This week, Product School hosted Katie Campbell, Product Leader at Disney, for a special #AskMeAnything session. A high-energy speaker, Katie has a lot to say about product strategy, data, and why it’s important to always trust yourself.
Katie Campbell is a Product Leader working on Corporate Brand Management for The Walt Disney Company. She is focused on creating proprietary solutions that can improve operational workflows and enhance studio-wide reporting.
Before her current role, Katie spent time as a Production Operations Product Manager at Amazon Studios. Prior to that, she was a Manager for Product Development at Movies Anywhere. She has also spent time as a Senior Web Producer at The Walt Disney Studios and with Beats by Dr. Dre, concentrating on Consumer Support. In her past roles she has successfully worked across departments and alongside designers, program managers, and stakeholders to ship the best possible products and features.
How do you design and present a good product strategy?
Buy-in is huge. Doing a thorough assessment of what you’re trying to accomplish and mapping how you will get there is important. Presentations sometimes get too flashy for their own good IMO. It should be clean and well styled, but not to the point of distraction. If the strategy and prep work for a project is good, it will show.
Additionally, it’s always good to think blue sky but be realistic in what the team can achieve. I have seen more and more projects get broken into phases and fast follows…so I think going into a big project it’s good to know in advance how and where you can break things into pieces before you get there.
When presenting decks to the decision makers, being ready with those alternate solutions shows product strategy at its core. At least…I think so!
What tools do you commonly use to support your decision-making process?
I think the buzzword answer is rely on data…and you should…but not just data for data’s sake. Depending on the focus area, there may be additional metrics that aren’t the obvious ones.
For example, a lot of my work is with software and process for internal users. So doing time trials for current workflows vs proposed future workflows can make a big difference in evaluating assumed time savings versus actual time savings. I am a big big fan of workflow diagramming…either using one of the many software solutions or simply using a whiteboard or a notebook. It doesn’t always have to be fancy to be effective.
How do you identify the right metrics to understand the performance/effectiveness of your product?
Defining metrics is hard!
Starting with desired output comes first. What are you trying to achieve, and what are the driving factors to achieve it? From there, can you attach any qualitative values?
You can also look upstream to see if you have reduced the amount of time or clicks or general pain and suffering as well. It depends a lot on the industry and your product but also doing a market comparison and identifying what you’re looking at in competitors can help lead you to what you’re trying to measure.
What advice would you give me going into the first 90 days of a new Product Management role?
In the first 90 days, take in as much as you can. I have found that even though agile dev and Product Management in theory are standards to follow, every team has its nuances. Figure out how they’re doing things and why they’re choosing to adopt certain processes to better understand the overall workflow and team environment.
What would you say is your #1 goal as a Product Leader in Corp. Brand Mgmt?
Because I am working on the governance and distribution of enterprise data, my main goal is to find workflow efficiencies to allow our data librarians to do their work as easily as possible.
Second to that is making sure the data is easily accessible (harder than you may think) to current and possible partners in other lines of business.
What characteristics/traits have you noticed separate the great Product Managers from average?
Love this question!
Building a real bond with your devs makes a difference. You don’t have to be everyone’s friend, but having professional trust and respect for one another allows for constructive conversation and an overall more collaborative environment.
It’s easy to think as the Product Manager that you have the answers. But taking the time to listen, whiteboard, and collab with your team will ultimately deliver the best results.
Another great read: Characteristics of Exceptional Product Managers
Do you have any advice for how younger students can stand out against older students when applying to competitive internships in the industry?
Make a pitch! This obviously depends on the industry and the assumed user base, but putting together some kind of improvement suggestion in advance can demonstrate your understanding of the business as well as the product process.
I’d like to understand how to go about finding exciting and relevant opportunities in product design & management for children’s products in the edutainment sector!
I think looking into networks where folks are already working with some of these groups and just reaching out to network will go a long way. I am not as familiar with the dynamics of these companies, but I get the sense that most of them are on the smaller side, so meeting folks is likely the key.
What were some of your early roles in the field, and how did they help you get to where you are today? What did you learn there?
I started out as a web content writer/producer! In working with devs to format and publish content and create websites, I simply started asking questions. Why do we do this like this? Wouldn’t this other thing make more sense? What if we tried it this way?
I think those questions are really foundational for any Product Manager and I slowly moved from writing the content to managing the content management systems.
What are your biggest challenges as a Product Manager at Disney?
Resourcing. Getting resources can be hard when you work for big companies. But it doesn’t stop the show. You have to learn how to balance and prioritize and be an advocate for your product/project/JIRA tickets.
What was the biggest lesson in your career so far as a Product Manager?
Sometimes you hit the glass ceiling and it hurts like hell
Do you have any advice on how or who to contact about licensing Products?
Just reach out! There’s rarely harm in asking for additional info and contacts. If you are hoping to license something you’ve designed, you just got to hop on the sales train.
In a PM interview, how do I convey that I have a clear long term vision about a product and clarity about steps to achieve those vision?
Write out your answers to those questions and rehearse them. Sounds silly, but it helps! Talk through your steps to map those goals as if you were talking to a friend or a peer you respect. Being personable is a good thing and as long as you can show you know your stuff, you’ll be in good shape.
What do you wish you knew when you started out as a PM?
I wish I knew that not everyone knows everything and to trust yourself and advocate for your ideas!
Pros/cons of working for a large company?
Pros: Huge network and lots of different spaces to get into.
Cons: The politics are very real.
Do you think there is a need for Product Management consultants/freelancers? Do you ever hire them?
I think so! All of the big agencies are built on exactly this idea. It doesn’t work for my current role, but I have seen some short and long-term project hires for Product.
You might also be interested in: The Difference: Being a PM at a Small company vs a Large Company
Is management consultant → data analyst → Product Manager a good career trajectory?
Yes! I see this a lot. Getting familiar with data analysis tools and backend data structures will go a long way.
Any final advice?
Trust yourself and always read the room.