In this November 2020 #mtpcon Digital session, Director of Product at Onfido Susana Videira Lopes, shares two different product career stories, explaining the which was most effective in serving both the business and the individual.
Watch the session in full, or read on for the highlights.
The Horizontal Slice
Susana begins by giving an example of a friend, Lily, who in her first product role, spent a whole year working on nothing but delivery execution. Susana visualises six core product management activities in a pyramid, with delivery execution making up the bottom, horizontal slice:
- Product vision
- Product strategy
- Problem discovery and validation
- Problem prioritisation
- Solution discovery and validation
- Delivery execution
Lily was stuck at the bottom of the pyramid, working only on “project management and delivery skills,” says Susana, which meant that while she handled all of the delivery execution, her manager was free to take on the roles further up the pyramid. As a result, Lily was left confused and frustrated. Why was she being given these tasks and prevented from learning the skills to move up? At the same time, she saw her manager becoming increasingly separated from the technology team and out of touch with their day-to-day work.
The Vertical Slice
Next, Susana shares her own experience of starting out in Product. Unlike Lily, she didn’t get stuck at the bottom of the pyramid. Instead, she was given a small slice of delivery before gradually moving up the pyramid, allowing her to build up customer knowledge and hone her skills. Her next assignment was to work on a problem that had already been prioritised. One that was no longer a feature but a problem in and of itself. “It was my job to find the right solution,” she says. She was going up, not sideways and within a year, she’d climbed the pyramid – the vertical slice – cutting across all the layers of what a product manager should be.
“This approach put me right in the middle of the Venn diagram, which meant that needs of the business, of solving the right problems in the right way, were met,” she says, “but also my needs – building up my confidence and having an exciting career – were also met.” Susana explains how over time, she was effectively paired with small problems in each horizontal slice of the pyramid that translated into one thin vertical slice going form bottom to top.
Climbing the Product Career Ladder
Finally, Susana explains that the difference between her story and Lily’s was luck. Neither she nor Lily knew what to look for in a product management job and while Susana got lucky, Lily did not. “I hope that by sharing these two stories that you’ll be empowered to change your luck. That you’ll be able to tell a good opportunity, that will excel your career, take up you that ladder faster, not stall it,” and she poses the question: “Are you working every layer of the pyramid?”. If not, she suggests, try to find out what it will take for you to do so. Create processes that force you to practice at every level and tell your manager what your ambitions are.