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Product Management

How to be a Great Product Manager According to Experts at Dropbox, Stripe, and Concur

Alex Troyer  //  April 14, 2020  //  32 min read

Coffee and PMs are the perfect blend. Get your cup of coffee ready and watch the full recording from our live panel discussion with product professionals from leading brands like Dropbox, Concur, and Stripe.

Here are some of the questions they’ll discuss:

  • What’s the relationship between design, development, engineering, and product and your company?
  • How deep does your understanding of the technology go as a PM? And how much do you try to be, like, a subject matter expert from a technological standpoint compared to your engineering team?
  • How do you manage executive expectations, customer expectations, and technical resources?
  • How the current COVID-19 situation has altered your road map or caused you to change the way that you work in the last month or so?
  • Can you provide any interesting insights on being a female PM?
  • How do you promote gender diversity in the product management field?
  • How do you carve out what you need to make big bets versus building those things that are either more foundational like the engineering road map? How do you give yourself the space to make those big bets?

Christy: All right. Hello everybody, and welcome to the Coffee Chat with PMs. I am Christy Culp. I run the Customer Success team at Apptentive, and I’m gonna be here today just as a moderator for this panel. If we are gonna ahead and get started, it’s gonna take me just a second to get everything set up. And I wanna set some ground rules and kinda guidelines for how this is gonna work today because this is our first ever panel that we’ve done remotely. So there are things that are probably gonna pop up. As you can see, all of our panelists are working from home. I am also working from home, so there are probably gonna be kids in the background. I guarantee my dog will bark at least once during this because she barks all the time. So you’re probably gonna hear those things. We ask for grace. This is real life right now, so thank you for your patience ahead of time, and hopefully we’ll have some fun with that.

We’re gonna go through some set questions that we had pre-prepared for this and talk through some of those. And then we will have some time for questions at the end from the audience. Just so we don’t have people kinda talking over each other in this digital format, we’re actually gonna have you guys submit questions through the chat function. And if you submit questions I will go ahead and curate that list, and we will go from there from that list at the end. And it looks like we might have just…oh there she is. We lost Ria for just a minute. We have her back. Okay. So that is, I think, all of the logistics, and we will go ahead and get started.

So to start off, what we’re gonna do is just have each person introduce themselves. And yesterday when we were kinda prepping for this, each panelist has a little bit of a different flavor or viewpoint that they bring to the conversation. So I’m gonna have them talk about not just who they are but a little bit about kind of their viewpoint and what they bring to this discussion. So I’m gonna go from left to right on my screen, so we’ll start with Patricia.

Patricia: Hi everyone. I’m Patricia. I’m a product manager at Dropbox, and I have been a product manager now for about just under 10 years. And I spent nine of those years straight out of college at Microsoft, so kind of, like, typical college grad, got that new grad experience. And then after nine years I really kind of realized that, I’m like, oh shoot. I really need to know how PMs operate outside of Microsoft. And so about a year ago, a year ago today, actually, I joined Dropbox. And what’s kind of interesting about me is kind of different than a lot of my PM counterparts. I’ve been kind of actively running away from management roles, and mostly that’s just a factor of the things that I really wanna learn or I just really wanna learn how to be a really, like, kick-ass technical PM. So that’s me.

Christy: Awesome. And we will go with Priya next.

Priya: Hi everyone. I’m Priya. I’m a product manager at Stripe. Similar to Patricia, I studied computer science and also started at Microsoft, and left about four years to build my own company. So I’d say probably my unique bend here is being a founder in conjunction with being product manager. Loved that experience, and I’m really at heart just an ideas person. I love talking about new ideas, and I’m excited to share some of what I’ve learned along the way today.

Christy: Awesome. Thank you. And then last, but certainly not least, Ria. It looks super sunny and awesome there.

Ria: Yeah, it’s nice for Seattle, right? So I’m Ria Delamere. I am the Concur Mobile dev manager. I know, it’s really strange. Dev manager, right? But my career, I’ve had 20-plus years of experience, and I’ve actually held every major role in a product development life cycle. So I’ve been a dev, I’ve been a QE, I’ve been an analyst, a PM, all of that. So yeah, I just go in and out between dev and product management all the time. So hopefully I can give you guys all a different perspective on things.

Christy: Awesome. So to dive right into kinda some of the main content, as PMs are handed more and more responsibility, we anticipate that the demand for jobs in the market will continue to grow. And product managers have more opportunities to have large, long lasting impacts at companies, and to play an integral role in overall strategy. So I know you guys just talked about where you work and kinda what you, what flavor you bring to things, but I’d love for each of you in your own words to just talk about your role and responsibilities and your company. And we’ll go ahead and start with Patricia again on this one. I won’t be so formal in all of these in calling you up.

