Aleks Bass

AMA: Typeform Vice President Product Management, Aleks Bass on Establishing Product Management

March 19 @ 10:00AM PST
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Typeform Vice President Product Management, Aleks Bass on Establishing Product Management
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Aleks Bass
Aleks Bass
Typeform Chief Product OfficerMarch 19
Navigating a team where product discovery and delivery are split can be likened to steering a ship where the mapmakers and sailors operate in silos. My aim would be to bridge these worlds, ensuring that the one who charts the course is also part of the journey to the destination. Here's how I'd approach this challenge: 1) UNDERSTANDING THE CURRENT STATE First off, it’s crucial to dive deep with the team to identify where the current separation creates more hurdles than help. Often, it’s the invisible friction—delays, misalignments, or simply the inefficiencies—that highlights the need for a "Full Stack" PM approach. Understanding these pain points from the team's perspective forms the foundation of any proposal to shift towards a more integrated model. 2) GATHERING BROADER INSIGHTS Next, I'd widen the conversation to include cross-functional partners, especially from R&D. The aim here is to uncover how the split affects the flow from discovery to delivery. Are we taking longer to bring solutions to life? Are customer problems being fully addressed? Insights gathered here are not just valuable feedback but critical evidence that supports the need for change. 3) CRAFTING AND PROPOSING THE CHANGE With a solid understanding and broad insights, it's time to lay the groundwork for the proposal. This involves: * Highlighting the Pain Points: Making the "approving body" acutely aware of the suboptimal outcomes arising from the current structure. * Proposing a Unified Approach: Outlining how a more cohesive strategy could enhance efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability across the board. * Seeking Initial Feedback: Pitching the idea in one-on-one sessions to gauge reactions, gather constructive criticism, and understand potential barriers. This phase is about building a compelling case for change, rooted in real-world challenges and bolstered by cross-functional support. 4) FOSTERING COLLABORATION While advocating for structural change, fostering immediate collaboration within the current framework is essential. This means finding opportunities for Discovery PMs and Delivery PMs to share insights, collaborate on tasks, and participate in each other’s key activities. The goal is to create a shared understanding and accountability for the entire product lifecycle, even before any formal changes in team structure and workflow are made. 5) IMPLEMENTING VALIDATION STRATEGIES In parallel, it's crucial to implement robust validation strategies for new experiences. Systematic UX testing, Alpha/Beta programs, and other approaches focused on uncovering the effectiveness of an execution plan in addressing the customer problem or opportunity, can significantly de-risk deliverables. This approach not only improves the product but also builds a culture of evidence-based decision-making. CONCLUSION Inheriting a divided team offers a unique opportunity to champion a more integrated approach to product management. By understanding the current challenges, gathering wide-ranging insights, and carefully crafting a proposal for change, the goal is to move towards a structure where discovery and delivery are seamlessly connected. Immediate steps to foster collaboration and implement validation strategies can bridge gaps in the short term, setting the stage for a more cohesive and effective product development process.
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Aleks Bass
Aleks Bass
Typeform Chief Product OfficerMarch 19
When looking at the landscape of product management across different scales of companies, it's evident that the core principles remain consistent: understand your users, solve their problems, and deliver value. However, the application of these principles and the day-to-day realities of product management can differ significantly between small and large companies. These differences are shaped by various factors, including organizational structure, resource availability, and strategic focus. IN SMALL COMPANIES * Agility and Flexibility: Small companies often benefit from being able to move quickly. Decisions can be made rapidly without the need for extensive bureaucratic processes. This agility allows product teams to iterate on feedback more swiftly, often leading to a closer relationship with the end-users. * Resource Constraints: Smaller teams and budgets mean that prioritization is critical. Product managers in small companies must be adept at making tough choices about where to focus efforts, often relying on a mix of quantitative data (like user engagement metrics) and qualitative insights (such as customer interviews) to inform these decisions. * Broader Roles: In a small company, a product manager might wear multiple hats, handling tasks that range from market research to user experience design to data analysis. This breadth requires a versatile skill set and a deep understanding of both the product and the business. * Direct Impact: The contributions of individual team members can have a significant and immediate impact on the product and the company's direction. This direct influence can be incredibly satisfying but also means that there's less room for error. IN LARGE COMPANIES * Specialization and Depth: Large companies often have the luxury of more specialized roles within the product team. This specialization allows product managers to focus deeply on specific aspects of the product, such as user research, data analysis, or strategy. * Structured Processes: With size comes complexity, and large organizations tend to have more formalized processes for product development, including rigorous data analysis, A/B testing at scale, and detailed go-to-market strategies. These processes can slow down decision-making but help manage risk across a larger product portfolio. * Cross-functional Coordination: Product managers in large companies frequently navigate complex internal landscapes, working with multiple teams and stakeholders. Success often hinges on effective cross-functional collaboration, informed by both data-driven arguments and relationship-building skills. * Long-term Strategic Focus: With more resources, large companies can afford to invest in longer-term initiatives. Product management may focus not only on immediate user needs but also on setting the stage for future growth, leveraging extensive market data, trend analysis, and competitive intelligence. CONCLUSION While the essence of product management—understanding and solving user problems—remains constant, the context in which product managers operate can vastly change based on the company's size. Each environment offers unique challenges and opportunities, with the scale influencing everything from the speed of decision-making to the depth of specialization. Regardless of the size, success in product management always comes back to effectively driving value for users and the business.
