CPO Series: Manage Your Work and Team like a Product
As a product leadership coach and expert, Tami Reiss has guided countless executives and teams through defining their product strategy and setting up product organizations at scale. In her 15+ years of experience, Tami has built a philosophy around leveraging the skills you have and applying them to manage your work and team like a product. Watch Tami Reiss and Becky Flint (CEO & Founder, Dragonboat) discuss the best techniques in the Fall CPO Series.
In this webinar, Tami covers how to:
- How to identify the most effective opportunities and strategies for your growth
- Tips to advance your career and leverage your existing skills
- How to ensure alignment between product teams and company growth strategies
Read the Full Transcript
The following transcript has been altered for readability.
Becky Flint: Hello everyone. Great to have you here for the CPO series. And here’s where the CPOs and the future CPOs come to learn, chat, share, and engage with the community. My name is Becky. I’m the CEO & Founder of Dragonboat. Dragonboat is the product portfolio management platform for outcome focus CPOs, chief power officers, and their teams. It’s adopted by 3000 teams and more and growing every day in more than 60 countries.
Today I’m very excited to share a product leader coach’s point of view on how to manage your work and team like a product with Tami Reiss. Tami has extensive product leadership, and product strategy experience in many industries from B2B SaaS, to consumer Fintech. She has also been a product consultant coach for years including working with Melissa Perry. Currently, she has her own business helping future product leaders as a product coach.
Tami Reiss: Thank you. Yes, I work as a product leader coach now, which means that I specialize in working with product executives. So generally directors and above on how to be awesome at their job.
Becky Flint: Yes. I love that. So today we will have some open questions for Tami. I want to start with your point of view, Tami. What do you mean when you say manage your work and team like a product? How is it different from managing in different ways?
Tami Reiss: So my tagline when it comes to how it is that I work with product leaders is that I want them to use all of the skills they already know about when it comes to managing a product. So that’s customer discovery. How do you collaborate with cross-functional teams? How do you establish a vision? All of the things that you do over there, and use that with everything else you’re doing? So thinking about the work product, whether it’s a presentation or organizational design or a roadmap. That it is a product.
Thinking about your career as a product, thinking about yourself as a product. What are your unique selling propositions? What features are you missing? Where is there a gap analysis you can do about yourself? And really thinking about all of those skills. How can you utilize them to make what it is you’re doing better?
And so the way I like to think about product management is that there are three core questions. The first is, where do you want to go? So that’s the vision, the goals, all of the stuff in that sense. Where are you now? That’s a lot of what Dragonboat provides, which is data analytics, and 360s about what’s going on right now. It shows what’s good, what’s bad, SWOT analysis, et cetera about whatever it is you’re focused on.
And then what should you do next? Where should we go next? And that is a matter of setting out a strategy, a plan, a direction, a north star. This helps you choose the actionable items you’re going to do next. And that’s what we do with products all the time. That’s core product management. But if you can apply that to a deck or org design, etc, you’ll be more successful.
Becky Flint: Right, right. I love this idea of manage your work and team like a product. It’s a really cool approach and a different mindset. Really think about we are customers and do research and analysis and design.
Tami Reiss: Yes! And when you manage your work and team like a product, it’s an approach you’re already good at, right? It’s an approach you’re already good at because you’re a product leader. You’ve made your career by being good at these things.
Becky Flint: So speaking of which, so let’s take an example. This is really the topic of this chat anyway. So when you say manage your team and work as a product, maybe we’ll start with one. So how do you manage your work as a product?
Tami Reiss: So as you said, it starts with knowing what your goals are and knowing what your audience is. So that’s part of the where are you now? Who are the people that you’re trying to convince to do something, whatever that thing is, right? Or inform them about something.
And then you have to understand where is it that they live, where is it that they work, what are their goals. What’s in it for them and what it is you’re trying to present or change? And so that is a lot of the prep work that a lot of people don’t do. Instead, people are like, all right, here’s the idea, here’s the work product, here’s the roadmap. And they show up to a meeting to present it and they forget about investing the time and saying why do we even have a roadmap? Why am I reporting on resource allocation?
