Changes in Product Management at Seek - Leading The Product

Changes in Product Management at Seek

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Doug BlueWe are a long-time fan of Doug Blue, Director of Product at Seek. We interviewed Doug many years ago and thought it would be great to hear about the changes in the Product Management function at Seek.

1. In what ways has Product Management evolved over the last 5 years?
Product Management has evolved quite a bit over the past several years. We are seeing changes to the way that we identify unmet customer needs, changes to how we validate concepts, and also how we build and deploy software. These changes are helping product managers to do a better job solving customer problems, to solve them more quickly and to reduce the risk of product initiatives. We are also seeing Product Management evolving into a more well defined profession.

Outcome-driven innovation is helping companies to hone in on the most important undeserved customer needs, and to essentially identify what customers hire your product to do – or the “jobs to be done”. At SEEK we have begun to use this approach to help shape our product roadmap. By focusing on the most important outcomes that our customers are seeking, we hope to position SEEK as the “first choice for careers and talent”.

Another key change in our approach to Product Management is using low cost experiments to validate / invalidate hypotheses, in order to reduce the time and effort spent on bad ideas. In the past we would have conducted some customer research, identified a concept that meets an unfulfilled need and then started a big product development project to take our best shot to address the need. Today we first ask ourselves whether there is a valid and low cost way to verify whether the concept is desirable before committing to bigger investments. A key tenant in this approach is that product development is risky – and that there are often “say-do gaps” where customers say one thing and then do another. Now we can spend a few weeks (or days) conducting a test with real users and limit larger projects to those that have been validated with real customers

Agile software development has required a shift in Product Management approaches. Whereas 5 years ago most Australian companies would approach product development projects with a “big bang”, hoping that their documented functional specification will turn into a market winning product, today we have a different approach. Agile helps teams to break the work into smaller chunks and to iteratively test the products being built and gain customer input, all the while having more internal visibility of how things are progressing . Gentle deployment techniques also allow us to trial new products live to small groups of customers and gauge impact and get input before rolling out to the entire customer base.

With each of these changes, we have the opportunity to build much better products, but it does mean much more work for the product managers. We used to have much more time! Time waiting on market research, time waiting while the engineering teams were building to our functional specification, and time after a big bang launch to review results. Now we have much more input, iteration and collaboration. So one thing we are working on at SEEK is how to help product managers to carve out the right amount of time to think.

Finally, it is great to see that Product Management is becoming a more mainstream profession in Australia. We are seeing the emergence of formal product management qualifications and certifications, the growth in meetups and even in product management conferences. Leading the Product is a great example of how our product management “tribe” now have our very own conference.

2. Why is Product Management important in your business?
SEEK is a digital business and the vast majority of our value proposition to both candidates and hirers are delivered through our websites and mobile apps. We are also in a new age of technological change where innovation is providing new ways for candidates and hirers to discover and connect with each other, and a variety of new competitors trying to harness this technology. Product management at SEEK is about identifying the most important customer problems, relentlessly pursuing innovative ideas to solve those problems, and ensuring our products deliver the best experience for candidates and hirers. As our CEO Andrew Bassat mentioned during last year’s Leading the Product session in Melbourne, SEEK has evolved from being predominantly a sales and marketing company to one that is at its core a product and technology company as well.

3. How do you lead teams to develop and launch products in your business?
Product development at SEEK is a collaborative effort. I am privileged to play a leadership role across our domestic employment business, and I sit on steering committees for each of our development teams.

Our products are built and supported by co-located teams that include all of the skills required to design the products, build them and test them – both internally and externally. We have a product manager for each team, and a delivery manager. Together they lead the teams to ensure we build the right product, the right way.

As a steering committee member, I am there to help shape and agree the product vision, metrics and roadmap. And then to help remove roadblocks and resolve issues for the team. Sometimes I might get a bit too hands on – but I try to give the team as much freedom as possible to do great work.

As Product Director, I also identify and nurture our product talent.

4. Are there specific leadership qualities that a Product Manager must possess to be effective at the role?
Leadership is key for product managers. Product Management can be very challenging – because at the heart of the work we are driving change. Change is difficult and usually will require determination and passion to see it through. Working with teams to deliver outcomes can be challenging as well. To motivate and inspire development teams, it is vital that the Product Manager can clearly articulate “the why” to frame “the what” and help teams understand where we are going. So I believe that Product Managers need leadership skills including how to drive change management, how to build respectful and empathetic relationships, and how to inspire teams.

5. How did you get into Product Management?
I was in a strategy role at a digital business and worked on a business case for a major new product development initiative. When I presented the business case to the CEO and executive team, they gave me the opportunity to change roles and to lead the initiative. It was a great opportunity to take the concept from the very earliest stage all the way to launch and in-market. After a successful first go at it, my role was formalised and I’ve been working in product and haven’t looked back.

If you are interested in hearing Doug share his thoughts on Product Management, he will be speaking at Leading the Product, Sydney on October 25th 2016.