How to Handle Data and Team Scalability With Zalando Product Manager

This week, Product School hosted Anamika Datta, Product Manager at Zalando for a special #AskMeAnything session. She answered questions on how to properly handle data, the scalability of teams at Zalando, and the secrets behind product launches.

Meet Anamika

Anamika is experienced with well-designed, intuitive experiences and products that solve customer problems and create business impact. Currently, she is a Product Manager at Zalando where she is responsible for Knowledge Exchange products. Prior to this, Anamika was a Product Lead at IBidmyHome, where she led the Product Discovery, Product Vision, and Roadmap for creating India’s first Reverse Bidding engine for real estate buyers.

Moreover, she was also a Site Merchandiser at Amazon, where she focused on enhancing user experience for Fine Jewellery category via customer-facing properties, leading to increased conversion and commercial metrics. In addition, Anamika worked in content Integration, Customer Experience, and Editorial Product at Flipkart. In the future, Anamika aspires to integrate her medical background and tech experience to solve meaningful problems that matter in the space of Personalized Healthcare, Wellness, Geriatric care, medical tourism and assisted Living.

” I’m finding that I’m doing more product marketing. Do you have any suggestions on how I can ask for more Product Management work?”

Yes, this happens sometimes when you find yourself juggling various responsibilities outside of core product, but depends on the size of the team/comp.

“Because Zalando already focused on online shopping, how did Product Management change during Covid-19?”

PM itself did not change during or due to the pandemic, but

1) the ways of working and,

2) the business priorities did shift to business continuity.

We also dealt with challenges like remote meetings and as you know some of the stand-ups and retros, we are used to doing offline. Therefore we had to quickly find and adapt to new tools and ways of working to continue BAU.

Laptop on coffee table for remote working

“Can you tell us a little bit more about Knowledge Exchange and what you’re doing at Zalando?”

Yes, as Zalando grows we find ourselves creating and innovating faster but in a distributed way. My team and I are working to ensure that the knowledge generated by teams throughout Zalando is available for other teams to build upon.
This includes tech solutions but also a cultural aspect, community building and training.

“How does your typical day go? Do you spend a lot of time in meetings?”

Yes, due to working from home I am only able to meet people on Hangouts. On a typical day I am in 3-5 meeting per day on average, although we at Zalando have a mindset: “Don’t meet because it’s Thursday” which is to say we try not to have meetings just for the sake of it.
Most of these are meetings with stakeholders and the engineering and design team, but also with external vendors, collaborating with other teams with shared goals and of course, our Product Stand Ups, Planning meetings, team retros, 1:1s and backlog refinement.

You might be interested in: Time Management Tips For Product Managers: How to Prioritize Your Work

knowledge dots

“What tools/software are PMs using at Zalando ?”

We have a set of designated tools from a compliance point of view. We use JIRA for ticketing and Confluence for non-technical documentation. We encourage Asana for Roadmapping and Mural for design boards and collaboration. Jamboards for digital whiteboarding, G Suite for internal communication, and internal tools for testing and data.

Check out: Design Tools for Product Managers in 2021

“Can you expand a bit on your experience and what did your career trajectory look like?”

Wow, that’s a journey I love to share. I started as a Dentist (yes, that’s why the Dr. title) and did my MBA, jumped straight into e-commerce from there, and learned my way into Product.

“What is your outlook for Zalando during the Amazon era?”

This is a billion Euro question. Amazon is a competitor, indeed but Zalando has the advantage of having specialised ourselves as the starting point for fashion in Europe. While Amazon goes wide in assortment with their multi category approach, we at Zalando have the depth and the specialised environment to create a fashion first experience for our customers, including filters, search terms, fit and sizing.

You might be interested in: Understanding Product Differentiation: A Product Manager’s Guide

“How does your academic background help you in your PM role?”

I think with dentistry I learnt organisation, attention to detail, time management and leadership skills, along with a scientific and experimental approach that helps in my role.
MBA teaches you business skills, of course and I also had my own company for a bit, that helped me understand how to be entrepreneurial. The best learning, of course, comes from actually doing and understanding the market from inside out.

tooth brush

“How do you handle the scalability of teams in such a big company like Zalando? When tasks require work of several teams, how do you synchronize them?”

