Cassidy Fein is a Senior Product Manager at Echo360, a lecture capture and behavioural analytics platform for higher learning institutions and continuing education. With over 7 years in product management, she loves making things users love and shaming products that succumb to dark patterns.
Cassidy is currently based in Wilmington, NC and primarily works remotely, however, her second home is a plane. She regularly works out of Echo’s London, Perth, DC, and NYC offices. Cassidy has earned her Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University in Radio/Television/Film.
Apart from building web and mobile products that users love, Cassidy is advising through the WAVE program at Built By Girls, helping the next generation of female leaders, builders, and creators to step boldly into careers powered by technology.
How did you decide to move into remote roles? What are some challenges you face working remotely. Do you have any suggested platforms resources that you can recommend to help find remote roles?
I tapered into a remote role from going into the office a few days a week to fully remote about three years ago. It can be tricky if your company doesn’t have an existing remote culture (or a healthy culture!), and there are definitely differences and things to keep in mind when you do work fully remotely.
I wouldn’t recommend trailblazing as the sole remote person on a team – it can get lonely and hard to ensure you’re not missing day to day things in the office – but I’ve loved working remotely and think that if a company can support a healthy remote culture they generally tend to have a healthier than average culture overall.
As for resources, a few of my favorites are Blair Reeves’ blog – these are a few of his posts I regularly re-read specific to working remotely:
How do you do requirements gathering / product discovery while being remote? Are there any challenges in doing so while being remote?
The same way I would if I wasn’t remote We’re a B2B SaaS platform and the majority of our customers are across the globe, so I do user research and include findings, prototyping, hypothesis validation, etc. with various online tools. Zoom, Slack, JIRA, Confluence, Balsamiq, InVision, and Zeplin are all tools I use daily.
The biggest challenge I’d say is communication – communicate again, and again, and then one more time just to be sure! I always keep my video on when conferencing to ensure you get those visual cues and not just audio when discussing especially sensitive matters with customers and employees.
What is the most important advice you have to offer to females in tech, specifically in the product space?
Oh man, great question. Hard to pick just one, but if I could pick a few…
1. Know that you’re not alone! There are SO many great communities for women in product. I’m a big fan of the Women In Product group.
2. Be aware of biases you could face and don’t be afraid to bring them to light. A lot of times people will act in entrenched manners that they won’t even realize (e.g. if you are the only woman in a meeting, the expectation that you will take and share notes, or that you will send out the next meeting invite). If you can gently call them out (e.g. “That’s a great idea – who will take notes for this meeting?”) it can help make everyone more aware.
What strengths, experience, skills did you leverage to land your first product manager role? Assuming you did not start your career in product.
It’s a running joke with my PM friends that all PMs have that “wacky’ story of how they got into PM
I started as a “jack of all trades” at a (at the time) smaller company called NewsCred that had just raised a Series A and needed to just get stuff done. It was almost like a mini rotational program and helped me realize the sweet spot between things that I like, things that I don’t like, things that I’m good at, and things that I’m not so great at. I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to grow with the team from employee #7 all the way to 200+ before moving on to formal PM roles.
The biggest strengths were knowing what I don’t know, honesty, earnestness, and empathy. A PM really connects so many parts of a business (Design, Engineering, Sales, Customer Success, Marketing) that it’s vital that people feel they can come to you and be open and honest. If not…you’re going to have a bad time.
How do you decide whether to develop new features or not, and if it yes which steps do you follow for the new feature?
Validation, validation, validation!
It should be part of your development process to ensure you understand:
- The pain point or workflow of the user(s), if the feature is a request from an existing user
- The competitive landscape
- Your 1 month, 1 year, and 5 year goals and how your team’s generated OKRs roll up to broader business goals (generally set by VPs or CEO)
From there, your hypotheses of how to solve these problem(s) should be validated as quickly and deeply as possible, whether it’s through rapid prototyping and user testing, cohorts with existing customers, and through internal reviews.
What are the roadblocks you have encountered with Analytics with Educational institutions and how have you overcome them? Can you provide some examples. What is the business use case in the real world apps?
The biggest roadblock we see is that customers are totally overwhelmed with the volume of data they need to parse and “translate” in order for it to be acted upon. With thousands of students and already overworked instructors, unless a school has dedicated resources or motivated instructors to crunch the numbers, they can be ignored.
We work with all of our customers to ensure they understand the benefit of making available data actionable and are helping shape and connect communities of instructors across the globe that are creating really interesting processes and outputs.
What is the biggest challenge you face on a day to day basis?
Saving myself time to eat lunch
If you were feeling in a bit of a slump with your current role, what would you do to turn it around and deliver something valuable and impressive to your company?
I’d dig in and see why I’m feeling so schlumpy. Do you feel burnt out? Do you feel like you don’t understand your users and their needs? Are your businesses’ broader goals unclear or shifting often (e.g. have you pivoted multiple times in a single year)? It’s important to figure out the root cause rather than leaning into it.
I’m reading the book “Inspired, how to create tech products customers love” by Marty Cagan, and multiple times he mentions PM’s working 60 hours a week. Is that something that resonates with your experience?
I have a hard time agreeing with any set amount of time one “should” work in order to be successful. There are weeks where I work late nights and early mornings, especially to accommodate our customers and employees in APAC and Europe, and there are weeks where I’m able to wrap up my latest update on a feature hypothesis fairly early in the day and step away to take a breather, play with my dog, and find some space to think about the larger things. If you don’t give yourself time to breathe and think deeply, you’re going to get lost in the day to day and minutiae.
How did a bachelor’s degree in Radio/television/film help you land a job as a Product Manager? i.e. I have the same background and it is difficult to picture a smooth transition.
Directly? It…didn’t. Indirectly? I learned a lot about managing TONS of different personalities with different priorities in chaotic environments, which applies pretty nicely to the PM role.
In regards to getting buy-in/approval for new features, do you have a particular process in getting sign-off on projects, or making sure that you have gathered the required information from all relevant stakeholders when scoping out projects/features?
A few points here – make sure you have the right people involved from the start. I’ve seen varying success with implementing the RACI model but it has the right spirit (https://www.teamgantt.com/blog/raci-chart-definition-tips-and-example)
Once you’ve validated all the right people are there, I’d ensure you’re including relevant stakeholders at every step of the way, not just the beginning or the end, otherwise you’re going to get the dreaded “swoop and poop”. I actually did a talk on this at the NYC Product School recently – I’d recommend having a watch.
Do you have any last minute advice for prospective PMs?
I’d just say there are nearly endless paths to becoming a PM – don’t feel like just because you don’t have an MBA, or didn’t do an APM program that you can’t become a PM and all is lost. The path I’ve seen most often (and successfully utilized) – think about your company and what product(s) or feature(s) that could use some love. Reach out to the PM, or in the case there isn’t one, start working on it like you already are the PM. It’s great experience and will show you can do the work… and at worst, it’s something you can talk through in interviews when you’re looking for that official PM role. Good luck out there!