How to Succeed as a Technical PM: Intuit Principal Product Manager Yi Ng Talks Product-Market Fit and Knowledge Engineering
How do you do your taxes? (Aside from begrudgingly, that is.) If you're one of the millions of Americans who files online, you may have used one of the projects that Yi Ng, Principal Product Manager at Intuit, has developed over her eight years at the global financial platform company known for products like TurboTax, QuickBooks, and Mint.
As a Principal PM on the Technology Futures team at Intuit, Yi has a host of responsibilities that span the business, from recruiting and managing a team to envisioning the consumer and small business products of the future. Her role requires her to stay up-to-date on the latest technology so she can manage highly technical products and teams. Currently, she's working on a project called Knowledge Engine (KE) platform, which uses Knowledge Engineering, a field of Artificial Intelligence (AI) that relies on rules devised by human beings.
I sat down with her to discuss her almost 15-year career in product management, her advice for technical product managers, why your product might need more work if customers tell you they like it (seriously), and how knowledge engineering is being leveraged at Intuit.
1. Do you need a tech background to be a technical PM?
The short answer is no, Yi explains, but you do need to understand technology and be passionate about continuous learning.
Yi completed a minor in Computer Science at UC Berkeley, used her coding skills in her first job at a consulting company, and has kept her tech skills sharp to this day. In fact, she organizes professors from UC Berkeley and other experts to give tech talks at Intuit, helping contribute to the continuous learning of a broad constituency at the company.
"I stay close to my engineers and work to maintain a detailed understanding of what the team is working on. Part of that means staying close to the ground and getting your hands dirty," she says. "Having deep technical appreciation is also critical—as is learning how to ask engineers the right questions to fill in gaps in your understanding."
To succeed as a technical PM, keep these 3 tips in mind:
- "Don't be afraid to keep asking questions until you can translate the technical feature in your own words."
- "Take classes in the fields where you lack technical understanding, and attempt to teach other product managers."
- "It's only with high-performing teams that you can really build products that customers will love...."
2. What makes a great PM?
Yi's ideal product manager has 5 key strengths:
- A feel for product and a passion for building awesome products
- An obsession with deeply understanding (and solving) customer pain points
- Technical know-how
- Relationship-building skills
- Excellent communication skills
Product managers come from a number of different fields and backgrounds, so rather than simply assessing past experience, Yi and her team like to ask questions that help them understand how a candidate thinks, prototypes, and makes decisions, such as:
- What information did you actively seek to create the plan and your approach in figuring out the initial pilot?
- What are the critical components of your initial version? How did you select them and why?
- What assumptions are you making that absolutely have to be true for your plan to succeed?
- What assumptions are you planning to test?
- What are the metrics that will determine success?
If you're interviewing at Intuit, keep these tips in mind:
- Always keep the customer in mind. "One question we often ask is: 'Who is the customer, and what is the biggest problem of theirs that you're solving?"
- Use data to make your case. For senior candidates, Yi's team often provides a case study and a couple of days to respond to it. "We're a data-driven company, and we want to see how candidates leverage data," Yi explains.
- Remember that great products need great people. Yi notes that "Product problems are a symptom of organizational problems. How do you go about nurturing your people to build high-performing teams?"
3. How do you assess product-market fit?
Early on in her career at Intuit, Yi was working on a new product that would become Intuit's QuickBooks Self-Employed offering, the fastest growing business at Intuit. She and her team were part of the earliest product phase—discovery of product-market fit— performing rapid and iterative testing of design prototypes with potential customers. The customer problem they were trying to solve: Get sole proprietors organized for tax time. Yi's team started out with the hypothesis that self-employed customers want to keep their personal and business expenses separated, so they designed an initial product around this idea. After a marathon day of testing the new interface with customers, each one said they had liked the product, but their behavior didn't show it.
The team felt something was off. They boldly decided to scrap it and start over. They ran another set of sessions the next day, this time with a new hypothesis centered on enabling the customer to break down business and personal expenses according to percentages and amounts. This time around, customers weren't just saying that they liked the product. They loved it.
"They were saying, 'Oh my gosh, can I pay you $100 a month to have this now?'" says Yi, smiling. The story underscores a common experience during early stage product management, where neither the customer nor the product team is able to fully articulate the customer need. Yi credits the success of that experience to Design 4 Delight, a process Intuit considers their "secret sauce," which entails deep customer empathy to develop a design that can be rapidly tested until arriving at a solution that adequately solves the customer's need—to the point where they fall in love with the product. For Yi, "That experience on QuickBooks Self-Employed was an example of how it's very different when you actually find that product-market fit—and how important it is to have a trusting environment with your team where everyone feels comfortable voicing their ideas and responding to feedback. Ultimately a fantastic product is a reflection of a high-performing team."
