How to Build a Successful Product by Former Google PM

This week Product School hosted Jocelyn Miller, former Product Manager at Google and Amazon for an #AskMeAnything session. She explored relevant topics and offered useful advice for the Product Management community.

Meet Jocelyn Miller

Jocelyn Miller is a businesswoman and entrepreneur with a deep love of Product. She has acted as a Product Management leader and managed remote teams during her time at Amazon, Google, and as Director of Product Management at Zazzle. Jocelyn currently acts as a personal accelerator, helping teams and individuals catapult to their next level.

Product Advice by Google Product Manager

Theme-based roadmaps and OKRs are some techniques for focusing product on outcomes, but sometimes stakeholders understand feature-based roadmaps easier. Do you have any advice on this subject?

Managing stakeholders and roadmaps / OKRs is more of an art than a science. First and foremost, you must know your audience when communicating. Some questions to ask for better understanding:

  • Does this person need to feel apart of the decision?
  • Must they develop it and feel that it was their idea in the first place (a generally powerful method 😉 )?
  • Do they have so much to do that they just want to be informed?
  • Are they someone who executes and just needs to know what is needed from them and when?
  • What are they motivated by? Numbers? Visuals? UX? UI? Quality? Business impact?

Once you have an understanding of the main players, you need to then figure out how to address at least the most important 2-3 sets of people.

Finally, you must know what is your desired outcome and address accordingly.

For instance, when I was at Zazzle, we had tracks we were managing: the core retail business, getting deeper into mobile, and creating a scalable 3rd party Custom Maker Marketplace similar to Amazon’s marketplace but for custom sellers.

Each of these tracks was huge, with tons of features, and had separate teams that were working on each. Managing by themes here made a ton of sense as the metrics for success varied across each of these, the players varied, all the specific details of managing and implementing varied. I

If you are managing these things now, ask yourself: what are you doing right now? What is working? What isn’t working? How can I use the above to create a different outcome?

You might also be interested in How to Use OKRs for Roadmap Prioritization and Planning

Across the different products that you have worked at Amazon, Google, and Zazzle, what is a common theme that you have encountered when building a successful product? 

Themes for building successful products include:

1. Clarity of purpose and outcomes

It is amazing how many projects start and continue with large sets of people and lengthy periods of time without any clarity of goal. Understand, even a goal of ‘we are exploring X’ area is a goal.

This works best with some kind of condition, though—like, ‘let’s see if we can make our personalization services generically applicable to other businesses and expose that via AWS’. For example—ideally with some timeframe or check-in point/success criteria.

At Zazzle, we had a project we internally called AHAD which stands for ‘A Hundred A Day’. That spoke to the theme of building a third-party marketplace of custom makers added to the Zazzle platform without human intervention. The main focus there was to have a scalable system.

Having clarity of purpose makes it possible to know when you are making progress, whether you have achieved the goal, or whether you should completely re-evaluate your endeavor and efforts.

2. Clarity of decision-making, ideally with autonomy in the right person’s hands.

Nothing kills a project more than having myriad decisions to make without any clear owner. Having a committee that is constantly at the helm tends to devolve into group-think at best–and analysis paralysis at worst. I

Instead of that, it is important to have a clear understanding of every part of your product or project, who is in charge of what? How can they be accountable in an empowering way? And, ideally, having a clear overall owner for all those decisions that fall between the cracks or are high level across every area.

3. A strong, competent cross-functional team.

A team that brings together the necessary skills to launch and evolve the product is essential. This should be fairly obvious, though I will say recruiting and managing such a team is complex.

strong cross-functional team

How to Market Yourself and Setting Expectations

How do you market yourself in this pandemic situation for jobs or business partnerships?

Great question regarding career growth during a pandemic and difficult times. There are many effective ways of navigating this time, I have clients negotiating offers despite all of the states of the world. However, it has taken adapting some of the foundational principles that work best.

When you join a brand new organization, how do you work out how much time to spend fire fighting VS doing strategic work?

One of the main things that I do myself, with my coaching clients, and with new hires is I make very clear what exactly the expectations are as a new person is onboarded. What is their role? What is their main mission? Where should their focus be?

It is especially critical to gain that alignment between yourself, your manager, and your team. Setting clear expectations at the outset avoids all kinds of issues that can show up otherwise.

With that, you can then use fire-fighting issues as opportunities for learning while keeping your eye on the strategic goals you have set and already aligned on.

Part of that alignment with your manager and team includes timelines. For instance, I have a client starting a new job now. They have a great onboarding process, she has come in with a clear scope, and they have already agreed on expectations of taking 3-6 months to onboard fully. That is part of an ongoing dialogue to triage and focus her work.

Do you have any final recommendations for aspiring Product Managers?

I know many of you want further support.

A couple of follow-up options and resources for you: If you are looking to transition into a Product Management job and want guidance, check out this talk: How to Get a Product Management Job by Google Product Manager

Don’t miss our next Ask Me Anything session where you’ll learn what you need to become a better Product Manager! Check our upcoming AMAs here.

Enjoyed the article? You may like this too: