Season 4 - Episode 2

Expectations in Different Product Roles

Agatha Krajewski is the Director of Product at Shopify, an e-commerce platform to start, run, and grow a business. Agatha talks us through her day to day work as a Director of product, how to successfully work with others, tips for recent graduates wanting to join the Product Industry and more.

Agatha Krajewski Director of Product Shopify

Watch the Episode Here: Expectations in Different Product Roles

Question [00:05:45] What is your day to day like?

Agatha [00:05:50] It’s hard to talk about day-to-day. Cause I feel like every day and every week is completely different, but I think that’s also part of the role. So in terms of my day to day and my responsibilities, I lead the online store for Shopify. That’s the most mature and core product. When you think about the company, you think about the Shopify store: the merchant experience of setting up in your online store, as well as the buyer experience of interacting with it. Beyond that, it’s the email marketing product, that’s the net new product. 

So my day to day looks at how we have broken down the online store and email marketing into different subgroups. I’ve got a product leadership team that’s split between those different pillars. Depending on the area and the investments we’re doing between those different key initiatives within the product organization and between my group, I might be more on a strategic advisory role helping to make sure that the roadmap we’re building out two years out is aligned with the long term growth and opportunity that we see within the market for that area. So it’s more around strategic advisory guidance and growth. 

In other areas, we’re talking about major infrastructure rebuilds of core components that impact the million-plus merchants that are on the platform. So there I might get into a much deeper kind of understanding and not just the strategic direction of that rebuild, but getting into the details of what is it that we’re building, how do we scope up the MVP, what do we need to define,  who do we need to work with across Shopify. In most companies, nothing is done in a singular lens of one particular team. As your company grows, there are interdependencies across all these different teams. So you’re aligning your stakeholders, making sure that everybody’s aligned with the vision of what you’re building, but then you’re also making the right technical decisions and compromises on whatever your first MVP is.

So I might be going into a meeting where we’re talking about resource and headcount planning like a year out as part of our investment portfolio for the big things we want to focus on. And then I may be going into very tactical conversation about use cases and, um, analyzing to say, is this something that should be within the first MVP scope or not? Beyond that, I would say aside from the day to day product work, most of my time is then spent aligning with other product leaders or leadership individuals across Shopify to make sure that we’re all working on a cohesive Shopify strategy and that we’re all talking apples to apples. So I’m not working on something in silo when somebody else is working in silo. So, the bridging gaps and referencing different people to other parts of the organization when they’re talking about a particular feature that they’re building, to connect the dots so that everybody’s working towards one overall goal, and we’re not duplicating efforts towards that vision.

You might also be interested in: Day in the Life of a Director of Product at Macy’s — Alumni Stories

Women working together
Question [00:08:30] Do you have any secret tactics that you use to make those connections happen?

Agatha [00:08:36] First you’ve got to have relationships. It’s so much easier to have a frank and serious conversation about priorities if you have some sort of a relationship with that person. That could be even just a video call, especially in this world now, to check-in so that you have a face behind the voice or behind the name that you’re messaging, and just check alignments with different people. So, checking in and seeing how your teams can help those teams align with their objectives always gives you a big advantage when you, as a team, need help from that other group. 

Beyond that, having synthesized (I’m a huge proponent of frameworks and structure, everybody on my team knows that I’m a very structured person), so having a synthesized overview of your roadmap with a clear objective. I mean, we all know that roadmaps change all the time so you can’t commit to everything on the top of your roadmap, but it’s a great way for people to know what you’re thinking. And at the current state and time, what is your future plan? So it helps to build the trigger. So anybody at any point in time on a different part of the business can take a look at your roadmap or your strategic plans and see how aligned they are and raise questions with you when they’re uncertain.I think between communicating broadly and sharing your plans and making it accessible, making it clear that you’re not a walled garden within what you’re doing with the individual team but being very open and transparent about your work, and then having those spot relationships between different people. You don’t have to have a relationship with everyone in the company, but you have a relationship with someone they’ve got relationships with other people and all of a sudden you’ve got your network of the entire business to be able to lean towards different individuals. If you need to get something deliberate or aligned, or even just to get feedback and gut checks on what you’re thinking about prioritizing.

