This week, Product School hosted Meg Ross, Senior Product Manager at Amazon for a special #AskMeAnything session. Meg gives this advice: follow the data, befriend your engineers to ask them endless questions about your tech stack, and prioritize understanding your customers. Read on for her in-depth answers 🙂
Meg Ross is a highly proficient product professional who knows the importance of creating incredible user experiences. She is currently bringing her passion for digital products to the Amazon team as a Senior Product Manager. Before this role, she was a Senior Program Manager working on tools used by the Digital and Device Command Center in Amazon’s customer service organization.
What are your top tips for someone starting out in the Product Management field?
Hmm, good question. Top tips:
- Don’t be afraid to ask engineers questions (and learn your tech stack back to front)
- The more you know your customer (either through data, anecdotes, or research), the more confident you become in building for the customer. And that confidence is visible by others!
- Manage priorities with the help of your manager—your time is a commodity as well.
How do you ensure that you create a balance between the needs of ALL user segments?
It really depends on the feature in my experience. Some features resonate with some personas while others don’t. In the case of solving one problem for many personas, I generally like to lean on CX research or Customer Advisory Board-type feedback to validate the hypothesis. CABs don’t get enough air time IMHO.
What is your process for understanding the customer well?
It depends on the company you work for. In smaller companies, I’m able to advocate for user analytics that help me make better decisions by more deeply understanding the customer pain points/journey. Coupled with Customer Advisory Board set up or other CX research panels, it’s a combination of the two. I’m a big fan of data + anecdotes to validate or change our thinking.
Any tips for someone transitioning from internal PM (my users have always been internal employees) to a PM for a B2B/B2C product?
Interesting—a lot of times with that transition the differentiating factor is the business model and how you design/build products for that user/set of users. So, what is the business trying to do/where is the business trying to grow? That’s where the company will likely want to be innovating. With internal tools that question has less weight than say a consumer space.
What are good Product Management projects you can think of for beginners?
For beginners… the Business Model Canvas is probably the most robust learning you can do if you’re working on a B2B or B2C product. Otherwise, always great to spearhead UX experiments in partnership with UX. Leaders are usually amenable to a new PM coming up with a scrappy, low-engineering effort solution for customers just to get some feature shipping under your belt.
Have you ever felt like you didn’t understand the technology on a product? What did you do to compensate?
Whenever I join a new team or a new product, it’s usually a new tech stack—I’ve worked on web app, Android app, iOS, and now Alexa, not including backend, so in each case, I prioritize making allies/friends with one or more engineers (going so far as to set up 1:1s or knowledge shares) to learn the stack. It’s an ongoing process, but if you can get the architecture at a high level pretty quickly out of the gate, filling in specifics comes with time as you build/grow.
What was the most challenging PM interview question you have been asked?
The hardest PM question I was ever asked was, “How would you design an alarm clock for someone who is blind?” The reason why it was hard was because I had almost exclusively worked on software, so a hardware solution was beyond me at the time. I epically failed haha.
How often do you find yourself in a situation where data or insights is telling a different story, and your instincts differ from the data? How do you handle those situations?
Wow, great question. I can’t think of a time where that’s been the case because when the data was telling me something that didn’t add up, it meant that I/we were missing something. A factor we hadn’t considered.
What is happening in the CX to justify the data we’re seeing? What is happening with setup? With launch? Whatever the case may be.
If my instinct says one thing and the data tells me something else, it means there is something I/we’re missing 99% of the time. Go back and re-think. UNLESS it’s a data store problem, in which case, BI needs to fix a bug
For someone early in their PM career, is an early growth phase or a greenfield product better?
Greenfield meaning all new? I would recommend early growth phase because greenfield can sometimes be too much just starting out—it’s sometimes more beneficial to be humble and go in with guardrails on a project and then grow your skill set with time… That’s just me 😀
What was your transition from Program Manager to Product Manager like?
I had been a Product Manager for 3 years prior to moving into Program, so the transition was pretty immediate and straightforward. I wanted to give Program management a try to see if I was into it, and I wasn’t hahah.
What are some analytical tools that are absolute essentials for PMs?
Ooh! Every PM has their favorites I bet! I like them all tbh. Tableau, PowerBI, Excel, you name it. I haven’t gotten a chance to work with Looker though. Google Analytics I’m very Meh about because they solve the use case for e-comm really well and I haven’t seen it perform well for other use cases. That’s just my bias.
Are there any organizations that you know of where one can perform the PM role as a volunteer or via some sweat equity (pro-bono)?
Good question! There are some companies that like to hire PMs for ad-hoc contract work like 10-20 hours a week! There are websites and recruiters that cater to freelance PM work but I’m unfortunately not familiar with them They do exist though! I know that much.
As a PM, I have to listen to users, but I also have a vision for the product. I’m currently putting 80% of effort into current user needs, and 20% on the vision. What do you think of this approach?
A lot of times our work is to bring the customer along. If you are able to get your vision in front of some customers for some scrappy initial feedback, I would say fight to prioritize that, especially if you believe that your vision aligns with the customer problem(s) you’re solving for.
If you’re not getting feedback from customers that indicates they are into it, consider your vision point B and where they are today point A and think about some potential iterative takes to get from A to B
Any final tips?
Tips for aspiring PMs:
- Be Humble
- Be Curious
- Prioritize knowing your customer well
- Have fun!
Hope this helped you today! Go forth and PM