Why is it that I’m reporting on the effectiveness of a certain particular initiative? And why is it important that I’m reporting about how certain product releases led to certain AR growth? And who is my audience? What do they care about? And therefore what does my presentation need to show? So a lot of what I do is help people work on their roadmap presentations for boards because it happens pretty frequently for CPOs.
If you just show a roadmap and you haven’t outlined your goals and how those goals are associated with business growth, you lose the board automatically. So you have to start there, right? And then it’s a matter of, okay, they don’t really care about a lot of the little things that are on this roadmap. Let’s take that out, let’s only talk about broader strokes and let’s talk about themes. How do I correlate the items on my roadmap to those three goals or other themes that have been presented by other leaders in the board meeting, right?
Because I am one piece of a larger story arc that’s being presented today. And that’s part of knowing where you are, where are you within the presentation? What has already been shown to these people and where do you want to go? What are you trying to build with your presentation? So are you trying to build confidence? Are you trying to get money for something? What is it that’s going to help other people have trust in you? Have confidence in you as a product leader in executing this roadmap and that this roadmap helps execute the larger business goals.
And so a lot of what you can do is just the prep work of understanding where you’re going, what your goals are, who you’re trying to convince, who’s going to be resistant to it. And then even doing a lot of pre-work with talking to individuals about what you’re planning on presenting so that they will give you feedback the same way we would with the product, get feedback in advance so that you know what you’re going into when you’re presenting. What isn’t clear in the slide and the takeaway in the document et cetera in advance so that when you publish it or present your work product, you have more confidence that it’s going to hit on the right notes.
Becky Flint: I love that you called out thinking about who’s the audience and what they need/ care about.
Tami Reiss: It’s about your customers.
Becky Flint: Right, to think about who’s the customer for every event, board meeting.
Tami Reiss: Who’s the customer and who’s the buyer? We all work in B2B, right? Those are often two different crews. So thinking about both of those.
Becky Flint: Right? So this is really great to think about. The second part I think I want to unpack a little bit is what you want out of them. Sometimes the people go there to present a lot of information floated by everything and they didn’t think about what you want them to do after they receive that. I think that a lot of product leaders forget to come in here to show the great things that we did, yes maybe your goal is to say have them impressed, but you have a very limited window to work with the board. Is there something they can help you think hard first?
Tami Reiss: And think about you only have a very, as you said, short window. And so really, your goal isn’t to give them all the information. Your goal is to actually have them trust you and be confident in you, that is the goal. And people misinterpret that because informing the board isn’t as important as building their trust. And so you have to give them the right level of information. You can include lots of details in the appendix and if they ask you a more detailed question, you should be ready for it with data and data points so that they can build confidence that you actually have done your homework. But that doesn’t actually need to be in the slide.
The slide is the overarching arc of I’m trying to go from here to there with the products so that our business can go from here to there with its growth, with it’s profitability, whatever it is that the goal is, right? And you can communicate that and you can draw those ties for them and connect the dots for them. That will build a lot more confidence than you putting out lots of data and way too much information.
Becky Flint: This is a so important call out. Definitely want to just double click on that. Especially for some of CPOs relatively new, haven’t really worked with the board before so much.
And also tell a story of one of the previous sessions, who is an investor who came over to say, well they have a new CPO and just get funding and then working with the board and the board was like, oh my god, this CPOs not good. She doesn’t know what she’s doing. She’s all over the place. And she actually, I didn’t know, could have connected her with you but anyway, she came to a Dragonboat but we built a framework for her. So here is how you talk about goals, strategies, and themes.
And then the next board meeting board say, oh my god, what happened to her? She’s totally in control. She knows what she’s doing, she knows how to talk. I mean to your point, that you have maybe five minutes or less, one or two sides with the board. And especially as a new CPO, our new board that building confidence is so critical.