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Aleks Bass
Aleks Bass
Typeform Chief Product OfficerMarch 19
Embarking on the journey as the inaugural Head of Product Management in a startup without a pre-existing product management framework is both a unique challenge and a significant opportunity. Your first 90 days are essential for laying a robust foundation, aligning the team around shared goals, and demonstrating early value. Let’s refine the plan for the first 60 days with your additional insights: FIRST 30 DAYS: OBSERVATION AND RELATIONSHIP BUILDING Objective: Focus on immersing yourself in the company culture, deeply understanding the current state of product offerings, and establishing key relationships. * Engage Broadly: Initiate conversations with individuals across functions to grasp their expectations and views on product management. * Product and Market Immersion: Become intimately familiar with the product and its position in the market to identify immediate opportunities and challenges. * Understand the Catalyst for Change: Seek to understand the motivations behind the investment in product management. What problems are you expected to solve? What does success look like? * Reserve Recommendations: While you might be tempted to suggest changes immediately, prioritize listening and understanding, using your past experiences as context rather than a direct template for action. 30-60 DAYS: ESTABLISHING FOUNDATIONS AND ALIGNING EXPECTATIONS Objective: Begin bridging knowledge gaps regarding product management practices within the organization, laying the groundwork for collaborative product development. * Educational Initiatives: Lead discussions or workshops to demystify the product development process, emphasizing the role of data and customer feedback. * Set the Stage for Product Management: Clearly articulate the role, expectations, processes, and approaches of product management within the organization. These conversations should precede discussions about specific product strategies, ensuring everyone understands the foundational elements of product management. * Manage Expectations for Impact: It's common for there to be misunderstandings about the immediate impact of product management. Set clear expectations about the timeline for seeing tangible results, underlining the importance of establishing processes and focus areas first. This preemptive setting of expectations is key to steering the experience and outcomes in the desired direction. * Proposal Development and Alignment: Integrate the challenges you’ve identified into a comprehensive proposal. Seek feedback to ensure alignment across the organization, making adjustments as needed to ensure broad support. 60-90 DAYS: STRATEGY EXECUTION AND DEMONSTRATING VALUE Objective: With a strong foundation in place and strategic alignment achieved, it's time to move forward with executing your plan and securing quick wins to build credibility. * Vision Crafting and Socialization: Develop a product vision that aligns with the company’s goals and market needs. Start sharing this vision to build support. Leverage the aligned on version to drive strategic execution of the roadmap. * Secure Early Wins: Focus on delivering immediate value through quick, impactful projects. These early successes serve to demonstrate the value of structured product management and build momentum. * Feedback Mechanisms: Establish channels for ongoing feedback from both internal stakeholders and customers to refine processes and ensure product development is on track. * Communicate Progress: Develop and implement a messaging strategy to communicate the changes made, their impact, and future plans. This strategy is crucial for managing expectations, highlighting successes, and reinforcing the value of product management to the organization. REFLECTING AND BUILDING ON SUCCESS As the first Head of Product Management, your initial 90 days are about more than laying groundwork; they’re about building trust, establishing a shared vision, and demonstrating the immediate value of your role. By focusing on education, expectation management, and strategic execution, you’ll not only address immediate challenges but also position product management as a central, value-driving function within the startup. This balanced approach ensures that as you move forward, the organization is aligned, engaged, and excited about the journey ahead.
