In this episode, I am talking to Alberto Soldana – a seasoned business analyst who shares his real-life experience working on several products, the challenges he faced, and the future of BA and Product Manager roles.
Transcript (courtesy of Otter.AI)
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This is real world product management.
Hello, everyone. This is another episode of the real world product management apologize for a delay. Last week, as you know, there were some events in New York City that kind of sort of distracted me from recording the episode but we’re back to our regular schedule. And I’d like to introduce Alberto Saldana, one of the VA slash product managers at FM. I same company I work for so I’ll bear the Why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself.
Alberto S 0:44
And Hello, everyone. My name is Alberto Saldana, I’m from Mexico and I have quite good experience as a business analyst almost 14 years and one of my most exciting experience as a product manager Your last few projects that actually fail. So thank you, Vlad, for inviting me and to be able to share experience with all your audience. I think we’re going to have a very good time talking very good information to share. I have heard some of your previous podcasts and they look awesome. So thank you very much again for inviting me. And I hope your audience are enjoying
Vlad G 1:25
this talk. Oh, yeah, definitely. Thank you. Thank you very much. By the way, since you’ve mentioned some of your previous projects or engagements failing, you mind telling me a bit more about what is it that you did? And obviously, what was so challenging and what’s, what triggered the failure in in those engagements?
Alberto S 1:49
Well, that was a very cool story.
Unknown Speaker 1:52
It was it was 2008. Do you remember there was a recession all around the world? And unfortunately, I got fired. From my, from my, from my, from my job, right? And during that time it happened about two months without job, right? It’s like an employee I offer myself as a freelance Ba, okay. And someone called me and say hey, you know we require a freelance ba for six months project. This is not a permanent job. This is just just six months and that’s it we will not have a contract, we will not have any relationship job relationship. So we just need you to do the work and that’s it. Okay, I don’t have anything, anything else, or more funny to do. So I accepted it. The project was about creating an app. And this is very related to what we are leaving nowadays because there was three remaining three main instances there was editorial company who actually They do books, they write books, and they do illustrations for books. So they were full of UX designers and intellectuals and people who actually knows very good grammar and great books, right that that’s actually their primary activity in a daily basis. The other instance was bi company. They were more into data, right? They extract data from databases, they collect this data and analyze it, clean it up, and so on. So everything related to business intelligence. And we had the stakeholders, right the stakeholders, what they wanted to do about this app was to combine the experience from the tutorial company with a bi in order to create an app for schools. So this app was intended to extract data from the app and analyze how is the student’s behavior based on race based on economics based on where they leave where they come from, what is the family structure if the parents were married, if there were not married, if they were divorced, if they, if the students live with the grandparents, and so on, right, so all this data was supposed to be analyzed by the analytics team, and then provide some statistics, some dashboards and information that could help the school to to improve their programs, right. So based on the assumption that not all the students learn the same way or should be treated the same way. So that was a very good approach to improve. Students in the K 12. Great, right, which is actually preschool to middle school, I suppose. So it was a very interesting project. So they hired me as a BA right to connect all the dots to be involved with editorial company, the stakeholders, the analytics team and create a product. Okay. So after some years, I realized that I was doing kind of a product manager role because my job was to analyze all the insights and try to connect them and create a product that satisfy the stakeholders. Right? So one of the challenges they face was like, there was
Unknown Speaker 5:27
a different perspective. So what was the strategy and the vision of the product while the stakeholders wanted an application that actually provides dashboards and information for schools. In the other part, we had editorial who was more interesting on create a very good product very easy, friendly, who provides a lot of features for the school for teachers, for directors, for principals for for the, for the parents of the students, and for the students itself right to have that task and homework, right? So this is very interesting because it was around 11 years ago, right? So 11 years ago, we didn’t have that necessity that we have right now, while the students are at home, and they use conference applications to, to do their classes and so on. So it was challenging because we didn’t have any information about how the school how the schools plan, their programs, and how the students actually attended to classes and so on. Anyway, we, we were able to collect different information about this, how this application was supposed to be, right I mean, division, I mean, what was intended to be, however, the strategy was not quite the correct one because we were focusing more on the analytics, on the dashboards and so on, which was not very interesting for schools in why is that because the schools, they have their programs, they have their legacy plan. Right, like you have to attend to school, you have to sit in a chair and you have to listen to your teacher. Right. And they were not very willing to use tablets or laptops in order to be able to input data. And this data will be analyzed later, right? Because they say, how you’re going to teach me how to do my work, right? If you’re not a teacher, if you’re not, if you don’t have any experience on teaching students from four years old to 12 years old. So that’s why one of the key points that that the product failed because the strategy was not good plan, we should focus more on the product that was very exciting for the schools, and at the same time, it provides data that can be analyzed later on. So the first thing I did was to extract features to collect the information from the stakeholders from the school and from the tutorial company and create a design approach right? I create a mock Create the features in the product backlog and so on. The problem was that we first develop the dashboards and the BI analytics and how to strike data and so on. So, when we first went to the demo to show Okay, so this is all the capabilities that the application will have this could say, I’m not interested, right, this is not what I need. So, this is one of the biggest learnings I had, because you need to understand what is the market needs, what are the customer needs in what is intended at the end of the day. So that was he was very, very interesting and challenging, and I learned a lot from from that experience, and I try always to focus on the needs which is the the primary thing we need to focus when we are developing a product. And I want your audience to also understand that not you Because they think they have a strategy, that strategy will work. Because sometimes the strategy is not aligned with the market needs, or the business goals. So that’s the first thing I want people to focus in. That’s why it’s very interesting to talk about these points. And thank you again for bringing up this question. Sure,
Vlad G 9:22
sure. My pleasure. And it’s really, really cool to hear the, you know, a good story about the failed product. Unfortunately, I don’t hear a lot of those around me hear more about Oh, hey, this is you know, this is how much success we had with this, or this, how much success we had that. But the real the real thing is, is the failures I keep repeating this. I quote someone I can’t remember who that was that scientists love failed experiments because they don’t even call them failed experiments. They call them experiments, recent data, because they provide a lot more Information about what went wrong and how to make your right and then the experiments that went right from from the start. So thank you. That’s this was early educating. And I think if I’m not mistaken, this is one of the few examples that I’ve heard of where the vision and strategy gone wrong in again, in a lot of failed cases, you hear about things like, Oh, hey, we had a good idea, but it was executed wrong. And it’s, it’s kind of a cliche, reason for failed products. Like we had a good idea but it didn’t work. But I actually had a similar similar experience, where the vision was wrong and and we stopped at the prototype stage. We stopped developing product at the prototype stage. So this is this is really cool. And I like how you how you talked about the transition. From freelance VA to a full blown Product Manager, when we were prepping for this for this episode, you mentioned something about ba, ba role being disrupted. And I wanted to sort of piggyback on your story about transitioning from VA to pm, we have a lot of people doing this. And in our company, we have a lot of people doing this and other places. But you mentioned something around VA roles being disrupted and I’d like you to sort of unpack and talk more about what specifically is being disrupted and how from your years of experience, how do you see this happening?
