I recently shared some of my favorite quotes from the Women in Product 2018 Conference. For the product management newbie out there, I thought I would also share some of the best tactical tools that were shared.
My favorite insights and tools came from Nisha Victor at Intuit. She shared her customer-driven approach to product management focusing on that point where:
1. important, unsolved customer problems intersect with
2. our ability to solve for those problems and
3. build a competitive advantage.
Nisha shared how Intuit solves these problems and “design for delight”. They start by building deep customer empathy with customer interviews and observations to truly understand not only what people say but also what they do, how they think and even how they feel.
When digging for insights Nisha boils it all down:
Once Nisha and her team have settled on the Customer Problem Statement they begin the potential product brainstorming process “going broad to go narrow.” Her brainstorming tips include:
Nisha is planning to post her presentation online soon and when she does I’ll plan to share it here! You can read more about the conference here.
If you use a different approach to drafting Customer Problem Statements or to solution brainstorming please share!
Recently I had the honor of speaking with a group of local leaders about how to create more inclusive work environments (thank you, GCHRA!). We spent the morning discussing how diverse teams offer the ‘trifecta’ of great product management: more innovation, better problem solving, and greater customer empathy.
I’ve been incredibly lucky to have a firsthand view of the exceptional performance that diverse teams can achieve. My product teams who developed the most innovative products and far exceeded our profit targets were also the most diverse. And, yes, we were diverse in gender, ethnicity, age and sexual orientation but we were also diverse in our cognitive thinking styles, our socioeconomic backgrounds and our skills. My career experience has shown this much to be true: diversity, of all kinds, leads to better products.
Because of my positive experiences building and leading incredibly diverse teams, I love to engage organizations in conversations about how to improve their own diversity and inclusion. Most often, they simply want advice on where to start.
Not surprisingly, unconscious bias training has become one of the most popular first steps that companies take to improve diversity and inclusion. For example, interest in “unconscious bias training” hit a historic high earlier this year when Starbucks announced they would close more than 8,000 stores for one day to conduct unconscious bias training.
But, the research on the effectiveness of this training is lukewarm, at best. Some studies conclude that these trainings can have an adverse or no impact on diversity, while other studies show a slightly positive impact.
So, if unconscious bias trainings don’t increase diversity, where should product leaders start? Here’s what I’ve learned from helping clients tackle this complex topic, leading to real results:
1) Set goals and hold people accountable – The primary finding in last month's 2018 McKinsey Women in the Workplace Report is:
“Articulating a business case, setting goals and reporting on progress, and rewarding success are key to driving organizational change.” Yes, this report focuses on how to improve gender diversity, but setting specific targets and holding leaders accountable for hitting these targets is critical for improving all forms of diversity.
I know this is controversial. But, many of the leading employers of product management talent (LinkedIn, WalMart, Intel, etc.) are setting goals, sharing them publicly and seeing real improvements in the diversity of their workforces. They are also teaching the rest of us how to effectively set targets without sacrificing quality or putting themselves at risk of reverse discrimination.
2) Change your management processes to mitigate unconscious bias- Put the necessary mechanisms (and people) in place to catch bias before it impacts outcomes. This means redesigning processes to limit the impact of bias, especially the processes surrounding recruiting, performance management, and selecting employees for development opportunities.
3) Invest in developing, promoting and rewarding inclusive behaviors– Our leaders should be trained on how to practice inclusive behaviors including creating ‘psychological safety’ on teams, ensuring that all team members are invited to speak up and be heard, coaching all team members with candor, and sharing credit for success. We need to develop a new model of what a good leader looks like and train our leaders to be, first and foremost, inclusive.
4) Don’t be afraid to ask questions and admit what you don’t know. We’re in challenging times. There’s lots of confusion and uncertainty around how to have conversations about race and gender and gender-identity. But the good news is people are talking about it. Have courageous conversations at your company. If you’re not comfortable leading the discussion, find someone who is. They’ll be glad you asked.
Let me know - how have you successfully created more diversity in your product teams?
