Product School hosted Jeff Orange a Senior Product Manager at GoPro, for an exclusive #AskMeAnything session. Jeff talked about management techniques he uses to reach success and ways to combat product challenges that PM’s encounter.
Meet Jeff Orange
Jeff is a passionate Product Manager that focuses on delivering products that meet customer needs to grow the business strategies in the most cost-efficient method possible. He prides himself on being a person that can cut through the red tape and get stuff done while maintaining excellent relationships with both business partners and my internal team. Jeff is a master disambiguator/simplifier and constantly pushing toward clarity and delivery.
Currently, he’s a Senior Product Manager at GoPro. Prior to his current role, Jeff was a Senior Product Manager at Moovweb, where he developed the XDN platform as a headless front end for eCommerce sites. He’s a top-notch Product Manager, with the drive and ability to cut through ambiguous situations with the most positive attitude, making even the most complex situations completely surmountable.
What should be the goal of a Product Manager and what is the journey of a Product Manager keeping that goal in mind?
I 100% believe the goal of a PM is to be an advocate for your customers. Your success as a Product Manager is reliant on the success of your customers. The path to success is through data. As a Product Manager, the biggest hurdle is you are mostly the decision-maker, but everyone has an opinion (especially at the leadership level.) The only way you can overcome that is with data.
What skills do you look for when you are hiring a Junior Product Manager?
I think the answer is different for every org and every PM. Some index on tech skills, some index on decision making, some index on data analysis.
But for me, it is at least 50% communication skills. My experience as a Product Manager has been that you work with nearly every functional area in the company (marketing, legal, dev, QA, etc.) And to be effective, you have to be able to communicate on a level that is highly differentiated from others.
This is not just effectively being able to tell people what to do, even though many PMs I have worked with do this very well, but more so how well you can listen. As a Product Manager, you will not have all the answers. All the answers to the problems you need to solve reside in those around you. Being able to effectively consume that info from those around you is what is a key differentiator and will lead to BIG success in Product, in my honest opinion.
What are the tools and platforms you use quite regularly to own different products day in and day out? Any specific suggestions?
I spend a ton of time in analytics suites, which I think every Product Manager should be spending a large portion of their time in. But then there are meetings, planning, technical planning, etc.
- Google Analytics/Big Query/Data Studio,
- AB testing platform,
- CMS tools,
- Ecomm platform
30% in analytics, 30% in meetings, 20% in planning, 20% in research, 50% in putting out fires = 150%
You may also like: A Curated List of Tools and Software for Product Managers in 2020
What advice would you give to someone trying to accelerate their career in product?
I think it is stopping and taking an honest assessment of where you are in your career and understanding where you want to be. Split it out by key functional areas of product (data analysis, technical skills, communication skills, etc). Rate yourself in each area. Bounce that off some coworkers or your boss to get feedback if they align. Then you develop a plan on how you plan to overcome those obstacles.
I did this a few years back and made an assessment that I need to sure up my technical skills. With that, I started taking some self-services classes through online forums, which helped a ton. But then I also took the Coding for Product Managers class with Product School. That was really awesome! Our instructor was a lead engineer at Uber and taught me so much. It was great to have that forum of being able to speak back and forth and ask the “dumb questions” that online tools were not able to help with.
What is the mental state of PMs during COVID19? Hard time for everyone but what keeps the PM to be motivated always? Is it the product or the team? What are the most required skills to become a PM in a company like GoPro?
I would toss in there that we have some additional things that are going on that are just as big as Covid….. Look, as a Product Manager, you carry the weight of the organization sometimes. When times are tough, you can’t wallow, or at least in front of everyone. As a Product Manager, you have to lift up the teams and the organization.
You do that through honest discussions about the issue you are facing (right now I am terrified of what is happening) but always have a face of optimism. This is not just for the current social situations, this is every day. When the project is hard and there does not seem to be an end, keep the hope alive! When production goes down and you are losing money, let everyone know we will learn and grow because of it! It is a bit of salesmanship, but it is crucial to you, your teams, and your org.
