, Head of Product Strategy at Basecamp and author of Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters. Ryan has experience in all things software, giving him invaluable insights into what really works when designing products from start to finish. By doing the shaping work, he says, product managers enjoy a clearly defined vision for the product and create realistic constraints for the team to work within.

Is Shaping the game-changer product managers have been looking for? Maybe. It isn’t waterfall. And it’s not pure Agile. But it might have a profound impact on the clarity to your direction and the anxiety level of your team.

Be sure to listen in to catch Ryan’s unique takes on the nature of work and creating meaningful products.

[2:20] Business challenges have changed. Now, we focus on defining progress rather than reacting to clients’ changing requests.

[4:04] Product strategy. Defining the big things that differentiate your offering from others based on those who use it.

[5:46] Don’t delegate strategy. Too many leaders delegate important design and product decisions.

[8:52] Shaping provides vision without micromanagement or a lack of leadership.

[11:41] Redefine your work. Shaping gives a name to important work that isn’t coding, design, or writing tickets.

[12:59] Embrace constraints. Scarce resources create an environment that motivates us to make tradeoffs and collaborate differently.

[17:29] Reduce risk. Do prototyping and figure out interdependencies before committing to a project that might take more time than anticipated.

[21:19] Don’t be afraid to kill projects. If it were worth doing, you’d have done it. Set deadlines and constraints and stick to them.

[24:05] Output vs. outcome. Be intentional about the product rather than focusing on deploying new features that may not be important to users.

[24:20] What’s wrong? Diagnose problems from performance, shaping, betting, and building by clearly defining these processes.

[27:55] The value of learning. Create an environment where the team is able to understand the big picture and how moving parts interact.

[29:50] Take ‘management’ from the product manager, and move it to the team by creating realistic constraints.

[37:02] Swimming in unknowns. The main work of the R&D phase.

[38:02] Cleanup mode. Designate time for tying up loose ends.

[42:39] Innovation. Doing something new that’s useful.

Ryan’s Recommended Reading

Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice, by Clayton Christensen, Karen Dillon, Taddy Hall, and David S. Duncan.

Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

About Ryan

Ryan Singer has worked on all levels of the software stack, from UI design to backend programming to strategy. Through more than 17 years at Basecamp, he’s designed features used by millions and invented processes the teams use to design, develop, and ship the right things. These days he’s focused on product strategy: understanding what Basecamp’s customers are trying to do and how to make the product fit them better.

Ryan is also the author of Shape Up: Stop Running in Circles and Ship Work that Matters.



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


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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Special Edition / Delivery + UX = Client Value


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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