Updated: February 2, 2023 - 11 min read
In our #AskMeAnything sessions, Product Leaders answer your burning questions on everything Product. This month, we talked Product Discovery, User Research, making product decisions, and more! Introducing our Product Experts:
Omar Sallam, Senior Product Manager at Booking.com
Olivia Jacopetti, Senior Product Manager at American Express
Mustafa Durrani, Sr Product Manager at Amazon Web Services
Zareena Ashraf, Senior Product Manager at Booking.com
What is your Product Discovery process? How do you know when it’s time to leave the problem space and start building?
Discovery requires continuous and extensive communication with your various stakeholders, it is a non-stop process that is not related to a start/end of a year or a quarter for strategy or roadmap planning. I personally try to always engage with different stakeholders and research teams all the time to be able to identify proper discovery opportunities and build a discovery backlog by them, the next step would be sizing those opportunities to determine if the should be discovered individually or could be grouped together to perform a collective design sprint for what would see to be a major topic.
Either way, but still relevant to the scoping of such opportunities, I involve Product, engineering, data & research colleagues in the initial discussions with different expectation from each of them, the important thing is to get the inputs and thoughts of everyone involved on various levels to be able to form a collective understanding of perspectives and opinions.
Once this is achieved, you would be able to gauge the viability of proper and informed problem definition and you could proceed with solution ideation again with the same cadence that was set up before, at this stage it is important to iterate on challenging the definition and scope of proposed solutions and get validation feedback from targeted stakeholders/customers on different ideas and from multiple sources as available, then you would have the clear ground of starting to prototype and experiment with your proposed solutions.
That is a good question and my thought process is a little nuanced.
You never really leave the Product Discovery phase. Even as you build, you still do customer discovery exercises and see whether you are incorporating in the immediate release or later on.
You build something as soon as possible, especially when you are trying to align a hardware-focused stakeholder.
Step 1: Buy in to problem statement. This comes from understanding the users and empathising with their pain points. This helps me drive ideation and whiteboarding while always focusing on the impact to the user.
It is also important to identify my key stakeholders. I use a stakeholder management framework to guide me on whom to involve & when. Ultimately I know I am ready to start building when I have buy-in across the board on the problem statement and hypothesis.
How do you enable continuous problem discovery in your processes to ensure that most impactful solutions are being worked upon?
# of customers
Willingness to pay to fix the problem
Potential product/service can solve future problems (this is especially true @ AWS)
I am always in the problem space, even if I am building.
What steps to you take to help your internal stakeholders fully explore an idea during the solution validation phase, so that they can fully think through edge cases and exceptions?
Oooh—the edge-case scenario. The best way to address this is through the backlog process.
Get the ops in the sprints to agree with the most essential work buckets
Once the retrospective is complete, show then that the work completed is based on the team's prioritization
Ask them in the next sprint planning, do they want to re-rack the backlog
The beauty of the backlog is the buy-in from the team.
What are your main sources for collecting relevant user feedback during the discovery process?
It has varied in my past roles:
When in a mid size, B2B company: we did not have the benefit of an in-house research team. User Feedback was collected in 1:1 user interviews with end users from our customers.
In my current role, I am able to leverage the User Research teams tools of Focus Groups or Surveys to be able to collect feedback. We are also able to map user journeys to better understand their perspective.
In all cases, attempts were made to go as close to users/personas who would ultimately be impacted by the product.
Could you share some best practices on insights management? How to store and organize user insights, share with the team and make sure they are being put in practice?
Definitely! At American Express, Product teams have the pleasure of collaborating with user research teams, analytics, and precision marketing to gather and analyze customer insights. As a team leader, I take broadly distributed collateral and break them down to tell a story in Mural and Confluence that is relevant to my team. We have some handy templates to capture key insights, define learning agendas, and construct experiments.
I also have a monthly reminder to re-visit insights and how we've implemented them, to see if there are any key data points we overlooked, or have new views on. The best advice I have is to always zoom in and back out—let insights marinate. Cross-check historical data and always bring in visual elements to conversations.
After releasing a product, how do gather customer feedback for reiteration & continuous delivery of value?
This is widely variable depending on the nature of your product, basically you should make sure that you have very strong and structures observability platforms for your products in general and also for every feature you build. You need this to be able to analyze and understand user behaviours and trends.
Feeding on that, you should design research to understand and validate the impact you are noticing and to validate the hypotheses generating from that, because you could still be biased to understand those behaviours.
Working closely with your business stakeholders and staying in close and recurring communication with your end customers would help you validate those findings and iterate for your following improvements. Communications with customers could be in any form ranging from online surveys, to going on the ground and having discussions and conversations face to face with your customers
What is your process utilizing Product-Led Growth strategy to achieve Product-Market-Fit and drive product adoption?
