Effective product management from crisis to the new normal

(upbeat music) - Hi, I'm Cheryl Gledhill.

I'm Head of Product at Zip, zipMoney Limited and I'm talking about effective product management through this crisis into a new sense of normal. So, I wanted to start with taking stock.

I started at Zip in January of this year.

So you know, New Year, new me, new job, am I right? But even back in January, there are a couple of people in my circle who were already kind of starting to worry a little bit about Coronavirus.

And I remember talking to them going, "What are you talking about? "It's just in China, it's only Italy.

It's not gonna reach here." But I think they knew a little bit more about it than I did because we kind of got into February and 2020 started shaping up to be the year that we all know. So I became part of the team that started trying to future proof the team and the company, we're looking at the fact that all of a sudden our co-located team was all gonna have to start working remotely.

And so, our company actually went into lockdown a little bit faster than the official government lockdown. So as of March, we were doing our product planning, all of us suddenly working remotely.

There's a really great BBC article I'll link to in the chat that's talking about the hinge of history.

And the hypothesis is there's certain things and certain times in history that change everything after it and we're living through one of those times. So the underlying goal of understanding all of this, is really identifying what society should start to prioritise to ensure the long term success of our species.

So as a product person, this gives me shivers because this is the stuff that I live for.

It's real, meaningful change that we can affect coming out of an uncertain time in our society. So, I love the fact that we are at this potential hinge of history, because there's a lot of potential for us as product people.

So, one of the things that we've had to start thinking about is, what is really ripe for disruption? So, I work in FinTech.

So right now, I'm really doing a lot of deep thought into what is the future of how people are gonna be spending money? You know, what's the future of personal finance? We've just been through this massive upheaval in terms of uncertainty.

Everybody's had a lot of anxiety about their finances, then I started thinking, I actually haven't been to an ATM since the pandemic started.

Like, what is the future for public spaces? Given that, you know, banks and ATMs used to take up this space? What's gonna replace them? And how does a cashless society change? All of a sudden, I've gotta start thinking through privacy of, you know, if every transaction is trackable, what should we be doing to do the best thing as far as society goes? So, other industries that are kind of ripe for disruption at the moment, as you know, as we know, travel has changed at least for the next couple of years.

The arts is in dire straits.

How does the way we consume art and museums and entertainment, restaurants? It's not about surviving right now, it's about pivoting and thriving.

And that brings us to a really, really interesting place. So, I do have a little bit of a confession. So, I've been a remote worker for the last 10 years. So I worked originally in Sydney, with somebody who was Seattle-based and we worked with teams that were in Hong Kong and England.

Then when I was in Seattle, our team was kind of scattered across the U.S.

And I've recently, was working in Newcastle with a team that was Sydney, New Zealand, Melbourne and Singapore based. So, I feel like I'm pretty well versed for remote working across time zones and across different cultures. But what was different for me this time was I had two five-year-olds that were suddenly locked at home with me.

And I wasn't remote working, I was homeschooling while trying to also hold down a full-time job. So, I kind of feel like a little bit of an imposter talking about effective product management because definitely through the pandemic, I was in pure survival mode.

I was just getting through it.

And that is a really important point because what we're doing right now is not just remote work. We have all been coping in the middle of a global emergency. And that's a really important distinctive difference because it feels like remote work is very much a choice and it's just about kind of where you're located and you're working within your best creative metabolism. But working in a global emergency adds an extra layer of anxiety to your teammates, to your colleagues, to everybody else.

And so, there is just a definitely a different lens that we need to look at this through.

But I think there's a lot of positives that we can take going forward that we can bring out of it.

The thing that I love the most about product management is the ambiguity and uncertainty.

You know, BAU kills me with boredom.

I hate knowing exactly what I've gotta do every single day and I know exactly what the outcome will be. I really thrive on taking a tiny thread and kind of weaving a story together for it. And that's a really, really great time to be working when the entire future of the world seems very uncertain. So, I think there's a lot we can really take out of this. So, I started to think about what makes a product manager effective and how does this change if you're remote versus being in the office? And it's actually quite funny.

So, as of January of this year was the first time I was actually five days in an office in probably 10 years. And then all of a sudden, we're kind of flipping back to remote but in this very different way.

So one of the first things about being a really, truly great product manager is being a strong leader.

