3 Steps to Shipping Great Products by Fmr Google PM

This week Product School hosted Jocelyn Miller, a Former Product Manager at Google, for an #AskMeAnything session. She gives a guide on how to build great products, the best metrics, how to encourage team collaboration in a remote environment, and more!

Jocelyn Miller Former Product Manager at Google
The content in this AMA is for educational purposes only and does not include any specific facts of the company the presenter is currently working for. The opinions expressed in this AMA are solely those of the presenter based on personal experiences.

Meet Jocelyn Miller

Jocelyn Miller is a product leader, speaker, career coach, and entrepreneur. She has acted as a product management leader and managed remote teams during her time at Amazon, Google and as Director of Product Management at Zazzle. Over the course of 15 years, she has innovated in the areas of search, personalization, commerce, ads, and customized goods. She currently acts as a personal accelerator, helping teams and individuals catapult to their next level. She also teaches a number of topics to Fortune 500 companies working at the team level as well as on large-scale organizational change.

A Guide on Building the Best Products

What are the top 3 things you have learned about shipping great products?

The top 3 things I have found that are critical for shipping great products are:

1. A great team.

This has many components. First is the leader of the team–ideally, you want someone (PM, GM, etc)–who is very dedicated to helping their people grow and thrive. Given a context with talented people who are encouraged to grow in the ways that are most interesting and valuable to them, nearly anything can happen.

Along those lines, the team really needs to ‘gel’ as well. That is where the manager or PM can be instrumental in facilitating both connection, clarity, and fun for the team! Much of the above starts with hiring (figuring out who to hire, how to create a diverse team, how to select for the necessary skills as well as culture fit, etc) and blossoms from there.

You also might be interested in How Great Leaders Bridge Knowledge Gaps in Product Teams

2. A clear, agreed upon vision

One of the biggest issues that I see in teams or companies that fail is a lack of clarity around the top priority, focus, or goals. This goes beyond lip service. With a company like Google, saying their mission is to ‘organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’ is a great starting point–but each team needs to get to a point of defining their own mission and goals.

Each team member needs to be able to articulate that vision and mission, as well as connect the concrete things that they are doing to the larger outcomes. 

a clear vision

3. Clearly defined success or pivot criteria

Related to vision, yet distinct, it is extremely powerful to have a clear definition of success criteria. Even saying values like being ‘customer-centric’ is not enough–even when people are in agreement on that value. You want to go further and get clear on what metrics are you tracking and managing to understand where you are going, how quickly you are getting there, and, at what point, you might decide to re-evaluate or pivot.

Is having 1k users with a good NPS score enough? What exactly are the numbers of users and success metrics? Where should they be at a given time? Having clear milestones and overall metrics of success helps you and your team understand whether you are on track, slightly off, or in need of a serious conversation and re-think on your path.

Which is the more important, being customer obsessed or problem obsessed for a great product to be born?

I would say overall customer-obsession is most important to building great products, but that has caveats.

The distinction that I find most helpful underneath your question is around viability, feasibility, and desirability.

  • Viability is more of a question of whether this path or product is a compelling business opportunity (ex: Can I make money off of this?)
  • Feasibility is more of the question of what is actually possible, technically, physically, etc. (ex: Can I do this?)
  • Desirability is more of a question of if I could make this plan or product happen, does it actually benefit anyone? (ex: Does anyone want this?)I would offer that framework as a great way to evaluate your business and products.

You may also find this talk illuminating: How to Utilize Product Market Fit by Google Product Manager Jocelyn Miller at Product School

building a product

Product Advice and Recommendations

What prioritization frameworks do you find to be the most valuable? 

At this point in my career, I find that the biggest issues that are faced in prioritization are:

1. A lack of clear alignment on goals and values.

One of the biggest issues that I see in teams or companies that fail is a lack of clarity around the top priority, focus, or goals. This goes beyond lip service. With a company like Google, saying their mission is to ‘organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’ is a great starting point–but each team needs to get to a point of defining their own mission and goals.

Each team member needs to be able to articulate that vision and mission, as well as connect the concrete things that they are doing to the larger outcomes. 

2. Clarity on main driving force or metric

Is your next main goal growth? Or optimization? Or getting to market quickly? Or something else? We all know the project management triangle which states you can have 2/3 of quality, time, cost–yet, in practice, this is often forgotten. I always suggest having a north star main metric for your top criteria.

This often dovetails with a broader understanding of your product in the product lifecycle–are you in the introduction phase, growth, maturity, etc? Given that top metric, it is much easier to evaluate strategies and tactics.

north star metric

3. Custom ‘impact’ metric

One of the things we found really helpful at Zazzle was to create a customized impact metric. That could be money or something else. The point being–often, even with a north star metric, oftentimes there is a layering effect that happens.

For example, if I have a 5% improvement on search, which has 10X the traffic than the wishlist page, it is likely better than a 30% improvement on the wishlist page. You want to be able to factor in the different aspects of your business – volume, effectiveness, conversion rates, etc–to be able to attempt to compare apples to oranges (something we usually have to do when making product decisions!).

You also might be interested in Common Product Prioritization Mistakes

Could you share any advice for someone who is a PM on the internal-facing product and is looking to transition to an external customer-facing product/website?

