Female product leaders on grit, grace, and everything in between
There are several thousand product managers on LinkedIn and many of them are women. However, I noticed that few product VPs are women.
About the same time, I attended a “Women in Product Management” panel at Rocky Mountain Product Camp, moderated by Shaughnessy Speirs. Afterward we discussed how few product VPs are women and how it would be valuable to have a panel discussion focused on women in senior product roles.
Shaughnessy ran with the idea and organized another panel a few months later for a conference called Denver Startup Week and I had it recorded to share with you. Four leaders joined the panel.
- Shawna Barnhart, Product Management Leader and Former VP of Product at Artifact Uprising
- Holly Vezina, Director of Product at APR Consulting
- Jenn Dearth, Product at Stedi
- Ann Koerner, Adjunct Professor of Product Management at DU and Former VP of Product at GutCheck
Our moderator, Shaughnessy Speirs, has been a product manager in several software organizations with depth in agile software development and business analysis.
This is a longer discussion. The panel responds to Shaughnessy’s questions for the first 30 minutes and the remaining time they respond to audience questions.
Summary of some concepts discussed for product managers
[2:45] What core values are product managers missing?
Curiosity — never taking something at face value and always looking for the answer behind it. Openness to being proven wrong. In fact, this is something you should welcome because you can learn from it. Curiosity and openness pair really well together when you can constantly question things and learn from your mistakes. You also need to be able to create value and articulate it to your customers and your users. Product managers need to have a product vision and be able to create a plan to get there. The final missing characteristic is grit. Do the jobs no one wants to do and don’t be afraid to apply for positions you don’t think you are qualified for.
[7:30] What are opportunities you took that helped shape your career?
Find the problems that no one else wants to solve and figure out a way to solve them. Don’t be afraid to take on the hard problems, even if they are scary. Realize that you aren’t going to build a mountain in a day and take things one step at a time and lean on data where you can to drive your work. Make sure that the company you are going into has a product culture. You can’t move a few hundred people on your own and you don’t want to feel like you are spinning your wheels. It’s also important to be patient and not ask for more until you really understand what you are doing and why you are doing it.
[13:28] What are the skills required to be a successful product manager?
The ability to turn ambiguity into a clear vision. You need to be comfortable in that ambiguous space in order to derive a clear vision from it. You are always in new industries and working with new clients so an open mind and a passion for lifelong learning is critical. An MBA gives a broad overview of a company, which is necessary for product management. You also need to be obsessed with your customers and make decisions that will be best for them, even if it’s not always best for internal stakeholders.
[16:58] How did your personal identity shape your career?
All of us are moms and there’s nothing like a child to teach you patience. Being a mom makes you a better product manager because it teaches you how to listen and deal with unexpected situations. The hardest experiences in your life are the ones that end up shaping you the most. What happens outside of work is just as important as what happens at work; sharing personal information helps build trust.
[21:54] What are the ways that others have contributed to your growth?
Find leaders who can tell you the things you’re not doing right and how you can improve. It shows they care about you and how you can become better. Trust is important in these relationships, and you need to be vulnerable in order to build trust. Sponsors within the organization are also important — these are the people who will put their neck on the line to help you advance and take on challenging projects. The Colorado Product group has a lot of resources to help find mentors. Find a mentor who can challenge you and make you face your problems directly.
[27:30] How do you make the transition from mentee to mentor?
Mentorship is really natural in product management. We all thrive on feedback and are always looking for ways to improve. Helping other people solve their issues also helps you solve them for yourself. It’s also important to have an opinion and not be afraid to share it, while having empathy at the same time and always being open to learning. The mentor/mentee relationship does not always have to be formal and it should never be forced.
- Announcement for Denver Startup Week panel discussion of Women Product Leaders
- Connect with Shaughnessy at her LinkedIn profile
Thank you for being an Everyday Innovator and learning with me from the successes and failures of product innovators, managers, and developers. If you enjoyed the discussion, help out a fellow product manager by sharing it on your favorite social network.