This week, Product School hosted Tina Xie, Director of Product at Salesforce, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Tina knows how to move up in the product world and shared her tips on how to stand out as a PM interview candidate, how to reduce biasing the solution to your customer problem, and what she looks for when hiring new PMs.
Tina is a Director of Product at Salesforce, specializing in their Business Technology Tableau Applications. She was promoted to her current role after just one year as a Senior Manager of Product Management. Previously, she worked as a Senior Technical Program Manager and Enterprise Applications Operations Manager at Tableau Software. Before that, she was a Senior PM at Amazon, working on improving their customer experience through the pricing and inventory management systems.
How can a candidate stand out with lots of experience in other areas, but no product experience on paper?
I often think of the specific products, features, and domain the person will be working in and if they can leverage their prior experience regardless of having Product Management in their title.
That said, there are also several PM roles in which the person needs to be very flexible and agile with the changes in the business needs and products. In those cases, I evaluate based on their general skillsets such as ability to own a deliverable from end-to-end, how to communicate to leadership at all levels and technical vs. non-technical audiences as examples.
Candidates that stand out to me are those who are able to demonstrate the impact they have had on the business and articulate their understanding of their domains, what problems they were able to solve and how they worked cross-functionally to deliver against challenges.
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How to you keep yourself from creating a biased solution in your mind when you’re just starting to work on a problem/feature?
I see this often in my career and it is a challenge, especially where there are heavy biases from management or leadership either having sponsored said feature early with budget planning or coming into a new company using their prior experiences where they’ve had successes with an approach.
I’ve seen that several factors can improve this issue but there isn’t one simple cure. A few that come to mind:
- If there is leadership who can evaluate the solution from all facets and supports a data focused approach
- There is sufficient data or ability to forecast/model with data to determine if this is the right solution
- Strong business partnership to be able to question and collaborate to work against biases.
When looking at new PMs (college grads or alternate career) what do you look for?
I typically look at if they have relevant general skillsets or business and industry domain knowledge that can be applied towards that specific Product Management role. For instance, if you are interviewing for a Sales Systems Product Management role, if you have extensive experience acting in various B2B sales roles, that knowledge of the business and workflows can be applied to understanding customers’ pain points and needs to build new products and features.
As a Junior PM, most of my work is execution based. How can a junior level PM become good at strategy aspects of Product Management?
I would recommend even if your work is currently execution-based, trying to understand the larger picture and end-goal for each of your deliverables. Often times with Junior PM roles, they are also paired with a more senior PM that owns roadmaps and is in prioritization/leadership discussions. I would build that partnership and get involved in those discussions even if it is just shadowing that person. I would also seek stretch projects where you can be more hands-on. Separately, there are multiple classes, frameworks, and books you can read to build those skillsets.
What is the process that Salesforce uses to prioritize client needs?
This is a rather broad question given Salesforce has an extensive list of products and services. It is also a very large company so prioritization varies across teams and departments. However, as a roadmap tool across Salesforce, we follow V2MOM. This stands for:
- Vision — what do you want to achieve?
- Values — what’s important to you?
- Methods — how do you get it?
- Obstacles — what is preventing you from being successful?
- Measures — how do you know you have it?
Here’s an article if you’re interested in learning more.
What are your thoughts on overlaps between CPO and CTO in the industry. Does the blend of product and technical skills play a part, in your view?
I believe this depends often on the scale of the company. In speaking with peers who work for smaller companies and having worked in larger corporations, I’ve observed that CPO, CTO and even the founder of companies could have blurred lines of ownership if the company is smaller.
However, as the company grows, there are greater needs that different roles will further fulfill. Once the company is larger and there is a need for both a CTO and CPO, I’ve observed CTO often manages the infrastructure or technical stack that runs the business while the CPO builds the external products and vision for that product. This is not always the case and varies by the company though.
On the technical skills, this can be useful as a foundation especially earlier in the career but as you move further up in leadership roles, I often see management, people skills, and soft skills are leveraged more heavily.
Check out next: Skills to Take You From PM to CSuite by Facebook VP of Product
What is your advice for someone transitioning from Digital Marketing Strategist to Product Management?
I think this depends on how quickly you would like to transition into a Product Management role and your passion for specific products or domains. If you are seeking the fastest track, you can leverage your digital marketing experience by seeking PM roles focused on marketing systems.
I have seen PMs move from marketing business roles to either marketing PMs of smaller companies or APMs or Project and Program Managers of larger companies with a growth path to eventually Product Manager. If you want to start more from scratch, without using your prior experience, then it will be a slower process and you will need to demonstrate how you’re different from other candidates.
Once you get the role, I would partner closely with the technical teams regarding time and cost estimation. Unless you are very familiar with the products and the specific team’s historic velocity, if you present time and cost estimates without their input, you could be signing them up for unrealistic timelines.
As a PM, you can help with or work with the scrum master to pull historic velocity and clarify requirements so that the estimates are more accurate. You could also share how these timelines will be aggregated into a larger roadmap and what the final impact would be. You can also coordinate with the business to answer open questions from the technical teams.
Which roles are the best stepping stones for breaking into Product Management from a business development background?
There are a few different paths you could take. I’ve seen PMs move from business to product by being the business stakeholder or business specialist for products that they then transition into being a PM for. I have also seen PMs go from business roles into an APM, project manager or program manager and then move up to a Product role.
Do you have any recommendations for resources (books, courses, bootcamps, APM programs etc.) that helped you master your craft along your journey?
For resources, I would recommend looking at some of your top companies and what Product Management roles list as their required skills. Personally, I found my SQL certificate and knowledge useful when I joined Amazon. However, once I joined Tableau and Salesforce that was not relevant and I have been working towards Ranger status with Trailhead at Salesforce. When I was at Kaplan, I read articles on revenue models and marketing product management because that was more applicable. I think it’s also important to constantly learn new skills.
For more reading recs: The 20 Most-Read Books by Top Product Managers
Any final advice?
It’s been a pleasure answering questions and meeting aspiring PMs. Thank you everyone for your patience as I tried to respond quickly and thoughtfully to your questions. My final advice would be don’t be afraid to reach out to PMs that you would like to learn from or connect with and keep learning in every new role and opportunity.