For career pivots (whether into PM or into a different area of PM), there are a number of effective strategies and tactics that can be followed. Some specific pointers are:

1. Making an internal transition first.

Given your context (and for many people), it can be easier to transition from one role to another in a company where you have already developed a positive reputation. A common transition is from engineer to product manager at tech companies or, in your case, transitioning from an internally focused to externally focused PM.

In order to do that more easily, you can do things like:

  • Find a mentor
  • Do tasks on your team or an adjacent team that are more in line with where you want to go
  • Find a sponsor to support you going from one position to the other.

2. Be able to tell your story.

Whether you make your transition internally first or between companies, you want to tell a compelling story as to why this new position suits you and why you will be of extreme value to the person who will hire you.

For example, many PMs who came from other roles (read: most PMs), have experiences in their background where they were already serving PM-type functions. Whether it is project managing for your team, having run your children’s PTA, or anything in between–the bonus is on you to find the story that makes you the obvious choice.

tell your story transition to PM

3. Continue to own your prior expertise.

Many PMs have expertise in something–that is the idea of being T-shaped in your approach; where you have a niche of expertise as well as a breadth of abilities. I encourage this when coaching and managing people. The tendency (and I did this myself!) is to nearly disown what you did before.

However, in my case (and some of yours) that previous technical experience as an engineer gives you a huge edge as a PM. Use it. Own it. It’s yours! For more guidance on how to make this shift, see: How to Get a Product Management Job by Google Product Manager

What are your top tips for encouraging collaboration amongst product teams in a remote environment?

Collaboration is key, whether remote or not. Here are some tips for encouraging collaboration:

1. Daily (or frequent) stand up meetings.

It is critical that people feel ‘in the loop’ and have an explicit place to share progress, difficulties, etc. You can use tools like Zoom or Slack to facilitate this–but having explicit, regular connection points is critical.

product teams remote environment

2. ‘Face’ time.

We can conduct a huge amount of business through tickets, slack messages, or email. That said, watch to see what your cadence is on actually ‘seeing’ each other across your whole team. If you want your daily syncs to be more lightweight (like Slack), make sure there are other opportunities for a more personal connection. I found that highly effective areas for this tend to be problem-solving meetings, brainstorming meetings, or even demos to showcase progress.

3. Individual connection as well

As a PM, we act as the ‘glue’ for our teams. I encourage you to be mindful of each person on your team (or managers if you are a second-level manager) and encourage or create more 1:1 connections with people.

You might find that different people have different preferences- maybe some like a phone chat while they walk outside, others prefer Zoom, etc. Just make sure you have a few touchpoints with each person each week to ensure that they are feeling connected and heard during this unprecedented time.

remote meetings

You also might be interested in Is it Possible to Work Remotely as a Product Manager?

In order to continue education and keeping skills sharp, do you recommend any specific tools, programs, or methodologies?

Continuing education is powerful, especially at a time right now! That said, I always recommend that people understand their own personal goals deeply before making an investment in specific continuing education.

Some relevant questions can include:
-What is the desired outcome I am after?
-Will this particular course or certification enable that outcome? How?
-What are other alternative paths to achieving my goal?

– If my goal is exploration, is this particular path the most effective? C
ould I do something more directly (ex: the tradeoff of taking a course on social media vs volunteering for an organization that needs social media to support, thereby learning and contributing)
Do I need more concrete skills (like expertise in Photoshop, Canva, road mapping, Google Analytics), or is it my soft skills that are holding me back now (like executive presence, influence without authority, communication skills, etc)?

questions to ask yourself

Do you have any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?

Some advice that I would share with myself at the beginning of my career and could certainly help people even as early as high school:

1. Be willing to try new things. 
2. If you truly dislike something, shift.  
3. The only failure is the failure to learn.
4. No one role is more needed or valuable than the others when done with excellence; focus on what you are best at AND most enjoy!
5. Live below your means so you can invest and take risks.
6. Invest and take risks–calculated risks–and especially invest in yourself!
7. Travel and see the world; that will help you understand your place in it.
8. When invited to a work trip, time with a senior person, or some similar adventure–go for it!
9. Who you work with ends up being more important than the product you are working on.
10. You can also enjoy the product and the people.
11. Culture is hard to change.
12. Culture can also be changed–but only with *real* buy-in from the top.
13. When it comes to relationships, life is long. Treat everyone as though they will be part of or re-enter your life for years.
14. When it comes to exciting opportunities, life is short! Don’t wait around for ‘perfect’; focus on continual progress in the direction you desire.
15. Knowing your direction means understanding yourself and your goals (coaching can help if this seems mysterious right now!)
16. (if you are climbing the ladder) What happens when you get to the top?
17. Relatedly, you will come to a point of getting to know your true self being the next great challenge.
18. Give yourself self-care time; restorative acts for you tend to be more worthwhile than the all-nighter.
19. An occasional all-nighter is needed for lofty goals.
20. Aim to enjoy the journey–happiness isn’t a destination.

advice product management

Don’t miss our next Ask Me Anything session where you’ll learn what you need to become a better Product Manager! Check our upcoming AMAs here.

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