Alberto S 11:42
Yeah, and this is this is a good question that is coming up nowadays. more often. Whether there is understanding that the BA should become a specialist or should become generalist there are there are ba certain ba or different roles it can be engineers. So, it can be project managers itself who can be more experts on what they do right. So, they certify on days right on certified business analysis or they can be pmis or they can they can certify in Java core aid and so on right. And that is totally fine. It is nothing wrong with becoming especially something however, the trending in the market is that the products require more like a generic type of role in what does that mean? That means that you cannot just enclose in a bubble like Okay, so this is my role and I will not do anything else. Because that way you’re not bringing value to the business. So you should people should be, is it not like I should, but people could be more open to perform different tasks and using different skills. But what happens when you have a To perform different tasks, and you don’t have the skills, that is 100% failure, right? That is one of the alerts, we need to take into account. Say that, And based on the experience we have in our projects and the companies I have worked on, you always need to prove the skills in one of the skills that the BA it’s more feasible to learn. It’s a product management role. Why? Because they share different skills, right, like communication, engagement, on understanding on the business understanding on the technology, how the development works, what is the end to end life lifecycle of a product, so there are certain skills that are sure between product managers and business analysts. So that’s why a lot of business analysts are more interesting in learning about product management. And that is a very Good, very good approach. Because that way they’re adding value to their careers to their resumes, and they’re adding value to the, to the business and to the development team. So from my perspective, the people who who is learning the product management role, should be aware that it’s not an easy an easy job, because I have heard a lot of technical people say no, you know, Product Manager is very desease just giving orders and do documentation and talk to people. So that’s very easy. Anyone can do that. And yet everyone can do that. But Can anyone can do it? Well, can anyone can do it in the proper way? Can anyone can do it, adding value to the business or to the project? That is the main question. So that’s why I’m understanding the need of learning and having Of course, of course the Rizal learning learning curve, right? So you will not born being a product manager, just just because just because like that, right? You have to get trainings, get more experience, of course, have your own failures and learn from them. It’s important in order to become a great product manager
Vlad G 15:19
saying that he’s saying you need, you need training, you need experience. What I noticed, and it’s both, it’s with a lot of online resources, I see a lot of people who want to become product managers without experience, and I understand that we need as a general industry needs more product managers, then we can we can have so there’s going to be some you know, so there’s got to be a way for someone to become a product manager without prior experience, otherwise, it becomes a chicken and egg problem, right. But at the same time, I have a very strong opinion that Any person who is trying to become a good product manager and good being the key word here, not just a product manager just you know, doing things, but product manager that gets things done, should come into the field was having some experience of getting things done before. It could be a project manager. It could be a developer, it could be a VA, but like, for example, I came to be a product manager after a career in a tea. So I was a developer, I was a project manager, and I had two businesses before I became a product manager. So not only I had exposure to getting things done, I also had exposure at running the business, which is what product manager essentially is doing on the high level. Not Not everybody’s exposed to all these elite aspects of it. But there’s definitely more than just you know, talking to stakeholders and condensing down your product is great. It’s also taking the product to the market and selling it. That’s that’s kind of what is what is being overlooked. And I think again, this is something we talked about before, when we were prepping, there’s the classic agile model that companies are operating on trying to operate on sorry, is does not have a role of a BA. So in a way, the role was made obsolete. Some by some point in time when the whole agile model is introduced, yet, almost every company I’ve seen almost every project I’ve seen, almost every engagement I’ve seen, has agile teams, and has ba as a part of the team. So how do you see that what’s your take on that?
