Last week, Product School hosted Nikita Ingratta, former Product Manager at Expedia, for an exclusive #AskMeAnything session. Nikita discussed ways to tackle the challenges you face as a Product Manager. She also discussed what Product Management means to her and how she approaches leadership as a Product Management coach.
Meet Nikita Ingratta
Nikita is a Product Manager and Product Management Coach within Agile delivery. She really loves to help Product teams uncover their potential in delivering to the highest standard in a scalable, sustainable, and motivating way. Nikita’s strengths lie in open and transparent Stakeholder Management, Communication, and working with tech, analytics, and design to build amazing products in the most optimized way.
Nikita’s current client is Just Eat in London as a Product Manager within their Operations team. She’s trying to automate and streamline resolutions of key customer queries, cut costs within the Operations pillar, and trying to change the way the team works to be more mathematical in their delivery: to start using some key Agile principles and to be able to better estimate what can be delivered within a period. Nikita began working in Product Management at QVC, where she was responsible for the prioritization and resolution of digital projects for the QVC website and mobile applications and managed global initiatives, local initiatives, and Monetate campaigns (to measure and track user behavior).
How do you usually approach customer validation in B2B when people are reluctant to give you interviews and not generally interested in helping you build the product, and only want to see a ready product?
Usually, incentives work. This is not linked purely to B2B but for any product actually. It might be a good idea to work with your sales/marketing teams to understand if that is possible. The tricky customers could be lined up for some sort of discount or sneak peek if they are willing to help you do some customer research. I hope that helps a bit.
Why did you switch from a dedicated Product Manager role to being an Agile Coach? What are some challenges and benefits of this switch?
I have worked in multiple countries and in so many roles in my career that I have found many patterns in Product Delivery that I want to share with clients. I do hands-on Product Management; but I also love to coach other PMs and teams on how shipping products in an Agile way can be so beneficial for business, transparent for stakeholders, and creates much happier teams. I just love to share what I have learned in my experiences.
How does your day to day work look like in Operation-PM?
The first thing in the morning is checking Tableau dashboards to understand the performance of experiments; then it’s daily stand-ups and catchups with various stakeholders. Then it’s a lot of time doing research/product discovery on features that I want to launch.
Being a Product Manager is wearing so many hats. Being a Business Analyst in drawing up process flow diagrams; working with UX to design journeys/flows; working with tech to understand the feasibility and weighing up speed vs quality/rework. No two days are the same.
From the inception of a feature idea to its execution- how do you handle it? What are the steps you take up?
My most recent experience (which was in Operations so quite process-heavy) was actually to first use data to understand what the actual problem was. Then it turned out that the problem was not just a user/customer experience problem, it turned out to be a whole business process optimization problem that needed fixing!
The most important thing I can say is to know your status quo. Sit with a whiteboard, draw up as-is processes. Work with your stakeholders to define what success will look like and set goals that are achievable. That’s by using a combination of the data; past goals; experience and a lot of teamwork.
Draw up your final visionary process and work backward from there. It takes a lot of communication, asking very rudimentary questions and really building rapport with stakeholders and your tech teams.
What are the challenges a PM has to face when the team gets larger?
It’s super important to choose team members with the right attitude and the right cultural fit. As the team scales, you know it’s very difficult to grow and maintain the principles that a smaller team have worked hard to perfect: agile ways of working, the trust, good communication – even if it’s bad news, and the openness. To ensure that it is maintained as your team scales, it’s important to hire people that have that open-mindedness.
The ability to want to learn, adapt, be involved, be accountable, are curious but understand responsibility. I try to coach my client leadership teams to do this all the time: when they hire newbies, get the team involved in hiring! Get the team themselves to ask questions, to try and understand the cultural fit. Super important.
Any suggestions on how success criteria of products should be defined?
It is super critical to understand what it is that you are trying to actually do. Is it something innovative? Or a problem? Then come up with a few simple ways to do an experiment to try to solve the problem / introduce the innovation. Then work with your key stakeholders to understand some very simple metrics that might be of interest. Remember one thing: You are not a team on your own.
A key skill of Product Management is being humble enough to ask for feedback and input from people. Of course, you are the one accountable. But you are building products for your customers and your stakeholders – your business sponsors or the teams most affected by what you deliver – they should also have some input into success criteria/metrics. Experiment and set some baseline metrics – very much depends on your product though. Checkout flow metrics are way different to the post-purchase metrics. And then go from there.
What’s some advice for people transitioning from Marketing and Advertising to PM. How can we showcase our understanding of Product metrics, Data Analytics, and strategic roadmaps without related product shipping experiences?
Product Management is a fluid role. It is vastly different in different organizations. As you are transitioning from Marketing/Advertising, I would highly recommend that you do some basic Product Management online courses. This is necessary as it will give you the best-practice theoretical knowledge which you can bastardize on your environment.
Another thing is that Product Management is also a people-person role so it’s super important to observe some qualitative data too and not only analytics. Go sit in on call-center calls for 3 days and listen to customer stories.
Lastly, try to get into the role, start in Product Management roles where the product is an advertising product, or where they are looking for someone with your skills. It might not be explicit but read the job spec carefully. Doing it like this will get you a foot in the door.
You may also be interested in: How to Write & Format Your Resume For a Product Manager Position
Could you give any insight on how you ensure a successful product delivery when there are heavy engineering issues (centralized deployment, etc)?
This is a huge threat to all large organizations. The key is to clearly manage everyone’s expectations. If you work in some form of iterative delivery, make sure you split up your sprint into like say 50% product work, 30% tech debt, 20% BAU. And ensure that what you prioritize meets this split. That way, everyone is accountable. Take the tech debt issues and make sure you allocate time for them. In this way, you can easily pull sprint reports showing the split of delivery and highlight the issues of the tech complications.
How should you build good processes around building internal tools?
So you need to put on the Business Analyst hat for this one. I have been somewhere where the poor call center agents were using up to 15 tools to process customer queries. It’s super important to draw up detailed processes of what tools there are (don’t be afraid to ask everyone and anyone for their input), what the purpose is of each tool, and what the problem is that you are trying to solve. Then get your super-smart tech team involved in brainstorming ideas to cut down on unnecessary tools and build a few that are flexible and robust.
Can you explain a bit more about what “hands-on product management” means to you?
It’s something that I talk about a lot to my clients: the t-shaped product coach approach. The horizontal part of the T is the leadership coaching on what iterative product management is, how it’s beneficial commercially, and retaining excellent talent. The vertical part is the hands-on: so that is literally doing customer research, sitting with BI, drawing up roadmaps, attending scrum events, writing up Jira tickets…..with the Product Managers that I coach. Those are the things I consider to be hands-on product management.
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