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  • JJ Rorie

Reflections on the First Year of Product Voices

Episode 048

While it is impossible for me to pick top moments from this year. There are simply too many great moments. I have loved each and every one of the conversations I have had on the 47 episodes, and each guest has brought their own unique insights to the show and we've all learned from each one.

But in this episode, I highlight some moments that I found especially meaningful or insightful from Product Voices in 2022, including:

  • Radhika Dutt as our very first guest!

  • A powerful moment with Farah Rana on her "why"

  • Amber Hall sharing her perspective on product management for physical, durable products

  • John Fontenot telling us why the customer is NOT always right

  • Navya Rehani Gupta educating us on product strategy through her unique product avocado approach

  • Jen Yang Wong reminding product leaders not to overlook talented but green product managers because of our own insecurities around mentoring them

  • Nils Davis discussing the importance of storytelling in product management

  • Colleen Graneto sharing why storytelling is even more important in the age of asynchronous working


Episode Transcript:


product, product managers, episode, important, avocado, customer, create, talking, story, airbnb, mentor, people, thinking, vision, storytelling, loved, management, problem, called, part

Intro 00:03

Welcome to Product voices, a podcast where we share valuable insights and useful resources. To help us all be great in product management. Visit the show's website to access the resources discussed on the show, find more information on our fabulous guests or to submit your product management question to be answered in our special q&a episodes. That's all at product And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform. Now, here's our host, JJ Rorie, CEO of great product management.

JJ 00:36

Hello, and welcome to Product Voices. So this episode, I'm going to be reflecting on the first year of the podcast what an amazing year it has been, I have loved creating this space for the product community. I've had some amazing guests from companies such as Amazon Riot Games, Airbnb, onfido, Product board, figma, peak, Kohler, many others, we've grown from an audience of four, which of course is me, my wife and our two cats, to having 1000s of listeners across over 60 countries. That's my favorite part, the global reach of this little show, we are really one community across a great big world. Now, it's simply impossible for me to pick favorite moments from the year there are simply too many great moments. I've loved each and every one of the conversations I've had on the 47 episodes. So far, each guest has brought their own unique insights to the show, and I've learned from each and every one of them. But I do want to highlight some of the moments that I found especially meaningful or insightful from this first year of product voices. So we kicked off the podcast in an incredible way. radica was our very first guest on product voices. radica, of course, is the author of radical product thinking and is an amazing product leader, advisor and teacher. My favorite part of episode one with radica was when we discuss one of the pillars of her radical product thinking framework, envisioning the change you want to bring to the world before engineering your product. I think that's so powerful. So again, let me let me restate that envisioning the change you want to bring to the world before engineering your product, here's a radical on that idea.

Radhika Dutt 02:20

That's the fundamental starting point, we have to be able to envision that change before we start engineering our products so that we can course correct so that we're not on this galloping horse that's just heading somewhere, even if it's heading in the wrong direction. And by the way, it's just such a profound shift, right? Because when we started using Lean and Agile, as those methodologies were so ubiquitous, even the book Lean Startup, it talks about, yes, you should have a vision. But the idea almost is you discover your vision along the way. Although it says you start by having a vision, the vision is always something that is broad, right kind of like open and connected was considered a good vision. And therein lies the problem. Like when we, when we use iterations, we delude ourselves into thinking that we can discover a more detailed vision along the way, and that you can't possibly know your vision until you start trying things. And that's one of the fundamental things that I really want to challenge. Because when we just iterate, this is how we start running into these product diseases because we're iteration driven. And that leads to product diseases like pivot Titus, right, where we keep changing directions, trying things. And without knowing what change we want to bring about, you know, then our iterations aren't driven by any clear direction. It's like saying, we're going to go on a road trip and my direction, oh, it's to go north. That's my vision for the road trip. So you don't know if you're going to end up in Boston. If you start from New York, or you're going to end up in Toronto. It's just you know, this is why we need that clarity of what's the change we want to bring about. And that vision might change slightly over time, but at least you need some sort of starting point a stake in the ground.

