Success at the Product Portfolio Level with J&J Senior Manager of PM

This week, Product School hosted Isaac LaMothe, Senior Manager of PM at Johnson & Johnson for a special #AskMeAnything session. Isaac gives tips on the skills and mentality needed to advance up the product career ladder and manage a product portfolio.

Meet Isaac

Isaac LaMothe, Senior Manager of PM at Johnson & Johnson

Isaac LaMothe is a Senior Manager, PM currently working at Johnson & Johnson.

He believes the key to success for the team is behaving like a start-up and venture capitalist. He uses Design Thinking, Lean UX, and Agile principles to help the company as they transform and reach new heights. He previously worked for J&J as an Enterprise Portfolio Management Office Manager. Before joining his current team, Issac worked as a Senior Specialist for IT Planning and Innovation at Merck, overseeing enterprise PMO.

What are some steps PMs can take to prove they are ready to become Senior PMs?

Cycles of success are a major factor. Having sponsors and customers that can advocate on your behalf what impact you’ve made is key. The other major factor is being a continuous learner and integrating what you’ve learned into your work.

Read next: Skills to Take You From PM to CSuite by Facebook VP of Product

two people sit side by side looking at a computer screen in a room with white walls

For a SaaS product how do you decide with which customers or potential customers to validate the prototype?

I would anchor this on what problem you are trying to solve with the product and for whom. Start with doing some discovery experimentation to get a better understanding of your audience.

What area are you currently supporting in J&J and how have you had to adjust the “textbook” approach to Product Management to the current realities of your role?

Our team supports the enterprise (Business and IT). Currently one of our major focuses has been in helping product teams in shaping their product vision, outcomes, and OKRs. We’ve had to adjust to meet teams where they are as this is a journey. So our focus has been on getting them to start experimenting, learning, and measuring. Once that occurs the rest becomes a lot easier.

How does J&J use MVE (minimum viable experiment) to fail fast to determine what areas to invest in, and how would you achieve this at a product portfolio level?

We are a big fans of doing for it for 1 and doing what is needed at a minimum to learn. As anything beyond that is waste. The same applies at a product portfolio level, ideate on an opportunity, and identify what is needed at minimum to validate or invalidate that idea. Once that occurs you can decide on which opportunities to go after and scale.

In a typical day as a Product Manager, what’s something you would perhaps prefer to skip?

#1 on my list are the meetings to get alignment in order to move forward or make progress. A necessary evil that I wish we had less of.

group of people seated around a table meeting, with their laptops open

What are some of your favorite books in this space?

Currently my two favorite books are Invincible Company by Strategyzer and Continuous Discovery Habits by Teresa Torres.

Check out: The 20 Top Most-Read Books by Product Managers

What transferrable skills do you look for in candidates that don’t have a lot of experience in the Product space?

I am big fan of anyone that leads with a problem and customer mindset above anything else. Communication skills are also key for me as a PM you are constantly pitching.

If you were asked to improve revenue and user engagement across a product portfolio of 10 commercial applications what would be your order of operations to discover opportunity?

Without much detail I would probably work to better understand the business problem we need to address to achieve the outcomes you’ve listed. Identify the customers/users that we need to focus on that would leverage the product/service and identify what are the biggest assumptions we are making that we need to invalidate/validate. The applications with the most/riskiest assumption would probably be deprioritized.

What do you think is the difference between thinking like a start up vs the alternative?

Willingness to spend very little to learn if this is the right idea to move forward with. Large organizations tend to get approval on ideas for large amount of $$$ without doing so.

Read next: The Difference Between Startup PMs and Big Corporation PMs

Can you talk about ways you’ve helped your whole team think about the features they’re shipping as if it were for a start up or their own company? How do you help people feel invested?

two people sitting at small white round table with a white wall behind them, smiling and drinking coffee. there is a laptop, tablet, and notebook on the table

I achieve them by helping our teams understand if there is a value exchange between the customer & business and what are the learning we can acquire that supports this. If not it is most likely waste.

I am at the point of my career where I feel stagnated. Any advice?

Leveraging resources from organizations such as Product School is a good start. I would also get involved via local meetups, other Product Management communities on Slack, Reddit, and Discord.

Any final tips?

I’ll share two items that have worked very well for me. Keep reading, learning, and practicing. There is so much out there that is available soak it up and determine how to best integrate it as part of your day to day
Find yourself a mentor. This was huge with the development of my career.

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