5 Minutes With Christina Lucey, Zinc - Leading The Product

5 Minutes With Christina Lucey, Zinc

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Christina LuceyWe love to get to know our speakers before they attend Leading The Product. Christina Lucey will be joining us for Leading The Product, Sydney and Melbourne 2016. Christina says that “the best Product Managers are opinionated”. Are you an opinionated Product Manager?

In what ways has Product Management evolved over the last 5 years?

In recent years Product Management has come much more into the spotlight. According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Product Manager is a coveted position for MBA grads today. Unlike pure Project Management which has the PMI, there isn’t a professional organization that maintains a body of knowledge and offers training and certifications. Product Management can still be defined so differently across companies, let alone across different industries. But you’re starting to see, at least the software industry, coalesce on a common definition and the amount of quality organizations and content available to learn from have exploded. Especially around how to use data in your arsenal of tools. Arguably one of the most publicized topics is the advent of the product management-adjacent role of the “growth hacker” – a combination of product management and marketing – charged with finding ways to make the product delivery mechanism inherent to the product itself. Competition has gotten fierce and that’s translated to making prioritizing, the hardest part of product management, even harder. Where the cost to start a start-up has gotten increasingly smaller, speed matters. And the way to be fast is to prioritize well so you’re not spending time designing and building the wrong things and to be technically savvy so you can make the right implementation trade-offs with engineering.

Why is Product Management important in your business?

In an enterprise software company, Product Management is at the heart of the business. There are many components to building a great business but we simply cannot be successful if we haven’t delivered a product that can serve the needs of each of our unique customers in a way that our engineering team can sustainably support. At opposite ends of the spectrum, you can be a company that builds a product that meets the needs of a market or you can be a consultancy that builds a custom solution for each customer’s problem. As a start-up, being too much of a consultancy will sink your chances of becoming profitable fast. That’s where the role of Product Management comes in: to glean insights from your customers and prospects to guide designing and building the minimum product (read: lowest engineering cost) that delivers value to the greatest proportion of your target segment.

How do you lead teams to develop and launch products in your business?

I’m heavily influenced by the research in Daniel Pink’s book Drive that cites autonomy, mastery, and purpose as the key requirements to finding happiness at work. As a Product leader the sole most important thing you can do for your team is to clearly define the purpose – why are we all here doing this? Who is it for? How will it help them? Then, distribute autonomy across the team as much as possible. That means recognizing each team member’s skills and giving them ownership of an area to hone and use those skills to execute. Seek opportunities for people to pair where they will transfer new skills and ideas to each other. Autonomy is required to get people invested in what they’re doing and allows them to try things you wouldn’t have thought of which ultimately results in great work. That doesn’t mean you can pass the buck either – a culture of critique and collaboration must exist to provide counter balance.

Are there specific leadership qualities that a product manager must possess to be effective at the role?

Ultimately, the Product Manager is responsible for delivering a great product. And, rightly so, with that comes the authority to make decisions. The best product managers are opinionated – that’s what allows them to be hypothesis driven and to execute. But to be a great leader is to recognize that you can’t do it alone. Being opinionated alone is not enough – you also have to be insatiably curious, seek inputs from all parts of the business, and be willing to change your opinion as you learn more.

How did you get into Product Management?

While studying computer science at the University of Waterloo in Canada, one professor showed us a video that detailed design firm IDEO’s innovative design process. They studied people shopping in a grocery store and ultimately produced a prototype of a better shopping cart. I thought “OK I finally get why I’m learning all this stuff  – because I want to make better things for people!” I didn’t start as a Product Manager right out of school, I built a foundation in Project Management first. It wasn’t until one of the members of the Product team left to pursue his MBA that I was able to convince the leader of that team to give me a chance. He let me run with an idea that wasn’t given much priority or resources. I did all the mock ups and ran the project myself and learned by making many mistakes along the way.