The Role of the Product Owner with Cooler Screens Senior Product Owner

This week our #AskMeAnything session welcomed Ernesto Rodriguez, Senior Product Owner at Cooler Screens!

Meet Ernesto Rodriguez

Ernesto strives to continuously think like an engineer, visualize solutions like a creative designer, and have the drive of a hungry-entrepreneur, all while delivering the voice of a diplomat.

He enjoys working for product based startups that encompass a positive company culture, a challenging mission, and an opportunity to use his unique problem-solving skills on a frequent basis.

Ernesto Rodriguez’s background includes being a Product Support Specialist at Groupon, a Software QA Analyst and Technical Product Manager at Outcome Health, a Product Manager at Allscripts, and the Senior Product Owner at Cooler Screens.

Transition into Product Management

What is the career path for a Product Manager and where should one concentrate on improving skills?

That is a good question. Here is a matrix that can possibly help answer your question. Essentially, you need to identify how well you are at:

  • Cross-functional leadership
  • Innovating and creative thinking
  • Market intelligence
  • Advocacy
  • Go to market strategy
  • Product expertise
  • Strategy and planning
  • Voice of the customer

How did you make the transition from a QA Analyst to Product Management? Any advice for aspiring PMs wanting to make the same transition?

The transition was not necessarily a smooth one for me. It involved accepting that I was very well aware of how the product functioned, and its breaking points, but that I would need to learn the process of the business making leadership decisions.

The key is understanding the bigger vision of the organization, and asking yourself, “what can I do from my current knowledge of the product to help expose some of the challenges of wanting to get to that greater vision”. If your current company doesn’t have a clear vision, then start asking how you can collaborate towards helping to find that next major business milestone and figure out who the key stakeholders are.

Through curiosity, humbleness (never imposing your product knowledge), and collaborative conversations… you’ll find your way.

How can one transition from deep tech/engineering to Product Management? What are the common pitfalls? How can one do this as quickly as possible?

One of the reasons a PM is involved between tech and the other departments of the business is because the translation of communication is not always easy.

For instance, if you are trying to design a new feature, different audiences will call it something different. One of the full-time jobs of mine is to know what to call the same feature… a different thing depending on who I’m talking to.

If you talk to sales, they call it something that has some spark or catchy name to it. You talk to finance and they call it by the type of revenue it’s allocated towards. You talk to a developer and they call it by the type of function they used in the code. This isn’t always intuitive and easy so a tech/engineering person needs to learn the language of the other audiences and get really good at it. From there, it should be easier to transition in my opinion.

What were the skills that you improved on the most after becoming a PM that you weren’t necessarily focused on as a Support Specialist and QA Analyst?

Diagraming ideas and concepts and learning how to do “deep work” while documenting.

In support or QA you definitely have your level of documentation but you generally are documenting steps for testing or troubleshooting. There is a different mindset when thinking about introducing a new feature and realizing one thought at a time how much additional functionality will be required as you cross each bridge.

That is definitely what I got much better at doing. I start with whiteboarding then when I have enough rapidly out of my head, I think about how to electronically document the idea into a PRD.

What would you recommend to someone working as a Product Data Analyst trying to transition to a Product Manager role?

If you’re a product data analyst, you’re in a good spot to transition honestly. One of the hardest things to do as a Product Manager is to convince a non-technical, very specialized leadership roles, about what the priorities are based on business needs.

Generally, that’s a hard conversation for many unless they have the facts to back it up. In your case, you can get your facts faster than most and have direct access to the data.

I would say, your next step would probably be to identify how the business has prioritized product decisions in the past and find out the whys. You may find out that assumptions made in the past were wrong and you have the data to prove it… you’re already halfway there to identifying how to collaborate and fix the results you see.

Do you have any final advice for aspiring Product Managers

Every business is different, so from my perspective, there is no copy and paste approach to solving for prioritizing a business. There are many tools available and resources like Product School that can teach you the ways of getting what you need faster but the right combination of tools to solve for various problems is an art in itself.

Get familiar with various techniques and frameworks so that when a new challenge comes your way… you’re ready to give it a shot even if it’s your first time. Your job is to find out and frequently validate if you’re on the right path. It’s not to mandate forcefully that you’re the smartest person in the room because that generally fails.

The Role of a Product Owner

What differences have you experienced between working as a Product Manager and Product Owner?

For me, while being a Product Manager, the expectation was more about being way ahead of the current state of the product and gathering information about the market needs… and less about how technology can get us there.

A Product Owner role for me is much more about the process “after” a product manager has identified the insights and suggestions about where to go. It’s much more tactical about what is the most important set of priorities (through collaboration internally and externally) and identifying what are the quick wins versus something that is heavy on development, UX, and QA.

Value versus Development Cost is more of a Product Owner process in my opinion. Current Benefits versus Opportunity of Benefit is more of a Product Manager process.