Her takeaways about building the right product:
- Build a high-performing team.
- Understand customer needs.
- Know what you can solve well.
- Keep pushing until you're sure you have identified and solved the customer's biggest problem.
4. What is knowledge engineering? How is it being used at Intuit?
One of the most essential parts of any PM's role is keeping up with the latest tech trends. For Yi, this is what keeps the job exciting — and to excel in her current role, she's taken a deep dive into knowledge engineering.
Unlike Machine Learning, which takes a bottom-up approach to implementing A.I.by enabling systems to learn and improve from experience without explicit programming, Knowledge Engineering takes a top to bottom approach, translating vast human knowledge (like tax code, in Intuit's case) into a rules-based system.
"Data-driven machine learning looks at large sets of data and derives insights that humans may or may not have," says Yi. "Knowledge engineering starts from the other side. We humans have a lot of knowledge and logic in our heads already—how can we translate that knowledge so we can leverage its benefits?"
Intuit's particular emphasis on knowledge engineering is due to the critical nature of its applications: personal and business taxes, payroll, and financial compliance in general. Because of this, the company's consumer, small business, and self-employed customers expect precise and logically interconnected results with a clear and personalized explanation of why the system provided a particular response or recommendation.
Yi explains that Intuit's Knowledge Engine (KE) platform leverages this in 2 main ways:
1. Accuracy + Explainability: KE enables Intuit software to not only show customers what their expected financial outcome is, but why.
Have you ever finished filling out your taxes online, seen your expected refund, and wondered how the product got to that exact number? With KE, TurboTax intrinsically correlates and intertwines more than 80,000 pages of U.S. tax code to deliver an accurate, contextual explanation for how, given your particular financial situation, your refund was calculated. Given that 55% of Americans don't feel confident about their finances, providing this explanation is a vital part of educating customers and building trust.
TurboTax's ExplainWhy Feature in Action
2. Personalized experiences: KE can create unique interfaces based on tailored situations, providing each user with a personalized product experience without developers having to code tens of thousands of screens to account for every possibility.
"What the Knowledge Engine does really well is surface the right question at the right time, to create an experience tailored just for you. This is possible because Knowledge Engine takes complex compliance rules such as taxes or accounting, and codifies and translates them into an experience that's tailored to your situation." says Yi.
"Imagine you have a student in your household who is about to turn 18 and needs to apply for student loans. With KE, we can use a combination of rules and insights to streamline this process for our customers so that they don't have to answer as many questions or manually input data that they have already confirmed in TurboTax to qualify for a loan."
Speaking as someone intimately familiar with the current inane, frustrating process of applying for student loans…sign me up!
If you have further questions for Yi on product management, let her know in the comments! And if you're interested in working in Product Management at Intuit, check out these jobs: Product Manager positions at Intuit.
💎Want to implement change in your team or organization? Watch the video to the end to do it successfully.
📼 To implement change you need to follow certain steps. Play this video to get three top tips on how to do it the best possible way. You'll hear from Kyle Lisboa, Support Operations Manager at Esri, who shares her experience with you!
📼Why implement change? Tip #1: Identify the reason. Think about the business reason for the change. If you understand why change is needed, it helps you explain it to others. Avoid making change for change's sake and implement solutions that solve problems.
📼Plan to implement change! Tip #2: Develop a plan. Create a detailed plan to help implement the change. If you create steps and timelines, this will guide the process. It also helps others understand how you are progressing towards the implementation and what the next steps are.
To Implement Change You Need Others - Tip #3: Seek Feedback
Gather feedback from those affected before, during, and after any changes are implemented. Allowing others to provide their feedback helps to create an inclusive atmosphere where everyone feels part of the solution.
📨 Are you interested in joining Esri? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Kyle Lisboa
Kyle is an experienced Strategic Operations Manager with a demonstrated history of working in the computer software industry. She’s skilled in Arcgis Products, Databases, Management, Geography, and Cartography. If you are interested in a career at Esri, you can connect with her on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Esri
At Esri, they build cutting-edge geographic information system (GIS) technology that customers use to solve the world’s most complex challenges: slowing climate change, stamping out disease, designing a better city, fighting crime, and much more. Their ArcGIS software is helping communities around the globe respond to the COVID-19 pandemic by monitoring the surge, managing testing sites, aiding essential workers in finding childcare, mapping food and essentials, and keeping residents informed and safe.
Nearly 80% of workers want to work for a company that values diversity, equity, and inclusion, per a CNBC survey.