Patricia: Yeah, sure thing. I think that’s a great question. So my role at Dropbox for the last year has kind of evolved. And so I started out as the search PM. And so that was bringing a product perspective to a very technical problem of how are we using machine learning, how are we using quality, and all of this goodness and tying that back to actual, real user needs. And so the product perspective I really gave is: how can I bring this technical team to focus on and prioritize the right sets of problems that have the highest impact for users?

And so the types of things that were involved in the role were not just thinking about that technology but how we’re, like, applying that to our experiment process and how we’re actually evaluating up front what experiences that might be really expensive, take six months to a year or more are actually worth investing versus other ones that are more, like, no this is just kind of a cool technical problem, but it actually doesn’t have any real user benefit. So it’s been quite an interesting experience to be at a high level from the product perspective while still going really, really deep into the technical aspects of this problem space. So I know I’ve learned a lot, and it’s been a really fun experience.

Christy: Awesome. And we’ll go in the same order for this one. So Priya, we’ll let you go next.

Priya: Sure. Yeah. So I’ll speak a little broadly here for a second. So I think the fundamental role of product manager at any company is to bring products to product market fit. And so that really depends on what, you know, your particular purview is. The product market fit is when the market is sort of pulling the product out of you and you’re no longer trying to push it onto them. Right? The other main area is identifying new areas of growth or opportunity in an adjacent market that a particular company can go and pursue. Right? So you can think of yourself as almost, like, a McKinsey or a BCG consultant that’s coming in and playing the role of the business strategist, trying to see around corners and anticipate what the market might want.

One of my favorite, favorite quotes is from Henry Ford who said, “If I asked what my customers wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Right? And so as a product manager it’s your responsibility to come in and see what the market wants before they can probably articulate it themselves. And the PM role at Stripe, I’d say in particular, and we are hiring, is to make more and more impactful…to make our products more and more impactful to users. And we took a really similar role at Stylist Scout where product managers were really focused in around customer pain points, customer needs, and pulling that product to product market fit.

Christy: Awesome. And Ria, go ahead.

Ria: Sure. You know what? I love that quote about faster horses because that hit the nail on the head. And for me, before I got onto the dev manager role I was actually the product owner for the mobile platform team. Right? And the thing was, we had a balance of trying to get faster horses. We had to deliver faster into the market and all of that, but we also had tech debt. Right? Because you could imagine Concur was a startup, and then we got acquired by SAP. And the thing is, you have these growing pains. Right? How do you balance basically trying to deliver really innovative products but still maintain your tech debt, or try to remove it and get faster and more reliable in all of that. Because at the end of the day it’s about maintaining,  right? So that’s kinda what, you know, we’re doing right now.

Christy: So we have talked about how you all are leading customers to understand what they want and seeing what they want ahead of time, and part of what goes into that is having other parts of your business in on that discussion.

Can you talk to me a little bit about what’s the relationship between design, development, engineering, and product and your company?

And we’ll start with Priya, but then everybody else can feel free to jump in.

Priya: Yeah, absolutely. So PM is a unique position in many ways, and I think at the core, sorta what Christy was saying is PM sits at this intersection of design, business, and technology or engineering. Right? But the unique piece here is that none of these roles roll up into PM. So the whole, like, the whole purpose is that you’re going to end up…you can’t lead through authority. You’re really leading through influence.

Often PMs will have to drive to consensus not based off of, “Oh, hey, this person is incentivized to listen to what I’m saying,” but rather you have to drive the discussion through facts, through knowledge, through sort of having, seeking truth or seeking the right answer that really corrals the team together. In its essence I would say PMs sort of corrals these roles together by taking on the role of the CEO and, like, effectively wanting to, like, realize that the buck stops with you as the PM.

Patricia: Yeah. And just to add to that, I love what Priya was talking about, about how as PMs we have to drive through influence, especially, you know, pulling gender into this too, like, as a woman too, I tend not to have the loudest voice in the room. And so exactly to Priya’s point, I drive influence through facts, and the way that I leverage my design, my engineer, my product analyst, like, partners, is helping me make sure that I have all the right facts.

And sometimes it’s not all the facts. Sometimes, of course, I want more data, but with the information I have, how can I craft the right narrative? And so I rely super heavily on my design and my engineering counterparts to give me all of that data that I would not be qualified to make on my own. And through that, that’s when I can have a comprehensive, and more than comprehensive, just I’m speaking specifically to the diversity of that data point from both qualitative and quantitative inputs to say, “Hey, based on this, this is the narrative that we think has the right impact for our users and the right business value.”

Ria: Absolutely. I highly agree about dealing with facts and also being a woman, having a quiet voice sometimes in the room.

Christy: Awesome. Thank you. Thank you for that plug. By the way, I should have mentioned, Ria and Concur are customers. Patricia and Priya are not yet, so this is not a panel of all Apptentive customers who are just gonna talk about us, but we love that plug. Thank you for that.