And I'm not just talking about hierarchy here. But it's the person that's able to set a vision, persuade people and motivate your team towards working towards a shared outcome.

We always like to think of ourselves as the CEO of the product.

And it's a very pithy thing to say that people get straight away, but the difference is we're actually not the CEO of a product because generally, nobody reports into a product manager.

So if we get things done, it's gotta be through like amazing interpersonal skills. And I've always really loved that part about being a product manager.

You can't just tell people what to do and they do it, you've actually gotta find clever ways to get people to reach this shared outcome and work as a team without kind of having that very traditional hierarchy just hanging over their head.

So, the really great leaders lead by example. So, they kind of have this willingness to go the extra mile and they have this can-do attitude that really shows their team that this is the leader that they need to kind of follow and run with because they've got this. So, how does that actually change when you're remote? Over communication is the key when you're remote. We no longer have the visibility to see when someone's at their desk and to pop over and talk to them for 15 seconds and say, "How's it going with this?" We've gotta be very mindful about our communication. So, we might think that we're communicating well but we've actually gotta aim for over communication. So, even if you don't know a particular solution or a particular answer to a problem, it's responding on Slack straight away where it's like, "Not sure, I'll look it up.

I'll have an answer to you by this date." And it's just allowing people to feel that they've been listened to and to let you know that they've got this.

So, I work with a couple of product managers who are just amazing at communication and I'm in awe watching them because I watch how they make their own lives so much easier by just constantly checking in like, "Hey, guys, I've got this.

"This is what I'm working on.

"This is when you can expect delivery.

This is when you can expect answers." And it's amazing.

I watch the stakeholders just, okay, they don't have to worry about this.

They don't have to check in on them.

And then they can really focus their attention on where they're best placed to do the best work that they can.

So, it just makes life easier for everybody if you are the person just constantly over communicating. I think it's really the job of a leader and I'd see a product manager as an absolute leader to take the well-being of the team seriously. We're in a time I saw a great quote the other day, it's like, "We're not working from home, I'm actually living at work." And we've got these really blurred boundaries of how we're working.

You know, we get out of bed and we walk into our living room and all of a sudden you're at work, which again, makes it really hard to switch off at night.

And so because these boundaries are blurred, we have to make sure that when we're using Slack asynchronously, which we absolutely should be, we're not expecting everybody to work to the same schedule that we are.

So, I've got to be very conscious.

I have to do a lot of my work at night because that's when everybody else is offline, my kids are in bed.

I actually get the solid thinking time.

And that's when I start to remember things. And I'll Slack people and then I did notice that straight away, people would come back online and they'd start having a conversation.

So, I've got to be very conscious of the fact that I'm saying, I'm actually not expecting a response, I'm putting it down here to get it out of my head, but let's talk about it in the morning.

It's just this is the way that I have to work. So hygiene with communication is really, really important. And don't be that person that sends a Slack message that just says, "Hey" because you're now relying on the other person to come back.

"Hey", and you're like, "I've got a quick question." And they can say, "Sure, what's your question?" And then you can type your question.

And meanwhile, either this person's had to context switch or they've had to jump back online or they've had to stop what they're doing to find out what it is you need.

It's just really good communication hygiene to be like, "Hey, I've got a quick question.

This is my question." And then hit the enter button so they can respond to it in their own time.

So, it's being really mindful about the way we're communicating with each other, knowing that we're not all gonna be online 24/7. So, it's allowing your team to work with full autonomy and focusing on the outcomes rather than the outputs. So, emotional intelligence is one of the greatest strengths that a product manager can have because a great product manager with high emotional intelligence builds really strong relationships within their companies.

And they know how to navigate the hurdles to ship a great product.

Emotional intelligence really comes with three prongs. So, the first one is self management.

It's about understanding your own emotions and your needs, and balancing them without freaking out your team, if you realise that things aren't going the way that you've planned them.

It's also about relationship management.

So, how are you balancing the different relationships you have with all of the different stakeholders. And it could be your CEO and your engineering manager and the developers and your UX designer and your users. You know, we all work with really tight deadlines and metrics that we've gotta hit.

So, how do we kind of balance all of these prioritisation conflicts in a way that makes everybody feel like you're on top of things.

