Tom Alterman

Tom AltermanShare

Director of Product Management, Asana
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Tom Alterman
Tom Alterman
Director of Product Management, AsanaMay 17

The question I love asking every candidate is "tell me the story of the most impactful thing you’ve ever worked on." I like this question for several reasons:

  • It works for every level of experience. For experienced PMs, I’m expecting to hear about a very important product they worked on. For someone with little to no experience, they can tell me a story about something they worked on that was incredibly hard, impactful and meaningful to them without it needing to be related to product work.
  • It allows me to get a sense of their storytelling ability. Are they able to structure a story effectively? Are they able to take me on a journey with a clear start, middle and end point? Are they able to do so succinctly?
  • Lastly, it’s a really helpful way of assessing what they consider impactful and whether they've done something impressive that suggests they'll be a fit for the role.

I've heard so many great stories, but one that stands out was for an internship role at my last company: The candidate had not done any product work before, so he told me the story of how he volunteered to help out at a student tech conference. He felt he was bad at public speaking and wanted to watch people do it well. Within a couple of years he was in charge of the largest student conference in Canada and speaking on stage to thousands of people. He told an engaging story that showed me he'd achieved something truly impressive that we wouldn't have talked about if I would have just asked product questions.

Tom Alterman
Tom Alterman
Director of Product Management, AsanaMay 17

At Asana, we don't use leveled job titles to indicate seniority (e.g. Product Manager III or Senior Director of Marketing), but that doesn't mean that we don't have management structures in place. Instead, we use Success Guides for every team that help employees understand what success looks like for each role level at Asana. Another way we demonstrate ownership and growth in role is Areas of Responsibility, key areas of the business that have one designated owner who is responsible. AoRs act as a directory so employees easily can understand who does what, and they offer employees additional ways to stretch and grow outside of a traditional role structure.

  • As a more junior PM you are working on a well-defined initiative driving the backlog of a single program team or large workstream within a program team. You contribute to the strategy for a program, while the high level elements are largely defined already. You drive work with end-to-end responsibility around execution in a problem space that is fairly well defined. At this stage you are open and curious - your growth mindset is a career accelerant.
  • As a more senior PM you have a lot of autonomy in running a program team or large workstream within a program team, and are thinking boundarylessly outside your program to drive a seamless customer experience. You may be contributing to multiple backlogs and your work likely touches experiences that are owned by others. You are expected to set the strategy for your program or workstream based on the broader pillar strategy. This strategy must help Asana win. The work that you tackle is difficult, ambitious, ambiguous, and does not have a clear solution from the outset. You coach other PMs informally, and may seek out a more formal mentorship opportunity.

Once someone is demonstrating all the competencies at their current level, we then start giving them extra responsibilities. It is only after demonstrating those new competencies consistently do we decide they are ready to be promoted.

Tom Alterman
Tom Alterman
Director of Product Management, AsanaMay 17

We often say that growth at Asana is more like a climbing wall than a ladder—you can choose different paths, get stronger with each foothold, and truly enjoy your journey along the way. That is doubly true for product roles. You get exposure to so many parts of the business that you may realize you want to go explore next.

It is also great training for anyone who aspires to be an entrepreneur or CEO of a large company. Andew Anagnost, CEO of Autodesk, advises all aspiring executives at his company to become a product manager at some point in their career. That's because it's the only role where you get to learn how to influence people without having any authority over them.

Lastly, it's a great career if you decide you don't want to be a manager or executive. Companies like Asana provide paths where you can achieve great success as an individual contributor. There's a financially rewarding path to becoming one of the world's experts in your chosen area without having to manage others.

Credentials & Highlights
Director of Product Management at Asana
Top Product Management Mentor List
Product Management AMA Contributor