Persistence: A PM’s Superpower with Google Product Leader

This week, Product School hosted Johnny Chang, Product Leader at Google, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Johnny talks about how important persistence and a growth mindset are in Product Management, whether you’re just breaking into the industry or looking to grow in your role.

Meet Johnny

Johnny Chang, Product Leader at Google

Johnny is currently a Product Leader at Google. He previously worked as a Product Lead at Lyft. Before that, he was a Principal Product Manager with them and formerly was Senior Product Manager at Netflix and Linkedin.

He originally transitioned from an engineering background with 10+ years of successful product experience in these major tech companies, he’s uniquely positioned to share his experience to help those who desire to transition into and succeed in product management, which he’s also passionate about.

You may also follow him on where he blogs about his experiences and tips to help people at scale. 

How do you synthesize new insights or come up with the vocabulary to describe a theme when faced with a bunch of qualitative data?

I think first step is to make sure you understand what you read about broadly. As you progress, form patterns and categories to try to group what you’ve learned from the qualitative data. And continue doing so until you feel you have a good classification of information. There’s no magic answer to this, and it takes practice!

jumbled words

What is the most satisfying part of your current role?

I think the answer is almost the same across all my product roles: be able to work on complex and interesting problems, work with a wide variety of cross-functional teams (and empower them to be successful), and ultimately deliver products to improve customer/users’ lives!

What framework do you use to identify user persona while starting on any new product?

I might not be very specific in the frameworks I use. In the old days I used more user stories, now more frequently I use “jobs to be done” and “critical user journey.” Are all good ones. My thing about “framework” is always that it provides structure, but make sure you don’t apply it rigidly.

Check out: Product Templates: User Persona

How did you go about moving from PM to Product Lead? Any advice for PMs wanting to move more into a leadership role?

The main thing would still be to make sure you do the best in your current role as a PM. You’d be exposed to (promotion) opportunity only after you demonstrate your value at the current level or beat expectations. Obviously, you’ll still need to let people (including your managers) know about your goal to want to grow into leadership roles.

What are you currently reading?

Think Like a Monk :cara_ligeramente_sonriente:

Which books would you recommend for design thinking?

Design of Everything Things by Don Norman is a good one.

open book in sunlight

I see that you have worked in a variety of companies. What has helped you most as you have transitioned from being a PM in one company to another?

Ah, I love this Q. To always have a beginner’s mindset and just be able to quickly throw away your preconception of “what used to work for me”, and relearn what works in this new role. Having that said, do look in the past and leverage some of the relevant experience that’s applicable in the new role.

You might also be interested in: Every Product Manager’s First 90 Days

What is the single most important advice you would give to a new Product Manager

it’s a journey, not a destination. If you’re passionate about the product career, keep going, keep learning, don’t stop.

PM is a hot role, how can a candidate looking to pivot stand out amongst a sea of aspiring PM’s?

I might not have a single easy answer, but keeping the abundance mindset is an important one. Because while it’s competitive, there are plenty of different product opportunities across industry and companies you can always try to start from. Be open-minded.

red flower in a sea of yellow flowers

What was your best resource in learning to be a Product Manager?

In addition to my newsletter:cara_ligeramente_sonriente: 

Just kidding. The best resource is on-the-job learning. You don’t have to be a PM with a title to do product work. Keep that in mind.

What would you do if you had to create a new product that has little data to backup its hypothesis?

I think the reason why you create a hypothesis is because you don’t have enough data. So the next step would be figuring out the most effective way to validate that hypothesis by gaining the data you need! Either by talking to the users, digging in logs to extract insights, or by running an A/B test etc.

As a PM for consumer products, how do you add value as a PM when a strong engineering team can identify user personas and customer painpoints?

One of the best values a PM can uniquely bring is to provide structure to look at a WIDE range of problems and opportunities. Everyone on the team is smart enough to identify opportunities and solutions. No one else is dedicated to thinking about it holistically and structurally. So it’s your job.

As a PM, how do you best add value to your team?

Observe what your team needs the most and provide that to them. It can be vision, understanding customers, structure for decision making, or a gap in a specific area that requires you to roll up the sleeves to do yourself.

For more on teams: What Great Product Teams Look Like in 2022

How would you lead a shift in an organization that is moving from a project mindset to a product mindset, especially if you were new to the company?

I think if you’re new to an organization, the first step always is still to learn, to fit in, and gradually look for opportunities to influence the team in the direction you think is right. You might not get immediate success as it takes time. Be patient and be considerate, and in the meantime assess whether it is really the organization that fits you in the long term.

For an early PM (0-2 years), which is a better environement to learn: Generalist PM role in a small team (0-2 PMs) or a specified PM role in a big team (8-10 PMs)?

I believe the size of the PM team you’re on is largely irrelevant to your learning. I think the product/problems you work on and your cross-functional teams are more important.

What do I do if my PM applications go cold & unnoticed?

Patience and persistence, trial and error, reflection and improvement. Don’t be afraid of seeking help (coach, mentor, circle, online resources).

Is becoming Associate Product Manager of Google a good way to break into product?

Absolutely! But APM is designed to be mostly for new grads and they usually wouldn’t consider professionals who have years of experience in the industry. If you’re starting out and you can get into an APM program in any major tech company, that’s probably one of the best ways.

What are some of your best tips for being a better public speaker and increasing confidence?

Not being modest, I’m still a terrible public speaker :cara_ligeramente_sonriente: 

I’ve improved a lot over time, but because I’ve worked hard on it. Some advice to share: be yourself, prepare hard, be present (vs thinking about the what-ifs or linger on what you’ve misspoken etc.)

person standing in front of crown

How do you combine evidence and relationship with execs (to properly set strategy) in a culture that is biased for action and moving very fast?

Always a balance but they might not have to conflict. Sometimes bias toward action doesn’t always mean launch products without data. It can also mean acting on gathering the right data to inform next steps.

Read next: How to Use Data to Drive Product Decisions by PayPal Senior PM

What would you suggest for an early product person that wants to work on multiple projects across different domains and not work long for the same product?

It’s mostly up to you how long you want to stay in a domain before you change. But I think a good rule of thumb is to make sure you have already accomplished something and delivered some success before you transition again. It’s not only good for your own learning and growth, but it also comes across as not as hopping around too frequently.

Would you recommend a legacy/mature product or a newer one for a new PM?

I’d say you’ll get different learnings. I think working on existing product is probably good because you get to see the past which helps inform how to go forward.

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