So, PM really needs to maintain their emotions and stay cool under pressure because if not, you're gonna lose the confidence of your team. So, a good PM knows how to push hard on the right priorities with a sense of urgency but without that sense of panic or stress.

You also need to know when to take a step away and regroup. And the third prong is really social awareness. So, it's about forming these authentic relationships with your stakeholders, because that's really vital for negotiation and for conflict resolution down the path.

And it's leading everybody towards this shared goal. So it's balancing all the different needs of your users, the resourcing, the revenue goals, the engineering team and bringing them all together as a cohesive whole. So, how does that actually change when you're remote? So I apologise, this is gonna sound very LA because I've lived in LA for like, five years and it's like, this is what people talk about all the time. But there is a lot of value in it.

So, it's about not getting emotionally hijacked. So, it's about practising self-regulation and self-awareness.

So, there's gonna be times during the day that's gonna trigger an unproductive reaction. So, it's about checking in with yourself.

It's about even if you've got 60 seconds between Zoom calls, just taking a moment, closing your eyes for a sec, taking a breath and notice how you're feeling. Because we so often don't take the time to sit there and listen to our own bodies.

So, a really helpful method in this time, it's called the Label and Learn response.

And so psychologists use this.

It's about having a feeling and taking a breath and stopping and thinking, what is this feeling? Am I feeling angry? Am I feeling scared? Is my confidence thrown? Am I feeling anxious about something? Because research has shown that once you start to label a feeling, it switches you off from the emotional brain and it starts to re-engage the prefrontal cortex, which is our logical brain and it starts to give you a little bit of distance to make you kind of not have this overreaction and it gives you a bit of a sense of calm.

So, we're product people.

Our reactions are data.

And this is the most amazing thing as you can actually start to notice these reactions and start to find patterns within the data that help you better navigate different moments and keep you really grounded. So, consciously processing your own emotions allows you to stay grounded and to remain an effective leader for your team. So again, very LA and I do apologise for it but it definitely does work.

Because once you're the person that that's very kind of in control, the rest of the team see you like that and then you can be a really strong leader. I remember talking with a friend years ago. He was like a paramedic and he used to go around like driving ambulances and he would turn up to scenes of accidents. And I was talking to him about his job and so he would turn up to the scene of an accident and he would have no idea what he was dealing with. He just knew that there was an accident and there were people hurt.

And the very first thing he did was stop, assess the situation, take a really deep breath, he wouldn't spring into action straight away. And he would assess, where is my value the best served at this point? And it wasn't the person that was screaming the loudest. It wasn't the person that was covered in the most blood. It wasn't sometimes even the person that was hurt the worst. It was where he could add the most value and he would very calmly assess, "Okay, there, over there.

"I need this person to do that and then we need to go do that." And then he would spring into action.

And I remember talking to him I'm like, "That's product management except like less dead bodies and more like shipping products." But that's very much what we need to do.

We need to really calmly assess every situation and think, this isn't working right now.

Things aren't going the way we planned.

Maybe we're running late, maybe there's this disaster that we've uncovered kind of technically.

But it's about just taking a deep breath, not panicking and going, okay, well, what are some other ways that we can solve this problem that get us to the same outcome.

And is the outcome still the right outcome? So, that's kind of the end of the hippie stuff. Effective product managers get out of the building. And it's one of the tenets of the Lean Startup kind of process and the way that we kind of build products these days.

It is the single most important thing that we can do as product managers.

And it is the number one thing that we don't do when we get busy, 'cause we're often so busy just putting out fires. We don't have the time and space for it.

At the moment, we're on Zoom eight hours a day. And we don't have time to get out of the building. And kind of pre-pandemic, you know, I work in finance now. So, you know, I would go down to Chinatown and I'd kind of spend the afternoon observing, how are people spending money when they go to get like bubble tea or ice cream? And I'd look at all the different payment methods and it's like, okay, well, that person is using Alipay and I'd go and talk to them, "Why? Why did you use this payment method?" And you can learn so much about people just from getting out of like being in your own office.

Obviously, it's much harder during a pandemic but it is still about making that space and time away from meetings, away from constant Zooms, where you can really synthesise all of the inputs that you've had and find the inspiration that ties it all together.

So I found through the pandemic, kind of getting out and going for a 20-minute walk every day, just really kind of sets the brain up for just switching off from the day-to-day and it allows you greater thinking time to actually think okay, well, there's something I've been missing in this kind of running from meeting to meeting.

