Insight from YouGov's Victoria Ganusceac
Victoria Ganusceac knew she wanted to be a product manager, but the HR manager at the company where she was working at the time wasn't on board.
Not immediately, anyways.
"I pestered them for three months," says Victoria. "I spoke to every single product manager [in the company] and found out what kind of people they were looking for and what it took to be a good product manager." Insights from those conversations included understanding common PM frameworks and the importance of empathetic communication.
And eventually, Victoria's perseverance paid off. Her first few roles in product management set her up well for her current role as Senior Product Manager of SaaS Products at research, data, and analytics company YouGov. In non-pandemic times, Victoria works out of YouGov's London headquarters.
Her role is complicated enough that her family isn't exactly sure what she does—"Explaining it to my grandma is pretty hard, because I do so many different things!" jokes Victoria—but we sat down with Victoria and had her explain how she found her current role, what her responsibilities entail, and how she successfully manages cross-functional projects.
Learning how to move quickly
Victoria started her career in marketing, but quickly realized she wanted to be more tech-focused. Right after finishing her undergraduate degree, she got into an enterprise hub to work on a fashion app, where she did business development, then moved over to Camelot, which runs the national UK lottery, for a role in strategy.
"It was great to come up with ideas in strategy, but I really wanted to get something into users' hands," says Victoria. When her three-month campaign landed her a PM role, she leaned into the world of product management at Camelot before moving over to an influencer marketing startup where she could be even more hands-on. "I knew I had to go somewhere a bit smaller so I could really ramp up the learning curve," she explains.
When that startup failed, it hit her hard. "I took it personally for quite a while," says Victoria. But that experience helped her recognize what she was looking for in her next role: a PM job in a fast-paced environment that encouraged innovation and had the resources to support it.
"YouGov attracted me because they were a 'scale-up,' and they still are. Even though they're public. The role I interviewed for was creating a product from scratch, setting up a team from scratch, but within the safety of a funded company: the best of both worlds," she says.
Since coming over to the data analysis firm, Victoria has led several products and features through ideation, prototyping, creation, and deployment. Her first product was Audience Explorer,helping marketers understand their audiences in more detail. A recent favorite was a feature with a goal to increase conversion rates for YouGov's freemium product.
"It was a really great collaboration," says Victoria. "We worked together with marketing, the design side, the product side, and engineering to really quickly embed our data within the business website, and as a result, we increased lead generation by 300% in just a few months."
The 9 principles of PMing
Victoria's favorite part of her job is how much she learns by constantly collaborating with peers across the business. "It can feel like there's a lot going on because there's so many moving parts, but when you really start to understand how it works, there's a lot of opportunity to have impact," she says. "And YouGov really gives you opportunities to grow and get exposed to lots of different things."
To make the most of those opportunities, Victoria has a set of hard-learned lessons and best practices for successfully managing products with a diverse range of stakeholders that she applies time and time again, and that we're excited to share here.
1. Bring people together as early as possible.
Silos impede collaboration, says Victoria, so a process that is a series of direct handoffs—product requirements handed to the design team, designs handed to the development team—means "[the team] never gets a chance to really discuss it and make sure that they're solving the right problem."
Instead, she makes sure to involve her stakeholders, including engineering and design, but also sales, marketing, and client service teams to get their input on a new problem or solution as early as possible.
2. Define the problem.
"Make sure you're solving the right one," she says.
For YouGov, explains Victoria, the product vision comes from the business's five-year objectives. "We want to make sure we're aligned with the whole company," she says. "We have to ask how we achieve those big, overarching goals while also making sure that what we build is what our customers want."
3. Make room for creative ideas.
"How can we get the best ideas and get the best out of people?" That's the question Victoria asks herself before she takes on any new initiative. A good first step is asking for insight from people who are customer-facing and thus have more exposure to how customers are using the product.
And a vital approach is being curious and humble about what the best idea really is. "We all come with our own ideas and we're really keen on them, but spending a lot of time actively listening helps tremendously," she says. "Don't come with an agenda to get your idea done."
4. Don't be afraid to challenge authority.
If something doesn't make sense to Victoria, she doesn't demure and defer—she asks about it.
"If you're at the beginning of your career or lack confidence, there's a way of challenging authority without being too abrupt," she says. "The best way I've found to challenge an idea is to ask questions." Unpacking assumptions and ideas either gets everyone on the same page or leads to a better final idea, she says.