JJ 04:15

Again, just amazing thoughts from Radhika Dutt, author of radical product thinking that was in episode one. Another favorite of mine was episode four with Farah Rana. Farah is a product leader at Riot Games. She's been in government healthcare, financial services and gaming. Quite the diverse background. We talked about navigating a career and what she wishes she would have known earlier. My favorite part of the episode is when Farah relayed how she answered this particular interview question that she got once and that question was why is it important for you on a personal level to grow in product management? Here's her answer.

Farah Rana 04:57

That was asked, Why do you Who? Wait, why is it important for you my personal level, to grow in product. And I said, Look at me, I am a woman of color. I am first generation educated in college and masters. And there's only 2% of women in leadership positions in product. And I don't even know if it's, forget about race, I'm not even talking about that as point 2%. And my personal motivation, I my professional motivations, my personal motivation is I have two young children. And I'm opening a door for one, my daughter, and I'm showing my son that you can walk through the door with her as a man. And I think that's, I would have never been that transparent. ever in my career, and I think we're at this really interesting point in, in history, where we can say those things mean truly genuine, and share those motivations. And, and I feel so comfortable that I had done that, because people know what they're getting. Right. And, and I'd love to take that and open doors for other people. Because I have been very blessed with wonderful managers. You know, folks that have challenged me who have, you know, called me in their office but Farrell, what the hell are you doing? But like, you know, there's more to it. Right. So I would say that personal story is part of my grid. And what's important to me, and I would really encourage folks to really dig deep and think about what is their personal motivation that impacts their professional success?

JJ 06:59

A really personal and powerful answer from Farah Rana loved that part of the episode. So episode six, I was joined by Amber Hall, a senior product leader at Kohler. And we talked all about durable goods, and how the product management space around physical durable goods, has some of the same similarities of courses, creating and managing any product. But there are some nuances. And so I loved this conversation. I personally believe that in our world of product management, these physical durable goods seem to get ignored. In some ways, we talk so much about digital products, software, products, technology products. Of course, all of that is critical, and frankly, makes the world go round. But these other products that are so much a part of our physical environment, are just as important. And so I was thrilled to have a conversation specifically about that. So here's Amber Hall, senior leader at Kohler, talking about her perspective on, you know why thinking about durable goods, physical products is so important.

Amber Hall 08:15

My point of view is we as humans exist in a physical 3d body that exists in a 3d world. And for the most part, the things that we interact with every single day have some physical element to them, if not, are an actual physical product, even most of the software, that that is created by way of tech companies often exist on on some sort of physical embodiment of to deliver that software, right. And so I think the short answer is we as humans live in a physical world. And so there is there is literally all sorts of manufacturing industries where physical product is created every single day. That means product managers, and sometimes the title isn't always as official as product manager. But in other instances it is and so there's so much opportunity for that. I think the other thing that often, I think sometimes people don't necessarily realize is the intersection of the two continues to drive our world forward. If you if you really think about it, take a take a step back, the computer you're using the phone you're using, whatever you're using that has software on it has a physical element to it. And in many cases, vice versa, that car you drive or, or that sort of thing that technology is often woven into every element with the exception of maybe I was actually thinking about this the other day, maybe maybe furniture or something like that. But I think there's even in that space. There's there's emerging technologies all the time. And so I think the application is, is totally vast, but the competencies are relevant no matter the application, and so thinking about it in that way. A hopefully should provide perspective but also create longevity, for anyone's career long term.