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Aleks Bass
Aleks Bass
Typeform Chief Product OfficerMarch 19
Elevating design to a more strategic role within the product development process is essential for creating products that not only meet the functional needs of users but also deliver exceptional experiences. I advocate for integrating design early and deeply into the product strategy, ensuring that design is not an afterthought but a fundamental aspect of product conception and development. Here’s how we can achieve this: ESTABLISH CLEAR, DISTINCT GOALS FOR THE DESIGN TEAM The design team’s goals should be distinct from those of engineering and product management but aligned with the overall product vision. These goals should emphasize the design team’s unique contributions across multiple dimensions, such as user experience, product aesthetics, interaction design, discoverability, and the integration of design-oriented capabilities. By setting these clear, distinct goals, we empower the design team to take a leadership role in shaping the product. ALLOCATE SPACE AND RESOURCES FOR DESIGN INITIATIVES Empowering the design team with a broader remit means ensuring they have the necessary resources and bandwidth within the development team to bring their proposals to life. This might involve reserving a percentage of development capacity specifically for projects initiated by the design team. It’s about creating an environment where design-led initiatives are not only encouraged but are also feasible to implement. This approach fosters a culture of innovation and respects the strategic value of design. POSITION DESIGN AS STEWARDS OF THE USER EXPERIENCE Design teams should be recognized as the primary stewards of the user experience, tasked with measuring, evaluating, optimizing, and ensuring coherence across the entire user journey. This role entails a broader view of the product, one that transcends individual features or capabilities to encompass the overall experience. In this capacity, design teams are uniquely positioned to identify areas for improvement, propose enhancements, and advocate for the user in a way that complements the insights from product management and engineering. FOSTER CROSS-FUNCTIONAL COLLABORATION Encourage a collaborative culture where design, engineering, and product management teams work closely from the outset. Design should have a seat at the table during the initial stages of product strategy and planning, ensuring that user experience considerations influence product decisions from the beginning. This collaborative approach helps break down silos and ensures that all teams are aligned on the product vision and user needs. IMPLEMENT DESIGN-LED INITIATIVES Support initiatives that allow customers to engage with the product through design-oriented capabilities. This might include customizable interfaces, intuitive navigation patterns, or innovative interaction models that distinguish our product in the market. These initiatives should be guided by the design team's vision and expertise, underscoring the strategic role of design in product development. CONCLUSION Making design a more strategic component of the product development process is about much more than aesthetics; it’s about fostering a culture that values creativity, user-centricity, and innovation. By establishing distinct goals for the design team, providing the necessary resources for implementation, and ensuring close collaboration with engineering and product management, we can create products that are not only functional but also delightful to use. This approach recognizes the design team as integral to our strategic vision, capable of driving significant impact on the product and the overall user experience.
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Aleks Bass
Aleks Bass
Typeform Chief Product OfficerMarch 19
In the quest to find the right addition to our product management team, I focus on a set of non-negotiable traits that I believe are crucial for success in this role. These traits not only reflect the individual's ability to contribute effectively to our team but also their potential to drive our product forward in a meaningful way. Here's what stands out to me as make-or-break factors: 1. GROWTH MINDSET: EMBRACING ADAPTABILITY The dynamic nature of product management demands a candidate who views change as an opportunity rather than a challenge. This mindset is critical because the strategies and solutions that succeeded yesterday might not be relevant today. A PM's adaptability, evidenced by their flexibility and willingness to evolve their approach, is a clear indicator of their potential to navigate the complexities of different organizational contexts effectively. 2. COLLABORATION: CRAFTING A JOINT MASTERPIECE The ability to collaborate effectively goes beyond mere teamwork; it's about synthesizing diverse inputs into a coherent and superior output. This skill set is multifaceted, encompassing facilitation, empathy, compromise, and the pursuit of alignment, all driven by a focus on the big picture. It's this ability to integrate suggestions, ideas, concerns, and approaches from various stakeholders into a unified strategy that sets apart a truly effective PM. 3. STORYTELLING AND COMMUNICATION: THE POWER OF NARRATIVE A PM's role involves constant communication across all levels of the organization and at every stage of the product lifecycle. The capacity to articulate a problem, the journey to its solution, and the impact of the outcome in a clear, concise, and engaging narrative is indispensable. This storytelling ability is not just about keeping stakeholders informed but also about inspiring teams, securing buy-in, and ensuring alignment on the vision and strategy. 4. CUSTOMER CENTRICITY: ENGAGING WITH EMPATHY At the heart of successful product management is a profound understanding of and empathy for the user. I look for candidates who demonstrate an unwavering commitment to engaging with customers, not just systematically but with genuine curiosity and compassion. Their approach should reveal a depth of customer engagement—asking insightful questions, actively listening to feedback, and translating user needs into product features. 5. DATA-DRIVEN DECISION MAKING: NAVIGATING WITH EVIDENCE The integration of data into the decision-making process is non-negotiable. A promising PM candidate should showcase their proficiency in utilizing a broad spectrum of data sources—from user feedback and A/B testing to competitive analysis—to inform and validate their product strategies. This reliance on data ensures that decisions are grounded in reality, optimizing resource use and maximizing product success. 6. DOMAIN EXPERTISE: THE QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE While existing domain expertise is highly beneficial, the enthusiasm for and commitment to acquiring new knowledge are equally valuable. The ideal candidate is someone who exhibits a strong desire to delve into the domain, understanding its nuances and leveraging this knowledge to drive informed product decisions. CONCLUSION In summary, the traits I look for in a product manager go beyond technical skills, encompassing a blend of mindset, collaboration, communication, customer focus, analytical prowess, and domain knowledge. These make-or-break qualities ensure that a PM can not only adapt to and thrive within our organization but also drive our products forward with insight, innovation, and a deep understanding of our users' needs.
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