5. Use meetings sparingly.
50%. That's how much of her time Victoria spends in meetings. That's reasonable for a senior product manager, she notes, but that wouldn't be reasonable for other roles, which is why her team has recently started restructuring the meetings they run.
"We're having a think about different types of communications and flows. If there's an information meeting, can we just record it and send it out? We did a dev summit recently and it was pre-recorded with live Q&A, and that worked," she says.
6. Embrace deep work.
Victoria takes meetings on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, but her Thursdays and Fridays are bare beyond a quick stand-up. That's because she saves that time for uninterrupted problem solving and creative work.
"I try to get at least a day and a half where I have solid blocks of three, four hours to really get my head down and get things done," she says.
7. Keep learning.
There are plenty of product management frameworks, tools, and software out there, says Victoria, so don't be afraid to keep looking up new ones to try. She's a particular fan of Miro, an online collaboration tool, and the ICE—impact, confidence, ease for prioritization—framework, along with standard product tools for prototyping and remote user testing like Marvel.
8. Learn how to say no.
"Cross-functionality is the heart of everything, which means we get so many different ideas. And we have to translate them into decisions, into what goes in and what doesn't. There's a lot of expectations, deadlines, and challenges. You have to be comfortable with saying no," she says.
9. "Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it."
Victoria's final piece of advice for product managers? If you want to get into or stay in the field, don't give up.
"Don't let anyone tell you that you can't do it because at the end of the day, the landscape has changed in what an engineer looks like, or maybe acts like, or what a product manager looks or acts like; it's very different now," says Victoria. That means there's room for plenty of interpretation of what a great PM really is—though Victoria's example is certainly a great one to start with.
"It's very zen, right?" asks Betina, who is the VP of Product Management for fitness tech company Peloton. "My work life is lots of lateral thinking, where there are no correct answers to problems a lot of the time. So it's very soothing to do something where you just start, follow the directions, and at the end, you have a chair."
We sat down with Betina to talk about her career as a product manager, how she's seen Peloton's Product Management team grow from four to 25, and what she's learned about tackling not-so-straightforward problems along the way.
Finding her niche: mixing people and problems in product management
Betina studied mechanical engineering in college and took a job after graduation as a consultant, excited by the opportunity to solve problems for different kinds of businesses. But she wanted to be more hands-on with her solutions than consulting allowed for, so in her free time, she learned how to code and later took a job as a mobile developer.
That was better, but still not quite right; she felt like she had more to offer. Her then-boss gave her an opportunity to be a product manager, and that was her Goldilocks moment.
"Product management is super fun—there are lots of different problems to solve," says Betina. "There's data problems and user testing problems and strategy. It's an opportunity to work with many different skills and tools, and I enjoy the challenge."
Betina joined Peloton in 2016 as the fourth member of their product management team. They covered many of Peloton's products, from the website, to the system used in showrooms, to the Peloton Bike itself. Her focus was on the Tread, Peloton's full-body workout offering. The team grew quickly, and two years in, her boss offered the opportunity to manage people.
Management was interesting to her, she explains, because it would give her an opportunity to learn how to make an impact through others. "You're no longer just solving problems yourself. You're thinking about how to help someone else solve problems and help them improve, while giving them ownership," she says.
She went from a Senior PM to a Director of Product Management and found she thrived in the role. A year later, when the VP of Product Management role opened up, Betina decided to throw her hat in the ring.
"I knew I had a lot of experience at Peloton and with the subject matter and team, and at the same time, I knew I hadn't been a VP before. I knew I was a good candidate and I knew I'd have to grow into it," says Betina. But she raised her hand and her manager gave her a shot, first with a smaller team-wide project to create a standardized system for planning, and then, when that went well, with the job itself.
Developing as a manager—and learning to "bottle the magic"
"Being a good manager is not the kind of thing that you do one day and then you are good [at it]. It's a practice and it's an effort that you make. And it's also something that you learn over time," reflects Betina. "It's not like many skills, where you could spend a few weekends studying and then you've learned something. Managing doesn't work that way. You can't practice giving performance reviews over the weekend."
(We wondered briefly if maybe you could, if there were a manager-marketed VR app that let you practice sitting at a conference table and walking an employee through their performance metrics. We call dibs on bringing it to market.)
