This week Product School hosted Rich Sanchez, former Disney Product Manager and Product Manager at InStride for an #AskMeAnything session. Rich discussed creating key metrics to define product success. He also touched on prioritizing skillsets when transitioning into the Product Management world.
Meet Rich Sanchez
Rich is a data-fluent and user-centered product leader with expertise in conceptualizing, building and supporting value-added experiences. Today, as a Manager of Product at InStride, he leads the company’s efforts to reinvent the education of today’s workforce.
Prior to his current position, Rich spent over 3 years at the Walt Disney Company, progressively attaining different Product managerial roles. He successfully led cross-functional teams of Product Managers, Designers, and Engineers towards the vision of scaling exceptional, consistent and convenient service to all Disney Parks & Resorts Guests.
How do you define “product success” and how important is the ability to manipulate data to you in a good PM?
The way I view product success is based on one principle that has helped me in my 8+ years of working in Product Management and that is answering the simple question: did the product create more value (faster or more accurate) to the users than what existed before? I am a strong believer that knowing how to work with data is very important. You have more power on your side when you can use data to make decisions.
Have you ever felt like you didn’t understand the technology on a product? What did you do to compensate?
Yes, I still feel like this since technology is always changing faster than me being able to keep up with it. Here are some of my tricks on how to bridge the gap.
1. If you are working with a web-based product, use Built With to understand what is powering that specific product. I love this tool because it goes deep into the guts of a product’s tech stack. It’s a great place to explore and find out what new technology is being used.
2. Learn from your developers: I have learned so much from my development team. I don’t expect them to give me a whole course but I always ask curiosity questions to them so that I can soak up knowledge from their brains. Developers love learning too so make sure you are sharing new interesting stuff with them as well.
In an established business, be it tech or not, it sometimes feels like there is no solution worth solving. How do you “discover” incremental changes and how do you define metrics for its success?
I love to apply the “jobs to be done” framework to everything. If you haven’t heard about it, it’s basically a different way of looking at a problem.
“People don’t want drills, they want a quarter-inch hole.”
The way I apply this is by basically looking at a problem or the main job you need to do and list out all the steps it takes to get that job done. Then you need to identify how fast and accurate it is to complete that job. Whenever you can find a solution that makes the job faster and more accurate than competitors, you have a winner worth going after.
What skills do you think would be most valuable to learn and prioritize for an aspiring PM with no technical background?
Even though I come from a technical background, I haven’t been so focused on learning any of the new skills (as much as I used to) because I’ve learned that it’s actually better (in my opinion) to master the art of discovering/communicating amazing stories with people, the art of strengthening your mindset and awareness and the art of connecting with people by learning how to give.
Given your expertise in Data Science, how would you suggest time allocation for a PM-job seeker speaking “basic” with data and a bit of coding experience?
When it comes to developing my skills, I would say that it has come with scratching the curiosity itch on how things work usually every week. But when I really want to master something, I plan to go deep on the topic by finding all the podcasts, books, resources on something and actually blocking time in my calendar to focus on learning more. If you want to be a Data Scientist’s best friend and learn something very valuable, I would actually learn how to get data by scraping.
What has been the hardest aspect of product management? What obstacles did you run into that you didn’t expect and how did you manage them?
For me, my product management experience has been in both an individual contributor level and a manager-level role (leading teams of product managers). Both levels have different challenges so I’ll share my perspective on both.
As an individual contributor, the hardest aspect of product management is prioritizing features with speed vs. quality in mind. In any organization, there will always be teams who want to move fast in order to ship features quicker to address business needs and there also other teams who want to take time to perfect the quality. Whenever faced with this type of situation, I always refer back to what the company’s values and culture are.
If the company values speed, then I tend to lean more on the side of launching features to all users in scrappy yet effective ways. If the company values quality more, then I still launch features quickly and iteratively but instead of features going to the whole population of users, I launch it to a subset of users first (like a beta group) and get tons of feedback and improvements before launching to the whole population.
As a manager leading a team of product managers, I would say the hardest aspect of product management is dealing with being farther away from the user. As a manager, your first focus should always be your product managers and making sure they have everything they need to succeed. But as we all know, everyone gets busy building great things and sometimes we can forget to actually connect with the users of the product to simply listen and stay motivated.
One way of doing this is by setting up team building meetings where for 1 or 2 full days, we completely immerse ourselves with the users by going to where they are and listening to them talk about the product. These sessions are great for bonding with your teams and are also great for reminding yourself of why you are building the product in the first place.
What are the top 5 superpowers for a PM in your opinion?
- Storytelling to help effectively convey a feeling to people so that they do something.
- Curiosity questioning to open up new possibilities and insights.
- Results-oriented mindset to guide people in the right direction.
- User empathy to help connect you with the people who are using your product.
- Positive beliefs help with seeing failure as a good thing that allows you to grow faster.
You may also be interested in The 5 Qualities of Great Product Managers
How deeply should product people know about marketing strategy, UX design and coding?
Every product manager you talk to will most likely give you a different answer based on the type of product manager they are. I find myself to be more of a generalist which means I know a bit of everything because I’m naturally curious about what other teams do. I also love being able to have great conversations with the various different teams about their specialty.
I think of knowing these other skills similar to knowing how to speak a different language. The more languages you know, the more people you open yourself up to. As Plato once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living” so be curious and learn just enough to be able to see a whole new world.
Could you please provide an example on the hardest feedback you have received from your manager or senior leadership?
The hardest feedback to hear from a manager was that I needed to work on my storytelling. The reason I say this was hard to hear was that I always thought I was good at “telling a story” by communicating my ideas and sharing presentations but that was just it. I was good at it- but I was not great. Hearing it was hard but I’m so thankful for the feedback because it fueled me to improve.
I ultimately ended up going down my usual full learning immersion where I spent months reading books, listening to podcasts, watching YouTube videos, taking courses and practicing with my peers the art of communication using storytelling. After all of that, I truly learned how valuable storytelling really is. Once you have the ability to simplify a message into a way that delivers a feeling to whoever is listening, you will discover how it can activate people to do things.
Do you have any insight for those of us who are seeking leadership roles in our current jobs or roles in life?
My advice for you is to first, figure out all the reasons why you would be qualified to be in a leadership role and all the areas where you need to improve. The best way to do figure this out is by connecting with people in those leadership roles to understand what they do. Establish an almost a mentor/mentee relationship with those leaders and offer to help them with their tasks. Once you get tasks assigned to you, go above and beyond their expectations and ask for more.
The key is to surround yourself with the people which you want to be like and always find ways to give them something of value that frees up their time. If you can do those things with multiple leaders and you’ve established a relationship in which you’re open about your aspirations to be a leader, then they will help you. This is the exact strategy I applied to. Once a leadership position opened up, I was tapped to fill in the role (without having to interview) because of what I was able to prove to all the leaders.
Did you miss this event? Check out our events page to sign up for the next #AskMeAnything session!