Hone Your Product Sense with Meta Product Leader

This week, Product School hosted Irena Lam, Product Leader at Meta for a special #AskMeAnything session. Irena talks about why it’s so important to develop your voice as a Product Leader, how to develop product sense, and what you can do to break into Product.

Meet Irena

Irena Lam, Product Leader at Meta

Irena Lam is a Product Leader at Meta working on Music and Audio.

Her career began as a Microsoft Program Manager supporting their Japanese hardware partners. After three years with Microsoft, she went on to work at Karat, a technical interviewing startup, where she planned and launched a web-based coding environment and video chat product.

Irena is also an active adviser for Built By Girls, a company that prepares female leaders, builders, and creators for the tech industry. She graduated from Western Washington University with a Bachelor’s in Management Information Systems.

What distinguishes great candidates from good ones in the Product Sense round at Meta?

  1. Very crisp (easy to follow, concise, structured) communication and framework to tackle the ambiguous question
  2. Proactively flags tradeoffs. No idea/feature/product is perfect, what are the risks of it? How might you mitigate it?
  3. Out of the box ideas. Ideating a product that already exists isn’t ideal.

How do you hone and refine your product sense?

Product sense in general: PMs, me included, spend too much time in meetings and not enough time focusing/thinking deeply.

I recommend blocking and protecting time on your cal just for this. Read what’s happening in your industry (and others), research more deeply on your user audience, write out half-baked ideas so you can drill into it more.

person sitting in front of a laptop looking at the screen, head resting in between hands. holding a pencil, and there is an open notebook. the person's brow is furrowed as if in deep thought

Product sense interviews: Lots of practice. Mock interviews were tremendously helpful for me. I also practiced parts of the Product Sense interview in my own time, for example just ideating 10 ideas for building a wine shopping app so I could isolate improving parts of the PS interview I was weaker at.

Check out: Characteristics of Exceptional Product Managers

Thanks for doing this AMA! I love seeing other WOC in product, and your success inspires me! Can you tell me what your biggest challenges were entering this field as a woman, and if you have any advice for a young aspiring woman Product Manager trying to break in the field?

:manos_levantadas::tono_de_piel-3: Thank you!! I’m grateful to say I’ve worked alongside some incredible WOC Product Leaders throughout my career so in terms of representation I’m thankful to have seen examples of what I hope to be one day.

My biggest point of advice is cultivating YOUR unique voice and perspective. Product Managers are expected to have a POV on everything and your team looks to you for insight all the time. It’s tricky to balance creating a safe space for a wide set of opinions while also knowing when to not only call a decision but obtain buy-in across the team on that decision.

Identify opportunities to flex that skill—e.g. ask yourself more what your opinion is on various ideas and problems. Are you also sharing those ideas? If you feel scared to, why? What’s holding you back? Discuss this with your manager, mentor, or peers, whoever you can practice this with!

See our list of top Women Product Leaders in 2022

Which approach/framework would you suggest to lay down the product strategy for an MVP post launch?

You specified “MVP post-launch” so assuming here there’s some data or signal on how it did with users.

In general, I stick to the basics and a pretty simple framework. Mission (user-oriented), Business Goal (achieve PMF? Grow DAU? etc), learnings from inbounds/research/launch results, and then I focus the strategy on solving defined user problems (Jobs to Be Done is helpful) and ensuring it maps the to the Mission and our Product / Business Goals.

In particular, I think it’s great to focus on what you won’t be prioritizing and calling that out too. What you don’t do is just as important if not more than what you do so you can have laser focus.

I currently have 1 year of PM experience at a startup but really want to work my way to work at a bigger tech company. Any advice?

closeup of laptop screen and keyboard. on the computer screen the word "startup" is bold, black, and uppercase against a white background with colorful confetti

From my experience, big tech companies love startup experience! There are so many wonderful aspects about being a PM at a small company—autonomy, opportunity to lead not just within the Product org but across other orgs too, being part of building company culture, sometimes a role in raising another Series.

Top tips would be highlighting those experiences in your resume and LinkedIn, networking, doing mock interviews in communities like this or the Lewis Lin one, and getting referrals from friends and friends of friends for jobs you’re interested in. Also recommend turning on the LinkedIn feature that says you’re interested/looking so recruiters can find you.

Related to this: The Difference Between Startup PMs & Big Corporation PMs

Can you share the transition from a Program Manager to a Product Manager? How different is it and how did you pitch to the Karat team?

I was in a bit of a mixed role truthfully. Partially Program Manager and partially Technical Account Manager in a Support Sales organization. This is specific to my own experience but the transition definitely took some time (~1 year).

I didn’t have direct Product Management experience so when compared to other candidates with that I knew recruiters would pass on my resume. I focused on just getting that one yes I cared about versus being discouraged by all the many no’s. Karat was a small ~30 person company at the time and they found my profile on Hired (great for passive applications!) then started the formal interviewing process with them. It was an amazing experience and I really owe Karat so much of what I’ve learned as a PM.

How do you measure product-market fit (PMF) before launching a product?

This answer will probably range from PM to PM and product to product but I like to couple PMF quant signal (e.g. Daily Active Users, etc) with a ‘story’ or ‘picture’ of what PMF would look like for our product.

So as a result you may have a set of PMF criteria. A high-level objective: “By 2023, Vino will be the best place for wine fanatics to discover and buy their wine” and then a couple of key metrics that you’ll track that signal progress toward that PMF big picture.

For a deeper dive: Understanding Product-Market Fit: A Product Manager’s Guide

a long table at a restaurant with people seated at it, holding glasses of wine and chatting

I am generalist and have a blend of experience in Business Analysis, Project Management, and informal Product Management. How can I break into Product without formal PM experience?

A couple things I did while trying to transition was:

  1. Take on side projects. I led a few Hackathon teams as the Product Manager
  2. Learn all the vernacular. I addictively listened to Product School guest speaker sessions!
  3. Network with PMs and Engineers. Great to learn from their POV about what makes a PM great vs good, which meant more knowledge for myself as well as doors to new opportunities. Good luck!

Any final tips?

Thank you PS for having me!! It’s been an incredible journey from listening to your podcast episodes on a daily basis in 2018 hoping to transition into Product Management to my career today.

My tips: Cultivate your product voice (opinions, points of view), hone crisp communication (communicate with the goal of sharing your point/idea succinctly, talking/writing MORE does not mean more value), and push with warmth (you’re leading a product and team, relationships are a critical part of doing this effectively).

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