I've actually missed this amazing thread that's come over here because I haven't had time to stop and think about it. So really, really important that we get out of the building, even if it's, you know, putting time in your calendar every single day just to get outside, observe other people, look at the way people do things and start to wonder like, why are they doing that and start to uncover answers.

So a lot of product managers are really, really great at product discovery in the ideation phase. But we tend to kind of go, we go through discovery, we then go through kind of UX design, solution validation and then it goes into execution.

And we tend to kind of drop discovery and move on to the next thing.

But discovery is not actually not only for ideation, there's so many opportunities for product team to keep checking back in with that original vision and learn earlier in the process, whether what we're delivering has value, even as the engineers are still building it. So, we really need to take it back to the lean product process of build, measure, learn, build, measure, learn and make sure we're shipping value, every single sprint.

Every single thing that we're doing should be about this continuous delivery of value.

So, how do we do it remotely? It's definitely not as simple as let's get people into the office and we'll run usability tests or we'll run focus groups because that world seems to have gone and it hasn't really come back again. But I've been really grateful for the pandemic, because we've uncovered a lot of remote tools that have been so valuable for us.

Because we used to do, kind of Thursdays was our research day where we'd get people into the office and we'd talk to them about, you know, how they spend money, how they think about finances. But it's often really hard to get someone to take an hour out of their day, come into the city, they get all of the travel time.

And now that we've gone remote, there's so many tools. There's, you know, Lookback and Maze and there's Miro and Useberry and probably hundreds of other ones that I, we haven't even thought of.

And it's brilliant because these people are now sitting in their lounge room on their couch talking to us.

And we get a little bit of an insight into like, oh, you have birds.

And you can talk to them about that and understand what drives them a little bit more. And it's so much more intimate.

And we do lose a little bit in kind of that face-to-face, picking up of body language.

But I feel like we've gained so much more in that when users tend to be remote, they're actually a lot more reliable that they will show up for a session.

And we've made it easier for them.

We take 45 minutes of their day and they can do it from their phone.

And we're getting a lot of value out of this remote testing, whereas previously, I used to think it had to be face-to-face.

So, it's definitely a practise we're gonna take with us kind of post-pandemic of definitely doing a blend of remote usability testing as well as in-person. Curiosity is what drives the great PMs and it's what I always look for at the interview stage. I want to hire people that are constantly questioning why is something the way it is.

And, you know, it's the people who are like children with the five Whys.

We're talking about, why is that? But, why is that? But, why is that? Because they can really understand a problem from all angles and get a real diverse range of sources and really understand how outcomes impact different successes.

So, it's a really great time to be a remote product manager that's incredibly curious because there's so many, you know, we've got this Web Directions conference right now. And I guess a bit of a personal story is last Web Directions for everybody who was there, Mark Pesce gave that amazing panel on the future of digital money.

And I was watching it and I was like, wow, this is amazing. I'd never thought about, you know, China introducing the digital yuan.

I started kind of looking into the future of money and digital and how life is gonna change.

And I got so fascinated by it, I ended up working for a buy now, pay later company, because I'm like, this is really fascinating. Like money is just about to change so completely differently to anything I've known in my lifetime.

I wanna be part of that wave.

I wanna be part of kind of the solution going forward. So, curiosity can really take you in different directions that you thought you were gonna go into.

And it's such a good time to be at webinars and conferences. And we don't have a commute anymore so now's a great time to instead of just jumping at your desk after you've had breakfast, listen to a podcast or pick up a textbook or, you know, attend as many conferences as you can, because they're all remote now.

You don't have to go to Austin to go to South by Southwest next year.

It's all gonna be remote.

So, it's a perfect time to be a curious product manager. My biggest learning over the last kind of 10 months is around vulnerability, because I'm not very good at being vulnerable.

I like to think that I've if not got the answers for everything, I can find the answers and I've got this. And I've kind of got my weekend me and my work me and I have a particular face when I'm at work and I'm professional and this is me.

And all of a sudden, because my kids were locked at home with me, I couldn't have that face anymore. And I had to admit, oh my god, I can't do it all. I really can't.

I think I can but this is actually impossible. But admitting my vulnerability has allowed others to step up and to step in.