JJ 10:08

Again, Amber Hall from Episode Six talking about durable goods, product management loved that conversation, that that was something really important to put out there and have other folks who manage and create and innovate around physical goods, an important conversation to hear a little bit later in the season, we talked with John Fontenot, on episodes 14, and 15, John is the author of Never assume and 10 Fatal assumptions, great product managers never make. We needed two episodes to get through all of the great insights in this book, again, called Never assume 10 Fatal assumptions, great product managers never make go get that book. It's very good. So in Episode 14, we discussed the fatal assumption of assuming your customer is correct. Here is that discussion? So the second one I love and I think we so many of us fall into to this trap. So the second one is never assume customers are correct. Tell us more about that.

John Fontenot 11:11

Yeah, so in, I think retail has made this quote famous, right? That the customer's always right, or the customer's always correct. And in product, that's just not the case in a lot of the ways that we choose to, to handle customer requests, right? It's very common for customers to come to us and say, hey, I want you to build this feature. And it's all too easy to turn around and say, Okay, I'll go build that feature. And I know you talked to Jason Knight recently, I listened to that podcast episode around the differences of b2b and b2c and how, in some instances, you have very large clients and maybe 1012 clients that represent the entirety of your revenue, right. And it's harder to tell them no for a specific feature, then, because they represent such a large part of your business. But even in those scenarios, right, across product disciplines, that's what you want to call them or across industries, or whether you're b2c b2b enterprise, it's more foundational, or it's more fundamental to understand the problem driving the request. Because still, at the end of the day, like we have to build for a market, right? If we spend all of our time building for one client, even if they represent 10% of your overall revenue. One, the likelihood of you not getting things correct, or actually truly solving their problem, there's probably context that you're missing if you just go build the thing they asked you for. And so taking a step back to really, like, go past the surface of saying, okay, the feature that they're asking for might not be the right one. But what I should care about is the problem driving the request, so I can truly solve it. Because at the end of the day, whether it's a, you know, billion dollar enterprise that you're serving, or, you know, a million consumers, right, they don't care what the feature is, they care that you solved their problem. And that's really the big takeaway I wanted to come from that chapter, is that, you know, it's not our job to be the order taker, right, like I was, I was a waiter, or early in my, like, right after college during college, I waited tables, and you know, I took orders, but that's not what we do as product managers, right. It's a lot more complex. And the whole theory of jobs to be done comes from that is you have to understand the problems that your customers or consumers face, and the context in which they face them to truly get to the root need. That's that's driving behavior.

JJ 13:38

Again, powerful perspective there from John Fontenot. We so often think customers can tell us exactly what they need. And that is often just not the case. It's our job in product management to listen, probe, gather feedback, and then analyze it, interpret it and discern if there is something there worth exploring or building. So I love John's assertion that great product managers never assume that the customer is correct.

JJ 14:03

Navya Rehani Gupta, Chief Product Officer of Peek joined me and who can forget the product avocado, Here's a snippet,

Navya Rehani Gupta 14:11

but I promise the avocado story is actually better. So it might even leave you hungry. So let's talk about okay.

JJ 14:18

I'm gonna need some avocado toast.