Are there any good resources you can recommend to learn and improve at building roadmaps?

I’m a big fan of Product Plan and using their parking lot and planning board features. The key is identifying your FULL backlog, theme-ing out those backlog items, then start to prioritize them amongst business values (with a weight) to score and compare.

What is your advice and recommendation to dealing with ambiguity while steering a product roadmap?

That’s definitely a tricky one to answer because every business is so different. The best advice I can give is to have the ability to “unlearn” anything from your past experiences.

It’s easy to have solved a problem in the past and say “this worked for me at X company and it worked really well… trust me, lets do this.” But that generally annoys people because they didn’t work there so they have their own perspective about what works.

The most reliable approach is to try to identify the OKRs that mean the most for the business. What are the overall themes that the leadership team is consistently talking about. Once you have at least those 3-5 themes… you can work towards how you can solve for each of those business needs. Without more detail, that’s the best starting point I can suggest.

Oh, and always be willing to change your priorities and re-assess them on a consistent basis. In ambiguity, you’re likely wrong about priorities the first 3-5 times you get a list documented and shared. Remain nimble but pull yourself back to a focus by using measurable data to prove your priorities.

What has proven successful for you to break through organizational red tape to ensure your team’s work is providing strategic value in a timely manner?

Well, I’ve had some failures in the past when working in larger organizations because of said red-tape. It’s painful to do research and work only to find out that you need approval from a dozen people and they all have to sign off and even then, you don’t get started until months later.

Generally, what has made me successful is breaking down the implementation into an MVP state. Don’t communicate the longer term iteration of the product unless asked. Focus on the immediate pain point, gather the data about how much time and resources NOT having this solution costs the business… and put forth a plan about how your MVP can be cheap, efficient, and valuable.

Alternatively, there are influential people that provide insights into business problems up to leadership. An exercise I’ve done in the past is asking leadership who their top performers are. Identify one “champion” amongst each of the stakeholder teams and ask leadership if you can spend 15-30 minutes every X weeks to collaborate on how you can gather feedback and requirements about solutions to solve for their pain points.

The key here is to follow up with the leadership team about the topics discussed, next steps suggested, and how you will make use of the information discussed.

What would you recommend as a best practice for including designers in the consumer web/app development process?

I personally do prefer a designer to collaborate with me on all front end mockups. My process is generally:

  1. Create ideal mockups with a designer.
  2. Validate with internal stakeholders if the designs are on track with what the business needs.
  3. Identify the engineering lead that would be involved in the development.
  4. Talk with both the designer and lead engineer to understand feasibility and discuss any compromises due to technology limitations.
  5. Get a clickable prototype (with the designer).
  6. Get it in front of users. (I let the designer run with the interview questions. I merely facilitate and may ask a few additional questions the designer didn’t think of).
  7. Come back to the business with the plan of implementation.

Healthcare Product Management

When working as a Product Manager, what do you see as the most important skill, particularly in healthcare?

What made me successful in the past was the ability to humbly present myself as a “non-healthcare” individual with a lack of understanding of the day to day tasks of the user.

My job is not to become a healthcare professional but instead, have the ability to CREATE RESOURCES that I can tap into. If I need to get the perspective from a doctor… I have a process. If I need to get the perspective from a patient… I have a process.

The most important skill is being to bounce ideas and feedback across a significant amount of potential users. I say fewer surveys and more in-person conversations. Conversations are MUCH more effective and they don’t have to be so long (15-30 mins).

What are important things to keep in mind when developing technology products for the healthcare industry?

The first thing is of course, what type of regulations are involved. HIPAA is nothing to joke about and can have some serious ramifications for your business. With the concept of a new feature always ask yourself, is there PII associated with HIPAA or any other associated regulation in our space.

Second, you will likely have a larger spectrum of users to build for. Most websites want to use ux interfaces that are familiar to most people that use laptops, and smart phones since majority of people own one. However…in the healthcare space, the transition to going fully electronic is not FULLY there. There are improvements here and there, but many people still rely on older “outdated” interfaces and paper processes.

Ask yourself, how can your product or feature “slip right in” and not disrupt them so much that you take longer than the older way of doing things. Sometimes simplicity can cause more trouble if it’s not intuitive for the audience demographic. In healthcare, the age spectrum can be wide.

What sort of processes do you have for asking the right questions in order to understand the perspectives of the patient/doctor?

My process is generally:

  1. Identify the topic(s) I want to ask questions about but do not have expectations about the output. Each patient/doctor is different and they don’t all have the same willingness to give detailed answers.
  2. Communicate to the patient/doctor that you are unfamiliar with a specific topic or gap that you can’t figure out without help and you don’t want to assume the wrong thing because you are ultimately not the daily user.
  3. Capture quotes that you can leverage later to internal leadership about why something is important when you are trying to represent the customer. Internal bias is a real thing and these quotes gets everyone to reality real quick.

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