Disruption Insights: Helping Stakeholders Understand the “Big Idea” Behind the Product
Meet Jesse Owens II, a product management leader with over 15 years of experience gained in industries such as fintech, investment banking, consumer technology, and education.
Jesse serves as the VP of Product at Wells Fargo, a multinational bank that has been operating since 1852.
We have to mention his strong technical background – before moving to product management, he was a developer, software engineer, and designer. This proves a common belief that displaying technical and design prowess is not mandatory, but it may significantly help develop a successful career in the product management field.
Being an outstanding Product Manager requires combining a methodological approach, creative thinking, and people skills. How does it work in practice? We answer this question in the Disruption Insights series by presenting proven frameworks and battle-tested tips from top experts who contribute to creating valuable and effective products.
The most important elements of good "product" stories
Good product stories should feature insights that help stakeholders understand the “big idea” behind the product. First of all, it should inform them what led to the “big idea” and present the customer story that best aligns with the idea.
The story should include multiple standpoints and be told holistically – from a customer, business, as well as operations and support standpoints. It should also describe models and execution approaches that will ensure that value is continuously delivered to customers.
Technology stacks and how they are positioned for adaptability of existing and emerging customer use cases also constitute an integral part of such a story.
The last, and usually most important, element should cover opportunities or unmet user needs.
It should advocate for the customer experience and go deep into the challenges they face, with insights brought in from the lens of the customer.
This element may include things users would like to see in an existing product or features that don’t exist but could drive a lot of business value.
What touches upon both customer and stakeholder perspectives within a good product story is connecting the customer use cases or opportunities to what it means for your company:
- What will it essentially unlock?
- Does it unlock a new customer segment we don’t address?
- Is it an untapped market that is yet to be realized as a business?
- Do we extend capabilities of an existing customer segment to help us fortify our product offering within that specific customer segment?
- Do we look to disrupt a whole new market in which we don't have an existing customer base, but we believe that this opportunity will allow us to build a whole new vertical?
Finally, once you take in the customer context, and how it ties to a business perspective, you have to cover the operational side in the product story. You need to know whether this solution can be scaled and adapted to new and emerging use cases. Only then can you include what you have learned in the story.
Tips for communicating product vision and strategy to get others engaged
You need to know who you communicate with, so an audience assessment is indispensable to effectively present product vision and strategy. That said, you need proper data or an experiment-centric approach to understand both the customers and the technical part of your ideas. You also need an overview of growth across acquisition, retention, and transaction verticals.
With all the data collected across the above mentioned product verticals (assuming that it's an existing product), you need to prioritize what to convey through your vision.
I think about vision as listing about three to five points that describe where we want to be in the future.
It gives the audience a perspective of who we serve, how we're going to serve them, and what the phases of this process are. I like to look at how we deliver the vision in the course of 90 days, having to refresh and reassess it along with its strategy."
Each reassessment should find answers to these questions:
- Have things changed since we last conveyed the vision or strategy?
- Is what we're delivering still in alignment with a product vision?
This rolling 90-day strategy is going to be partially tactical, helping us decide what things we need to address to really facilitate the go-to-market motions of our product. It will also provide information on what elements we need to start building for the future iterations of our product.
It’s a dual track you operate under, where you think about different aspects in parallel, including both current tactical decisions and having a lens of what's on the horizon. One track might be compared to a “technical dance” – and the other one to a “visionary dance”.
It’s also important to remember that neither the vision nor the strategy are set in stone. You have to continually talk to customers, bring those insights back to the team, as well as refine the vision and strategy if needed, keeping them fresh every time you present them to stakeholders.
Decision-making process when defining strategic bets
When I’m about to make a strategic bet, I take into account the company’s current initiatives, organizational OKRs, customer segment penetration, and the technology stack involved. One needs to have all this data in place to make any serious decisions.
Three favorite product frameworks
My favorite product frameworks include:
- Business Model Canvas
- Value Proposition Canvas
- Assumption Mapping
📋 Work and talent
Key traits or skills of a great Product Manager
What distinguishes a good Product Manager from an average one is obviously their skillset. Storytelling is the most crucial skill, since a seasoned Product Manager needs to know how to present or even create a captivating story that’s behind a given solution.
Another complex skill is a rare ability to speak multiple languages: the customer experience language, business strategy language, and system integration patterns. In conclusion, being able to connect abstract data helps you tap into actionable insights that will resonate and inspire your team.
When you build out a consumer experience of, let’s say, a checkout flow, you think about the presentation and the workflows. A consumer is going to first discover the product they are willing to purchase. They're going to select the item, add it to their cart, and then, on the checkout page, add the card details together with their address.
