Balancing Strategic Thinking and Execution with Drift Product Manager

This week, Product School hosted Masooma Zakir, Product Manager at Drift, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Masooma tells us how she knew she was ready to lead a team, finding Product-Market Fit, and balancing strategic thinking and execution.

Meet Masooma

Masooma Zakir, Product Manager at Drift

Masooma Zakir is a Senior Product Manager at Drift. With more than 10 years of experience in leadership, she focuses on strategy, end-to-end product development, and project management life cycle just to name a few. Before joining Drift, she operated at Bank of America where she worked her way up from Portfolio Product Manager to Digital Product Manager. Prior to that, she was a Business Systems Consultant at Wells Fargo.

Do you recommend a particular strategy framework on launching a product in a red ocean market?

Great question. Determining which framework to use is always an interesting decision to make. I find that the fit usually depends on the industry and environment you’re in.  For example, when I was at a larger corporation we took a varied approach from the hyper-growth company I’m at now.  We’re much more scrappy where I’m at now.

You have 10 years of leadership experience. As a PM when did you come to the point where you were ready to lead Product Teams? What factors/events brought you to that point?

meeting, with 3 people seated around a wooden table with laptops in front of them and one person standing in front smiling

Oh there’s so much I can talk about here! Thanks for the question. I always say it’s my curiosity that led me to Product Management. I aspire to learn as much as I can from customers to determine the best way to solve for their pain points. I knew I was ready to lead Product Teams because of this drive.

More specifically, however, I recall being in meetings watching our Product Leads and thinking ‘oh that’s exactly what I was thinking. I want to do THAT’.  I also became a lead in a space where I felt comfortable with the products and customers.  Having that knowledge base and the existing relationships made the transition seamless.

Check out: What Great Product Teams Look Like in 2022

What is the best way for one to carry out a product analysis for a new feature or product?

When you say ‘analysis’, I’m assuming you’re talking about a Product Market Fit? If so, I find that the best way is to engage with customers directly.  When I have a concept in mind, I partner with design to mock up or prototype the feature.  We then validate it with customers directly. This has been the most useful way in my experience. 

Apart from this, the other categories to consider are ‘what pain point does this solve for?’, ‘does the data support us solving this problem?’ ‘how impactful is it towards our business goal?’, ‘what’s the ROI for us (ex: increased revenue or decreased operational costs), and lastly ‘whats the effort to implement this?’.

I’m currently planning on upcoming projects and I find myself on an inner back-and-forth of pursuing a single huge project or many smaller ones, do you have any specific recommendations on how to better balance these two for development?

PM is a fun balancing act, isn’t it? I would ask myself questions along the lines of ‘what will bring the customer the most value?’ and base my analysis around that, apart from any other prioritization conditions to consider.  Additionally, I come across this in my daily professional life frequently and one approach that’s helped is finding a way to break up the single huge project into smaller value increments. Even if it’s something that can only be released together, I find that breaking it up into smaller pieces makes it more ‘digestable’ and easier to prioritize/scope for the Product Teams.

Read next: Complete Guide to Feature Prioritization for Fast-Growing Startups

What are the considerations that go into building a potent strategy?

As I’ve mentioned, how you define strategy is heavily influenced by the industry and environment you’re in. There are so many great frameworks like Porters 5 Forces which is usually my go-to to start thinking about strategy and then I usually customize the framework based on my needs.

How do you balance your time between strategic thinking with knee-deep execution?

two people seated in front of laptop, focused on and pointing at the screen

Honestly, this is an on-going challenge for me, however, I find applying prioritization to my calendar and how I spend my time is key to maintaining the right level of balance. In my day-to-day, I strive to spent 50% of my time on strategic thinking – this means blocking out my calendar to do just that. I label the blocked time with what part of the strategy I want to focus on so it’s a reminder for me to continue focus in that area.

What are common misconceptions/myths about strategy in practice that you’d like to clarify? Do you ever have to do a one-off feature or task that’s not aligned with the strategy?

I think I’ve seen this occur the most due to unexpected new customer pain points, trends in the market including a competitor launching a product or feature that impacts our competitive moat. I’ve also seen this happen when a new customer deal is in the pipeline that can bring in significant revenue. If they want a specific feature before they decide to adopt, then that is something that may also be considered outside of the strategy.

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