When dealing with products and/or markets to scale, we first create the vision for the product. The vision is aligned with the Company’s vision and should ideally add to it. At Zalando we have a great leadership team and the company’s long-term strategy is transparently shared with every employee, therefore we know what the business is aiming for.
The vision is like creating the blueprint. We don’t build immediately. Next comes the part where we ascertain the high-impact areas and decide how and where we want to begin building. We start with a smaller scope, build out a prototype, experiment with it, learn quickly and find the right balance between overfitting and “not yet done.”
Scale happens later> an example would be: when trying to prove the efficacy of a recommendation engine I wouldn’t immediately pull in an AI team and spend months building the whole thing at scale: I would start with a logic-based algorithm, apply it to a selection, test it and prove it before I scale it.

colorful balls

“What would you say is the most fun part of being a PM?”

I think the part where every day you learn something new, for me, is one of the best moments. And oh, yes, it happens almost every day.
Other parts I find fun are customer research, demo sessions, and mapping strategy to work packets: it’s almost like taking a thought and turning it into something real and tangible: Of course, it’s always gratifying to have a feature/product release and watch it being used by users, that’s cool.

“Can you recommend any useful templates to improve / streamline a product owners daily tasks?”

Every PM has their own task management method I would say. I personally use Trello for task management. My calendar dictates everything for me too: I share it transparently with my team and everything I need to do goes in there. As for less granular goal management, I rely on my product Roadmap and make sure it is updated, flexible, and current to the product life cycle.

“What agile framework are you using at Zalando?”

At Zalando, we cultivate the 4D model which is derived from the double diamond in Design Thinking.
Discover: explorative research phase to understand the opportunity, market, competition and problem(s).
Define: Defining the right problem to solve and scoping it correctly based on the discovery learning. We don’t go into the solution space yet.
Design: Designing solution(s) based on the problems feasibility, usability, deciding upon the solution we want to go with, detailing the requirements and feature set.

data on screen

“How do you typically interact with data during your day-to-day? What tools do you use to query user behavior data, and how do you typically extract new product improvement ideas from the data?”

I use two types of data, if I may define it that way:

  1. Product Data – Usability, Usage, split and mapped to customer problems

2. Customer Data – Behavioral data, bounces, entry, search etc: events and actions undertaken by the customer mapped to user journey.

We have raw data as well as instrumentation for tracking but I have a team that helps me build dashboards that I visualise with them. Anything not directly requested on the dashboard I can query with SQL and thanks to the data team at Zalando, we have multiple reports already available on our MicroStrategy projectsfor commercial products In would also look at the commercial data with the business analytics team but since I work on an internal product these days I am not using this.

You might be interested in: The Difference: Qualitative vs Quantitative Data

“What you love most about working at Zalando”

Zalando has a truly open culture: You are encouraged to practice transparency. Innovation is rewarded, and as a techie there are multiple mentors and projects that can be exciting.
For me though it’s the human touch at Zalando that I love the most. Every team lead I have reported to, all my colleagues and stakeholders are super supportive. This was true during a personal crisis in my life and is also true now during the pandemic as Zalando ensures that the safety ands well being of Zalando is a priority.

“How do you work on product launch with product marketing? How do you work on user research with product design?”

Product Launches are about keeping promises: Marketing needs to be involved right from the beginning as they are close to the customer and the market and can be useful in defining the user needs along with the research teams and business stakeholders.
Features, problems that the product will solve, geographical targeting: all of these are shared with marketing in order for them to plan their campaigns well in advance, This is especially true for the intrigue phase of the marketing. In short, I would say continuous communication with marketing at various milestones that you can set with them beforehand is a way to go. Sometimes you can anticipate delays in the launch and these need to be communicated ASAP.

As for research, depending on the target audience (internal versus external product, enterprise versus Consumer facing) I plan the research with them. Together we define the research goals and research questions.

Join us next week for another #AskMeAnything Session for more insights from Product Managers around the world!

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