Navya Rehani Gupta 14:22

So almost six years ago, I was sitting in at Peek San Francisco office ready to give a presentation to the company on product and I knew I wanted to provide a 30,000 view on the why behind roadmap planning. I also wanted to cover the how. So I started creating these concentric circles on a slide to showcase my thinking and that's when somebody walked past my desk and said, oh, cool, nice avocado. really fits that California cliche. I think he might have been eating avocado toast at that time, too. Just to add to that. That's how the peaks frantically but that's how peaks product avocado was born. The product avocado at a high level shows the entire roadmap planning process that we follow every single quarter. So let's start with the elements. Let's start with the skin of the avocado. So the skin of the avocado is your product vision, and always drowns everybody around our y. So whenever we start any roadmap planning conversation, whether it's the planning or the actual communication of, we always reiterate the product vision, it defines the why or what we built. So that's the first one. The next layer of the avocado is product goals. So these need to be 100% aligned with the company goals at every single time. Again, it's a forcing function as a product team to pause what we're doing and say, Hey, what's most important for the company, these goals can change every single quarter based on what's most important, it could be around expansion to a new vertical, it could be around retention, reducing churn, it could be technical in nature, it could be as a priority to make specific infrastructure investments to unblock a new customer segment. So it could really vary. So it's important as an executive team to align on these top level two to four goals, but also align how much investment do we want to put towards each area. So example, priority could be expansion and retention 40% investment on expansion 60% on retention. So I do this process around setting this up with the executive team every single quarter. It aligns us at a top level on the intended outcome that we want to get to for each of these areas, and the value we want to create before we even start the roadmap planning process. So that was the next layer. So we talked about the vision, we talked about the goals. The next layer is actually the most fun part of the process. And that's called product opportunities. The recommendation of what we actually build is entirely bottoms up driven. Each product team spends about a week every quarter to align on a prioritized recommendation of top opportunities that will drive the maximum impact towards these top down goals. They look at different aspects. They look at customer insights. They quantify business and customer benefit for each proposed opportunity. They ask themselves What will the business achieve? What will the customers achieve? The look at market trends competitive intelligence, recommend key differentiators for the business. They individually work with stakeholders upfront to align on their priorities, work with engineering on early feed visibility feedback as well. After all this research in the week, they provide a one to N recommendation of these opportunities, but also clearly articulate what we will not do. Similarly, while the pm team is working on their recommendation. The engineering leads do a very similar assessment of top engineering opportunities to make the infrastructure scalable. So that in a nutshell, are the ingredients of the guacamole we you know, we create a shared source of truth to outline the vision, we talk about intended outcomes for the product team that are aligned with the company goals, top opportunities to align everybody on what we're going to focus on what we're not going to focus on. And then comes the seed of the avocado right and that seed is your your release plan your backlog and that's probably the least interesting part of the avocado right? I know you know, many people actually say the seed has health benefits too. But ultimately, the roadmap planning process doesn't start with the seat you have to start with the skin of the avocado and then you get to the seat at the very end.

JJ 18:44

This is so cool. So by the way I did actually plant an avocado seed I don't know if you've ever done that before but you like stick a stick a toothpick in the seed and then you put it in water and then it takes about 100,000 years and then you have you know a little you know great sprout Yeah, it's not worth it. Just go buy the avocado.

JJ 19:02

Again, such a fun conversation with Navya. Really unique way to get her team and the organization kind of rallied around the product strategy and and how to keep that going. It really showed a great way to lead a team and fluence a team to embrace a strategy really understand it, and all contribute in their own way, which I thought was amazing.

JJ 19:28

Another favorite moment of mine was when Jen Ying Wong joined me on episode 33. Jen is Director of Product at Contrary Capital. She's previously head of product at numerous companies, including Uber Eats where she launched Uber grocery. In this episode, we talk about how Product Manager leadership and hiring managers sometimes has a hard time taking a chance on new inexperienced product managers and why that may be One of the things that I loved that she brought up, which really frankly, was an epiphany for me, was that one of the reasons why hiring managers and product leaders have a hard time taking a chance on someone new, is because those hiring managers, those leaders themselves, are insecure about their ability to mentor and coach, newer product managers. Here's Jen.