Ria: You’re welcome. You help me make my four-point stars, you know, on the mobile application. So definitely, great partner to have.

Christy: Thank you. I wanna just dig into that a little deeper. And Patricia, I’ll start with you on this one. You mentioned needing data and, you know, sometimes relying on your team members to get that.

How deep does your understanding of the technology go as a PM? And how much do you try to be, like, a subject matter expert from a technological standpoint compared to your engineering team?

And then Ria, if you wanna weigh in on this I’d say, like, how much are your PMs versus you?

Patricia: Boy, this is a great question, and I think where I may be a little unique in my role too is because I work in search, it is inherently a much more technical role than a lot of other cases. And so it’s quite an interesting balance for me. And I think the rule of thumb that I tend to use is: I need to understand enough about the technology in order to use it to summarize any user problems that it solves, the business impact, cost. And so I kind of go as far as I need to in order to actually have that viewpoint of what the end impact is of that technology. So it’s more about understanding the impact of the technology versus the technology itself.

And it’s kind of a balance that I have to play. By nature, I wanna go deep and really understand this and end such that I can explain it to someone, but I also have to be thoughtful about the best use of my time. And oftentimes it’s, hey, bare minimum is I need to be able to summarize this to someone else to actually evaluate the impact of this technology. And so it goes deep. And I would say my role tends to go a little deeper than probably a lot of other PMs do, but that’s what I need in this case to actually be able to build the narratives that I often need to.

Ria: Yeah, that’s great. That’s being a great partner, right? So for me, on the other side, when I look at a PM or when I was a PM as well, it’s about staying in your lane. Right? As a PM you need to understand functionally how everything works. You don’t need to have deep technical knowledge, but if you do, great. You know? Then you can understand how to build the use scenarios, and provide the user experience, and what are the business logic? That’s what the PM needs to understand.

How you implement and how you, you know, bring a product to life, that’s the dev manager’s job and that’s the dev team. So to have that good, cohesive team where you know what information you need to provide in order to deliver that product is really great, but you don’t need to know everything. In fact, sometimes it’s better if you don’t know everything. It’s having different perspectives and different voices in the room.

Priya: Yeah. I’ll just add on one short comment into that which is more, like, sorta more general about effective teams, in my experience.


Effective teams or the most successful teams from what I’ve seen are not a team of, like, rock star A players, but it’s a team where everyone knows the position they’re playing, and they play it really well. So you can actually have sort of the benefit of, like, mutually exclusive positions. Right? And everyone can come together and be efficient as a system.

Christy: Great. Thank you all so much. I think that those are really good points not just for people. If we have anybody on the call who’s not in a PM role, I think we definitely deal with that, like, in the more, like, CS and sales engineering role as well where we’re wondering how deep technically we need to go because I think we wanna kinda eat the world as well and learn everything. So that’s great. Great advice and information.

So kind of building off of that, not only do you have to partner with other teams, but you also have a lot of expectations that you have to manage from a lot of different people.

How do you manage executive expectations, customer expectations, and technical resources?

All of those things, like, are competing for time and competing for the loudest voice. How do you manage that?

Ria: Well I guess I can start with that. I think it’s about having a good North Star road map. Right? And I know it’s…we talk about this all the time, and it’s so high level, but I am very passionate about having stack rank lists. Right? So we know the initiatives that we need to deliver as a company. However, what always, like, gets drowned out is the engineering road map. If you have a crumbling foundation and you’re trying to get to market very quickly and you have a crumbling foundation, there’s no way you could get to market quickly. So it’s having a good voice on the engineering side to ensure that your stack rank list gets on that road map. And you have to prioritize seamlessly with product. So you not only just have a product road map. You have to intertwine those two things in order to deliver appropriately. And ensure that you don’t have a lot of tech debt, and you’re taking care of that tech debt in the future.

Patricia: Yeah. And to add on to what Ria is saying here, like, plus one to tech debt being part of that foundation is along with the North Star, having a rule of thumb of making sure that North Star is user-focused. And so, users first. And thinking of your technical foundation as usability, as, like, this is what’s important for our users is actually having a strong foundation. And then I kinda think of it as once you do that, then you earn the right to explore new, other things, but you always need to make sure that you’re going back and you’re first and foremost satisfying that core user. But it’s tricky because of course the market is evolving, and you as a business want to grow and adapt as we have these new market influences.

And so of course you want to remain adaptive, but at its core you always wanna make sure your product is doing that core user job first, and then layering on these different explorations and having ways for them to fail fast. And so we use, and I think this comes out to something like what we call, like, the 50/20/20/10 rule, which is, like, 50% is doing the things that, like our users need most. Twenty percent is any additional foundation. Twenty percent is business aspirations. And the rest of the 10 is, like, fun explorations you wanna do. And I’ve heard variations of that rule.