Tami Reiss: Exactly, but that comes back to knowing your goal. If your goal was to inform, you would do something different. But your goal is to build confidence. And I actually had a client who I helped become a CPO. She was an SVP of product, she was still the top, but she wanted that C title. And so I helped her create a deck that actually convinced the CEO and the board to give her the C title.
But at some point she said to me, Tami, can you go over my board decks? I’ve been giving them for years. I used to work for Vista, I work for this company. She eventually worked for a company that was done by Insight and she said, I’ve never seen anyone else present a CPO set of slides or set of slides. I don’t even know if I’m doing it right?
And I said, do you know who knows? She said, no, who can I ask? I said, your board. Don’t just ask me, ask your board. This is what they do. They see presentations day in and day out from all of these different product managers. Get a feedback session with them and say, what am I doing well, where are their questions that I’m not answering? And it turned out she was kicking butt but she had no idea. But she never thought to talk to her board members as the users, the customers of her deck. And this really applies to anything, right? This applies to an org design chart that you might be rolling out to your product team.
This might apply to documentation that you’re having your team provide on Confluence or otherwise, any of those things. Take a moment to say what is our goal. Who is our audience? Who are our customers? What are their goals? What’s the job to be done here? All of the things we do for products but for our work product.
Becky Flint: And that’s the one thing also, I heard you in your example is that don’t try to roll out something that’s perfect. You get feedback that’s … Hey we all know that right? You get feedback. And I think that’s very interesting that people in a different way they don’t think about that.
Tami Reiss: You would never do it, you would never do it as a product person. It’s why lean and agile are so important to us and we don’t think about that for the other things we’re doing. And like we know that if we did that with a product, there’d be very high risk and we would never do it.
So why would you do that with other things? I recently gave a speech at an industry conference, the three-question speech, and I was like, I haven’t been on stage in years because of COVID. And do you know what I did? I reached out to a few of my clients and I said, can we get a group of people together that I can give this speech to that they can give me feedback? Because it was really high risk for me not to have done that in advance. I had a survey, they provided me feedback, and people sent me notes. I learned about the timing of what I was saying, but it would’ve been really dumb for me to show up in Cleveland and be on stage without that.
Becky Flint: Right, right. Totally makes sense. Speaking of which, your customers, so obviously you work with a lot of customers over the years. What are some of your most successful customers and what are some not successful ones that take a long time to become successful? What are the differences you see?
Tami Reiss: So my clients, my coaching clients, that sort of customer, what I would say is that it starts with coachability. So are you willing to receive information that I can even get when our intro call very often, how much does this person actually going to take advice? Because I’m writing an article right now about the difference between me and a consultant and a coach and why a lot of people I think are adapting the coach title the main difference is that I’m never the player on the field.
My job is to see the field to give you advice about things I see that you might not see, but also to give you advice, right? I’m not going to do it for you. You have to own the advice. You have to tell me what works, and what doesn’t work for you. And you have to take the action.
And so my best clients are the ones that actually listen and they take the action and they really internalize it. I worked with a person at Amazon who was trying to become an L7 there, which is a big deal. And she was saying to me that very often people would be talking about things and she didn’t want to step on other people’s toes that other people would raise their hand to lead an initiative. I said to her, I said, why aren’t you raising your hand? She said, well these other people can do it. And I said, will the initiative be more successful if you are involved? She said, yeah. And I said, because you’re awesome. She said, yeah, I’m awesome. And I said, so why aren’t you raising your hand? Because of the success of the initiative will be better if you do.
And she said, oh, it was a shift as to why she needed to raise her hands. But because she was able to internalize that, she then started to do a variety of other things that helped promote herself, that helped people recognize the work she was doing. And she got her L7 and then moved on from Amazon. But it was really about her listening.
