A little over a year ago, I decided to take a huge leap in my career. After spending nearly 7 years in the learning industry, I decided to make the transition into a formal Product Management role.
The decision to move into Product Management was strategic on my part. I had spent the past 8 years designing and delivering learning experiences that were offered as a product or service for the audiences I serving. As time went on, I found myself adopting an iterative approach to learning that was rooted in learning experience design and research. I identified the overlap between the instructional design and product development processes and how they were both focused on identifying and solving problems. Over time, I desired more and found myself inching towards the world of user experience and product management.
So during August 2018, I decided to finally take the leap and switch roles. With the transition, I knew I wanted to focus on gaining the skills and expertise that wouldn’t have been afforded to me in a traditional learning role. These included:
deeper knowledge and experience with the inner workings of the business
setting the vision and strategic direction of a learning product
making data-informed decisions including conducting discovery research and creating hypothesis tests for experimentation
and inspiring and leading others
I’ve been in Product Management for 16 months now and I can say that it’s been one of the most difficult and rewarding experiences of my life. I’ve learned a ton personally and professionally and my overall approach to learning has changed.
With the transition, I’ve discovered that one of my favorite parts of the role is speaking directly with technology and learning leaders, in addition to learners themselves. I’ve conducted hundreds of research interviews and have heard stories from organizations about their desire to create a culture of learning, how they’re preparing employees for their roles, and promoting ongoing skill development. I’ve also heard learners talk about their motivations for continuous life long learning including their need to provide for their families and their desires to move up in their careers.
All in all, these conversations have reinvigorated my passion for learning. They have also exposed to me the opportunities we have as practitioners, learning providers, and the industry as a whole.
So I’ve decided to take the leap once again and bundle some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past 16 months into a series called Learning Leaps. Each week, I’ll be sharing about a topic I’ve encountered during my transition. My goal is to give back to the community that has given me this opportunity in the first place. Thank you for coming along this journey with me and I hope you find the lessons shared both inspiring and helpful.
I say it all the time, but I cannot believe how fast time flies! I started my new role as Product Manager of Pluralsight’s newest product, Role IQ, over 60 days ago!
The move to product management was a very meticulous decision on my part. It took over 6 months of research, networking, interviewing, and a lot of introspection before finally deciding to take the leap to an official PM role. Now with 60 days in the bag, I’m so happy that I decided to make the move. Sometimes I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner, but then I remember that things always happen in the time they’re meant to.
Off to a rough start
The transition to Product Manager didn’t happen as smoothly as I would’ve liked. A week before my start date, I was scheduled to head into the office to meet some of my new team members. On the way out of the house, I ended up falling down 6 stairs. After falling, I lifted up my leg and noticed my ankle facing the opposite direction. OUCH! A trip to the ER and a dozen X-rays later, I found out my prognosis: a fractured ankle and 3 torn ligaments.
The first 60 days in a new role would be a challenge for almost anyone. But throw a broken ankle into the mix and things get taken to a whole other level. To say that I’ve grown personally and professionally while working and recovering over the past 60 days is an understatement. I wanted to take some time to share some lessons I’ve learned while starting my journey creating learning products:
Get your hands on the product!
One of the things I did within my first week, was complete a product teardown for Role IQ. A product teardown is when you investigate and reverse engineer the thinking and experience behind a product. This activity gave me a first hand look into the existing functionality of my product before I got too familiar with it’s ins and outs. It also allowed me to open up a more productive dialogue about the product with my team from the very beginning.
Start building relationships with all of your stakeholders
I am the absolute epitome of an introvert, so I knew going into my new role that I would have to make an extra effort to meet everyone. Over the first month, I ended up have 30+ virtual 1:1 sessions. I did them based on order of priority starting with my immediate team including developers and UX designer. I then starting meeting with other key stakeholders including other PMs, product marketing, support, and customer success. Once all the initial meet and greets we’re done, I made sure to put reoccurring meetings with stakeholders on my calendar so I’d never have to think twice about who to talk to and when. Due to the size of Pluralsight, I’m still discovering people that would be great connect with about my product. Thats why forming relationships early with folks is so important; whoever you meet with will likely refer you to others.
Get aquatinted with your OKRs and performance metrics
My second week on the job was the first week of Q4 and I was lucky enough to have perfectly crafted OKRs (objectives and key results) all ready to go. After reviewing the OKRs with my manager and getting my mind wrapped around them, I set up some time with my team. I held a deep dive session with the Role IQ team to discuss what we planned on accomplishing for the quarter and brainstorm some possible approaches to problems. The time spent discussing the OKRs was invaluable. It made each of us aware of how the product would be measured and what success would look like.
Talk to the customer ASAP
Almost all companies these days tout about the importance of “voice of the customer”, but not all practice it. At the end of the day product management is all about solving problems for your customers. How can anyone solve their customer’s problems if they’re not talking to them? Thats why I made it a point to kick off customer calls as soon as possible. Since my product encompasses B2B and B2C markets, that meant hopping on calls with learning and tech leaders inside of enterprise organizations, as well as connecting with the learners themselves.
I followed Pluralsight’s Directed Discovery process which included doing voice of the customer (VOC) exploration calls. I also did some customer confirmation testing (CCT) which included looking at qualitative and quantitative feedback from customers who were already interacting with the product.
In addition to conducting my own research, I listened to customer recordings that took place before I inherited the product. I also sat in on client calls that others we’re conducting. I can honestly say, there really is nothing like hearing feedback directly from the customer. Some of the best insights I’ve heard, have come straight from these sessions and they’ve immediately impacted the future of the product.