As she's developing as a manager, Betina has been careful to frame her style of leadership and management in ways that felt authentic. "I would say, 'Hey, my job isn't to come in here and tell you what to do. Or even really to change the way we're doing things. It's to provide you with resources and help you grow,'" she says.
She also needed to determine what kind of values she wanted to encourage, and for her, it kept coming down to something simple: obsession with making the product good.
When the team was small, that obsession was easy to foster. With fewer product managers, each person's responsibility area was huge, and naturally created a sense of ownership that helped team members thrive. But as Peloton's offerings have expanded beyond a bike and into other areas, Betina notes that it can be harder to maintain that energy.
"You need to believe that 'the buck stops with you,' right? The nightmare scenario is a PM saying, 'Oh, I would change the product, but I can't because of the bureaucracy,'" she says. To address that, Betina actively ensures that her product team has all of the tools they need to fully own their work and focus on solving member needs.
She calls that "bottling the magic"—creating an environment where everyone is enabled to obsess over the pursuit of creating a good product. It's a hard task as the team keeps growing in size, but she's committed to keeping that magic and that energy there.
"One of Peloton's core values is 'operate with a bias for action,' which I very much agree with," says Betina. "If I see anyone on my team start to lose that feeling of being able to create change, I know I need to change the structure to make that person feel like they can do what's important to create a great product."
Failing — and learning from it
"I like being successful and doing things correctly," says Betina on behalf of…pretty much all of us. But then she gets vulnerable, on behalf of all of us, too: "But I've been in a lot of situations where I didn't have the answer to the question. I've sometimes failed publicly. It's not that fun to do. Figuring out a way to fail at something, learn from it, and do it better next time has been challenging."
For Betina, the path forward requires finding ways to maintain her confidence despite setbacks. She says she's learning from her manager, Tom, who she jokes might "genuinely not have an ego" and who has shown her that admitting when you don't have the answer can empower and strengthen the team.
But despite the pain that comes with growth, Betina's thrilled for the chance to be doing the growing. "Honestly, it's been a total privilege to work on the stuff that I get to work on with the people I get to work on it with. I genuinely love the product and I think it's really fun to work on something that our members are really excited about," she says.
She's looking forward to the future, too, which may see her team growing even further and taking on new products yet to be dreamt up. "The complexity will just continue to increase," she says. "So how do you continue to create that sense of possibility and excitement about what we can build?"
If you're interested in learning more about Peloton or checking out their open roles, click here.
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.
Start your 2020 (and Q1!) off right by joining PowerToFly's virtual seminar with some of Dell Technologies Services team's women leaders in sales, product management, technical support, project/program management and more. Our diverse panel will discuss their work at Dell, dive deeper into current industry trends, share their career journeys and, most of all, answer your questions!
The invite-only virtual seminar will take place on Wednesday, January 22nd from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM EST (8:00 AM to 9:00 AM PST). We'll send you a GoToWebinar link after you register.
Speakers from Dell Technologies Services will include:
- Louise Worley, Vice President, Product Group PMO
- Cris Villanueva, Senior Director for Global Takeback
- Laura Crum, Senior Manager, Tech Support PMO
PowerToFly is working closely with Dell Services to put together an accomplished panel of industry leaders across multiple fields who are looking forward to sharing their current projects and personal stories with you. Best of all, we'll be dedicating the entire second half of the chat to answering audience questions so please feel free to send us a question or topic when you register or you can ask your questions live on 1/22.
While you don't need to be looking for new opportunities in order to attend this virtual seminar, Dell Technologies Services team is hiring for a large number of roles. Their competitive benefits include their 'Women in Action' Employee Resource Group that focuses on empowering women globally, dependent care backup, caregiver support, adoption assistance and remote opportunities.
About Dell Technologies: Dell Technologies is a collective of customer-obsessed, industry-leading visionaries. At Dell Technologies's core is a commitment to diversity, sustainability and our communities. Dell Technologies believes that technology is essential for driving human progress, and they're committed to providing that technology to people and organizations everywhere, so they can transform the way they work and live.About PowerToFly's events: All RSVP'd attendees are welcome, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender identity, pregnancy, physical or mental disability, or age. If you require assistance to fully participate in this event, please email email@example.com, and we will contact you to discuss your specific needs.