Priya: Yeah. A strong plus one to everything that Ria and Patricia just mentioned. I think at our core, at our hearts, product managers sort of love making to-do lists. So if, like, that’s something that’s, like, core inside of you, you probably are a product manager in some capacity. The one thing I’ll also just sort of add on in terms of, like, how do you manage all these expectations, right?

Because you have your executive team which is sort of like your investors where they’re funding your projects, and so you wanna make sure that you keep getting that funding. You have your customers who are actually gonna, like, give you that cash, make sure that you see the next day, and make sure that you maintain your market share. And then you have your team that’s actually going out there and building, and they have new ideas, and you wanna ingratiate them into the whole product road map. And that, it’s very hard to get that flow of communication right.

And I think so much of effective PMs comes down to your ability to communicate, your ability to prioritize. But I would say even when all those things are working together, it’s still not an easy thing to do. It sounds sort of easy in theory, but getting that list so, like it’s top priority across your customers, your shareholders as well as, like, your team is actually something that’s very difficult.

Christy: And we kind of a little bit talked about my next question about balancing big bets versus foundational work. You all kind of mentioned how you do that, but talk to me a little bit more about big bets. How do you know which ones, you know, in the, what Patricia said with the 50/20/20/10, when you are experimenting and you are moving quickly on ideas?

How do you spend, how do you carve out what you need to make big bets versus building those things that are either more foundational like the engineering road map, and other things that might be more obvious? How do you give yourself the space to make those big bets?

Patricia: I’ll maybe speak to this one because it’s actually something my team is doing right now. We’re actually carving out. And to your point of, like, how are we carving that out? It’s we’re carving that out by giving dedicated time to specific people with specific knowledge and expertise with, like, a four-week road map to say, “Hey, in the next four weeks, this set of people is going to take, like, 100% of their time to go explore how might we do x.”

And how that exercise was set up was this core group, like, we’re calling it just, like, a virtual team, was given a prompt of just, like, how might we see the evolution of work in the next one year versus the next three years? And it kinda just went crazy. And they were given full freedom to explore any and all solutions to this problem. And so in those four weeks, they are doing rapid prototyping. They’re doing real user testing. They’re bringing in engineers to understand feasibility. But, it was a very exclusive effort that was essentially blessed by our leadership and empowered by us to say yes, this is the right use of a pretty significant amount of people’s time. So and it’s something that we needed leadership buy-in to do.

We’d done smaller versions of this on our own team as well, but it’s to the point of you need to make sure that you agree as a team that these are resources that are worth exploring with this effort. And that was kind of where we pulled in, like, the 50/20/20 rule. It was like, can we spare those 20 percent of resources to go explore this problem? And to us the answer was yes.

Christy: So if I can summarize that, what I hear is: specific time frame, specific outcome, and specific people. Is that right?

Patricia: Yeah.

Christy: Priya and Ria, would you guys say that’s similar for you? Something different?

Ria: I think Patricia hit it spot on. Right? You definitely have to have your leadership buy into this. But I also know that marketing, leadership, engineering, and all that, they all speak different languages. Right? Their goals are different. Right? But to have strong leaders to agree on what the goal is, it makes a PM’s job so much easier to keep that North Star. But we’re also in a very agile environment. So having good data and having good metrics to know when you’re successful also helps with that. So you can fail fast and make course corrections to make sure that you’re still hitting your end goal and your North Star.

Priya: Yeah, strong plus one to all of that. Right? Like, you need leadership’s buy-in in order to pursue a lot of these things. The strategy of your team effectively should be a function of the company’s overall performance. If not, it’s a really easy way for your team to become obsolete at a particular company. Right?

I think there’s a question that’s coming up in the Zoom chat around, like, product discovery strategies, and I think this sort of feeds into big exploration really well. In general I think there are sort of two models to innovation and just disruption. There’s sort of the exploitation model where you try and do what you’re already doing better. Right? So you’re exploiting some gap you already discovered. And that is a very safe way to innovate, and it can lead to very real results.

However, the other model is exploration, which is you actually look at new ideas that you potentially haven’t even discovered yet, and that inherently has a lot more failure involved with it because you might pursue an opportunity that ends up going nowhere. But the return on the reward is much, much higher. So in some ways, this comes back down to what both Ria and Patricia were saying, and it comes to, like, executive buy-in on a particular innovative initiative and your company’s sort of philosophy around failure and innovation in general. Right?

So if you’re at a company that is pursuing patents, that they’re looking to disrupt new markets, then you should be tying some of these, like, product discovery pieces into your road map early on and setting aside specific time the way that Patricia and her team is doing at Dropbox. It ends up becoming core to stay ahead of the market, to know where your competitors are potentially going, and maybe even prevent yourself from being, like, bullied down by the competitors you can’t see coming.