Unknown Speaker 17:47
Yeah, you’re bringing up a very good point on making the BA role obsolete. And I see that as true not that not all the people understand When Dr becoming a specialist on the BA role, because and nowadays, Venus analysts are required to perform also Scrum Master role, sometimes project manager roles and testing roles. And it is not purely like it’s getting obsolete, but it’s being the role leads being evolving. I call it like that. So they’re always been evolving. It’s like if you have a Java developer who is very experienced in Java two, or geometry or Java four, it’s it’s not like they’re becoming obsolete. But now the training needs to learn Java eight, right? So they need to learn it. For example, the UX designers, so if they are still working on html5, and now the training is using Angular, and they don’t learn Angular, they’re getting obsolete, right? So they need to evolve the role so they need to learn new skills, learn new technologies, and be able to To perform the work as the business requires. So the same happens for the business owners right so they they need to learn project management skills, Scrum Master skills, of course kind of decision making skills, more likely as a project manager how to plan a project understand the full lifecycle of the product. And that’s one of the takeaways for people who thinks that the business analyst role is the same like 10 years ago, it is not it has evolved. And people need to understand that in order to be more productive in order to be more effective on the daily job basis, because at the end of the day, as much as you add as much value out to the business then as much capable and more knowledgeable and more efficient you become so Again just as a summary, the business analyst role is not getting obsolete, it just it just been evolving and people needs to evolve to interesting
Vlad G 20:10
and I agree with you in a way that the roles are evolving including ba role. Same way. Same way, the product manager role is evolving I keep seeing responsibilities of a product manager where non have existed before or seen product management being divided into separate areas. And just the same way product managers becoming either specialists or generalists. I like to think of myself as a more of a generalist, because I have experienced in multiple industries and I understand that I lack you know, depth and precision in specific areas, but I can bring you know, things across industry, the experience and understanding of things across the industries. And it’s not just me, it’s everyone in this in the current world same way DBAs are doing the same way others are doing this. So you you become a subject matter experts in how to cross the industries rather than a specific industry.
That’s right. So, let me kind of transition to next question. Then we talked about the A’s, we talked about product managers. And this is one of the cliche questions I tend to ask. So how do you define the role of a product manager you know, we have in different economies, we have Product Manager, we have product owners, we have proxy product owners, we have days. Sometimes companies build hierarchy around that sometimes they just throw everybody in the same soap. So what from your experience from from, you know, all the roles you played on? Probably Where do you see those roles? How do you see those roles aligning
Alberto S 22:05
for Okay, so first of all, we need to understand the structure of the project. There are different structures in every project. And there is not there’s not just the right or wrong structure is just how the structure fits more into the nature of the project. So I see the product manager, discovering what the user and what the market needs, and also helps them prioritizing and helping to build the product. And of course, one of the deliverables or one of the documentation that the product management does is product roadmap, right. This document can also be done by business analysts or project managers. However, the nature of the document or the deliverable should be made by the product manager who is involved with the business stakeholders, marketing, economics, and so on. And also the product managers I visualize it as the main the main role who gets the things done, it can be also combined with the product owner, but the product owner is more like a product backlog owner right he is more interesting in features and what is being developing next, what is coming the next iteration, what is going to be the demo or the sprint review, approve whatever was develop and so on. So, product owner can also be seen as SME as a subject matter expert, who is more in touch with the business with the processes with the day to day business activities. And not always sometimes they do but not always. It’s not like a must be technical knowledgeable. Right. So sometimes and I have seen a lot of product owners would they don’t have a clue about technical implementations about this. development lifecycle about how the giant team works, right? So they were just okay. So you are the expert on this domain on these processes on the business, you will be the product owner. So you need to be the owner of the product backlog and make sure that whatever was intended to be built is actually implemented at the end of the spring of the duration. You mentioned also pro proxy product owner. And it’s it’s kind of similar as a product owner. However, these guys technical, he knows some more technical stuff. He is more involved with the technical team, he can provide their suggestions, their approaches, sometimes they come from a technical background as a developer so they can also provide some solution design approach and that kind of stuff that product owner sometimes and I’m not saying like a general thing or like a must be The product owner cannot provide some technical details about implementation rather than done the proxy product owner. And then the business analysts come into play to connect all these dots, that that’s the kind of a strategic role from my point of view, because he’s not having a direct reports as well as the product manager. But the business analyst has more like
responsibility to make people communicate each other without being communicating itself right. So they go to the business and product owner or product manager, collect data, start developing specifications, understand the features provide sometimes insights about what is a better approach to implement a certain feature, and then going to the technical team to explain how it’s possible. be implemented, in my experience during the grooming sessions. And when when we review the specs, the technical team ask, okay, but why we need this feature. And sometimes the business analysts, they’re not aware of why they need because they didn’t ask why the business need this feature. They say, okay, so we need these drop down and show these data in, click a button, and they don’t understand what is the business value. So that’s why the business analyst is the connector. It’s how the transition transition goes from business needs into technical implementation. And that’s one of the skills that sometimes product managers or product owners, they don’t have that skill. So, now talking about the structure again, I visualize the product the product manager, as a driver on the business needs. Create the business goals and understand and apply this strategy. I see the product owner just next to the product manager, owning those features, owning that strategy and making sure it is implemented. And one line below them. It’s the business analyst who interacts with all the stakeholders, talking about businesses, stakeholders, technical stakeholders, management stakeholders, in order to create a common understanding on what needs to be done. That’s kind of the structure that has been working more for me. Of course, there are different structures and different projects, but that’s on my experience how more successful project looks and structure looks like.