When I worked with the client who pitched herself to become a CPO, it was about us collaborating on a deck about that and her saying, her listening when I said these little details, let’s put those in the appendix, these other things, these are the things that are crucial. Let’s add green check marks or whatever else it is that helps visually communicate what you’re doing. And so whether it’s those two women or two men I’m working with right now who I recently … They were referred to me by Ken Norton. So I sent him a note and I was like, they’re both fantastic.
And I was really grateful. They come to me with thoughtful questions and at the same point they allow for me to push them forward. Whether that’s talking about their past, elevating a conversation with a CEO or a CTO, how do they navigate that stuff? And they see that I have seen enough patterns that the advice I’m giving them is designed to help.
Becky Flint: And I think this is so critical in terms of coachability and also in terms of sometimes people I came across was like, they seem to know everything. They just Google it and they’re like, oh you can do this, you can do that. What I learned working through coaches and others is that sure, everything exists on Google. Oh, not everything. In a lot of stuff in a certain scenario, the coach is the one seeing the pattern match that to you and the ability to see where you are, where you want to be, and take the pattern and say, this one works for you now. And then we change it in different way.
It is so critical to have, it’s really hard to go from one road to another. There’s a humongous change in responsibility, how you evaluate it, and how you work with others. And a lot of people don’t go through a time to do the self-reflection. So you said SVP to CPO.
Tami Reiss: And willingness.
Becky Flint: Very different, very different role. Even if you’re not having a promotion, it’s a very different role. So what I’d love to hear from you is a little bit of like that, right? So talk about the SVP of the product or head of the product versus the CPO. What are the differences and how do people get through that working with you?
Tami Reiss: So I think that one of the big differences is interaction with the board. So I would say that’s a big part of it because you’re not going to often get that as a VP of product. And when you’re interacting with the board, most board members are finance people. So you have to be talking much more about business value and you have to learn their lingo, you have to know what EBITDA is, you have to understand their acronyms and ACV and things like that. And ARPU instead of NPS, they don’t care as much about NPS. It’s just not what they care about. They don’t care about the adoption rate or conversion rate. They care about those other numbers.
So it’s really important for you are able to talk about that net retention rate, et cetera. And whether that’s net revenue retention or otherwise, those are the things that I think are number one that most people don’t realize in a jump.
The other is that your first team is now this executive team. You now have fiduciary duties to protect the company and the executives, which means that you’re not going to always be able to be as transparent as you want, which sucks, don’t get me wrong. But you’re going to be involved in some sensitive topics, some exciting topics like mergers and acquisitions that you might not have been privy to before. You’re going to be involved in strategic conversations about geographic expansion or expanding your team or possibly, your company being acquired or funded. And that’s exciting. But it is very loose lips, sink ships moments, right? So it’s a lot more quiet.
But I think that something that becomes more important as a CPO, but it’s still equally important as an SVP, is learning to delegate. Learning that in this new role, even though you can do all of the roles that are beneath you, you have to be focused on the things that are the unique things that you bring to the table. And if you have too much noise on your plate and too many meetings that you shouldn’t be in because other people you can delegate to do them and you’ve hired deputies that can take on your voice in other places, that becomes crucial.
And it becomes even more crucial as a CPO because the kinds of conversations are going to be part of mean that you need the headspace for them and you can’t be involved in more detailed work.
Becky Flint: That makes a huge amount of sense. I think a lot of people don’t think about where the strategic sign of the work, the thinking, it’s a lot of work. It needs time, needs to have space. Totally true. I know we have a couple of minutes left. I have a couple more for you. One is about people’s side of things. So obviously COVID is over, but remote work’s not. Also product in general, it’s a very demanding role. It’s never-ending work literally if you want to, so as a product leader, as a CPO yourself turning CPO, how do you prevent and manage the burnout and isolation, the relationship building when you are remote both yourself and with your team, and your stakeholders?
Tami Reiss: So I think part of it is actually finding times to be in person. Whether that’s quarterly, twice a year, or once a year, getting the whole product, organization, and possibly tech leadership as well. Not just tech leadership, but product and design were part of the product and then tech leadership together to come together. Because in person we can do it now, we can do it safely, so find a way to do that.
