5 Minutes With Kara DeFrias, White House Cancer Moonshot
Government services are going through significant transformation and modern Product Management practices play a key role in changing the way in which these services are delivered. Kara is now the Director of UX at White House Cancer Moonshoot. She was previously a senior advisor to the head of 18F, is an arm of the U.S government developing 21st century digital governing services.
Kara’s roles have focused on strategy and communications. Her background is a mix of private and public sector experience, including 6 years with Intuit/TurboTax and an appointment to the first class of White House Presidential Innovation Fellows. As an Intuit Innovation Catalyst, she helped people use human-centered design to tackle the company’s biggest challenges and turn them into opportunities to delight folks.
1. In what ways has Product Management evolved over the last 5 years?
The market demand for well thought out, delightful products has grown tremendously. People expect seamless experiences. With that sophistication comes a responsibility to create personalized UX and a more nuanced approach to product development. It’s no longer feasible to talk about product management uncoupled from UX. An increasing number of companies are adopting “design thinking” and embracing a design-driven approach to product management, which ultimately benefits the folks who use their products and services.
2. Why is Product Management important in your business?
Someone needs to herd the cats. Seriously, though: A good product manager, like a director in a movie, enables all the players to beautifully create a whole greater than the sum of its collective parts.
3. How do you lead teams to develop and launch products in your business?
For me, the key bit involves creating an environment where people feel they’re in a safe space to do some of the best work of their career. I like to start by creating a vision for the deliverable, rooted in emotion. How do we want people to feel? Then we come up with design principles that ladder up to the vision. All decisions must ladder up to these. Once I’ve got a draft, the team weighs in and we get to alignment. The vision and principles become the True North for the deliverable, whether it’s a product, live show, event, or process redesign. (Sidebar: gone are the days of a product being a physical or virtual “thing” per se. Creating live experiences = delivering a product.)
4. Are there specific leadership qualities that a product manager must possess to be effective at the role?
Love your team, and do everything in your power to set them up for success. Give them a goal, rally them around the vision, work with them to set up their workstream plan, provide air cover, then empower them to deliver.
5. How did you get into Product Management?
I’ve always been the organizer, the executive producer, the person doing all the work “in the background” to move things along. On show or launch day I enjoy fading into the background and smiling as everyone else nails it – and celebrates. That brings me the greatest joy.