Vlad G 27:49
Interesting, thank you. Thank you for the insight interesting that you’ve mentioned that it’s his job to be this you know, this bridge between the business and its class. Team because in the classic agile, that’s exactly the job description of the product owner. I’m not I’m not arguing I’m just know kind of pointing out that in the classic agile form VA roles doesn’t exist. And that’s what po is supposed to be doing. So, your product owner is basically a BA with some additional responsibilities in and I just said this is this is a practical example but this is kind of this is why I like to see different different perspectives. They’re they’re different points of views and different experiences. So you can say, Oh, my point of view is right, or I can say, by points of views, rifle have kind of, we all have proof that you know, our ways of working are working. They’re functional. So in the, in your example, in your structure, I email I would imagine I’d be very hard pressed to explain why would I need a product owner in that scheme of things, I understand what the product manager does. He owns vision strategy and high level, high level functionality of the product capabilities and features. I understand why I would need a low level lower level ownership, whether it’s appeal or Ba, who would honor feature epic features, stories, level functionality, and would interface with the business on a tactical level resolving tactical things. But there’s this, in my view, there’s no third person who don’t need the third person there in the hierarchy is a high level feature or palatal capabilities, ownership and low level capabilities ownership and that’s it. There’s no middle level there, but I understand that you’re coming from a practical perspective. So what I’m saying is not necessarily true, again, which is why I like having different People have different experience on the show provides you different things. So let me just unpack what you said a little bit. Question question that I have in my mind. And again, I’m assuming this, this is what you’ve tried this is what worked for you. How does product owner work with Product Manager in in that in that structure? What what are the How do they divide the divide the ownership between themselves? Yeah.
Alberto S 30:33
Let me tell you a true story. And these will provide more, it will be more visible to understand the structure I just mentioned.
Vlad G 30:41
Alberto S 30:43
And I’m not going to say the customer name, not to pointing fingers. But this is this is what what happens in with that customer. So we’re building a large set of products at the same time. Okay, one is for 4g scene one is for creating more engagement with the customer. Another one is to create analytics that provides better information for the for the customers and customers who are navigating in their application in the website. There is another product to enhance the actual look and feel of the of the website. It’s a completely rebranding. And there is another another product just for normal processes, right like, this is online shopping. So there are some new enhancements on the product related to return some reforms, order order management, shipping and so on. Right. So we have a large number of product owners, okay, and they are from business perspective the experts on each business business processes Me. And what happened is like they don’t have background on agile methodology. They don’t have background on technical implementation, they just know how to do their work. Okay. And what happens is, as you mentioned that the product owner is the one who is in charge of communicating things between project teams, development team engineering, architects, stakeholders, product managers and so on. That is true. However, in practice is it’s ideal, but it’s not what is happening in the real life. So what happens is one of the challenges where we were facing is that we explain the process of development we require these in order to create specifications, we need to set an expectation. We need to collect UX designs in order to make the development team develop what is required and so on. And in the product owner was no no why you need to exercise just Just building functionality and later on, we can take care of the designs. And that is not how the project works. And at the end of the day after realizing that the product owners are very experts on what they do in terms of processes, they hire a vendor to teach them how to do agile projects. Okay, so we were were working with this client for about more than three years, and they have just hiring someone to teach them how to do agile projects. And, and that’s fine, right? Once you realize that you have a problem that you have a gap in your team, then you need to fix it as up Right, right. Right, right. So ideally, all everyone is involved in the john methodology, agile thinking bank mindset and so on. But this is not happening in the real life, right? So you need to adjust. So what happens if you don’t have a business analyst in place in that kind of projects? Then the project is a completely flat failure, right because the product owner doesn’t know how to implement how the implementation works. And they’re more focused focusing on other things that the technical team doesn’t care. Okay, so that is how the structure I recommend fits into real life projects. If you are doing for example, a project from the very beginning, it’s a initiation and you as a product Product Manager, very experienced project managers, you know that you will require product owners who actually understand the methodology who can help the technical team to understand what needs to be done and also know about the business processes and understand the business needs and strategy then it’s totally fine. That is a perfect case. However, it is not happening on every case. So, from my perspective in what what you have mentioned coming up, taking up what you have mentioned, it is true that the product owner should candles are a different set of activities that might make you think that the business analyst is not required. However, not all the projects work the same. And you need to adjust and bring the more expert people to fulfill those gaps. And if it is a business analyst, let it be, you need to have business analysts on your project, you cannot just say we don’t need it because the metallurgy says we don’t need it. Right? So do you need to adjust your structure in order to be more productive and more efficient?
Vlad G 35:28
Thank you, that makes sense. And thank you for bringing this as a real life example. That’s, that’s always that’s always interesting to hear. So I’m building up on that. Just wondering. So, bH and product owners are kind of in the mix of it, you know, in the middle of it all, you know, fighting on the front lines or or working on the fault lies and making things happen. So where does that Product Manager in this hierarchy or in this structure come in, what? What is it that that they do and how they interact with stakeholders with maybe development teams? Or maybe they don’t direct the development teams in your, in your schema? How do they what do they do? What do they provide what kind of value they add to this whole process?
Unknown Speaker 36:26
Okay, so the product manager has two type of activities, I mean daily activities. One is working with the project team, and second type of activities working with external stakeholders. Talking about the inbound activities with the project team, it’s setting a vision, of course at the beginning setting, what is the purpose of the project of the product? Being able to understand what are the market needs, the business needs and be able to create a strategy okay. Create the product planning. That’s why we have the product roadmap as an excellent tool to visualize what is the plan, right is to to make sure that everyone understands what’s the mission strategy and the plan and the business goals. Of course, also, make sure that the implementation goes as expected and the end product is what was required right is what what the people expected and provide some perspective on the release plan right on how the product is going to be launched. In the other hand, we have external activities, which are, differentiate the competition, understand the market make some benchmarking and marketing research. Of course, of course understand what are, for example, the analytics that the product will require in order to extract data provides more information in how how the business goes. And this analytics can be for example, rotation of customers, customers, customers engagement by customers. And this is something that this was one feedback that we received from my last talk is like to differentiate between between customers from the business perspective and customers from the market, right like end users, people who actually use your product. So I’m talking about the people who use your product. So how to engage them, how to retain them how to, you can log in, for example, if you are going to purchase something in online shopping, for example, Amazon and jewel maker, you create a login and you start navigating, but you don’t purchase anything and you just log out and never go back to the, to the website again. Then it’s called. Client turn, right? It’s people who is not willing to purchase something from your website. And those kind of KPIs So that kind of information, the product manager needs to understand in order to create proper strategy right or change the strategy. If something is not going finding the business. If the profitability profile of profitability is not the one that the business expected, then something is wrong with the strategy. And in those kind of things, it’s what the product manager is able to understand rather than other rolling the project, right? So the product owner, it’s its execution, the business analyst is communication and in breaching their teams don’t seem understanding but whatever happens outside outside the product needs to be understanding, understand, understand it by the product manager. So that is the difference in here is where the product managers add value to the business and add value to the project team.