Christy: Awesome. That’s great. Yeah. I wanna mention, by the way, since you mentioned that, we do have some really great questions coming in. So I just wanna thank all participants for sending those. Panelists, if you see them and want to pull them in like Priya just did, feel free. If not, we can get to some of them that don’t really fit into any of the topics we’re talking about now at the end. But thank you so much for submitting those. This is great.

I’m gonna shift gears just a little bit to talk about kinda some things that are going on now. So right now, with everything that’s going on with the COVID-19 pandemic, obviously we’re making really big changes across every role, every industry. All of our practices are different. When you’re talking about your roadmap and you’re talking about looking forward and trying to carve out time.

Can you talk a little bit about how the current situation has altered your road map or caused you to change the way that you work in the last month or so?

Ria: Okay. I could tackle that. So for us, for Concur specifically, we have tightened more on security. Right? We’re all working from home. We’re all remote. We’re using whatever kind of WiFi signal we can get. Right? So for us, security is the main deal. Right? So any kinda security tickets, vulnerabilities, anything that we find, we are literally taking care of that first. So that’s kind of a shift in our mindset. Right? Usually it was product focus. Now it’s more security focus given the fact that we’re in this time. Right? And there’s a lot of news articles about Zoom being unsecure and all of that. So, you know, that’s the forefront in our mind.

And as far as the way my team works specifically, we use Slack a lot. Right? So we get on Slack really quick. As soon as I see these diatribes come in I’m like, “Okay, you guys, we gotta stop. Let’s get on Zoom. Let’s get on Skype. I don’t care what we get on. We need to have this face-to-face discussion,” because nothing is gonna replace the water cooler discussions, but we can try to makeshift it as we can.

Priya: Yeah. I’ll speak both from the perspective of Stylist Scout where I’m still the founder and continue to operate it and sorta what we’re doing at Stripe. So for those who don’t know, just quick. Stylist Scout operates, we’re in Seattle. And it’s like Uber for hair stylists and barbers, which have really been affected negatively by this whole, by everything that’s going on with COVID. In general I think it has taken sort of all of freelance and contract workers, they’ve been hit the hardest by all of it.

We’ve chosen to take a really unique approach, which, obviously there is a ban here in Washington around doing those services, but these are also the same folks that are generally living paycheck to paycheck. And so it’s tough, right? Like, because our suppliers need work, otherwise they won’t be able to pay their bills, and people need haircuts because hair doesn’t stop growing even if, like, there’s a pandemic that’s going on.

So for us we have really advised everyone to effectively take all the necessary health precautions. We are actively advising people not to get these services done. But we also understand that, like, if they choose to move forward, then they do so at their own risk. So we haven’t closed our doors just because we understand, like, having that empathy with both our suppliers and customers is really necessary, especially for folks that need the service. But we are advising them to take their own precautions and we’ve sorta doubled down on our liability pieces across the board to make sure people understand the risks. That’s more on the Stylist Scout side.

On the Stripe side of things, similar to sorta all of the practices that Ria mentioned around changing our team norms, one of the biggest questions we’re presented with is we had this, like, very high functioning, high performance team that was high performance in the real world. How do we translate that high performance into the digital world where you don’t have the water cooler conversation, where you don’t have these regular meet-ups, right? And, like, where can we actually look at potentially becoming more efficient in the event that we end up moving into a recession, which could be likely in the next quarter here, so that we can prepare ourselves to be, like, best suited?

Patricia: And adding on to both of those things, with Dropbox we’re definitely in a very interesting situation where Dropbox is such a facilitator for remote work that we are in a really interesting position of how can we really influence for the better this new state of working that we will likely be in for a while. And one thing that’s been really interesting as we speak more with customers are this perspective of as more and more companies are moving towards remote work, we’re actually discovering that a lot of people like it and might actually consider it as more future options. To say, like, hey, after this is all over, do I actually need to go back to the office, or can I blend in more remote work?

And so we have been in kind of an interesting push and pull of in some ways it’s almost advancing a lot of our road maps to say hey, like, let’s really get on this and let’s really prioritize helping people be successful with remote work, while dealing with the realities that overall just work gets done a little slower. Those conversations that you had at the water cooler aren’t happening. And so how do we bring in more of those elements? And so for us the priorities have been around things like making sure that even though obviously we can’t really go anywhere, we still prioritize our own mental health. We still prioritize human connection.

And we still try to have those one-off conversations. And I think the thing we’ve been embracing on our team is, like, picking two people every day just to reach out to and say hi and connect with on a personal level. It’s just, like, it can be the same two every day if you want. Like, we encourage people to try to connect with other people, but that human element has definitely been the most interesting. And we’ve been seeing it portray in both, like, an overall slight slowdown in our work but still with a lot of urgency of, like, wow, we have a cool opportunity to make a big difference here.

