A PM’s Perspective – The Do’s and Don’ts of Scaling Product Management

Editor’s note: the following was written by a guest blogger. If you have product management/tech industry experience, and would like to contribute to the blog, please contact ellen@productschool.com

Two weeks ago, as I sat eating lunch on a sunny London afternoon, my husband asked me, “How are you getting along in your role as a PM?”. “uitdagend, maar lonend!”, I quipped. That means ‘challenging, but rewarding’ in Afrikaans, the language I learnt growing up in South Africa. It summarizes not only the scale of the only B2B payments scene but also the rewarding journey of scaling products and teams. 

Before joining the PM team, I worked in Payment Operations, where the focus was to ensure efficient and effective flow of payments. As the business continued to scale impressively, doubling the transaction volumes year on year, the tasks became increasingly strenuous. Manual tasks which seemed manageable at launch quickly became complex. We needed more resources to do the same tasks to ensure the customer and the business would not be impacted.  Something needed to change.

Our operations teams continued revising processes and leaning more on technology to ensure the team and its capabilities scale with the growth of the business.  As I moved to Product, it took me a few months to truly understand that while technology and processes are two key components in one function, scaling Product required a different approach.

Let us talk about the payments industry and some numbers. 2020 saw the Faster Payments system break the record for the highest volume of payments processing in a single year, beating the previous record of £2.4 billion by £ 410 million. What is a Faster Payment? In the UK, all payments instructed using your mobile banking app or internet banking is a Faster Payment. 

Think IMPS in India, SEPA Instant in the EU and The Clearing House Real-Time payments in the US. To sustain such volumes whilst keeping the customer experience top-notch, failure-rates down to minimum and deliver on new capabilities requires a strong emphasis on how we scale; across people, processes, priorities, and performance – see what I did there? 😊 

This is where I believe there are certain principles that Product Managers, teams, and the organization must consistently strengthen and reinforce to scale. By no means am I an expert in claiming that these tenets are all that are needed to scale; but I have found that our teams and I have always been able to build better products for the customer when we have these five principles in mind.

man sitting in front of the MacBook Pro

Team and Culture 

The culture, when it works, can bring together the entire organization, product, and everyone to a common way of working that everyone largely subscribes to. You would get the same consistency in quality, results, and cooperation no matter which team you work in or with. The culture, when broken, can diminish your sense of productivity and create dissonance between teams, hindering operating and building at scale. At Modulr, I like the hustle, the speed, and the sheer industry knowledge that Modulites collectively possess.

The same goes for working with your team manager or supervisor. Combined with the culture, your dynamics with your manager makes or breaks your motivation and longevity in the organization. A great manager will acknowledge and celebrate your strengths, work with you on your weaknesses and your career plan, all with the highest levels of civility. Find that manager and grow with them. When you stay, growing at scale has one less variable to be affected by.

You might also be interested in: Building a Culture of Safety as a PM with HubSpot’s Director of Product

A few Dos

  • Do engage with your People and Leadership team to understand the purpose, mission and vision of the organization.
  • Do understand what the culture is. You should be there if you believe in it.

A few Don’ts

  • Don’t stay for the paycheck. You should be able to love where you work and what you work on. 
  • Don’t tolerate negativity. Your backlog and priorities have no time for it.

A Consistent Prioritisation Framework 

Talk to your stakeholders, your manager and the senior leadership depending on the structure of your organisation. Try to work with the other PMs to build a common prioritization framework for validating feature demand. Get this framework accepted in the organisation through consensus and then move quickly in communicating that. You will see the benefits of aligning all teams to a common set of rules, a form of checks and balances before they seek the most precious thing of them all: engineering bandwidth. Thus,

A few Dos

  • Do observe world-class companies and how they work. Look for what fits your industry and customers. 
  • Do re-visit your framework when it shows signs of incompatibility with the org needs 

A few Don’ts

  • Don’t constantly change your framework to satisfy stakeholders. It will be far more counter-productive for your company and customer goals.

Automate by Design 

A good Product Manager will build features that delight customers. A great Product Manager with scale in mind, will build capabilities that delight the customers and satisfy internal stakeholders. Talk to your Operations, Engineering and DevOps and ask where the underlying design would have manual components and what would it take to automate them. Have an Automation first mindset. Traditional approaches include starting with a human-run operation, automating as much activity as possible and figuring out what to do with the additional bandwidth people have.

Using the automation first approach means you begin with automating as much as possible, then bring in people to do the tasks that digital labour cannot handle. This change in mindset enables a fundamentally new way to approach business problems, operational strategy, and the definition of improvement goals.

A few Dos

  • Do engage with the non-Product teams early in the design process and identify bottlenecks to scale.
  • Do learn about automation from your peers. You can use this card 50 meetings later 😊 

A few Don’ts

  • Don’t obsess over automation. It sounds counter-intuitive, yes; but unless you have unlimited engineering bandwidth, trade-offs will be made for time-to-market. Just remember to pick up the smaller manual bits when the dust settles.

Feedback at Scale 

There are no perfect tools for Product Management. If someone claims they have found the best one ever, please call me at 2am the dead of the night and let me know. But that does not stop us from setting and reinforcing feedback loops that feed the backlog with customer demands, stakeholder needs, platform and market trends. You may have social media, community support, customer support, direct calls, emails, analytics, meeting notes, leadership steers, tech ticketing tools and your favourite productivity formats. Find a way to create a system of record that serves as the single source of truth for all needs. Thus,

A few Do’s

  • Do find a system of record for the Product Management team if you are starting up. If you are joining an existing PM team, try bringing a tool that unifies all feedback loops into one.
  • Do delegate feedback from stakeholders and customers using the tool. That’s the only way to collect feedback at scale.

A few Don’ts

  • Don’t neglect having a framework to prioritise at scale. Your prioritization framework and tool should talk to each other to parse through the volumes of feedback and ideas to pick up broad patterns, problem statements and needs.

Transparent KPIs 

When it comes to KPIs, it is important to understand what to measure. Setting clear OKRs (Objective, Key Results) will not only inform the KPIs that measure performance but will also ensure the organization is aligned. OKRs need alignment across the org and everyone needs to play a part that they organically roll up to the company OKRs. If you don’t have OKRs in your org, it isn’t the end of the world. If there is a clear goal that you can align your prioritization framework with, the metrics become relatively clear.

For example, if your B2C org wants to acquire new customers in a newly launched market, your KPIs should be squarely aligned with Acquiring New Customers. Look for secondary KPIs that directly contribute to the primary metric. Think of acquisition channels, conversion rates, device types among others. And make them transparent and accessible to everyone in the org. Thus,

A few Do’s

  • Do check for data sanity and accuracy. There is no point of surfacing data that has errors baked in.

A few Don’ts

  • Don’t come up with a sea of KPIs. You will hypnotize yourself and your stakeholders. Try splitting the primary and secondary KPIs.  

Let me wrap up with my favourite meme.

Yoda: Communication, the key is

Be it customers, stakeholders, or your team. Just do it and over-do it when you can.As I’m wrapping this up, my next sprint meeting beckons. I hope you can take away something helpful from this write-up. I am still new to product management and learning the ropes. I would love to hear what works in your team and company when we talk about scaling, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn. Modulr is scaling, if you are interested in joining our team, have a browse through our current vacancies.

Meet the Author: Schandre Terblanche

Schandre Terblanche

I am a Product Manager at Modulr, the payments alternative for digital business and an all-round payments enthusiast. My payments experience stems from an operational background and so user experience is always at the forefront of my mind. Feel free to get in touch with me to chat about what it’s like to work at Modulr or even joining the Modulr team!

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