You might also be interested in: Product Management Skills: Influence Without Authority

You can't be a successful product manager if you don't have influence and respect
Question [00:17:56] How were you able to guide the team if they weren’t like directly reporting to you?

Agatha [00:18:16] Well, partially I was still in the senior leadership group. So I was still at a senior leadership level. So obviously I had influenced people’s compensation performance and the like, but more than anything, it was very much around influence and respect. You can’t be a successful product manager if you don’t have that. I mean, from step one, when you’re a product manager on a team, at the first level of your career, you don’t manage the people that you work with. You lead through influence and you lead through passion and buy-in from that group towards the vision you’re building Whether you’re a product manager who’s working as a member of a team, or whether you’re a director of product or VP or head of product at the company, you have the product group reporting to you, but you don’t have the engineers, you don’t have the go-to-market. Sometimes you do, but not always. You don’t have UX, you don’t have the whole company rallied. So you have to be the salesperson that person who rallies and motivates everybody around it. So it wasn’t any different than had I had all those people reporting to me. It made my job a little bit easier, because I could really focus on the nutty problems to make this product successful without dealing with the day to day people management components, but rather focus on mentorship. But beyond that, there really wasn’t much difference in lack of influence because at that point you’ve already matured and been able to create that rally around the vision and strategy that you are building.

Woman graduating
Question [00:28:16] Do you have any words of advice for people who are looking to start their careers now, especially in product?

When I think about product managers, I would say, get familiar with the different types of problems that product managers solve for. There’s examples for going deep, I think about my checkout world it’s a very definitive answer. You either charge the person correctly, you’ve taxed them correctly and then the transaction is complete. It’s a black and white yes or no, whether it was successful. To get to that state though it’s an extremely complex web of interdependencies and internal infrastructures that we need to build out. Someone who would excel in that role is someone who likes to go deep into a problem and in fact, we can get quite technical in that space. 

I would say get familiar with the different types of problems that product managers have to solve for.

Versus, if I think about our email marketing product, there is no ‘this is the right way to do email marketing’.It’s a subjective product. It means that you need to define your innovative positioning compared to the competitors in the market. So it’s a different kind of perspective and product. So I would say one has to think about those different kinds of perspectives, which is the one that you think you’re more specialized in, or you think you would be more successful. Is it bringing structure to a very unstructured problem, or is it going deep into a complex problem and understanding all of the kinds of edge cases and complexities. Different personalities kind of fit better between those two spectrums. So if you can figure out that, then that already gives you a clear answer as to what kind of roles you could be interested in. It also helps you position yourself as a strong candidate for one of those two lenses.

New graduates coming out of college, you’re kind of like dough, in a way you can be molded based on the experiences that you get to become specialized in one part of the craft or other part of the craft. I would say, be open to the opportunities around you from a product perspective because in every type of product challenge, whether it’s in technology or not, you still gain a lot of the core product management fundamentals. So it’s not an easy or kind of clear cut answer, but those would be some of the things I would recommend that you kind of think about it a little bit from a product perspective and in your interviews. When you do get to a point of doing an interview, remember that it’s just as much you validating if the fit is a good fit for you as it is for the company.

You actually get to understand your own way of doing product management, because we all do it a little bit differently

And a big part of it is culture fit within the business. Understand how the manager thinks, will the manager be there to mentor you. As a person entering that group mentorship is so incredibly important. Is this a person that will help guide you and teach you kind of their ways of product management? And that’s to me so key because it’s through multiple different managers or leaders and learning their different frameworks that you get to understand your way of doing product management, because we all do it a little bit differently.

We’ll be back next week with Yuliya Malysh from Miro with even more of the latest insights from the Product Management world.

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