Christy: I love that. We are very much pro team making everything more human right now. So I love hearing that. I think now more than ever as we’re going through this, and we don’t necessarily know what changes are going to be permanent for people, and how we’re gonna come out on the other side, and, you know, what it’s gonna mean for every single industry. But, I do know that right now, probably more than ever, it’s important that your companies stay on the cutting edge with regards to CX and that your offerings are at least up to par with what customers expect, if not, you know, leading those expectations. So talk to me a little bit about how you manage to stay on that cutting edge from a CX perspective.

Priya: Yeah, I can start this one. And I think this sorta ties into another question here, which is: are there any bleeding edge product management strategies you’re currently exploring, right? I think there are a lot of tactics for sort of developing new ideas and making sure that you’re at the edge, right? And truth be told, like, good ideas can come from anywhere, be it from, like, a freelancer or someone that’s working just at the warehouse floor all the way up to the CEO and, like, the executive staff.

So I think it’s a PM’s job often is to help, not necessarily have the idea themselves but sort of, like, create the environment for those ideas to come up organically. And then give people the framework and the structure so that they can bring those ideas to you and you can turn that thought into a thing.

So just a few things that we use at Stripe and use at Stylist Scout. We also use Slack, similar to Ria. So we have a channel called What If as well as Crazy Ideas where people just sort of, like, toss in their ideas of, like, hey, what is Stripe did x? Or, what if Stripe built a, like publishing press? Which they actually do have, like, Stripe Press where we publish books, which, you know, for those who don’t know what Stripe is, it’s similar to PayPal. It’s online payments, but you would not expect a tech company to be, like, publishing books, right? We’ve chosen to go and pursue that particular business nook.

So I think just having that conversation be open regularly, and then the other piece that we do often within our team is just set aside time either weekly or monthly and just brainstorm ideas without…using a tactic in comedy or improv called “yes, and” where you’re not looking to shut down ideas, but you’re actually looking to build on top of them and take them to the next level. And it’s more to drive a conversation rather than come to anything specific at that particular moment, and, like become, like, that spark of inspiration that could lead to a product idea later down the road. So those are some of the tactics we use.

Patricia: Boy, I feel like I need to take notes here. I love both of those ideas, and I’m totally going to take those back to my own team and start implementing them.

Christy: This is being recorded, by the way. We’ll just send you the recording.

Patricia: Oh that’s perfect. On our end the things that we really do are we always really wanna prioritize listening to our customers, and I think that’s just something that, like, I’ve certainly been on teams where that’s less of a priority. And so there’s a couple ways that we carve out time specifically to do that. One of them is just every, at least once a month, we’ve done it as frequently as every other month, we have our researchers come and share out all of their recent studies. And I think that’s one of my favorite things to listen in on. It’s just, like, grab your coffee, sit down. All sorts of interesting learning. And so making sure we’re hearing the voice of the customer regularly, often, super loud.

And the second thing is we run these things once a month called Real World Wednesdays where we just invite, like, I don’t know, maybe five to eight people to just come in and talk to us about how they use our product. We can approach them with specific questions, but sometimes if we don’t have an agenda we just ask them about how they use the product. And we do that every month, and we do a write-up and share it out. And so listening to that customer voice all the time.

Ria: Yeah, that’s great. So to tag off that, we have something similar too, but sometimes, like, old school methods still work too. Like, we definitely dog food our own stuff, right? Like, we are encouraged to use Concur to use expenses, and some of the best ideas come from our developers because they’re like, “This sucks. I really hate this. And this is how I can improve it.” Right? So, I mean, dogfooding is strategic at Concur.

Another thing is we still use hackathons, and some of the best ideas come from our hackathons.

Another thing too is we use Apptentive to run our surveys. We constantly poll our customers, but we don’t do it annoyingly. So there’s a nice algorithm there that we don’t constantly poll our customers. But we use our existing customer base to tell us what they need from us, and we prioritize it, put in the backlog, and ensure that if enough customer base has the same theme, we are gonna take care of that. So we definitely put the customer first in that way, and we use tools to help give us the data points to tell our execs, “This is a priority.”

Christy: Awesome. All right, I am gonna shift gears just a little bit. A question came in that relates to one question that I know is important that we talked about as a group here, so we have about nine minutes left. And one thing I have learned, we are sticklers on this at our company, but especially when we are all remote, is that we start meetings on time and we end meetings on time. So we are gonna end this on time. So I’m gonna shift gears from this. There are a lot of questions that have come in. We’ve answered quite a few of them just in our conversation here. If we did not get to yours or we do not in the next few minutes, feel free to reach out to our events team at Apptentive and we’ll work to get some answers for those for you.

But, I wanna shift gears to the question of… Hold on. Sorry. Flipping through screens. I work remotely all the time and I do not have multiple screens, and I don’t know why because it would be easier. So a question came in that says, “I’m proud to say that my PM team recently became a female majority.”

Can you provide any interesting insights on being a female PM? And can you also discuss how you go about promoting gender diversity in the PM Field?