In that journey, there are very distinct touch points, but for that journey to be realized, a system design or a pattern that aligns with the UX has to be in place so that a user can go through a checkout experience without any difficulty. It's aligning the UX design with the API on the backend that's essentially driving the experience.
Besides, a great product manager has to understand the API contracts and functionality, which will allow them to see how the system actually works to dev, design, research, and business teams.
Top PdM habits you follow every day/week
I always maintain Organizational Canvas to plan my work. I also keep a weekly system of priorities that include: communication tools, networking, as well as alignment with the business and tech sides.
Organizational Canvas helps me identify my key stakeholders along with the touchpoints I need to have with them.
I also know whether they are a high-touch stakeholder, meaning I need to spend a bit more time with them, explaining what we're building, as well as keep them engaged and informed on how things are evolving. I might also encounter a stakeholder who is very interested, but I only need to contact them if need be.
It’s about stack ranking your stakeholders and understanding which of those require the most effort, and which of them are interested but don’t require that much engagement and would opt to simply stay informed.
When using the canvas, I pay attention to the product strategy as well. I want to ensure that what I'm working on is aligned with what we're building, or that what we're striving for is linked to a strategic objective from an organizational standpoint.
That set of information serves as my anchor, helping me track my focus. Also, there's a component of Organizational Canvas centered around customer insights, which helps me look at them from a couple of perspectives.
This involves looking at how customers feel about being onboarded to the product we're building, and what is their experience when actually using it. Next, it’s important to observe the usability of your product to guarantee the user experience is intuitive and ultimately something that will continue to be used to solve their problem(s).
Moreover, from a support standpoint, I check how customers feel about the support they're being provided while using the product. All in all, I look at products that have a job opportunity for an individual or a company that would like to hire you. Given the freedom of choice regarding the products you want to implement, it's important to observe the entire customer experience so it meets and exceeds their expectations.
As a Product Manager, it's important to understand and dissect what your culture is because it will help you navigate conversations more gracefully. Have you spent time on understanding how people make decisions, how teams prioritize, what things we value?
These things help me make informed decisions regarding my work and allow me to craft product stories. Once you understand the culture, you'll start to pinpoint the details that inspire enthusiasm among stakeholders and the leadership, which in turn would help you develop a nice communication framework.
The last component I look at comprises product opportunities for improvement.
These can be opportunities around operations, the decision-making process, customer research frameworks that we use, or even ideas that can help us bolster our product offerings to delight our customers.
I use the canvas as a way of gathering those ideas and working with my stakeholders. It helps me validate or invalidate my assumptions while referring back to the work I do and how it relates to the overall business.
To be effective, I carry out such assessments a few times a week.
🎤 Customer centricity
Top habits, rituals, and frameworks for gathering insights
I follow “Macro Insights” on Wall Street to assess what’s happening across each sector. I spend most of my time in Information Technology, Financial and Communication Services to stay informed. After I have a macro sense of where things are going, I double-click trends in the fintech industry, product management, enterprise and consumer trends relating to finances.
As previously mentioned, I bring those insights into Organizational Canvas and continuously research to (in)validate my assumptions to better frame the organizational strategy and define Objectives & Key Results (OKRs) of my product(s).
Winning strategies to collect customer feedback
To collect customer feedback you need to balance customer desirability, business viability, and technical feasibility through design thinking methodology.
To do so, there are questions you need to ask yourself:
- Is there a market for this idea from a business standpoint?
- Is this an idea that we can see not only as a return on investment, but we can also perceive it as a long-term value and business growth?
- Is this idea technically feasible?
- Do we have the expertise and necessary internal assets to bring this idea to life?
Answering these questions while doing design thinking really helps us provide a framework of the things that you want to test and validate while collecting customer feedback.
💡 Inspiration corner
Books that every product manager should read:
- “Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman
- “Innovator’s Solution” by Clayton Christensen and Michael Raynor
- “Unicorn Project” by Gene Kim
- “The Fifth Discipline” by Peter M. Senge
- “Storytelling with Data” by Wiley
Essential reads and listens to stay on top of the Product Management trends:
- Acquired Podcast
- This Week in Startups podcast
- Product Thinking podcast by Melissa Perri
- Masters of Scale podcast by Reid Hoffman
- Fintech Insider Podcast by 11:FS
- Quartr platform
- UX Collective on Medium
- HackerNoon.com on Medium
Want to be a part of the Product Management Insights miniseries?
Shoot me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn from other product experts:
- "When Owning a Product, Own It End to End" with Marina Fernandes from Solaris
- "Outstanding Products Emerge When Vision and Values Meet" with Lise Gobet from Spendesk
- "Fall in Love With the Problem First" with Jan Schutz from finstreet