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Humans of Product: Sam Tan

By Leading The Product

Meet Sam Tan – Senior Product Owner at HICAPS, a division of NAB Health.

His journey from software engineering to product management was ignited by a passion for bridging technology, user needs, and business strategy. Today, he’s making a difference at HICAPS, where he is dedicated to creating a healthier Australia, ensuring seamless claiming and payment processes for all. Through innovation and a user-centric approach, Sam is driving positive change and paving the way for a more equitable healthcare system.

How did you get into Product Ownership?

My journey into product ownership/management wasn’t exactly straightforward. It started in the world of software engineering, where I honed my technical skills. However, it was during my time working in a Software-as-a-Service organisation, I had a realisation – many products weren’t adequately addressing user needs; they were merely focused on flashy features for sales pitches. Recognising this gap, I leveraged my software engineering background to develop a prototype aimed at solving customers’ problems. Fortunately, this initiative gained traction, and I had the opportunity to grow the product from a local solution to one used globally by major airlines and hotels. This experience ignited my passion for product management, where I could bridge the gap between user needs and innovative solutions, driving real impact on a global scale.

What skills are the most valuable?

The most valuable skills in product management are those that centre around connecting with people and understanding their needs. It’s about being able to listen, communicate effectively, and empathise with users to truly grasp what they’re looking for in a product. Beyond that, being able to think strategically, solve problems creatively, and make decisions that align with business goals are also crucial. And let’s not forget the importance of being adaptable and open to learning—after all, the world of product management is always changing, and being able to roll with the punches is key to success.

How would you describe product ownership and this industry to someone who has no idea what it is?

Product ownership/management begins with identifying a problem or opportunity and bringing together a diverse group of experts to brainstorm solutions. It’s about fostering collaboration and having the right conversations to determine the best path forward. Product managers play a central role in guiding this process, from defining the product vision to overseeing its development and launch. Product management is about solving real-world problems through innovation and collaboration, with the goal of creating valuable solutions for users and driving business success.

What advice would you have for someone wanting to break into Product?

If you’re eager to dive into the world of product management, my advice is to embrace a mindset of continuous learning and adaptability. Product management is as much about understanding the intricacies of technology and business as it is about empathizing with users and crafting compelling solutions. Start by immersing yourself in diverse projects where you can gain hands-on experience and hone your skills in understanding user needs. Additionally, don’t underestimate the power of networking and seeking mentorship from experienced professionals in the field. Their guidance and insights can provide invaluable support as you navigate your journey into product management. Remember, the key to success lies in your willingness to learn, grow, and adapt to the ever-evolving landscape of product development.

Do you have a defining moment in your career, or one that really made you love your job?

Absolutely, there was a pivotal moment in my career when I shifted my focus from solely delivering features to making tasks simpler and more automated for our users. Understanding the profound impact this approach had on empowering our users completely changed my perspective on product management. It’s not just about what we deliver, but about how we enhance the user experience and enable them to accomplish their goals effortlessly. This shift in mindset has given me a sense of purpose that drives me to show up to work every day, eager to make a meaningful difference in the lives of our users.

What’s the biggest product challenge that you have overcome?

The biggest challenge I’ve encountered in my career revolves around making the right prioritisation calls. In every organisation, there is this delicate balance between finding the right product-market fit swiftly for a successful launch and building a sustainable product with minimal technical debt. It’s all about understanding where the organisation stands in its journey and making decisions that align with its goals. Sometimes it’s a matter of seizing opportunities quickly, while other times it’s about playing the long game and ensuring the product’s foundation is solid. It’s a nuanced challenge that requires constant evaluation and adaptation, but when done right, it sets the stage for success.

Has there been a situation where things have failed? What did you learn from that?

There was a situation where insufficient collaboration with cross-functional team members resulted in less-than-ideal product outcomes. We found that when different teams were not effectively aligned or communicating, it led to misunderstandings, delays, and a product that didn’t fully meet user needs. From this experience, I learned the critical importance of fostering a culture of collaboration and communication across all departments involved in the product development process. It highlighted the need for regular cross-functional meetings, clear communication channels, and a shared understanding of objectives to ensure everyone is working towards the same goal. This experience reinforced my belief that successful product development relies heavily on strong collaboration and teamwork.

What’s your favourite product?

Google Photos. It’s been a game-changer for me in terms of organising my photos and memories. I can’t tell you how many times it’s saved me from the chaos of a cluttered camera roll! Plus, the search functionality is just incredible—I can find any photo I’m looking for in seconds. And, being powered by Google, it’s got all those amazing capabilities we’ve come to expect. It’s like having my personal photo assistant, and I absolutely love it!

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

In my spare time, you will often find me soaking up the great outdoors, especially when I’m camping with my family. There’s something about connecting with nature and exploring new places that really rejuvenates me. If only Melbourne had better weather, I’d be outdoors even more! When I’m not adventuring outside, I love spending quality time with my friends and family, engaging in some friendly competition over boardgames. There’s nothing like a good game to bring out my competitive spirit and create lasting memories with loved ones.

Where do you see yourself in five years' time?

In five years, I envision myself continuing to play a pivotal role in shaping multi-year product strategies. I’m passionate about making long-term decisions that drive the organization’s growth and success. Additionally, I aspire to be actively involved in mentoring others who are either already in the field or looking to break into it. I believe in paying it forward and helping others navigate their own journeys in product management, fostering a community of learning and growth.

If you’re keen to meet more like-minded product folk, come and join us at LTP 2024!