Vlad G 39:54
Makes sense and reminds me of a thing that I’ve heard. It was Before I joined the company, but there were stories about that as one of my previous jobs where key was developing a small business solution and they understood everybody understood small business differently. So the product manager didn’t explain what small business means. So the VA of that product team took it upon themselves to figure out what the small businesses and it was, it was a point of sale solution. They decided that small business means they only have 20 products to sell really not more. And it was really funny when they started sell try they tried to sell this or try to demo this to a real small business and real small business operates you know, at least 100 different SKUs if you think about it, if you even if you’re selling I don’t know 20 phone covers or or 20 dresses, you still have different sizes, different colors, different different models of the dress and so you will end up with more than 100 SKUs. And the system wouldn’t accept more than that. And it was it was really, you know, an eye opener. But, you know, that’s kind of kind of a strategy. So kind of a strategy. I don’t know if it’s a strategy flop or execution flop. But, you know, it was definitely a misalignment between the product management and, and the agile team that was working on it. So it’s interesting. So you’ve mentioned again, during the, during the conversation we had you mentioned that product managers also provide thought leadership, and I think it’s, it’s aligns with defining vision and strategy of the product. If you can elaborate more on that they’ll be great. What do you what do you mean what do you understand as a sort of leadership of product managers?
Unknown Speaker 41:55
Yeah, right, like so. If we understand that the product manager is Someone who actually does not have direct reports, right? It’s kind of our role who is navigating across all teams and giving orders and you need to do this and you need to do that, then we cannot call it a manager, right because doesn’t have a direct authority over people. So, they provide information for executives about the resources, what they need to the engineers, what they need to do designers how the product should look like to customers, how to use the product in how to envision it. However, all these actions required kind of leadership or top leadership right to in order to inspire others and have empathy with others to make them follow you and that is the big difference between normal leader I have I have explained these in previous conferences about the difference between a man a year in the leader And everybody understands that right like their manager, give orders and makes the team work the way you expected and the other side that the leader votes on other shoes and say, follow me and I will be the first in the front line and so on. But the difference between lead normally there and thoughtfully there is that actually the top leader has followers and I’m not talking about influencers, because influencers are different, right the followers are people who doesn’t have direct reporting structure on you, but anyway, they follow you, they trusting you and you inspire them to do the things right. So, coming into that concept, right. The product managers constantly communicate across organizational functions, okay. And that is that is one important If we talk about responsibilities of the product manager, which is being a central central half of communication, right, so if technical team has a question should go to the product manager, if executives or business team has or business development, especially if they have a concern or something like that they should go to the product manager. So it’s like consolidating all the dots in being able to attack different or to tackle different perspective about the product. Okay. And also these are the top leaders create a strategy right that Okay, so this is the game plan. And when we say the game plan, we always really make a relation with the sports right? So you can have a different different often leaders on your sport team. However, there should be one who actually provides the direction. What is the strategy to beat the other team right to beat the competition or to beat the market needs. So here’s, here’s where the thought leader comes into play in order to provide more insights in order to be the main the main person who people wants to follow and that is not easy, right? So, product managers need to develop a lot of skill sets. In order to become a top leaders, you can have a product managers buy the role, but we need to understand that is not a role or a position it’s actually action, right how the product managers action to different challenges and how the people react to those challenges to follow the leader. So that’s why I used to make trainings or or to teach other people in my organization in how to engage with others how to be more kind, and have empathy with others in order to make them be a better leaders. Not Normally, there’s more leaders that can provide business value at the same time they care about others. Okay,
Vlad G 46:07
that that is interesting. And you maybe think so when you were talking about product managers not having direct reports and spending across different organizational parts. He kind of reminded me of early days, when I was just learning to become a project manager when the matrix organization so same, they use the same words to describe it, like project manager doesn’t have direct reports, but it has influence over things being done and all that. But project manager definitely does not create a game plan. He would support it, he would make sure it gets done. He would make sure that communication happens but definitely not creating one. So I, I’m not gonna say I’m not gonna say they’re similar. They’re not There’s just certain overlap, it definitely is definitely there, but not there. And I agree with you, I guess it’s kind of one of the things that I like about product management is that you don’t have direct reports and you get to manage without the authority because its sheer power of the influence in a good way. sheer power, the influence of your thought leadership and your product and your the benefits that that product brings for the organization or for the customers or for the stakeholders that empowers you to move, move things forward and get them done. That was really cool. Thank you so much. This is this is really interesting, this really interesting approach to product management of I haven’t heard that in a while. So thank you for that. So as we as we approach we’re getting slightly closer to the end of the episode. I’d like to ask Start asking my cliche my canned questions that I usually ask them the episodes. How did this new norm, new ways of working from home you know, not being able to communicate with people face to face. And in my experience face to face communications was most huge was paramount to getting things done as a product manager. So how does this new normal or new pandemic and post pandemic world is affecting your ways of working your responsibilities, your ways of getting things done?
