Product Manager Do’s and Don’ts with CNN Senior PM

This week, Product School hosted Elisabeth Kamor, Senior Product Manager at CNN, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Elisabeth covers Product Manager Do’s and Don’ts, creating MVPs, teamwork, and user-centricity.

Meet Elisabeth

Elisabeth Kamor, Senior Product Manager at CNN

Elisabeth Kamor is a customer-obsessed Senior Product Manager currently working at CNN. Before this, she was a PM at Amazon focused on improving tools that solved scheduling inflexibility problems for customer service associates.

She started off with the company in 2014 as a Program Manager working on the TVOD publishing team for Amazon Video. After almost three years in that role, she was promoted to Manager and was the single owner of the Virtual Customer Service Military Program from its launch. She was well-suited for that role after previously working as a Program Manager for the US Customers and Border Protection and as a Cost Analyst for the US Department of Homeland Security.

What are your top 3 Do’s and Don’ts for PMs?

DOs:

  1. Become your users’ voice
  2. Use failures to inform your learnings, not just successes
  3. Earn trust of your team by participating in training, testing, and any other events you may be “optional” for

DONT’S

  1. Demonstrate an authoritative leadership style
  2. Overcommit.  Instead practice radical prioritization when your to-do list is getting unmanageable
  3. Skimp on communication with stakeholders.  Stay ahead and ensure your stakeholders are informed, regardless of how good or bad the news may be.

When you start working on a new product, and many other products are already available in the same industry, what should your MVP contain? An immediate differentiated value, or a match with competing products with your value on top of it?

I would not strive for parity with those other product unless you know all those features are driving value.  Always bring your center back to the user problem you’re solving.  If they have a problem, it means the other products aren’t cutting it.

Should a PM be technical?

To me it highly depends on your product.  While I have an Industrial Engineering background, I have never had a coding job and lean heavily on my eng team for the technical aspects.  Some days the technical expertise would be extremely helpful, but I’m confident that what I bring to the table on behalf of the user is of utmost importance.  A user-centered PM is most impactful when you have a strong eng team to drive the tech.

What do you look for when hiring PMs?

  1. Listen to the way they refer to problems; do they say user problems or business problems?  If they’re referring to business problems, I drill in to make sure they really are user centric and understand the relationship between solving the right user problems and business revenue.
  2. Ask yourself whether this person has earned your trust.  Trust is one of the most important qualities a PM can exhibit to their cross-functional team.  Their answers to questions surrounding failure should demonstrate how transparent and considerate to others they are in their leadership style.

As a Product Manager, how involved are you in user research?

I typically do foundational work in defining hypotheses to be validated.  I analyze what data is available, review past experimentation, and “interview” other folks for their institutional knowledge.  From there I’m able to provide great structure for our user research team to be productive in whatever they’re owning whether that’s user interviews or surveys.  I participate in interviews as an observer as often as I can and I take an active role in the synthesis, however both of these are owned by our research team.  It’s my job to make sure that research was productive and informative to carry the product forward.

What should a PM do in the first month at company?

I like this one!  First, make sure you understand who your user is and what their problems are.  Evaluate the product you’re taking on and make sure you’re aligned to whatever problems it’s currently tackling.  Get comfortable with your user data and be able to speak confidently about the three biggest problems your problem is solving.

How would you describe Product Operations? What are the biggest Product Operations issues in enterprise type environments?

I’m lucky to be in an organization where teams listen to and support each other.  One challenge I’ve experienced in the past is busting through meaty dependencies.  My advice there is to not let it fester.  If you can find a path to green both teams are comfortable with within a couple weeks, it’s time to escalate and ensure both leadership teams are aware of the impact of the dependency work and what delays mean for your team.

How did you break into PM?

I took an unconventional path from the federal government into Product. I realized I really like the problem solving aspect of any project and it took time before I even realized that Product Management does just that. 

What are your suggestions to pivot from sales operations to PM?

Set professional goals for yourself that help you start ticking off experience boxes in Product, e.g. conducting user research, writing requirements, analyzed data to support a hypothesis, etc.  Also make your aspirations known!

Do you feel like taking a job that is so politically polarizing in today’s environment (like working at a CNN or a FoxNews) is risky to future employment?

Interesting question!  I know the Product skills I’m honing today are applicable anywhere, so I’d hope that translates should I be looking for work with an opposing viewpoint in the future.

How do you divide responsibilities between a PM and PO at CNN/Enterprise type environments?

My team doesn’t distinguish between PM and PO, and I’ve actually never been on one that does. Given that, I wear both hats and am responsible for everything from understanding our users, defining our problems to solve, and shipping the answers to those problems.  Without PM/PO breakdown, it’s helpful to have a Program Manager or somebody to support the tracking of tasks and dependencies across the organization.

I am having a challenge creating tasks for my engineering team. Can you recommend a good resource to brush up my understanding of backend and frontend task creation?

I’ve been in your shoes!  I’d first ensure you’re continuing to build your relationship with your eng manager; I’d hope you are able to have transparent two-way conversations about what you both need from each other. Then, rather than focusing on a task creation course, take a backend course itself to just become more familiar with critical concepts. I’ve always enjoyed Udacity. Here’s an Intro to Backend course from them. 

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