Jen Yang Wong 20:24

I think the reason why I started with that conclusion is actually when I, when I was at Uber, one of my managers, you know, he would say to me, he was like, John, I think you're like really solid at being an IC, but you have to know how to delegate and scale. And basically, like, if you don't figure out how to do those things, like you will burn out one day, and so I want to challenge you to start mentoring, kind of like younger PMS, it who are, you know, maybe more junior, or whatever it may be, and like, learn how to kind of empower them and guide them. And it's really hard for me, and it was really frustrating, to be honest, like I would, in my head, I'd be like, okay, you know, I present you know, this is what we're going to try to, you know, tackle, here's the problem at hand and my head, you know, having done a bunch of like stuff behind the scenes, chatting with folks, hearing stakeholders, input requirements, etc, kind of came to some kind of conclusion. But then I'd have to kind of allow my mentee to kind of figure out how to get through themselves, right. And maybe that path is different, and being accepting of the fact that like, there are multiple ways to get to an outcome, and that there's no necessarily correct path. And so, you know, I first went back to thinking about my early days trying to mentor and how how bad I was at it, if I'm being honest. And after that first experience, I actually had very little confidence in my ability to mentor in fact, I was almost, you know, I almost wanted to not do it, because I felt like not only was it incredibly frustrating for me, but I also didn't feel like I was setting up my mentee for success. And it was kind of just like negative on both ends, and my manager just kept pushing me and he was like, you will figure it out, like your various tips, here's ways to kind of, like, be a little bit more patient in certain areas, etc. And, and so that experience is something that I really distinctly remember. And so as I look at, you know, and think about hiring managers today, I actually wonder, like, how many may feel that way, in some way, shape, or form, maybe this is their first time in a more senior role. They've never, you know, had someone report to them before, maybe they haven't had a ton of experience mentoring someone, maybe a bit more junior has less experience, whatever it might be, and maybe they don't have that conviction that they're able to do so. And the other could be could be that, you know, again, like they think they have solid experience, but having someone else come in who has experience would augment, you know, maybe any blind spots or gaps that they might have. And that that combined is a stronger call it like product pairing, if you were in terms of creating a team. And I think that's rooted in this belief that like, oh, maybe I don't have enough of the skills myself. And the reality is that product is a role where, you know, we don't really go to school for it, for the most part, you know, there are certifications, there are now courses at various universities. But, you know, at least to my knowledge, there's no product degree. Correct me if I'm wrong, I do not have a degree in product at least. And so, you know, I think I think it's just comes with experience. And I think it comes with, you know, the more people you can learn, learn from who you can mentor who you can receive mentorship from, and because of that, there's no like, sudden switch that says, now you're ready to become a mentor or not. And I think without that at times, people basically, you know, I think maybe have have less confidence in their own abilities there. And that's where I'd say someone bet on you, you have what it takes now you have years of you know, product experience, etc. At this point, like, I believe that you can, you know, mentor someone and guide them and, and I think that you probably have a ton to share and also a ton to learn through that experience too.

JJ 24:13

Again really loved that from Jinyang on episode 33. Now I'm going to double dip a little bit on this one, I'm going to share two episodes under the theme of storytelling. Back on episode 17 Neil's Davis joined me to discuss the importance of stories and persuasion in improving communication skills here is Neal's talking about storytelling, and why it's so important in product management.

Nils Davis 24:38

Simply telling somebody that they're gonna get a 10% improvement in something that's not that compelling, you know? And I started to think about how persuasion depends on appealing to the emotions of the people you're talking to not just their rational brain, right? So talking about a 10% improvement in something that's a rational brain thing. If you're making a decision totally rationally, then that should be enough to convince you, right? But people are actually emotional creatures. 10% doesn't actually excite them that much, they'd much rather hear about the lion or tiger that's lurking in the woods that's going to kill them or something like that. Well, in modern world, what is the equivalent of that? Well, it might be, I don't want to get fired. I don't want to look like an idiot, to my boss, or I want to get a promotion. You know, if you're thinking about being a product manager, what are the what are the problems that you're suffering? And what are the symptoms of those problems? And are those symptoms things like, well, I might lose my job, if I can't get better at this, or my company is going to go out of business, because our competitor is going to eat our lunch because they're doing a better job, right? So you start to think about those things. And as you do that, you then start to think about, well, what can I promise with my tool, one of the key things that I learned in this process, and this wasn't even that long ago, was a really easy and basic, but very fundamental story structure that lets me put all this stuff into a framework that I could then easily teach, easily used myself, that I could use to work with sales and marketing people that I could use when I was doing customer discovery that I could use for motivating my developers. So it has this power, it's very simple, but it has this power to do all kinds of things in terms of improving what I do as a product manager, and what other product managers, people who listen to my podcasts now know how to do and things like that.