Ria: So I actually wanted to speak to that because being a PM and then moving on to the tech side, right, I mean, I’m definitely outnumbered, for sure. Right? And I think it’s all about being cognizant and being an active listener. Right? I think one of the traits that I’ve picked up on is it’s usually the A-type personalities that are like, loud, you know? And you hear them. But it’s actually listening to the most quietest voices in the room because they’re the most profound. And so I actually took a training called Manager’s Tools. And they actually talked about different styles of communicating and all of that.

And it’s like, just because you’re the A-type I’m gonna be up front in your face doesn’t mean you’re always gonna be right or they had the best thing to say. It’s actually learning the styles of communication throughout your whole team, and you can kind promote that by knowing that that’s how it is. And essentially when you’re in a meeting and you’re seeing these voices getting taken over, and usually it’s the female voices, just say, “Hold on. I really wanna know what Patricia or Priya has to say. Can you let her finish?” And being a leader and promoting that is probably key, and then teaching that kinda culture helps in that manner.

Patricia: Yeah. I love what Ria said about what you’re doing here is the skill that you as an individual are bringing are listening in and identifying the moments where voices are being overwritten and spoken over. Very often they’re the women in the room. Sometimes, a lot of cases they’re not.

One practice that was kind of revolutionary to me when I came to Dropbox, but I think I will take this wherever I go, is that in our executive reviews we do an interesting practice where let’s say you have an hour-long executive review. You spend as much time as you need just kind of, like, going through all your content. The only questions people are allowed to ask are clarifying questions. And then at the end, the question-asking session is run kind of differently. So in the meantime, everyone is writing down sets of questions they want to ask, and the leaders in the room actually start with the least senior person. And that least senior person goes through all of their questions first. And then they move up in terms of seniority. And so, you know, if you’re in executive review, the CEO goes last. And, like, by that time, probably they answered all of their questions.

And it was a revolutionary practice for me, but it’s something that leadership decided together it was more important for leaders to make sure that all of these voices are heard and they’re carving out spaces for each of them. So it’s a really cool practice.

So I think, to summarize, make sure you’re watching out for the voices that are being spoken over. Create space for them. And also work with your leadership, if you are in a position of influence, to try to apply some of these practices that actively create space for others.

Priya: Yeah. Strong plus-one to everything that Patricia and Ria said. I think recognizing those moments and stopping them from happening is sort of the first step. And, like, something that you can actually do today or tomorrow or at any moment, right? The one thing I’ll sort of add on here in terms of, like, you know, being a female either engineer or PM and potentially something that’s male-dominated, it’s interesting little corollary to, like, mountaineering where there was a study that was done for a team of rope leads where, in fact, if there was only one woman on a team of all men, the conversation and the approach that they would approve ended up becoming more risky because the woman wanted to sort of compete with the men on the team.

So I sort of bring that up here to say that one woman is not diversity. Like, representation matters. And actually the team, the mountaineering teams that had two women on their rope teams were far safer and had far fewer deaths than those that just had one. So, like, all of that to say that if you don’t see people like you in the executive level positions at your companies, then it’s going to be very hard to move up in those types of companies. And often when I am interviewing for roles I will ask, like, how many women do you have, like, in your executive level positions? Because I wanna see other people like me there.

If any of you are, like, entrepreneur budding or, like, have an idea that you’re looking to pursue, I think one of the strongest ways that you can actually make sure that your company has that is by choosing an investor board that reflects much of the diversity that you want to see built within your own company. Right? We did that at Stylist Scout. Shocker that women are primarily the innovators in beauty on demand, but our investor board was primarily women because they are the ones that wanna see this change come to fruition here. So I think it’s all about making sure that, like, you see other people like you represented and, like, stopping it before it happens. The same things that Ria and Patricia were saying.

Christy: Awesome. And then the last kinda question I’m gonna add onto this, and it’s probably gonna be our last total question. Have any of you ever been passed up for a promotion that you know that you were qualified for? And how did you deal with that? And then kinda a tangential question to that. How do you recognize when you’re being passed up?

Ria: I’m actually going through that right now. Oh, sorry. I can actually speak to that because I actually went through that. Right? Has anybody seen the Indeed, like, commercial where the woman is studying and they’re making an announcement and all of that. And it’s like, oh, I just missed the VP spot, and your face falls. Yeah, I had that moment. And the thing is, it’s, like, it’s something where the little signs here and there have shown it. Right? Like, when you’re having your career talks and all of that, you start seeing the career talks start waning, especially when the promotion is coming. And so some of the skills that I’ve put in place is, like, hey, when we do our promotion talks, or it’s a year long thing. It isn’t at the end of the year. And if you tell me I’m awesome all the time, I’m gonna think I’m awesome. But you do not have the right as my manager to tell me at the end of the year this is what you need to work on. Because at that point it’s too late. Right?

