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Product Management

Q&A with Expert Product Managers: Francis Brown from Alaska Airlines

Ashley Sefferman  //  November 14, 2017  //  4 min read

As mobile engagement continues to increase, companies across all industries have shifted product strategy to push their mobile experience toward the top. The product management world has gone mobile, and PMs have had to adjust to strategic changes big and small.

Francis BrownTo explore what’s changed and what’s next for product managers, we’ve conducted a series of interviews with successful product folks across various verticals to share where the PM industry is going, how to overcome challenges, and to offer general advice. We’ll publish the interviews here on the blog, and will link the posts together as we go along.

Today, we’re excited to bring you thoughts from Francis Brown, Product Development Manager at Alaska Airlines. Here’s what Francis had to say!

Q: How did you get into product management?

I took the long road. I got a BS in Biology from UW. My first job out of college was as a penguin biologist in Argentina! I found out I enjoyed the science more than the bureaucracy so I tried other things.

I worked as a gate agent for Alaska Airlines for a while and made my way into the product side in Alaska Airlines as a business analyst, and finally as a product manager.

Q: How do you think mobile product managers’ roles in the organization are changing?

The interest in creating a mobile channel is much more prevalent in every organization, having the right people to make the right product is key for a mobile strategy. It’s important to realize that mobile isn’t right for every business. For example, I look at places like shopping malls that want me to download their apps, and I don’t really see the value there. It’s important for the business to work with the mobile product managers to determine the right goals and build the right products.

Q: What are the biggest challenges you face as a mobile PM? How do you overcome them?

Working on the enterprise side (internal employee facing mobile products) means it’s hard to get the priority to build the right product. The other issue is Seattle’s competitive staffing market. It’s hard to compete with big and small tech companies for developers, UX, and product managers.

Q: What’s one piece of advice you want to give to other mobile PMs?

Never, ever assume anything. Anything that is prioritized to be built needs some research behind it to determine the value and usability, especially usability. We found out after deployment that a lot of our users didn’t know how to “pull to refresh,” we rolled out that function and later found out that we had to educate our users.

Q: What are you looking ahead to in 2018?

As a product group that focuses on the internal customer, we’re looking forward to how the mobile tools will revolutionize how we do things in the airline. We’re in the process of building the apps now, but it can lead us to a lot of interesting use cases with beacon technology, chat communication, and AI. It’s really about making the job easier for airline employees.

Q: What’s your favorite way to stay up to date on all things product management? (publication, blog, newsletter, etc.)?

I love talking product! I can talk for a long time about product management with my co-workers and others in the field.

I have enjoyed going to the Mind the Product conference in San Francisco. Overall it is about the business culture, so it’s good to read publications like the Harvard Business Review.

Q: With no resource constraints, if I could work on any app, it would be [fill in the blank].

I heart Google Maps. It’s my favorite app. I travel a lot, so it’s invaluable when I’m in a new city to look up directions, check public transportation options, and save places that look interesting to go to (for example, I always check New York Times’ “36 hours in X” before visiting a new city). I would love to add some more personalization features for the traveler persona.

Q: I feel [fill in the blank] without my smartphone.

A mixture of relief and a bit of anxiety. It’s good to unplug, but being bored with nothing to do is a new concept in a world with mobile phones.

Q: Android or iOS?

Android. My first smartphone was T-Mobile’s G1 way back when. Every once in awhile the Apple Watch makes me think about converting. But everything will be so different!

Q: What does customer love mean to you?

I think at the heart of every product person, there’s a desire to make someone’s life easier or simpler. If we listen to the customer and give them what they need, they’ll reciprocate with love and loyalty to your brand.

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A huge thank you to Francis for taking the time to share his thoughts. Stay tuned for the next interview soon!

About Ashley Sefferman

Ashley Sefferman is Head of Content at Apptentive. A digital communication and content strategy enthusiast, she writes about multichannel engagement strategies, customer communication, and making the digital world a better place for people. Follow Ashley on Twitter at @ashseff.
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