5 Minutes with Sally O'Donoghue - Leading The Product

5 Minutes with Sally O’Donoghue

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Sally O’Donoghue is Manager of iview and Internet Broadcasting at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. She’s speaking at Leading the Product in Melbourne on 19th October and Sydney 24th October. Below she shares her journey into Product Management, and why machine learning is the most exciting development for product management.

1. Product Managers often have varied backgrounds before becoming a Product Manager. How did you get into Product Management?

Sally O'DonoghueThat’s very true! My story’s not exceptional. I started out in the ’90s as a radio broadcaster and copywriter, working my way up and down the eastern seaboard with various networks over the space of around 10 years. Then, in 2006, at the age of 29, aware that I had a long working life ahead of me, and conscious of the looming digital revolution (and my very analogue skillset), I gave it all up and headed to London where I got a gig at BSkyB, working on an exciting new venture – the very first iteration of their video on demand service. Sky Player pre-dated even BBC’s iPlayer, and provided a rare opportunity for me to be involved in the development of an internet TV product from scratch. After a few years at Sky, I jumped ship to Virgin Media, also in London, where I was involved in building up their competitor VOD offering. I made the difficult decision of returning home in 2011, and proving that fortune favours the brave, was offered the demanding role of iview Manager at the ABC. It’s been the most challenging and rewarding career move of my life. In product years, iview is almost 10, which equals around 30 human years, I reckon. iview has demanded everything of me, and I’ve loved (almost!) every minute of it.


2. People often help along the way, has there been somebody that really helped you and how?

The people who have helped me most along the way are the people who report to me at iview (there’s a couple of awesome, long-standing team members I could name), and also the people I report to. I trust their expertise, perspective and insights into the audience, our customers.
If I’m struggling with something they step in and help me, and of course I do the same for them. I think we’ve developed a culture where people working on iview can speak their mind and challenge ideas and opinions openly, without fear of negative repercussions. I’m admittedly pretty particular about who we welcome into our team – our culture is one of our greatest strengths and advantages. This will sound painfully earnest and strategic but I can say sincerely that my boss at ABC TV, Rebecca Heap, is the best I’ve ever had, and above Rebecca we’ve been fortunate to have had the leadership of Richard Finlayson and David Anderson (current Director of ABC TV) – both outstanding media leaders who are incredibly smart, forthright and kind. My workmates are like family. We all help each other to serve the Australian public the best way we know how.


3. We love reading here at Brainmates and have quite the library of books. What book have you read lately that has really influenced you?

It’s probably not very original to say but I loved ‘Daring Greatly‘ and ‘I Thought It Was Just Me‘, by Brene Brown. I’m currently reading an excellent book about self-awareness by an organisational psychologist, Dr. Tasha Eurich, because I’ve recently made the connection that internal self-awareness is not the same as having an accurate understanding of how others perceive you, which is just as important for productive relationships both in your personal and professional life. Also what’s interesting is that too much inward reflection can be detrimental rather than a positive thing. Note for introverts, like myself. Next on the reading list is Bill Gates’ favourite book ‘The Better Angles of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined‘, ‘Move Fast and Break Things‘, and ‘The Positive Leader‘, which is about how your energy and positivity fuels high performing teams, on the recommendation of my boss, Bec. All of these nice, new books are sitting on my coffee table, waiting for me to start. I wish I spent as much time reading books as I do scanning Twitter.


4. How do you do Product management? What’s your secret sauce? What we really want here are things that others can apply in their job.

I don’t really have a secret sauce, other than that I try to find and keep the best people in the team, and I try to stay very organised given that at any moment, there’s dozens of concurrent projects, activities and conversations occurring. I am also pretty militant about my diary – I start the week with it full, locking away time for myself to tackle the time-consuming and important stuff, then set aside the first half hour of each day to tweak my diary and prepare for the day’s meetings. I like to try to stay on the front foot, but that slips, quite often. Honestly, I could learn to be a bit more fluid and opportunistic, less planned and rigid in my approach to work and time-management.


5. There’s a lot happening in the area of Product Management. What do you see as the most exciting development for Product Management?

I think what makes product management so interesting is that it’s multi-faceted and creative. It requires a combination of hard and soft skills, data and intuition, laser-focus and flexibility. There’s no perfect science to it – at least, not that I’m not aware of. There was an interesting segment on ABC’s 7.30 recently, about the advancements in robotics as it relates to medical surgery. In the near future, robots will perform our operations, kind of like a plane on autopilot. But you’ll always need the pilot, or the surgeon, to make an assessment on the environment or the patient. Machine learning will do the same for product management, but I think you’ll always need the product manager to help identify the user’s needs and bring the product to life. So, I’d say very focussed data and machine learning is the most exciting development for product management, in my opinion.