Similarly, as a CPO, find a way to travel to where you might have a group of people in an office, be there for a week, show them that you’re investing in them, and get to know them more than on a Zoom. So first of all, second of all, I think it’s important to actually realize that because that’s going to be more limited. You need to reserve time for getting to know each other.
So whether that means in every team meeting, someone’s presenting about themselves or you ask an open-ended question, what’s favorite winter memory or what favorite Thanksgiving food or other things that just help with building connection and building laughter other than status reports?
And I think the other part is to be very conscious that it’s exhausting to be on Zoom all the time. So there are certain meetings that should be video required. There are certain meetings that should be video optional and figure that out. But also figure out what you can be doing asynchronously that doesn’t need everyone in the meeting. Be selective about who needs to be there, who can just get the email update afterward, and what can be done via an email conversation, sending of a slide, or sending of something else so that the in-person conversation when you’re gathering people is as valuable as possible because it’s exhausting.
Becky Flint: Right, right. It is so cool. I think the video optional is a great idea having some fun part is a great idea and a sync is definitely something I think a lot of teams really should think about that. I totally agree with you. The zoom meetings are very hard. So great, great idea. Now I think it probably was just wrapping up with the one last question. How do you get promoted from VP to product to CPO?
Tami Reiss: So let’s talk about how to get promoted right? Because I think that that’s something a lot of people care about and it’s something I’ve helped a number of people to do. And so similar to any other promotion, you can’t just show up to your annual review and say, where’s my promotion? This is going to take a lot of socialization and a lot of that feedback. What would it take for me to be CPO, OCEO, right? CTO, like whoever else, is there. Because often there’s a CTO and OCPO which upsets me, but asking the people who are the other Cs, at the C level, what will it take for me to become a CPO, right?
And what’s missing because that will help you understand your own gap analysis. The other things that are common are raising your hand and volunteering to be part of M&A discussions, and surfacing ideas as to how you can grow your company better.
But I think that the more you can be involved in strategic conversations, the more you will be seen as a C-level person. And as I mentioned earlier, the more you can start talking about business value and not simply customer value in the tropes that you’re using, the more people will start getting into your head, into their heads that you belong at that other table. But beyond that, it might mean you actually presenting this as what a CPO is. Because a lot of companies have no idea. This is what a CPO is, this is their responsibility of them, these are the things I’m possibly already doing, and these are the things I’m planning on doing this year.
Becky Flint: This is awesome. It’s like you said, it doesn’t come overnight, and having a roadmap coming towards it as well as having an understanding of the business talk and impact strategic conversation is so crucial. Now I know we kind of running out of time and obviously just to wrap it up, and I’m sure many of you join us here, really want to shift the way you think about your professional trajectory, become a CPO, get promoted, and so on. And Tami is your executive coach, so reach out to Tami. I think Tami also has an upcoming program.
Tami Reiss: Yeah. So I launched for next year as I was talking about, it’s not just a one-step thing, a product leader year of transformation.
Everyone thinks about the cost of coaching but doesn’t think about the cost of being in the exact same place at the end of the year. If January 1st is coming, if you’re thinking about what can I be doing in 2023 that will make me at that next level, hire a coach, whether it’s me, whether it’s somebody else, I put together a package that involves both one-on-one coaching and some peer group coaching as well as some other things. Because I think that if you can be investing in yourself for the year, and I’m giving you a huge discount if you tell me you commit to it now, it can really be transformative for you as an individual in your professional career and to become that CPO or to become an awesome CPO if you’re already there.
Becky Flint: Right? You are so right. I mean think about not the cost, right? It’s the opportunity cost.
Tami Reiss: It’s totally about the opportunity cost.
Becky Flint: Right? So great, we’re all out of time. Thank you Tami for the session on how to manage work and team like a product.
Tami Reiss: Thanks for having me.