Product-Led Growth simply targets focusing on your product and the value proposition it is offering to your customers before focusing on any kind of profitability or financial returns, because the strategy believes that profitability will follow anyways if you are able to fulfill customer needs which will establish you as a solid market player and consequently will allows you to grow in market share and user share, hence generating financial profit at a later stage.
Having this focus, you would be able to freely and flexibly iterate and experiment with your hypotheses and ideas to optimize for reaching Product-Market-Fit (PMF), by applying the above discussed product design thinking frameworks and ideas in the way your are iterating on growing and scaling your products given your gauging of customer impact, your will be able to iterate faster and more efficiently to reach PMF.
Product Prioritization and Decisions
What is the best method you use to prioritize features?
Along with your stakeholders, define a formula defining what impact means for your product, business stakeholders and targeted customers. This would also help your define what metrics are you optimising for. What does reachability mean for you? And build the formula of balancing impact against effort using the RICE prioritisation model.
Sometimes you will find yourself needing to proxy your metrics in order to align with different metrics across the business, try to find one common metric that your team/products are optimizing for, or proxy metrics that relate to a higher strategy goal.
How does your team makes product decisions when there isn't enough data?
We have a lot of data as you might imagine, but there are certainly times where it's not compelling enough to make a particular decision. In these instances, we de-risk our learning agenda by asking ourselves what we don't know, and what's the easiest way to learn it without disrupting the prospect journey on the Amex website? We then run small experiments (usually A/B but often multivariant) to fill in those gaps. As a financial institution that always puts our cardmembers first, we take a careful approach to updating our UX. I've learned that sometimes the best decisions are reached methodically and with an intentional pace!
Breaking Into Product
How did you prepare for interviews? Any resources you can suggest that really helped you land your first PM role?
Yes! I was very structured in my preparation. Generally speaking, I found the prep materials related to Amazon leadership principles and the Google loop to be super helpful for any and all product interviews—it teaches you how to 1) tell a story of your experience and 2) think on your feet in a product-focused way. I also joined webinars by orgs like Product School and connected with folks in the same boat to conduct mock interviews. As someone that tends to talk too much, this was essential for me.
I come from a non-scientific background (marketing), but looking for a career change into PM. Any advice?
Try to align your entry into a marketing area that you familiar
Writing and sizing are crucial to a PM. Sell this.
Get technical course that shows that you are dedicated to continuous learning.
What would your advice be for someone keen on exploring the job market in Europe?
Learn more about the products that are leading in the region. Understand what cultural aspects of the area impact product features and branding. This will help get you out of the comfort zone of familiar products, brands and concepts, and will help you understand consumers in the region better. This in turn will help you narrow your search to roles where you see adding benefit from your experience/background.
What is your advice for someone who wants to freelance as a Product Manager?
My reply for this would be for any role as a PM. Have your toolkit ready.
Document the broad approach you would take to Product Discovery and validation
Establish a basic prioritization framework that can be tweaked to suit the client’s business needs
Maintain a base tool to define a roadmap and give teams direction
In many cases, having such tools and frameworks ready to go not only reflects your maturity, but also helps you hit the ground running.
Tips for Aspiring Product Managers
Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?
Product Management is one of the hardest, yet most fulfilling fields of work. I also believe that is is also one of the most sophisticated mixes of art and science and it directly deals with and caters to the basic definitions of human needs.
That's why I would always recommend to focus on your customers and how to deliver impact to them directly as your main and sole goal for Product Development. If you are successful in this, all forms of profitability and scale would come along as a logical consequence... customer empathy is the real driver of Product Management.
Enjoy the an area that you are interested in. Listen→ Learn→ Do, and Repeat.
If you are an aspiring PM, my one advice would be to find a nook of expertise within the world of Product Management and hone it as you get more experience. There will come a time when you find your passion for this subject manifest in an opportunity and you will be prepared.
I am passionate about the connection of Brand to product and the use of Design as a tool for that. It was a topic I have been interested in, have kept learning about. It comes in very handy as I lead the Design System team at Booking now.
Relying on critical thinking is #1—I always question the 'why' of my own views and perspective, as well as those of others to make reasonable, balanced decisions.
#2 is being data-driven—leveraging qual and quant data and combining that with product sense grounds my product strategy, especially when there are so many directions to go.
#3 is being relationship-focused internally and customer-obsessed externally—At American Express, a lot of teams and stakeholders go into every product decision, from large initiatives down to copy changes, and coming together on shared objectives is key for progress. And of course, all complex problems require looking at what's best for our customers!
Updated: February 2, 2023