Alberto S 48:38
I can give you the real life example for myself and then I will talk more about what I hear from people around me. First of all, in my experience, it is not as good as being in the office. I’m not saying that like I love the office and now commute times but, but when you are face to face to someone, you can see their expressions you can see their faces you can see their body language right if you say something to someone you can immediately see if they agree or disagree with you. And then you can change the perspective of the talk or maybe change the words and something like that right. So it is more you can use a different set of skills like charisma and engagement with people and collaborate with each other in a more efficient way in terms of how you work with them. Okay? The other side working remotely, having 100% communication and collaboration through tools like Microsoft Teams or skivvy or, or whatever tool like zoom. Ease Okay, however, when you’re in front of a camera, You don’t always use your expressions, right? And you can be able to use and you can be all happy. But that’s not what you mean to be, right? This you’re hiding your emotions. That way you don’t have to waste communication like I say something and I and I have immediate response from you. Right. So that is one of the challenges I see we are facing right now and in by what people are saying about this is that the communication is being a powerful tool to get things done. However, you don’t you don’t get the feedback from the other person. And, and of course, the number of meetings in the North America of calls is increasing the metric dramatically. Sometimes, you don’t have time to do your work because you have a bunch of meetings in the morning and once you finalize them, it’s lunchtime. You have to grab some sandwich or something that doesn’t then go back to work to finalize what you’re doing. That’s different when you are in an office and you just have five minutes talk and everybody understands what you’re saying. And let’s back to work, okay? Or do you just turn your chair and say, Hey, I need you, they need this from you. Okay? And you will, they will send you one hour, two hours. And now you need to schedule a meeting and the meeting cannot be immediately because someone else is in another call and you need to get maybe by tomorrow, or two days after tomorrow. And that is not a good approach because he’s getting things delayed. right because of people availability. That’s, that’s my experience. What I hear from others is that it’s being more productive working from home because you can mix your time and create our work life balance. Because you are with your family. You can have lunch together. You can help kids with the school homework at the same time you’re attending your college conference calls and do your, your daily work. And, for example, if you normally finalize your work at 6pm in the afternoon and you just close your laptop and go home, and now you keep your laptop open and probably you have some free time you just go back to work and finalize whatever you were doing. So you become sometimes more productive in case you organize your time. Well, and one of the recommendations that we receive in one of the trainings is to if you need time to do your work, your personal work, you need to block your your calendar like two or three hours and avoid having meetings in these in this time slot. And because people say oh, do we need our origin meeting? Yeah, we I have another origin work to do. So please get in some open slot I have on my calendar. So this is kind of a recommendation in order to be more efficient on time management. That is something that is a new skill that people need to understand. And it’s to learn, which is a time management in order to be more productive and effective working from home.
Vlad G 53:09
Interesting. Thank you for your your perspective, I I do agree that there’s a lot of there’s a lot more meetings, because you can’t really schedule a five minute conversation that you may otherwise have with someone in the corridor or someone in the cafeteria. But now you have to schedule a 30 minute meeting. Pretty formal, I’ll invite a bunch of people that otherwise wouldn’t need to be there. And things in timelines are extending things or not are getting done. So you need more time to get them done. And, yeah, it gets a little out of hands at some point, I agree with that. On the positive side, it’s IE, easier to balance, work life. But not always. I see a lot of people working way more away over time. I see people working over the weekends, because they didn’t get enough of work time during the week because they were in all these meetings that otherwise would not have happened. So, I’ve seen I’ve seen a lot of trainings, I’ve seen a lot of articles. I’ve seen a lot of materials online, about how to maintain your work life balance. Guess what, they don’t work because because one of the one of the reasons why all this happens is because you’re not working in the vacuum. And most of these articles are written by people who have maybe a couple of years experience in the workforce, they are pretty low on the hierarchy of the organization and the higher you get more the more specificities you have. And more people you rely on to get things done because you delegate more things, or you rely on the inputs from other departments to get things done. And that’s where all those meetings come in. And that’s where all these, I don’t want to call them delays. But these time extensions occur. So, okay, I need, you know, two people from two different or two different parts of organization to be on my meeting to make a decision, but they are stuck in other meetings. So instead of having conversation that follows up by email that overall should take 15 minutes. Now I have to schedule a 30 minute meeting a week from now because that’s the only time on their schedules when they’re both available. So that’s the reality. That’s where we are right now.
