Clara Lee

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VP, Product & Operations (WooCommerce), Automattic
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Clara Lee
Clara Lee
VP, Product & Operations (WooCommerce), AutomatticOctober 4

In the cases where a Product Manager has consistently challenged your work beyond regular constructive collaboration, I have found the following tactics useful:

  • Realign on company/product goals and strategy. It's possible that there's a gap in understanding or alignment that explains the pushback.
  • Share your work and point of view more widely (beyond the Product team). This can be tricky depending on the organization, but sometimes, getting having your work seen by others can inspire renewed consideration.
  • Ask for direct, 1:1 feedback. Because sometimes, it's may not be related to you at all...
Clara Lee
Clara Lee
VP, Product & Operations (WooCommerce), AutomatticOctober 4

Great question, especially for Product Marketing organizations that are still scaling to meet the footprint of much larger Product and/or Sales teams. 

Although you may find your bandwidth consumed by executional activities, it's important to ensure you continue to bring market intelligence and customer understanding to product roadmap planning. A few tactics for doing this could include:

  • Going direct. Find out where/how roadmap decisions are made, and request to be included those meetings and forums. If that doesn't work...
  • Conducting customer outreach. Being the bearer of customer voices - speaking their needs, using their own words - can be incredibly powerful. Hopefully your Product team will see value in this.
  • Creating a research roadmap. PMMs may have more research exposure than some other functions; offering up these special skills may inspire reciprocal openness.
  • Engaging smartly. Even if you're seeing the roadmap after-the-fact, sharing actionable, meaningful feedback can help others see value in including PMMs in earlier-stage discussions.
Clara Lee
Clara Lee
VP, Product & Operations (WooCommerce), AutomatticOctober 4

In most companies I've worked in, Product Marketing is often vastly outnumbered by Sales teams. The challenge is not usually in personalities or conflicting interests - but in sheer numbers. For me, managing PMM-Sales relationships comes down to understanding their goals (keeping large customers happy, hitting sales quotas, etc.), while also taking care not to become an unnecessary bottleneck for their work. 

In the past, I've used the following tactics to avoid/work through issues:

  • Take time to walk Sales team members through the product strategy and marketing plan. Treat them as strategic partners, not just executional colleagues.
  • Provide guidance to their sales strategy, and align on the right customers/prospects, so everyone's time and efforts are invested efficiently.
  • Create sales enablement content that allows some flexibility - to a limit. Reduce back-and-forth discussion by empowering them to work within specific boundaries.
  • If needed, introduce an exception process that has clear requirements around inputs requirements and expected lead times for your response.
Clara Lee
Clara Lee
VP, Product & Operations (WooCommerce), AutomatticOctober 4

Two approaches here, that may be used at the same time: 

  1. Direct communication. If you have a strong framework for how you've seen PMM function strategically in other organizations, don't be afraid to share it widely. Be prepared to talk about how this structure can help teams drive greater, faster, better results.
  2. Consider launches as a starting point. Use the time and collaboration with Product, Dev, Design, and Business teams to develop relationships. Ask questions, share ideas, and take the opportunity to suggest/flex your broader PMM skills. Over time, your cross-functional colleagues will hopefully see the value you can add to upstream decision-making, so that when you do or join other activities, it's obvious why.
Clara Lee
Clara Lee
VP, Product & Operations (WooCommerce), AutomatticOctober 4

Design and Marketing should ideally go hand-in-hand. 

If the Design team is very mature, experts in the area, and functioning on a world-class level, then Product Marketing's input/review can be focused on later stage designs, possibly as key stakeholder sign-off.

In younger organizations where Design is still a developing area, Product Marketing can and should add value to every stage of Design. In my experience, it can be helpful to frame input in terms of PMM competencies (e.g., research, interviews, surveys, competitive analysis, market data) to avoid being perceived as over-steppping bounds.

Clara Lee
Clara Lee
VP, Product & Operations (WooCommerce), AutomatticOctober 4

Ideally, your product roadmap reflects long-term strategy, narrative, and investment. If you are confident in your roadmap, you shouldn't need a rule that automatically places more weight on negative reviews than positive or neutral reviews. Feedback is very important - but it's equally important to avoid knee-jerk reactions and keep Product, Dev, and Marketing teams focused on the plan. 

Generally, I try to balance negative reviews with understanding that (a) we're not necessarily marketing to everyone and (b) product is a journey - some will follow and others will not. 

Negative reviews that come from particularly prominent people, or reviews that have the potential to go viral should be addressed directly, if possible. This response doesn't necessarily have to be public - but there could be value in a conversation that unpacks strong feelings or corrects a misunderstanding. In context of roadmap decisions, I would consider these types of prominent reviews individually (versus on an aggregate basis), just to make sure I understand the real issue at hand and whether it's something for us to solve.