JJ 26:30

I just love that Nils has a way of telling stories, and communicating in a way that just grabs you and brings you in and again, such an important skill and product management. And then in Episode 27, Colin granito, Product Manager at Airbnb joined me, and we discuss story telling in product management in very specific terms. And I loved her perspective on how important storytelling will be as we move more and more into working in an async environment, here's calling

Colleen Graneto 27:03

when we're working async, this becomes even more important. And it hits back a little bit to that shared sense of purpose. I think that's been one of the challenges with with the remote environment and more distributed teams is having that cohesive understanding and that shared sense of purpose. And storytelling can really help there. We hit some challenges, because it's not like you mentioned it's not in person. And there's a lot of when we think about storytelling, a lot of in person attributes to it. And we think you know, we hit on this before in terms of storytelling being a very common way of how we shared and communicated information throughout generations. A lot of it was live in person stories, singing all of those types of things. And this is where I think product managers need to get creative, because storytelling doesn't just have to be verbal. What do I mean by that there's a lot of different things that you can create, that helped trigger those memories of the stories. And so ideally, we will at least have some interactions, where we share the story and talk about the story together in person, at least in pieces, but where we think about these other methods of communication that really helps bring it together, and brings it front and center and everything that we do. So some examples of this is to start thinking about different ways that you can share the story beyond verbal communication and get creative. It could be visuals, it could be quotes from customers, it could be recordings of different things of different videos. This helps the story to be more pervasive and front and center in everything we do. When I think back to a place where this specifically was done really well within Airbnb, was when I was part of the experiences business, and how we we all were surrounded by the story of how experiences came to be and why they were so important for our community and for Airbnb, with the founding story of the first experience that Airbnb created, and also stories about what it's enabled our hosts to be able to do. And this surrounded us through pictures on the wall, including quotes from our hosts from interviews. We also had videos from different experiences, we had videos of the first guest and the experience that was planned for this person. And there's like whole video of this person's transformation and the things they were able to experience. And so we had those lasting artifacts that were accessible to anybody. And they were also there to remind us and I think that really helped to influence our day to day decision making and making sure that that story was present and the customer is present. And so while I think stories are very important to have that like interactive live communication at times, I would actually argue I think it's more important to figure out how to keep the story pervasive even when we're not talking, because when we're thinking, and when we're making decisions, we're not always talking. And so having those other reminders becomes really important. And I think that is also the game changer and helping the story to take a life of its own. Because with those artifacts, you're creating collateral for other people to pick up to really champion the story as well. And that's when we're talking about like the beacons and other ways to start communicating this change and communicating this narrative. Having those artifacts and having those other methods of telling the story outside of just verbal communication really helps to expedite that process, and make it easier to scale. So it's not just you as one person trying to share the story. But now you're creating different ways for people to interact with the story and spread the story as well.

JJ 30:53

So again, that was Colleen Granteo, senior pm at Airbnb talking about storytelling, such an important thing that we need to grasp and learn in product management.

JJ 31:02

So that's a wrap on the first season of product voices. We have had some amazing voices on this show. And I'm so lucky to be able to host all of them and to create this space for all of us in the product community to learn from each other. One of the things that I wanted to do with the show was to create a way that we could share resources with each other. And so you'll notice in almost every episode, I asked the guests What are your favorite resources around that topic or product management in general, so they share some really great resources and other ways that they've learned the craft of product management, and we share those resources on product on each of the episode pages. Thank you all for listening to product voices this year. I have loved the first season and can't wait to see what the future holds. Hope to see on the next episode.

Outro 32:00

Thank you for listening to product voices hosted by JJ Rorie. To find more information on our guests resources discussed during the episode or to submit a question for our q&a episodes, visit the show's website product And be sure to subscribe to the podcast on your favorite platform.


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