But how do prospective employees — and, for that matter, current ones — know whether an organization takes diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) seriously?
Metrics can help.
What are DEI metrics?
Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging metrics are measurements of how a company is doing against its stated DEIB goals. They help track progress, light up problems, synthesize momentum over time, prioritize investment, and allow a company and its employees to have accountability over DEIB intentions.
How can DEI metrics help my overall DEI strategy?
Creating a DEIB strategy is the first step in making your workplace more equitable. But having DEI metrics is a vital second step in ensuring that progress happens.
DEI metrics help a company actualize their strategy, live out their values, meet employee expectations, and make the workplace more fair for all employees.
10 examples of DEI metrics
1. Hiring: the diversity of your candidate pipeline.
How diverse is your applicant pool? Have your candidates self-identify and track what representation looks like in your candidate system.
2. Representation: the demographics of your current employees.
Many companies put pressure on their new hires to make up for gaps in their existing employee population — so make sure you’re benchmarking against data on what your current workforce is made up of.
3. Representation: the demographics of your leadership team.
People need to see that there is a path for success for people who look like them at your organization. What does the makeup of your board look like? Your directors? Your managers? And what does the promotion pipeline look like into those roles?
4. Representation: the demographics of your suppliers.
The money that you spend can significantly impact communities around you — so you should be measuring whether you’re doing that in a way that challenges bias and champions equitable treatment.
5. HR systems: pay equity.
Do all employees, regardless of gender or race, make the same amount of money if they’re doing the same job? If not, what’s your gender / race pay gap and how quickly are you closing it?
6. Employee experience: HR issues.
It’s important to track wins when it comes to DEIB, but it’s also vital to track times when your organization falls short. How many HR / People issues related to DEIB, including allegations of unfair treatment or bias, has your organization dealt with in the past year? What was the result of them? How quickly did issues get resolved? These metrics are key to know.
7. Employee experience: satisfaction with DEI progress.
When you send out employee satisfaction surveys, make sure you include questions on how employees perceive your current progress on DEI goals. They’re the ones most impacted by your strategy — and their opinion matters.
8. Employee engagement: participation in communication platforms.
How often do employees participate in Slack? What about by-channel participation? Looking at data on who talks to who and when can help highlight issues with inclusion or culture. Some companies are using AI-enabled text analysis tools to look for signs of frustration or for problematic language.
9. Employee participation: ERG membership.
Employee resource groups can be hugely helpful in creating community around different identities, interests, and demographics. They can also provide guidance on how to actualize your organization’s DEIB goals. (Which is part of the reason you should pay ERG leaders for their efforts, but that’s a topic for a different blog.)
10. Brand reputation: customer perception.
We’ve talked about key groups for whom DEIB metrics matter — prospective employees, current employees, leadership — but they matter to your customers, too. Whether you add a DEIB component to your existing NPS process, conduct 1:1 customer interviews, or get feedback some other way, it’s important to see whether your customer base is seeing progress on your DEIB goals, too.
Have you ever been so exhausted that you quit your job?
You may have been experiencing burnout.
Burnout is characterized by overwhelming exhaustion, detachment from your work, and a sense of ineffectiveness.
And while anyone can experience burnout, if you have ADHD, you may be more susceptible to it.
Before you get to the point where quitting feels like your only option, there are steps you can take to set healthy boundaries and start feeling more like yourself again. Read on to learn how you can recognize burnout in yourself, and what to do if you’re experiencing it!
How Does ADHD Burnout Feel?
There are some clear signs that you’re burning out, but ADHD can make the descent to burnout harder to detect. These warning signs include:
- Lack of motivation - not wanting to do the things you need to do or the things you love.
- Exhaustion - feeling overly tired both mentally and physically.
- Irritability and mental fatigue - feeling short-tempered, mean, or like you snap easily.
- Physical discomfort - body aches, low energy levels, and general pain.
- Negative outlook - the tendency to find something wrong with nearly everything.
- Emotional dysregulation - feeling weepy, sad, or unable to smile or connect with others.
Generally, burnout starts with taking on too much. Exhaustion creeps in, and you feel like every day is working against you because you are constantly overwhelmed. You may start to feel like the entire world is spinning out of control, or like no matter what you do you can’t keep up (or catch up).
If this resonates with you, you might be on the road to ADHD burnout.
