This week Product School hosted Brian Hendricks, current Product Manager at Google for an #AskMeAnything session. Brian shared his experiences at Google, how to manage your team, and advice for aspiring Product Managers.
Meet Brian Hendricks
Currently, Brian is a Product Manager at Google, overseeing Google Classroom, and Google Assignment. Before his current role, Brian was a Senior Product Manager of Growth at Oscar Insurance. He first gained experience as Product Manager working at Microsoft, where he was responsible for product/GTM strategy for Bing Maps/Mobile and launched Bing Maps mall maps, real-time transit, and Street Slide.
Personal experience and working at Google
What are some of the biggest challenges you face as a Product Manager and how did you overcome them?
Something they don’t tell you when you become a Product Manager — a big, big part of the job is motivating the people around you with an inspiring vision and clear direction. Maintaining that during tough times, especially right now during COVID and the team running at high-speed because we work in Education and there are a lot of fires.
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Do Product Managers at Google have to have a technical background?
No, I do not have a technical degree, I have a marketing background! Being analytical and comfortable with data and evaluating tradeoffs that engineers bring is important, but a tech degree isn’t critical.
What qualities do the best leaders you’ve been led by have?
The ability to provide clear direction, deliver it in a motivational way, and make clear to everyone what we’re saying no to so it’s clear what’s out of scope/what can be deprioritized.
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Understanding your product
How do you decide which features to prioritize in a new product?
Regarding prioritization: a general framework is t-shirt sizing (XL, Large, Medium, Small) features based on business impact (eg, can it drive $s, new users), user impact (e.g. how important is it to solve a problem), people cost to build, and confidence (high/medium/low) in those 3 signals to normalize uncertainty.
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How did you define your roadmap given more limited resources than a bigger competitor?
Focus on your core competency. Do one thing better than anyone else. For Bing Maps at the time, it was aerial and satellite imaging (Google had Street View, way better than Bing Maps Street Slide) but we created some experiences based on satellite imagery.
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Do you work on making MVPs to validate your ideas? How do you launch and measure the customer value results?
Yes, we try to be rigorous about setting P0s (must have to launch) vs. P1s (important to have). We launch MVPs, and sometimes for bigger features, we do betas where customers opt-in. The metrics change per feature but we generally have a target for task-completion success, retention/repeat use, and satisfaction (which we ask via in product surveys, but can also be app ratings).
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Managing your team
How do you motivate team members to finish work on time when you notice that they’ve been consistently not meeting deadlines?
First, always assume positive intent, though it can sometimes be that the person just is prioritizing stuff outside of work. That could be a performance issue, but at least try to understand that. Like any problem, try to dig into it: do they have too many projects, are they unclear on direction, are there non-work factors happening, are they blocked by something else. I just ask honestly–you can ask this question by showing concern for the person and making it about wanting to understand the external factors rather than questioning their performance.
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How do you find ways to move forward with limited bandwidth on your team?
I do this in a couple of ways (sometimes I do my own SQL queries though). I talk to customers as much as I can and try to provide trends in what they’re saying. We have some heuristic frameworks for how we estimate impact even if we can’t always be 100% sure. So we try to take a 70% insight 30% conviction or hypothesis approach to decision making to move fast and take risks.
How do you deal when your team is overestimating the work?
AH, this happens a lot. But I do assume positive intent. Pick your battles, because you can’t do this with everything: ask engineering to break down the problem a bit more and see how they think it adds up to a certain cost. There are often opportunities to point out and the question “what if we skipped this?” or maybe they made an assumption that influenced a higher cost. I often have to accept some padding to costs because there’s low confidence in the cost, and better to underpromise and overdeliver.
Advice for Aspiring Product Managers
What do you look for in a Product Management resume and/or candidate?
Looking for examples of creatively solving a complex problem and evidence of experience of being a good communicator. Those are the fundamentals of a great Product Manager.
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When asked in an interview, what would you describe as the value of a product or service?
- What’s the problem you’re trying to solve. Focus on the user/customer, not the cool idea of it.
- Is the problem BIG (really painful, or impacts a lot of people).
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What would you recommend as first steps when starting a new Product Management job in an early stage startup?
Take a fresh perspective and do NOT assume things were done a certain way for a specific reason. Have a skeptical eye for your user/customer journeys and how you’re seeing the team operate. Ask questions, absorb, and share what you learned. Don’t need to rock the boat early, just point out your observations and challenge if they’re working as intended or not.
Any advice for non technical Product Managers?
Many Product Managers don’t have technical degrees. If you get into an interview, it’s really about can you break down problems and understand how to communicate with an engineer more so than being a pseudo engineer. At least at Google, there is a shifting focus to hiring Product Managers with more strategic and analytical/insightful competency rather than technical competency.
Is it necessary to have an MBA to get started as Product Manager?
Some Product Management roles may be more business oriented than UX/feature oriented, but an MBA definitely is not necessary. I’d just say it’s beneficial.
Join us in our next #AskMeAnything Session for more insights!