Have your first win
I knew going into my new role that I wanted to have my first win as soon as possible to prove that I was bringing value to the team. One of my favorite moments was leading my product into an Open Beta where managers and admins could opt into our experience via a banner in the UI. It took a ton of wrangling for it to go live – including our team finishing up some amazing work on analytics features, working collaboratively with another product team, and leading demos for our product marketing, sales, and presales team. It was the moment that really proved to me that I could be a Product Manager, I was doing it, remotely, and with a broken ankle to-boot!
One of the most powerful things a product manager can do is ask questions. If you hear someone talking about a process or procedure that you’ve never heard of – ask a question. If someone says why they built or do something a certain way – ask a question. You will learn so much about whats going on, how things work, and how someone thinks the way they do about something. Ask anyone and everything – it’s important to soak up as much knowledge as possible.
Be patient and take care of yourself
One of the most important things I’ve learned since getting injured is the power of patience. For the past few years, I’ve ran as fast as humanly possible to every goal that I set out for myself. I’ve had mentors and friends tell me to slow down, have more fun, and make time for myself but I never listened. The injury forced me to slow down and be patient with myself and my body. I’ve learned to listen to the signs that I need rest and not feel guilty about sitting on the couch and sleeping on the weekends. At the end of the day, it’s completely impacted my working style and made me a well rounded product manager.
This week, I attended Elliott Masie’s Learning 2018 in Orlando, FL. It was my first time attending the event and to top it off I was apart of the 30 under 30 group. Overall, it was a great experience. For those that haven’t attended Elliott Masie’s Learning conference before, it is 2.5 days long and jammed packed with all things learning. I was definitely nervous to travel over 1,200 miles with my knee scooter (I’m still recovering from my fractured ankle!). Looking back, i’m so happy I decided to get over my fear and make the trek to Florida. It was a great opportunity to connect with others in the industry and hear about some of their experiences. Below are some highlights from the trip:
30 under 30
The day before the official start to the conference was an entire day dedicated to professional development for the 30 under 30 group. We heard insights from some industry greats including: Elliott Masie, Bob Mosher, Richard Culatta, Bruce Wilkinson, Nigel Eyre, and Jayzen Patria. We even had a CLO panel including Tara Deakin (TD Bank), Rob Lauber (McDonalds), and Martha Soehren (Comcast).
Two things really resonated with me during these sessions, focused on career transitions and continuous learning. At one point Elliott actually said, “Really good people leave Learning and Development for sales or other departments because they’re so good at what they do”. Meanwhile, during the CLO Panel, each learning executive mentioned the importance of continuously challenging yourself when you meet your goals. It is not enough to set a goal and then settle, you much keep stretching yourself outside the box to see how far you can push yourself. Each of them also detailed a major change they made in their career by jumping either industries, roles, or locations.
These are EXACTLY the things that have been ruminating over in my mind when deciding to make the leap to Product Management. Hearing about the importance of challenge and career transitions really made me more confident and happy about all of the changes I’ve been making over the past few months.
I was able to attend over 8 sessions during the conference and noticed some trends occurring in the industry:
Frustration about being order takers
This is definitely nothing new but a common theme I noticed was the frustration among L+D Practitioners had about being order takers from stakeholders within their businesses. Many described hearing things such as “We need a 5 day course in X”, “We need 3 e-learning modules in Y”. I think this really emphasizes the importance of needs assessment by practitioners. It is our duty to partner not only with our stakeholders but learners and really dig down and identify the problems that are taking place so that we can create the best solutions possible to truly impact performance. We need to educate our partners and let them know that training is only one piece of the puzzle and there are many different tools at our disposal. At the end of the day, as learning practitioners we are responsible for helping our learners and ensuring that they’re performing.
Always great seeing my good friend @bmosh speak about performance support
“Our ultimate responsibility is to our learners if they can’t perform after our learning then we failed our job” #learning2018
Analytics aren’t whats coming soon – they’re already here
I attended 2 sessions on learning analytics, metrics, and measurement. I found these sessions particularly interesting because I just released a beta feature for my product which included an analytics dashboard for companies to track metrics on their employees skills assessments. It seemed that many at the conference had no idea where to start with data or were completely overwhelmed with the amount of data they had to shift through.
It really emphasized the importance of being thoughtful about the type of data that we’re collecting to improve performance improvement. Through identifying the KPIs and metrics from the outset of a project, we can make ensure that were continuously tracking progress and determining whether were meeting the goals of our learners and organization. I mean, how else are we going to be able to prove we’re having an impact? I really encourage all practitioners to add metrics as another tool in their toolbox.
The Importance of Adopting a Business Mindset
What truly terrified me was the lack of alignment among practitioners whether they consider their learning solutions to be an actual product. I might be biased because of my recent move to product management. However, during the CLO panel I actually posed the question to the executives if they considered the solutions their organizations are creating as being learning products. Each one of them, one by one said no. I couldn’t believe it! Just sessions earlier, Elliott Masie mentioned the importance of adopting a business mindset within the learning industry.
A product can be considered something that helps a user fulfill a need. As Practitioners, we’re creating learning products whether it’s in the form of elearning, instructor led training, performance support, or something else. We’re trying to help our learners perform better or have some type of performance improvement outcome. I truly cannot stress enough the importance of adopting this mindset. As practitioners, if we consider ourselves as delivering products I think we will think more holistically about the solutions we’re providing. It will also change the way that were creating solutions at a very foundational level.
Overall, Learning 2018 was such a wonderful experience. As always the best part was being able to connect with like minds in the industry. I am so grateful for the connections and conversations that I made over the past few days and I look forward for continuing them for years to come!