So I definitely hold myself accountable as a manager to do that with my directs. I give them constant feedback. And it’s not, like, personal feedback. It’s quick, and it’s simple, and it’s, like, it’s kinda like a user story. When you do this, this is how I feel, or this is how it impacts us. It’s simple, like, “Hey, when you show up late to a meeting, it seems like you don’t care.” And you just leave it at that. And then it’s them to, like, take on that thing and figure it all out. But as far as, like, when you’re being passed up a promotion, it’s the little signs that happen. And, quite frankly, it’s like if you get passed up for a promotion, so what? It’s a learning thing. And I think you just look outside. And that’s exactly what I did. So I’m actually leaving my position at Concur to become the director of engineering for Degree. So that’s where that happened.

Patricia: Yeah. And to add on to that story, what’s actually really interesting is it’s not noticeable at all. It’d be much more noticeable if we were doing it in person, but I’m actually eight and a half months pregnant. And so what’s…

Ria: Congratulations.

Patricia: Thank you so much. And so here’s the funny thing is I am very much living in this world where kinda for the first time it’s, like, very blatantly obvious when people are suddenly starting to treat me like I’m not there. And I think for me it happened around six months. All of a sudden people started not including me in projects, or me being passed up in projects. And I was like, wait, hold on. I’m, like, I still have, like, three months left. Like, that’s three months to still be kicking ass here. And so that was a really interesting conversation with my manager because no one meant it maliciously, absolutely not. But people were very real in saying, like, “Hey, in a couple month’s time, Patricia is gonna go disappear and be a pumpkin for, you know, who knows how long before coming back with a baby.”

And I had to have a very real conversation with my manager who was super receptive to it where I pointed out to say, like, “Hey, you know what? Like, I am noticing that there is this imbalance of work and my colleagues actually seem really overloaded. How can I be a team player here and make sure that I’m really being utilized as an effective tool?” And that was a great conversation to say, hey, I’m still here. My goal is still to get, you know, this promotion. And in order to get to this level, very concretely, I need to have these sets of skills, and I need to do these things. This is what I’m currently doing, and there seems to be a delta. And that conversation was a really constructive way to say, like, okay, the next three months, you are gonna do x, y, and z. And each of those things ladder up to the future promotion that you wanna get. And so that was a great tool, a great tool for me.

Priya: I love that because I think that that speaks to something that is still, like, the business world is still figuring it out, right? Like, how do we… I mean, the expectations on women are to both, like, manage a career as well a manage a household. Like, that’s absolutely unfair, and I think, like, I love that you’re, like, you know, pushing and helping us figure out what the right solution there is. Because it’s obviously not what has been happening for the last few years.

I’ll take just a combination of what Ria and Patricia both said, which is I think the biggest thing I can sort of advise people to make sure you’re not getting passed up for opportunities is to make the ask. Right? Like, I will regularly put my manager sort of in that uncomfortable position close to performance reviews. And it is an ongoing conversation. You always have to be looking for that feedback. But closer to that promotion time I will ask them at least a month or two in advance, like, which way am I trending? And they have the opportunity. They aren’t gonna commit to anything specific, but they absolutely have the opportunity to say, like, “Based off of my knowledge today, this is where you’re trending.”

And if they are wishy-washy in giving that answer, then it’s evident that they are missing certain pieces of information or they might not be your advocate in the room, which is a very dangerous situation to be in. Right? Because your manager, much of your success at a particular company will come down to your relationship with your manager. So I think make the ask, and, like, really try and read between the lines to understand, like, how they’re feeling about you right now. And if it’s not the right place where you wanna be, like, I love what Ria said. Like, go blaze your own trail or find a place that’s going to appreciate your skills. Right?

Christy: Awesome. I love it. I love the idea, you know, just of understanding who your promoter is and also being your own promoter, taking your career steps into your own hands, making sure that you have a path. That’s super helpful.

We are up on time. So I do want to, I’m gonna go ahead and put the little screen up here, maybe. All right. So we’re up on time. I want to thank everyone so sincerely for joining and for submitting great questions. Like I said, if you have a question that didn’t get answered, please just email events@apptentive.com and we’ll do our best to get some great answers for you. I particularly want to thank the panelists. Ladies, yesterday when we went through a dry run I knew it was gonna be such a great thing. I learned so much from you, and I’m sure that everyone on the call did as well, so thank you so much for spending the time with us today. And with that, we will go ahead and conclude, and everybody have a great day.

Patricia: Yeah. Thank you everyone. I had such a great time.

Ria: Me too. Great.

Priya: Bye everyone.

Patricia: Take care.

About Alex Troyer

Alex Troyer is Apptentive’s Event Manager. She loves throwing company-wide events, as well as traveling to different trade shows, roadshows, and special events. Troyer’s goals for every event attended and hosted include getting great ROI, expanding her network, and of course, showing #customerlove.
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