Last week, Product School hosted Anya Ruvinskaya, former Product Lead at Spotify, for an exclusive #AskMeAnything session. Anya provided advice on developing PM skills that you need to land a role in Product Management and shared some experiences working in tech.
Meet Anya Ruvinskaya
Anya was a Product Lead at Spotify, working to reinvent software tools and services for creators and the music industry. At Microsoft, she worked in Product and Business overseeing the Minecraft franchise and worldwide education prior to that. Anya has an MBA and MA in International Studies from Wharton Business School and the Lauder Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. She’s interested and passionate about building and optimizing great consumer products and experiences as well as emerging markets and social impact.
How do we balance data-driven decisions vs intuitions on a product?
Great question! As a new Product Manager, I’d lean more on data-driven decisions. As you get more experienced, you’ll fine-tune your intuition and learn to rely on it more. I personally believe your intuition is also greatly shaped by understanding your users, so in addition to data, remember to understand your users from a qualitative perspective as well (user interviews, just speaking to them, focus groups, etc).
How do you land a Product Management job at Spotify?
This tends to be a popular question. Keep an eye out for roles that open up that are relevant to your experience and interests. Spotify is big on culture and passion fit, so in addition to being qualified in terms of skills, Spotify looks for people that match the values, loves music culture, and is familiar with your work. An internal referral wouldn’t hurt either.
What should I expect as a first time non-technical Product Manager in a tech company? How to prepare? What should I learn?
Start off by getting to know the company (goals, values, business lines), the product you’ll be working on, and most importantly your users. Spend time the first few weeks meeting your team, stakeholders from other teams you’ll be working with, and your peer PMs one on one. Spend time talking to users if you can.
If there is anything technical for you to ramp up on, asking your peers for some resources could be a good start. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and ask lots of questions! Don’t look at being a non-technical PM as a handicap, look at it as an opportunity to come in with a fresh and objective perspective and contribute to the team!
What do you look for in people when hiring for a Product Manager mid-senior role?
For Senior PMs, I tend to look for a proven track record of shipping features/products that have made an impact as well as leadership experience. The ability to set a vision for a product’s direction and rally folks around that.
In your opinion, what are the 3 main skills a Product Lead should have? And why?
It’s tough to choose just 3! A PM really must wear multiple hats. I’d say first and foremost be resourceful and have the ability to learn/ramp up quickly. Also being strategic and empathic to users.
You may also be interested in: 5 Qualities of Great Product Managers
What tools do you use to collect user feedback and collate it? User interviews mainly. Also, what frameworks do you use to try to validate hypotheses?
Often times, you don’t need fancy tools! Gathering notes from user interviews could be as simple as organizing some Google Docs or a Google Sheet and then synthesizing in a presentation. You would also want to ask for permission in the interview to record (video and/or audio) in case you want to go back and listen to re-capture anything said.
Frameworks for validating hypothesis is a longer answer but Product School has some great resources! Check out the free Product Book that’s available through Product School and you’ll find them there!
You may also be interested in: Free Resources for Product Managers
How does Spotify prioritize customer feedback against internal ideas?
Great question! This is a challenge certainly. We mainly try to prioritize those initiatives that are a reflection of both user feedback and those that are in service of our strategic prioritize. Opportunity cost is huge, so especially if it’s a large investment for an initiative, it should really be able to speak to both. That aside, we also make sure to always fit/sprinkle in a few smaller updates/features from user feedback we get to let our users know we’re listening and responding.
Could you talk a bit about how you got your start in Product Management and offer any advice for someone attempting to break into the field particularly during this challenging time?
I transitioned slowly and explored my strengths and interests. Before tech, I had a finance and nonprofit background (including some experience in education). So the way I entered tech after my MBA was for an education role. That education role was business-oriented and I realized I wanted to be closer to product so I found a business opportunity on a product team.
Then I saw what I enjoyed most was the product work and transitioned from a business role on that team to a product role… even starting to do some extra product tasks while still in the business role. This is where I think it’s important to try to leverage the experience you already have and think of adjacent opportunities. For example, if you want to switch functions, try to find an opportunity in your current company or in your current industry where you can leverage the industry knowledge you already have.
What coding language if any is a must-have for a Product Manager? Which 2-3 design tools would you advise getting fluent in if any? Which 1-2 productivity tools are a must?
I would say it depends on the role, but generally, I think it is possible to get a PM role without knowing any coding language (this was certainly my case when I got my first PM role). If you do invest in learning any, SQL is a great skill to have.
If you are interested in playing around with some design tools, popular ones that tend to get used frequently are Invision and Sketch. On the productivity tools front, Google Docs, Microsoft Office, Slack, Trello and Jira are probably the most relevant ones.
You may also be interested in: A Curated List of Tools and Software for Product Managers in 2020
Why are you not working at Spotify anymore?
Actually glad you asked! I decided to take some time off, I’m calling it a personal sabbatical. I had been thinking about doing something like this for a few years and decided it was the right time (minimal disruption to my teams at Spotify) so I took advantage. I was always hesitant to take “time out” but I haven’t looked back yet!
I’ve connected with quite a few other Product Leaders before I made the decision and after, ones fairly seasoned in their career, and they spoke of taking breaks every now and then. I wanted to have time to invest in my personal growth, think about what I want to do next and be purposeful and intentional about it, and also have the time to invest in other projects I’ve always wanted to try out but was forever putting off (like consulting for startups in emerging markets).
What can you recommend in terms of successful communication and keeping every stakeholder in a loop?
This is a challenge and very time consuming, no way around that! If you’re lucky, you have a project manager to help you. Otherwise, it takes lots of organization. Clearly identify your set of stakeholders, limit it to one rep per team if you can, have a set working cadence and timeline of deliverables, and follow up with everyone based on what they’ve agreed to be accountable for.
For one specific product, I worked on that involved an unmanageable amount of coordination and stakeholders, I tried a very particular strategy. Most of the stakeholders were part of one larger department at Spotify so I asked senior leadership to assign a project manager on their end for their larger org. This person then became my main stakeholder for all of their teams and in turn, helped manage the individual teams and stakeholders on their end. This helped a ton and gave us a champion in their department.
Did you miss this event? Check out our events page to sign up for the next #AskMeAnything session!