Clara Lee
Clara Lee
VP, Product & Operations (WooCommerce), AutomatticJuly 25

Having worked in Product in completely opposite contexts, the most valuable soft and hard skills depend on several factors, including product maturity, organizational maturity, availability of supporting functions (e.g., Product Operations, Product Analysts, etc.), and company cultural norms. 

At WooCommerce/Automattic, the expectations I set for PMs are:

  1. Drive the creation and execution of product strategy for your focus area.
  2. Lead multi-disciplinary teams through the development process.
  3. Cultivate direct connections with our customers.
  4. Increase our success in aiding our customers’ success.
  5. Contribute to good business unit leadership decisions.

With this context, I would say the most important soft and hard skills for PMs at WooCommerce are:

Soft skills

  • Proactive internal communication – up, down, sideways (to peers and cross-functional collaborators).
  • Spearheading cross-functional collaboration – from defining an inspirational "why" to project-managing a variety of stakeholders toward getting things done.
  • Deep listening to customers – this includes taking a genuine interest in their feedback, and sometimes hearing what is not said but implied between the lines or in non-verbal cues.

Hard skills

  • Functional expertise – most PMs come from marketing, engineering, or design backgrounds; being able to draw from an area of mastery will inform your POV (and give you one less area to ramp up on!).
  • Goal setting and accountability – this one is a bit operational, but being able to translate product into measureable impacts will be essential to prioritization and making a solid business case with your teams. This has, implied in it, analytical skills, or at least confidence in quantifying outcomes.
  • Industry or subject matter expertise – Another thing that will inform your POV and reduce ramp time.
Clara Lee
Clara Lee
VP, Product & Operations (WooCommerce), AutomatticMarch 21

To me, the first 90 days are all about communication with your new team and cross-functional partners – even more so if you're setting up the Product Management function for the first time. Treat your communications a bit like internal marketing for PM (and yourself), meaning they should be tailored to your audiences, showcase how your PM skills create value for the team, and address potential concerns head-on.

The first 30 days are your time to listen and learn. Spend time with Engineering and Design to observe team dynamics and collaboration styles. Also talk with Marketing, Sales, Data, and Operations, to align on what they expect of you – all the while being aware that if they have not worked with PMs before, you may have to inform them what to expect of you. 

At the 30 day mark, share back in writing what you heard – to demonstrate that you listened and show that you're integrating the information that you've been given.

At 60 days, be ready to publish your hypotheses about product strategy and thoughts on what's needed to validate those hypotheses. Depending on your background, you may not feel like an expert in this space yet, so I'd encourage you to be vulnerable and ask for feedback even after the memo is out. 

By 90 days, you should have a plan of action that is fully aligned with Engineering, Design, and cross-functional partners. You should be a part of the team's cadence and active in all the right meetings. You should also aim to deliver frequent updates – bringing everyone along on your journey, sharing what you're doing, and tying these to long-term shared goals. 

Clara Lee
Clara Lee
VP, Product & Operations (WooCommerce), AutomatticMarch 21

The biggest surprise was how hard it was to convince others that Product Leads / Product Managers would be an asset to the team. This sentiment was more common among those who had been at Automattic and WooCommerce for several years, and perhaps not worked with a Product Lead / Product Manager before.

The questions I heard included:

  • Would this role add an extra administrative layer? A: It's actually a new type of work that would help us ensure what we build meets users' needs. 
  • Shouldn't Engineering and Design do this work? A: They are certainly capable, but it can sometimes get lost among other functional priorities. Having another person dedicated to defining customer value, establishing business viability, and collaborating with GTM teams would make efforts more consistently successful.  
  • Are these people just going to come in and order everyone else around? A: Good product managers accept ownership and responsibility for the product, but they are in no way trying to take over or dictate the role of Design or Engineering.

Two years after our COO introduced the role at WooCommerce, the team has come to embrace Product Managers in driving customer understanding, cross-functional collaboration, internal and external storytelling, and manage project scope/timelines. Overall, they aid their colleagues in removing roadblocks and helping others focus on the thing they do best.

Clara Lee
Clara Lee
VP, Product & Operations (WooCommerce), AutomatticJuly 25

Sharp communication skills that enable proactive stakeholder management. This doesn't just mean blasting memos and updates to everyone, everywhere – it means: 

  • Speaking about what matters to who; 
  • Understanding what is the right timing;
  • And knowing which channels are most effective for getting your point across. 

In some organizations, you may be lucky enough to have a Product Operations team to help you with that; in others, you won't.

Leaning into comms and stakeholder management means: 

  • Risks are assessed early;
  • Issues requiring help are unblocked;
  • Expectations are adjusted at the right time; 
  • And – most importantly – that your teams (from executive leadership to direct reports to cross-functional collaborators) know they can trust you.
Credentials & Highlights
VP, Product & Operations (WooCommerce) at Automattic
Top Product Management Mentor List
Product Marketing AMA Contributor
Lives In Remote
Knows About Analyst Relationships, Influencing the Product Roadmap, Pricing and Packaging, Self-S...more