This week Product School hosted Laura Edwards, Senior Product Manager at Expedia, for an #AskMeAnything session. She touched upon a diverse range of topics such as Product Management as a career field, product quality, outcomes, how to approach business problems, and much more!
Meet Laura Edwards
Laura is a seasoned Product Manager who thrives on working closely with teams to solve problems, deliver value, and ship great products that users love. Today, she is leading the company’s efforts at Expedia Group, where she is responsible for Sort and Selection at Hotels.com brand. She takes a multidisciplinary approach that encompasses the fields of Business Travel, Financial Services, and Change Management, giving her a perfect blend of skills to her current role.
Transitioning to PM: Background, Industry, Career Path
What suggestion do you have for people who want to transition from a strategy role in a traditional industry to PM in the technology industry?
I know some great PMs who have a background in strategy. I would recommend trying to move into a strategy or business-related role at a tech company, and then see if you can work an internal rotation into Product from there. Alternatively, work on customer perspectives and prioritization as they are the key skills for a product manager.
As a PM I am curious how your Business Analyst Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Geography helped? I have seen non-technical individuals be fantastic PMs when they can bring their own unique perspective.
I think my Geography BA did help. I started out as an implementation manager in finance, helping clients to integrate with APIs, which helped a lot to get my technical muscles into shape.
Physical Geography is a lot about systems, modeling, inputs, and outputs. I think that was a great introduction to the technical aspects of product. I also think it’s fantastic to make my developer teams explain things to me, as it helps to articulate the reasons for doing things and make sure we have the customer at the center of everything.
You also might be interested in: Why Becoming a PM Without a Technical Background is Possible
What advice do you have for someone who is trying to break into PM? From your background, how did you transition and become a product manager?
I started out in customer support roles, but my “transition” role was as an Implementation Manager (IM). As an IM I needed to really understand both the company’s products and the customer needs. This was a really good segway into both the technical aspects of product management and the customer lens that you need to make good decisions.
If you work in a bigger company that already has an established Product department, I would suggest trying for a rotation into Product as we do that quite a bit at Hotels.com and get great internal hires that way.
What was your experience moving into such a large organization and how did you successfully grow your role? How did your talent get recognized?
I was lucky in a way, as I was given some very meaty projects to prove myself almost immediately. I would say to find places where you can add value and volunteer for high impact projects. I actually didn’t manage to deliver those projects in the initial expected timelines, but I did get so much exposure to high-level people in the company while discussing the risks and trade-offs.
Being able to make good recommendations to mitigate risk or negotiate through a roadblock can be as powerful as delivering a project on time, as you build trust and credibility. It’s also really important to build your network of support beyond your immediate boss.
Was it a conscious decision from your end to have your career spanning in a multidisciplinary approach? How often did you transit across different fields (financial, business travel, etc.)?
I “fell” into Financial products. I graduated into the recession, and the first “real” job I got was in credit cards. While I was there, I learned of the existence of Product Management and decided that’s where I wanted my career to go. As I knew quite a bit about credit cards by that point, it made sense to get my first product role where I already had the SME knowledge.
Financial Services was not my passion, and I wanted to work in B2C, so when I was ready for a change, the Expedia job came up and I jumped at the chance to work in travel. I transitioned across different fields, once so far, but I wouldn’t rule out another sector sometime in the future.
What You Need to Know About Product: Advice and Methodologies
What activities do you recommend to keep a product at a high-quality standard?
I work a lot with high throughput APIs and for those, I think having great metrics and visibility of the performance is key. We also make sure that we release to a canary or similar first so that we can test on a smaller amount of traffic before we roll out to our entire customer base.
Zooming out to think of “high quality” product as a whole, I think it’s a similar story, but a different way of measuring. I work in e-commerce right now, we do a lot of AB testing to make sure the features we roll out resonate well with customers, backed up with qualitative user research sessions.
What methodologies does your team use for product discovery and product delivery?
I’ll start with product delivery. I work with a variety of teams and they use a mixture of Agile Kanban and Scrum for delivery (not at the same time). This depends on if the team is project-based (Scrum) or more support oriented (Kanban). For discovery, this really depends on the size of the feature.
It can be anything from getting a group of us in a room or a zoom and discussing and agreeing on requirements. Usually in that room would be representatives from product, tech, and UX. For bigger projects or features we may do a design sprint with specific outcomes in mind, and then spend 2 weeks in intense collaboration.
How close do you work with Business Analysts (BA) and how much their input is considered to deliver a solution?
I don’t always work with BAs, it depends on the project. But when I have, I think it’s good to have clear roles and responsibilities between the BA and the PM, so you don’t step on each other’s toes. That way, you both know your involvement is valuable and can have impact.
How would you start communicating the importance of measuring outcomes to stakeholders who are output focused?
I’m assuming this is about a particular project or working towards a specific goal or metric you would like to move. I would suggest having a milestone view that has both the output (e.g. a test you would like to run, and the outcome you would like e.g. new user sign ups by x%).
That way, they have something tangible on the output side, but you can pivot if your metric isn’t met. Eventually, I would hope you could build trust in the output velocity, so you can concentrate on what matters for the product.
As a PM, I am supposed to take data-driven decisions but what do I do when there’s a lack of data in the organization? Is it common for organizations to have a lack of data?
I’ve worked at places with very little data in the past (a poorly set up Google Analytics account) and now work with data coming out of my ears! But remember data can be lots of things.
I’d recommend making sure that your decisions are related to concentrating on specific outcomes that you’ve decided you need to make the product better, and a way to measure how you can get there. As you do that, you’ll be collecting more data.
When implementing a large change or product scope what is your method of measuring for the market?
At Expedia, we always A/B test. We try to work as iteratively as possible, although it’s not always possible in a big bang project like a redesign. If it’s a really huge change, then we tend to find a segment to test on (a particular point of sale, for example) so we can measure the impact, then go back to iterate as required. That way, we don’t risk negatively affecting all users.
I often have many solutions in mind which can be solved using ML algos and API interface, but I’m not aware of the technical specifications. How should I approach this to solve my business problems using a product in this case?
ML product is still a growing field. I have, so far, not learned how to be a data scientist myself so I work really closely with our data science teams to determine the feasibility of the ML requirements. Our data science team are super smart, so they can help me with the technical requirements around what they need, and I can make sure it’s what I want for the customer.
We make sure we’ve got the right metrics in place to measure the impact and help the models to be trained on the right thing. I recommend reading “Weapons of Math Destruction” by Cathy O’Neil for how not to make AI/ML products too.
You also might be interested in reading: Product Mindset How to Get Inside Your Customer’s Mind
How do you keep yourself organized? Do you rely on notebooks or digital apps?
I’m an old school notebook person myself. It’s something about the act of writing things down. Although I’m considering treating myself to a remarkable so all my handwritten notes become digitized because I would love a search function in my notebooks.
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.