Unknown Speaker 55:45
I totally agree with you. And that is something that again, there are a lot of trainings and online courses, as you mentioned, but it is done by people who actually are trainers, right? They don’t do they see we do we do so they promote their recommendations and that is totally fine. However, in the real life, we need to have a custom made time management. Because not everybody works the same. I see a lot of, for example, developers who say no, I work perfectly in the overnight. Because that time I am alone, I have time to think I don’t have any meeting schedule. I can do my work perfectly. Right. However, there is people who say no, I need time to sleep, right? Like I cannot do that in the overnight or in the weekends. And that is that is why I say like, we need a custom made time management, if not all recommendations work for everybody. But actually, we we need to create our own time management, we cannot do like a step by step type of thing. Instead of that we should accommodate our time scale. There are people who, for example, doesn’t have kids, right? So they have the whole day for themselves. You know To make their work and so on, there are people who have skates in, which is in my case, and I and I need to split my time with my kids with my job meetings, wife and some other stuff. So it’s pretty cool to know how people it’s doing the things around and understand that there are different needs for different kinds of people in situations. Right. And good. That’s a good talking point. That’s probably we can spend another hour talking about time management. But
Vlad G 57:35
let’s just say I sense a market need for another solution for that maybe AI driven time management tool that takes into account all your responsibilities, family, social, work responsibilities all together and aligns that with other people. So it’s kind of like a crowdsourcing. I don’t know you ever seen ways it’s an app that Crowd sources, traffic and road conditions. So you know you as you drive, the app collects the information about you driving, you know, what speed are you going at which direction you taking. You can report road closures, you know, the speed cameras, police on the road or accidents on the road or even the road surface imperfections like there’s a hole, or there’s a damage to the road. And based on all that data, the app redirects other drivers to a safer or better or more efficient route. So I feel like we need something similar that would guide us throughout our days based on crowdsourcing information, how people spend their time and how this whole thing works. Yeah, and
Unknown Speaker 58:51
there’s a funny experience with some of my colleagues. I remember around six years ago we work in a project with the Very tough manager, who has kind of micromanager, who likes all the things on point, everything is kettle, no delays and so on. So he wants all the people to be at nine o’clock in the office. And there was one colleague who always arrives at 910. And there was a concern from the management perspective, you say, oh, you’re running 10 minutes out of time. So you’re missing the daily standup or whatever, meetings get a little day off. And he can makes a very good point because he said, Okay, so in order to arrive at nine, I leave to be my home at eight. So it is one hour commute time. But if I leave my home 10 minutes before nine, I arrive at 910. So in terms of productivity in terms of efficiency, it is better for me to leave the home at 10 minutes before nine because I spent only 20 minutes driving stead of spending one hour driving. So he made a very good point. And I think management and have kind of levels of authority should understand that. That is one of the people concerns more in terms of going to the office like they can skill, their time management in a better way or the way they think it’s better for the cover up a good work life balance. So, based on that experience, I was kind of I had the same concern for good people who always arrive late but now I understand that are different situations that make people behave in a different way.
Vlad G 1:00:42
Yeah, that’s literally exactly hundred percent of my story. I in at least two jobs. I had Express Boss, I was taking Express boss that runs on schedule on a very specific schedule and one boss would take me probably about an hour and a Change to get to work and I would arrive half an hour early, and just space out and nobody’s pacing and nobody’s paying me for that. Or I would arrive seven minutes later than the start time and it takes me 40 minutes to get there. And you know, I would start work and manager insisted exactly the same same thing, measurement system that I would not be late by seven minutes. And I said, like, literally, what’s the rationale there. And another one was the same thing with what I was driving about hour and a half. It was hour and a half versus 55 minutes difference and same same thing. The arrival, the arrival time was probably like 10 1015 minute difference. So I hear you. Alright, um, we’re moving on. And this is the last question that actually last question for me. But this is your chance to ask me a question. And my question is, do you have any questions for me as we always asked, On this on the show, are there any questions for the host? Or hosts? If we have more than one, this is your chance to kind of turn the tables and ask me a question or two. Again, a reminder, please, let’s not boil the ocean here. Let’s focus on things that we discuss in product management and something that I can answer within the realms of this of this episode.
Alberto S 1:02:24
Okay, so it’s now my time.
Unknown Speaker 1:02:31
So the first question I would ask you is because based on my experience doing assessments at a time and interviews to external people, I always ask how people solve problems in communication in different understandings across the stakeholders. Let’s put a very basic example. So you have a product manager who has a different vision and his strategy than the product owner. And we already talked about differentiation of the roles and responsibilities But according to do two different books in I will provide an example. For example, the Bible says that the last call is from the product owner. And it is not always right. Because we have a stakeholders executives above the product owner who says I’m paying for the product. So my decision has to have more power, right or more or more weight than the product owner. So in your experience, what do you think should be the best approach to handle this kind of difference perspective or opinions across the stakeholders? Who has the last call?
Vlad G 1:03:35
As a great question? I, if I’m not mistaken, I just answered a couple of days ago in a real life situation. And my answer is always, this has to be a product manager because even though we do say that product manager represents business to the rest of the delivery, or the product manager is way more impartial than anybody Else, because if you think about it, you have requests or or feature requests or epic requests or or capability requests coming from all over the place, you have requests from sales, because they feel that’s what market wants. They have requested, then the requests from stakeholders come in from management, upper management, C level executives wants to see, you know, dashboards really cool, but that’s not what the market wants, but they want it and they’re paying for it. So their voices must be heard. Then the requests are. another level of request is from the technical team from from the implementation team from the delivery team. They saying, Hey, we need to refactor this, or we need to change the functionality here because it’s not scalable, or we may see issues, you know, six months to a year down the road. And it’s the job of the product manager to kind of juggle all these requests and ties them with all the involved parties and understand what the impact is, are those reversible or irreversible, irreversible decisions? Let’s say we prioritize the request from the market first. And we started implementing it. But we quickly realized that we should have listened to the technical team because, you know, there are certain technical limitations and had we listened to the technical team and had we implemented their requests First, we would have been able to do two more things in a better way. So we can reverse the decision reprioritize and do things. On the other hand, if there’s there’s an example of irreversible decision for example, we decided not to listen to the sales team, and not implement the features that they were demanding. And guess what 50% of our audience 50% of our users are no dropping our application or dropping our product and switching to a competitor’s because ours that Doesn’t have critical feature that is now absolutely a must have and in the market good example in recent events is encryption and security in zoom. Once you know word got out that there there’s a security concerns. You have bands from government organizations, a lot of educational institution jobs zoom for other solutions. Get because somebody didn’t listen, probably somebody in the product development didn’t listen to sales folks or or market analysis that said, Hey, this is really important. So Product Manager is the one who’s tasked to this and they are they are impartial, impartial to all these other organizations, and it’s really down to them to make that decision. I guess that’s that would be my answer.