And it's the same way with the rest of my team. The second that we were really honest with each other about the way we were feeling and some of us weren't coping and some of us were just feeling really, blah but the second we could voice that we could all actually help each other.

And it's through vulnerability that we create safe spaces for each other.

So I feel like allowing each other to be vulnerable has really shaped the way our team has worked together. I feel like we've been stronger through the pandemic than I would have expected.

And we've definitely got a strength to us going forward that I hope we'll keep.

And I hope we'll keep this level of vulnerability with each other of admitting that we kind of we can't do it all and we don't have all of the answers. So, back to the hinge of history.

The article that I'll link to just has this great, amazingly inspiring end to it, where it's like, "We have an increasing power to shape "the lives and well-being of billions of people living tomorrow, for better or for worse." And what an amazing time, right? As product people, it's about looking at this hinge right now using our emotional intelligence to see beyond kind of our own situation and what's going on in our own lives.

It's going through discovery to get these data points about how everybody else is feeling and what's gonna be changing.

And finding that seed of an insight and then running hard with an idea.

Because the greatest thing right now about this ambiguous uncertain time that we're living in, is we can fail really quickly, really hard. And it actually doesn't really matter because everybody else is figuring this out.

Nobody has the answers.

And I think as product people, that is the most freeing thing ever, right? We wanna fail fast.

We wanna fail often to find that right path. And often the thing that stops us is this fear of failure. Well, guess what? Nobody knows what's going on right now.

Like find that gem of an insight, create something, go out with it and then just kind of run with it. It's just such a good time to be working in product right now.

We're at the hinge of history, everything changes from kind of 2020 on.

We're gonna look back at this and say that was when the future of money changed, that was when travel changed forever, that was when the art changed forever.

And I think we are so well placed to be part of that change and part of the direction of how we interact with all of these things going forward that like, what a time to be alive, right? So, there's gonna be Question and Answer.

I'm not sure whether it's gonna be a few minutes, but I'll be sticking around for questions and I would love to chat to you guys.

Thank you.

(upbeat music)

Effective product management from crisis to the new normal

Cheryl Gledhill: Head of Product - Zip Co Limited

Taking Stock

Slide image of 2020 dumpster fire graphic

Slide text header reading: The hinge of history. Underneath, written quote reading: Leading philosophers and researchers are debating whether the events that are occurring could shape the fate of our species over the next thousand if not millions of years. The 'hinge of history' hypothesis proposes that we are, right now, at a turning point

What is ripe for disruption?

Slide with text reading: Impostor Syndrome alongside a photo of Cheryl

Photograph of Cheryl with her two five year old children added to previous Impostor Syndrome slide

Text reading: What we are doing is not remote work. It is coping in a global emergency. Subheading reads: through an unprecedented global pandemic

What makes a product manager effective?

One of the attributes of being a great product manager is being a strong leader

What changes when you’re remote?

You may think you’re communicating well with your team but aim for overcommunication. During uncertain times like this, your team wants to hear from you and wants to know you're taking decisive actions

Slide text reading: Take wellbeing seriously. Underneath this, a screenshot of a message from Cheryl to a team member reading: (btw when I message out of hours I don’t expect you to respond, it’s just the only time I have to get work done once the kids are asleep. It can wait until tomorrow.)

Emotional Intelligence

Slide text header reading: What else changes when you’re remote? A series of text boxes underneath read: Recognize outsized feelings. Take time to breathe. Label and Learn.

Slide text reading: GOOB. Get out of the building. Beside the text, an animated cartoon graphic of a person happily walking

Slide text reading: Product discovery. Beside the text, animated cartoon of a person writing notes, balling the paper up, throwing it away, and starting again

How do you do it remotely?

Slide text reading: The tools. With logos from apps like useberry and lookback, alongside screenshots of apps in action with user interface graphic demos

Slide text reading: Curiosity. Beside the text, animated cartoon of a person surrounded by thought bubbles asking “Why?”

Slide text reading: Vulnerability. Beside the text, screenshots of her team video conferencing with their families and or home environments in the background visible to colleagues

Slide text header reading: The hinge of history. Underneath header, a quote reading: We have increasing power to shape the lives and well-being of billions of people living tomorrow - for better and for worse... It will be for future historians to judge how wisely we used that influence