Recently I had the opportunity to speak at ProductCamp Cincinnati about helping more women succeed in product management roles. My recent trip to the annual Women in Product conference inspired me to start a local discussion about how to increase the number of women in product leadership roles.
As Ryan Willging, organizer of this year’s ProductCamp Cincinnati wisely pointed out:
“(This issue) is one that is highlighted in “developer” culture but has yet to permeate “product” culture — but it should. Diversity in teams has been shown to be nothing but positive and doing everything we can to encourage women to enter product is beneficial.”
Studies estimate about 35% of Product Management professionals in the U.S. are women. On the surface, that number does not seem awful, but most of those 35% are concentrated in entry-level product management roles. As they move up to Director, VP, and Chief Product Officer roles, the percentage of women rapidly declines. As a result, junior female product managers lack role models and, even worse, face unconscious bias, a lack of respect, and isolation.
While there is much we all can do to improve the pipeline of women going into Product, I want to focus first on how women currently in PM roles can help themselves thrive and ascend to higher Product roles. This starts with taking larger career risks, resisting the urge to 'people please,' and improving work-life blend.
Take Career Risks
A (female) CEO recently shared with me that she was struggling to find women candidates for her new VP of Product role. She told the recruiter she did not want to see a slate until it included a woman and she was personally calling up women and asking them to apply.
No one was biting. Why? She heard excuses such as:
“I want to stay where I am; I might get promoted next year.”
“Thanks for thinking of me, but I’m not qualified for a role like that.”
She admitted to being very frustrated with what seemed like an unwillingness by women to take career risks. I understand her frustration. For years I was very risk averse with my own career. If we want more women to ascend to product leadership roles we need to coach them to step outside their comfort zone.
Part of this means asking for the promotions we want (and deserve) rather than waiting for them to just happen. We need to heed the advice of US Soccer legend Abby Wambach from her 2018 Barnard commencement speech:
"Women, at this moment in history, leadership is calling us to say: 'Give me the effing ball. Give me the effing job. Give me the same pay that the guy next to me gets. Give me the promotion. ”The other key: pursuing roles we aren’t 100% qualified for. There is an often-quoted statistic that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. The reason why is debatable, but the statistic certainly holds true in my Product hiring experience. We need to coach women that it is ok, in fact it is expected, to pursue roles where we don’t meet 100% of the qualifications.
Resist the Urge to People Please
One of the best articles I’ve read this year is Why I Can’t be a Good Girl and a Good Product Leader written by Hope Gurion, former Chief Product Officer at CareerBuilder. She reminds us that a big part of being a successful product manager is saying ‘no’ but those of us who are people pleasers (what Hope calls ‘good girls’) often struggle with clearly and confidently saying no.
Data is the best way to confidently and comfortably put a stop to sales staff, customers, and even executives who are begging for that new product feature you know will not advance the business. Taking a fact-based approach about the estimated value of a new feature, has helped me suppress my natural inclination to people please and to effectively say “no.”
Master Work-Life Blend
To help women in PM roles thrive, it is essential to help women (and men) navigate work-life tradeoffs. Like it or not, women still take-on a disproportionate amount of child rearing, elder care and household responsibilities. Companies and managers can help by providing more work-life friendly benefits; however, women also need to take a hard look at how they spend their most limited resource, time.
Research has found that knowledge workers spend a great deal of their time—an average of 41%—on discretionary activities that offer little value and could be well-handled by others. At work this could include attending meetings where we have no important role or spending time on easily automatable administrative tasks. At home I would include social media, TV or household chores that could be delegated (or not done at all) to the list of low value activities. When we spend time on these activities, we are taking away time from our more important activities – things that create real value and things that we are uniquely positioned to do. Things such as: coaching our direct reports, spending time with customers, nurturing our families and self-care. A critical part of improving work-life blend is changing our distribution of time to grow the slice of the pie devoted to higher-value activities.
I invite you to join me in this discussion about how to increase the number of women in product leadership roles. What advice do you have? Are you interested in helping to bring a Women in Product chapter here to Cincinnati?