The Source of Product Ideas by Airbnb Product Manager

This week Product School hosted Azad Zahoory, Product Manager at Airbnb, for an #AskMeAnything session. He talks us through how to create trust in an organization, user feedback that drives product decisions, recommendations, and more!

Meet Azad Zahoory

Azad is an excellent Product Manager who truly cares about e-commerce. He thinks deeply and broadly about how to build a great product and is extremely good at articulating his ideas. Currently, he’s a Product Manager at Airbnb. Prior to his current role, Azad was a Principal Product Manager at Walmart Labs. He first gained experience as a Software Engineer working at eBay, then later transitioned to a Product Manager role. 

PM Processes: User Feedback, Stakeholders, Priorities and More!

How do you capture user feedback and use it to drive future product decisions?

This is a great question. My strategy is to:

  1. Understand where user feedback can come from.

User feedback can be found in:

  1. CS/CX tickets
  2. User flags / User reports
  3. Social Media

2. Decipher it in a way that can be insightful. I would partner with a user researcher, and perhaps other team members in order to synthesize the user feedback to find trends. For example, is there a bug that we are missing? If we were to implement a specific feature, will it reduce X customer contacts and thus save money?

You also might be interested in: Best Ways to Analyze and Implement CX Changes Based on Customer Feedback

customer feedback

What is your process for getting buy-in from senior management for new initiatives?

The process is a combination of the following:

  1. Explain the vision for the team and how the initiative is in line with the vision
  2. Explain the value add of the initiative, either in $ impact or indirect impact e.g. customer lifetime value or reduction in customer contacts
  3. Explain how the initiative is connected with other initiatives in the organization
  4. Explain how it can unlock other streams of value not yet found today
vision

How do you scope your work? How do you navigate changes to a priorities list when external dynamics require doing so?

Typically, a product manager will operate in three time scales: In “crisis” mode, the near term and the long term. It is easy to get bogged down in “crisis” mode and only focus on things that require your attention today, but you have to carve out time for “near term” (this quarter’s deliverables) and long term (strategic seeds for the future).

In terms of navigating changes to priorities, for these – you have to:

1. Be clear with yourself and your team that these changes are the right pivots to make.

2. Be clear with your management that these pivots are happening or if the ask is from management, be clear with them what your team will not be delivering because of these pivots.

Product Experience: Advice, Issues, and Authority

Who do you think has the most ideas for a new product? Engineering, Management, Sales? In general what is source for idea generation, I believe it isn’t the always the PM.

I learned this early in my career from a PM VP that I had. Before I met him, I thought that the PMs must be the source of all good ideas (which is quite the intimidating task if you ask me), but his advice to PMs was: PMs must be the curator of great ideas.

Great ideas can come from your own team (eng, data science, design, product marketing manager, etc.), customer support, executives, competitive research of others in your space, social media, blog posts, anywhere! Your job, as the PM, is to have a framework to judge these ideas and to be able to sift through the sand and to find the gold.

creating ideas

I’m an aspiring PM and currently working with a team on a side project, we trying to plan our roadmap but finding it difficult to focus on the right things at first. What would be your recommendation in this situation and what are the practical steps we should take at this stage?

I would recommend you conduct a “design sprint” to see:

1) What are the most impactful streams of work you want to go after? It would be good if you presented a vision of the side project to the team, and based on that vision, you pre-seeded the team with some strategic pillars and tactics you all can go after. Based on that, you can lead the team in some brainstorming, you can look up “design sprint” and “how might we” exercises.

2) What are the ways of working you want to adopt as a team? It is good to have a process in place. For example, how often do you all want to meet as a team? Do you want to adopt a project management software e.g. JIRA, Asana, or Google Docs?

How do you go about creating trust across the organization to get stuff done, when teams have different priorities and objectives and you have no formal authority on any of them?

It all comes down to communication:

  1. Explaining to stakeholders : Teams that you are dependent on, as well as teams you are not dependent on, explaining the value behind what you are doing to the company. What is the financial impact of what you are doing? What is the customer impact of what you are doing? What is the UX/technical impact of what you are doing? What value are you unlocking?
  2. Listening, and understanding what other teams and other stakeholders care about. What drives other teams? What metrics matter to them? Proving and showing to the organization that you are aware of what they care about, and that you will positively impact their worlds which will inspire them or put them at ease.
  3. Prove that you and your team are good at what you do! If you can start to show that you can deliver on small projects, you will be trusted with the big ones!

You also might be interested in: Communication Secrets for Product Leaders

communication

I have a deep interest for CX & Service Design, especially working on online and physical experiences or services. How can one showcase this or become a CX PM ?

I would look for companies that are in this space and look at the problems they have. Try to imagine the problems they are solving day to day. How would you solve those problems? What vision would you have for that product? What strategy would you implement?

Next step would be to look for job openings and to apply, but even building the muscle of thinking in this space is super valuable to eventually land a role in this space.

For bonus points, the other thing you can do – if you are super ambitious – is to build a product that would help in this problem area! Working on such a side project will make you look amazing when you are being considered for a role in this space.

What are some of the issues you face as a PM and how do you go about fixing those issues?

One example is ambiguity when a project request comes in. When there is a request to do a project, I ask the following questions:

1. Is it in line with my team’s vision/mission?

2. Are we the appropriate team to do the work?

3. Does the project have the correct ROI to prioritize this right now?

4. Is the solution actually the right solution, or do we need to take a step back and to consider the problem and then come up with a simpler solution?

How do you effectively manage your time in highly stressed environments? What advice would you give to other PMs to stay focused on the right thing?

Just remember why you do what you do. I remember I do what I do for the success of the company’s mission, and for the success of my team. I love my team and would do anything for them, so when I remember them, much of the stress lifts off of my shoulders. 

team work

Before we go, do you have any final advice for aspiring Product Managers

Some final words I will leave with you:

  1. Believe in yourself: Do not get into the business of comparing your resume with others and asking yourself if you “deserve” a given role or not. Know that you all deserve success and if you work hard, you will get it.
  2. Work hard: Whether it is sending 5 more applications than you had planned on doing, or spending 3 more hours prepping for interviews, or taking on an ambitious side project, a wise person once said, “if you give good effort, you will get ok results” “if you give excellent effort, you will get good results” and “if you put in awe-inspiring amounts of effort, you will get back excellent results”. So bottom line, we have to work hard to get the results. 
  3. Keep learning: Whether it is through Product School AMAs, or other resources, or your friends, keep learning about Product Management and how to become a better PM.
  4. Find a mentor: Having people in the field to bounce ideas off of – both from a career perspective, and from a product perspective, is super valuable

For more insights on Product Management, join us for our next #AskMeAnything session! 

ship it book

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