Thinking Like a Product Manager

This week, Product School hosted Eleni Sharp, Executive Product Manager at BBC, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Eleni answered questions regarding prioritisation, customer feedback, and how to deliver value.

About Eleni

Eleni Sharp, Executive Product Manager at BBC

Eleni is an experienced Executive Product Manager at BBC, part of the R&D team. She is leading projects that use emerging data and technology to serve millions of users.

She has been with BBC for many years in different roles, and has worked towards adding a diverse set of new functions, features, and formats across BBC’s web services with as many as 500 companies.

She works closely with clients to get a deep understanding of their audience and needs in order to create tactical relationships that yield the best possible results for everyone.

What does “thinking like a product manager” mean?

I always thought being a mixed skillset/not a specialist was a bad thing but that’s what makes a good PM in my opinion: a good mix of editorial, tech, creative, marketing, legal knowledge, and being that person who has the communication skills to pull everyone together.

mix of colors

What do you look for in a product manager?

 I am always flexible with background (tech, creative, marketing), so mostly I’m looking for experience working as a PM in a similar industry, then it’s personality, they must be positive, can-do attitude and I need to know they will fit into the team.

How can I transition into product management?

Try and get involved in the produce management community, and also see if there are any opportunities in your current role to gain PM skills—or perhaps look to do a placement.

Check out: Transitioning to Product Management From ANY Background

Can a UX designer transition to product management?

A UX’er could absolutely transition to a PM role, I’ve seen it done. But often they have found the compromise hard as you are pulled in so many directions as a PM, and are not just focused on the UX.

As a product marketer coming from a non-technical background, how can I transition into a PM?

 I’m from a non-tech background as well, so don’t let that put you off,  I think being a PM from a marketing or creative background actually sets you apart. Just make sure you are confident speaking to engineers and understand development processes such as Kanban or Agile inside out.

How important is being technical for this role?

I was actually creative, Art school and design degree! I started work in marketing and design companies as client managers and project managers then naturally moved across and love it. Some PM roles are technical some less so, either way, you need to work well with engineers and speak their language even if you don’t code.

Read next: Product Managers and Technical Skills…What’s The Deal?

What is your biggest challenge for delivering value?

I think the first thing to do, which is the most challenging is actually defining what you mean by value. It can be so many things, and is different for every organisation.

light brown box with dark blue ribbon against tan background

BBC has a broad variety of content. How do you decide what shows up on a given web page/mobile home page?

We start with the user as well as the business need. For example, the BBC wants us to show a wide range of content for 16-35’s so that would then determine what type of content we provide. We would also design to that brief using design sprints and user testing.

What are some tips for balancing the voice of the customer vs. the vision of the product team when prioritizing what to build next? 

Yes it can be hard, but ideally they wouldn’t be too conflicting. The customer should always be driving your requirements and priorities. 

It’s tough to do the day-to-day development and vision work at the same time. In the past we have actually stopped everything to focus on the vision, because as a PM it’s hard to have the headspace to do both.

You might also be interested in: User Research to Validate Product Ideas

What do you do when there is a resource crunch but the deliverables can’t be changed?

If you have fewer people, and the deliverables can’t be changed,  options are: outsource bring in a contractor or agency to help you, or the timings will have to move—it’s important to be really clear about what is and isn’t possible with stakeholders and set clear expectations.

What are some of the best ways to get feedback from your customers? How often are you “talking” with them?

Loads of ways, we do focus groups, 1 to 1 interviews, online communities etc.  I also have a product called Taster where people can give their feedback.

When I am in a design and develop stage of the product development process I speak to real users every week.

Is there a system or set of criteria you apply for prioritisation?

Yep, we have criteria including things like audience value, tech feasibility, BBC value, Innovative etc. Also when I’m working with new product concepts and need to decide what to prototype—although sometimes you also have to just go with your instinct!

Check out: Common Product Prioritization Mistakes

How do you solve a problem in the product workflow once you’ve identified it?

tv screen in front of flowing river

If you know what the problem is, that’s a good thing.

I would then run a workshop with the team, pulling out some ‘How Might We’s’ to frame the challenge/opportunity. It’s then about ideating and testing out as quickly as possible with audiences, even if it’s just paper prototypes to start with. You can always AB test if you wanted further confirmation when you have built the solution.

How would you define a successful collaboration with UX designers given that there is overlap with PM roles?

Yes, these lines can be blurred, but that’s ok I think. It’s important to set out everyone’s roles and responsibilities at the start of a project—including all decision-making.

Any final advice?

My final piece of advice is to get close to and collaborate with great people who you will learn from and grow with. Good luck everyone with your product journey :aplauso:

Side hustle learning path

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