Unknown Speaker 1:06:49
And I, I agree with you. And one of the reasons that I also mentioned during this this stock I have with you is that sometimes product owners are more Focus on business processes rather than the overall picture right let lay a full landscape of what is going on in the market what is going on in the trending of technologies and they have a better word to say what needs to be changed or what is the strategy that we need to follow. So I totally agree with you. And my last question and again based on the real life cases and this is not kind of a step by step answer I would like to hear another perspective from from others is like I have a friend who runs a retail store so it’s more kind of a fashion boutique for for women and he has a very good product so he’s now he had to hire an architect to create a boutique looking very good to hire people who actually is very charismatic to engage people who is going to the store and have a very good dressing rooms and have perks like coffee and Why and for people who is just arriving and have a very good purchasing experience in the store. However, nowadays he is struggling because people he’s not going to the store based on the current situation on the COVID-19. So I propose him to together help him to create a Facebook marketplace, okay. And I asked him to hire a community manager because I am not a community manager and I cannot help with that. I am not a designer or marketing specialist, but he needs to hire someone. And he needs to create a very good photographs of their products and to create a very good branding and marketing marketing strategy in order to reach out to people who is purchasing online. He’s not very technical guy and he’s concerning about the options he has because he will not be A full website, right? He can use whatever tools there are in the market. So I see this as a strategy change, right change some priorities. So he has already an architect and now a lot of people working on their on their physical store, but he needs to stop that in mobile to more online experience for customers. So as a product manager, how would you influence this guy? And what are your recommendations to him in order to change his mindset to change the priority and move towards a better strategy for his business?
Vlad G 1:09:40
I guess this is more of a psychology question rather than specifically or purely product management, but it’s it’s a way how you sell the idea to a person and yes, I would go for number of examples. Hey, look, all the museums are doing virtual tours. Hey, target is closing 200 plus stores all over the country. Because, you know, shoppers are not going to the store. Everybody everybody’s switching over to the mobile or online experience because of the situation. It’s not the question whether you like it or not. And I think that’s one of the main things that needs to be communicated. It’s not the question whether people like this, or they don’t like this, whether they agree with this or not, it’s the way the market moves. And that’s what knew they need to account for it. If they want to preserve the, you know, face to face the real life experience versus virtual, that’s fine. They can they can keep it they can do it as if nobody’s taking that away. But the focus should be on the online experience, because that’s where everybody is. It’s sort of like back in the day eBay was taking over and if you’re we’re not selling on ebay you are selling the same way like right now Amazon is selling everything and if you’re not selling on Amazon you’re not selling that Facebook marketplace maybe I’m not that thrilled with it and I know a lot of people look at it they kind of tap you know try try try using it but they don’t and they fall back on on the regular e commerce or retail shopping experience but ultimately it’s kind of innovate or die situation if you’re not online you don’t exist and and it’s pretty simple message that you know with enough examples and enough convincing will will be accepted by everyone I have some really good real life examples where the person who was resisting I anything online, any kind of online interaction you just insisting on face to face interaction with your customer. Once the pandemic hit, switched almost overnight to a full online experience, they closed their office, they don’t see clients in person anymore. And guess what their business is booming, because nobody really needed that in that line of work. And they just happily working from, you know, wherever the remote offices, they’re happily serving their customers from whatever the luxury location they’re in. And nothing really changed except they don’t have to pay for expensive office. And I think these examples and you can really put an ROI on that if you want. Like, hey, if you know if you reduce the hours then you can save on a retail. So you can expand your online presence. You can expand your online portfolio, you can expand your online presence. Yeah, I mean, you can even do the virtual tour inside your store and create an interactive experience. there so there are multiple ways of doing this. I think it’s a it’s a solvable problem with enough convincing enough communication.
Alberto S 1:13:08
Yeah, yeah I totally agree. And what I what I told to my friend was use the architect to create renders of the store, create a bag like you said that the museums are doing to create a virtual tour. And use use a the existing personnel on the store to use for example coupons for discounts to their relatives or friends and create a marketing campaigns using them. And of course, instead of firing them just create a more engagement with them and people are online. And of course it will get commission in for the number of sales they do online. And in and also they can create, for example, good photos of the products and make like a beard oil. built all experience for the customers who can actually see the sizes and the clothes that they’re purchasing on. So, yeah, so I agree with you that is more like a psychological to convince people that is one of the skill sets that the product managers should have when they’re talking to executives and technical teams. So they used to have communication, empathy and putting on other shoes to understand what their their thoughts and convince them like to influence others on what is the right path that needs to be followed.
Vlad G 1:14:34
Yep. Yep, I agree. It’s it’s all it’s all in there. It’s only communication. All right. Thank you very much. These were released in questions. I appreciate that. Thank you. This has been a really great episode. So Alberto, thank you very much for being here.
Alberto S 1:14:49
Thank you for inviting me and for all your your audience. Hope you enjoyed this this podcast this episode. And looking forward for here. hearing from other people to share their insights experiences in if you want to share my email. Let me just tell it to everyone it’s Alberto A, B, E, RT o underscore, s n. s as in Sandra, and us in number one email@example.com. So if you have questions or instances you need to do want to share, feel free to reach me out and we’ll be glad to to answer it or to hear from you. Thank you very much blood for this amazing experience from the podcast was my first time on a podcast so hope people enjoy it.
Vlad G 1:15:42
Yes, I hope you did. If you yes thank you for sharing your email. That’s great. You can connect with Alberta directly. Or you can as always connect through our website wiig Robbins comm slash podcast or ask a lot as big Robin does calm feel free to ask any questions or kind of directly with Alberto or connect through us your way doesn’t matter as long as we get your feedback in. And thank you very much. This has been great episode. Thank you, Roberto. Thanks everyone.
You’ve been listening to the real world product management and I’ll be your host Vlad Grubman. Until next time!