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Meet This Week’s Humans of Product: Ben Ryan

By Rebecca Dorsay
Human of Product: Ben Ryan

Meet Ben. He has a love for Peruvian food and cocktails. “My partner is Peruvian and since I started traveling there regularly for family reunions, I’ve put a lot of energy into learning how to make their signature dishes as well as experiment with cocktail mixes (like Peruvians do) to both create their popular drinks, and invent some of my own as well.”

Everyone’s Product Adventure is different and unique in its own way. Upon reflection, Ben “got into Product in a bit of a round-a-bout way.” Initially started pursuing Architecture as a career, switched to writing halfway through his degree. During his studies in writing, he discovered Desktop/Electronic publishing, which coincided with the early days of the web. “As I focussed on interactive and digital media writing, I wasn’t able to get backing for anything without a Producer on board, so I started working towards becoming a Producer. Achieved that goal but by that time had found the Product world – working with PMs at Sensis.”

“As I left Sensis, I applied for a Producer role at REA, which had become a Consumer Product Manager role by the time I started. This then got merged with a Customer Product Manager role as part of a consolidation experiment. It worked pretty well, and so I then focused on developing my knowledge about the often competing interests in a product marketplace.”

“At REA, we were exploring ancillary markets to property listings, and I was given the rope to explore opportunities with this. I had two great mentors/sponsors from the leadership team who taught me a lot about the financials and the marketing side of the business. Alas, that project died on the vine but it helped me understand at a pretty profound level, the challenges small-medium business owners face in trying to find a home for their business.”

Ben Ryan out

“In summary though, it wasn’t a role I applied for and moved into. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, and the nature of the role suited my tendency to always explore things that are unknown to me.”

Now, he is the Head of Product at FatSecret, “gradually building a Product practice and bringing a customer focus to the business.” Despite being at the company for almost 5 years, Ben says “it still feels like week 1”.

“At FatSecret, we’ve reached a tipping point where the team has grown too big to be a single unit, and the ground is pretty fertile for us to introduce Product Triads with a view to ultimately having empowered Product Teams. It’s a big shift from the company heritage where top-down, siloed decision making has been the MO for more than a decade. We’ve had a few false starts before with team restructures, OKRs, strategies and ways of working (including b0rk3d effort at Triads by another name); so for this effort, we’ve taken a more incremental approach. Here’s a step by step walkthrough:

  1. Discussing the problem: scaling the business is causing communication/alignment issues
  2. Introduce the most basic concept of the new model: Triads
  3. Discuss the Product Team at a conceptual level, tying it to an identifiable analogy (in this case, basic biology – a cell); to provide some understanding of the structure of the team (nucleus vs cytoplasm etc)
  4. We ran a limited trial on some fairly small work items to get a feel for it. Participants were limited to those doing the work – no passengers. Then we had a group retro with the participants to identify what we liked, and what needed work.
  5. Then, we progressed to planning out how the team (cell) would divide into two, given we’re not yet fully staffed for two autonomous teams.
  6. All company members were given an opportunity to raise concerns, ask questions etc
  7. We also affinity mapped some standing rules we need to live by, around some core themes that had emerged from the trial
  8. We finished by assigning people to teams and then commencing focused team development and planning sessions.
Team Cookout

With all of this experience in his back pocket, what’s next for Ben? As of today, he is currently expanding his team “not just for more Product and design folk, but bringing onboard new capabilities like marketing, data and analytics. They’ve been capabilities I’ve been agitating for (quite vocally) for a number of years and they’re essential to us leaning into the next phase of the company’s life.”

He is looking forward to “evolving the company towards Product Teams because we’ve grown so much in the past 12-18 months we no longer fit into a single group. Lots of growing pains but the recent global focus on micro-biology has offered up a ready reference to cell division as a metaphor for what we’re trying to do… A consequence of our growth is the team is now too big to be a single contiguous unit, and so we’re starting to separate into autonomous teams. We are revising our business and product strategy to suit where we are now (and what we want to become).”

Humans of Product Ben Ryan eating
Humans of Product Ben Ryan with partner
Ben Ryan at the beach

Want more humans of Product? Read last week’s feature on JJ Rorie or follow us on Instagram!