Why People with ADHD Can Be More Susceptible to Burnout
So why does ADHD make some folks more susceptible to burnout? There are a few common ADHD traits that often result in behaviors correlated with burnout (taking on too much, working too long, etc.):
- Hyperfocus - ADHD is not exclusively about attention deficits. In fact, hyperfocus is the opposite – a deep, intense concentration to the point of being oblivious to your surroundings. Per WebMD, hyperfocus is a state of highly-focused attention that lasts for an extended period of time. You concentrate on something so hard that you lose track of everything else going on around you. When hyperfocus sets in at work, it can be hard to unplug or be aware of the people and environment around you.
- Time Tracking - Losing track of time is one thing, but if you find yourself losing track of hours without realizing it, that could be related to burnout. People with ADHD perceive time not as a sequence of events the way others usually do, but as a diffuse collection of events viscerally connected to the people, activities, and emotions that fill them.
- Difficulty Prioritizing - Do you take on too much and then struggle to prioritize it? When someone asks for help, does everything often go to the wayside so you can jump in? Or maybe the daunting anticipation of the tasks ahead prevents you from starting. Per ADDitude, ADHD impacts your temporal processing abilities, which can affect executive functioning.
Combating ADHD Burnout
If you think you may be suffering from ADHD burnout, there are a few ways to take back control. Here are three tips for combating ADHD burnout:
Reserve Your Yeses - Pump the brakes when you recognize the early signs of ADHD burnout. Start reserving your yeses right away. Say no, and practice not apologizing. It is okay to say, "I have a lot on my plate right now and cannot take that on. Thanks for thinking of me." Saying no is nothing to apologize for, and it should be celebrated! You are working to protect your energy above all else.
Practice Over-Estimating - If you think you could knock something out in a day, give yourself a week. Overestimate on time and allow yourself the grace to have a little more time than usual to complete projects. Slowing down when starting a new job or role will help you produce high-quality work and prevent ADHD burnout.
Drop the Mask - Be honest with your employer and friends. Let them know that although you seem to keep up internally, you struggle. Identifying ADHD burnout from the outside can be extremely difficult. Your honesty and transparency will position you to determine if your environment is supportive and inclusive.
How to Support Colleagues Dealing with ADHD Burnout
The experiences above may not resonate with you personally, but perhaps you’ve noticed other people you work with describe or experience them.
If you’re a manager, there are several ways you can support colleagues with ADHD (as well as neurodivergent employees more generally) to help prevent burnout. Ask for clarity on when they have felt the most supported at work. Discovery questions like, “how did you feel at that time?” or “how was the pace of that project?” can help you to understand their actual capacity.Download this free guide if you’re looking for more ways to support your neurodivergent coworkers. Work with your DEIB and HR team to develop new neurodivergent inclusivity standards to help you stay ahead of the ADHD burnout cycle.
💎Worried about bias in the workplace? Watch the video to the end to find out how to reduce it!
📼Avoiding bias in the workplace requires a lot of effort. Play this video to get three top tips that will help you. You'll hear from Ben Lopez, Talent Acquisition Manager for EMEA at Workiva, who shares advice on how to create a more fair, equitable environment where everyone feels welcome and has a seat at the table.
📼Acknowledging bias in the workplace is the starting point. Tip #1: Recognize Bias. Take the time to recognize your own bias. Both conscious and unconscious. And look out for bias within teams and among peers. Work together to understand how you can all avoid each of those biases that you may encounter.
📼Avoid sneaky bias in the workplace! Tip #2: Rely on a structured process. Whether it's about interviewing, promotions, or performance reviews, relying on a consistent, fair, and objective process will help guard against bias. Document the process to keep both you and your peers accountable. And when it comes to interviewing, work with your peers and other participants to define clear questions and objectives to cover with each candidate.
Reduce Bias In The Workplace By Knowing Different People - Tip #3: Widen Your Network
Don't always engage with the same people. Widen your internal network, and interact with different teams, and different departments. Get to know those with different life experiences, different academic backgrounds, and different work experiences. Understanding those who are different from us allows us to be more empathetic and create an environment where we all feel a sense of belonging.
📨 Are you interested in joining Workiva? They have open positions! To learn more, click here.
Get to Know Ben Lopez
With a robust background in recruitment, Ben is an agile and well-networked talent acquisition leader. He’s been recruiting high-caliber talent around the globe for 15 years, spanning SaaS software, professional services, oil & gas, and healthcare across four continents. If you are interested in a career at Workiva, you can connect with Ben Lopez on LinkedIn. Don’t forget to mention this video!
More About Workiva
Workiva was founded to transform the way people manage and report business data with various collaborators, data sources, documents, and spreadsheets. Today, people all over the world use their platform to seamlessly orchestrate data among their systems and applications for transparent and trusted connected reporting and compliance. At Workiva, they are innovative in everything they do—from how they build their software, to how they serve their customers, to how they treat their employees.