You may also be interested in: Product Planning in a Post-COVID-19 World: The Product Strategy Survival Toolkit.
What was the most challenging question you were asked in your PM interview and how did you approach answering it?
I want to answer this in a different way. And this might be contrary to what you read elsewhere, so want to start with that. There are a ton of books/courses/consultants out there that can lead you through the PM interview process to get your foot in the door for your first job, and I don’t disagree with that. Getting into Product is the hardest part. But for me, the key to the interview process is being you, and be unmistakably you.
I have read the books, taken the courses, etc. and what I come to each time is “This is not me”. I don’t want to sell myself as something that I am not just to try to get into a “goal” company. I chose Product Management as a career because it allows me to be me and not something I am not. If I go into an interview and represent myself genuinely and there is no offer, that is for the best, because I will not compromise who I am for a role.
What do you think is the main differentiator between a Product Manager and a Senior Product Manager?
I think what you will find when you search for this question online to be pretty accurate. Essentially as a non-SR PM, you will be doing more of the grunt work, which is a great place for growth. As a Senior PM, you get to focus on the more strategic planning and decision making of products instead of the operational side of things.
Have you ever not delivered on time to the customer. If yes, how did you convince your customer about the delay and how did you speed up your team to deliver after that?
Communication is key here. As a Product Manager, you should have your finger on the pulse of the delivery timeline throughout the project and should have many milestones throughout to be able to track your progress.
All your key stakeholders should be part of that tracking as well. When there is an issue that is going to impact the timeline, raise it! But as you raise the issue, it is on you to come up with a plan for mitigation. So in summary, track appropriately, communicate effectively, and mitigate quickly.
Do you think the current set of data tools prove enough for your and your team’s work, or do you feel it is important for PMs to be able to access the raw usage data directly?
So I think it completely depends on the organization and the PM. For me, I love to get deep into the data. But that is because I have spent 8 years in analytics tools and it is a passion of mine. I am able to pull insights that others may not because of the knowledge I have attained over the years. But even with that, I make mistakes all the time (yeah, I am going to admit that here….).
Data analysis is a full-time job and with the amount of data that is available to most orgs, it is nearly impossible to be a master of it all. My point is, yes I love to look at the lower level, but the complexity can lead me to wrong conclusions. The dream state is having a full data science team that can answer my questions for me.
Is it a good idea for a Product Manager to build a closed group within the organization with whom he would interact and communicate? These members of the first-degree communication group would share the information with the rest of the teams. Or would you suggest the Product Manager interact and communicate directly with all employees involved in product actualization?
I think it depends on a ton of different factors. Let me outline below what I mean.
- Size of the project – With really large projects, this is really complex. With big projects that reach across many teams, everyone wants to know what is happening and offer input on how it should be managed. If you are allowing your internal customers to be exposed to every decision and issue that comes up, you are literally asking for death by a thousand paper cuts. You will never be able to get anything done because you are constantly dealing with managing feedback/complaints/questions. But the other aspect of this is that if you do not get their feedback and there is an issue, you can ruin relationships and trust in the product in being able to execute.
- So what is a Product Manager to do, because it sounds like a lose-lose situation….. The answer is planning. Making sure that during the set up of the project that you are clear in understanding the expectations of your internal users and managing that appropriately is key to success. The more heavily involved they are at the beginning of the project, the more they feel like they are a part of the project, and the more they feel like they are heard and trust that their expectations will be met. Then you set appropriate milestones for check-in points to make sure that you have appropriate places/forums for them to provide feedback on meeting the expectations. You need to control the conversation and drive the project to end. If you are not owning this and planning studiously, then you are setting yourself up for some major headaches.
- Who is exposed to the details of the project– Sometimes the size does not matter, because if your CEO & CFO are part of the project, it can literally be “the most important thing in the world!!” (tongue in cheek there….) But the feedback is very much the same as above. Plan early, set exceptions and get sign-off, loop people in during key milestones, and control the conversation.
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