How do you manage a successful startup product team? Ensuring that a product team is successfully delivering products that customers love is challenging at a large and well-staffed company. At a startup product teams wear many hats and must iterate and test new ideas fearlessly while minimizing wasted resources. In this talk, WorkFusion VP of Product Tina Chace will cover how to create or define the profiles for a product team to be successful at a startup, how to ensure that team can innovate and execute successfully, and share stories of learning on the job as a new manager.
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On leading a team to success
“The first thing you need to do is treat this like a product discovery problem, right? Take a step back, figure out what success for you as a manager and your team looks like, and who you’re going to be reporting to and accountable to. Take your product management skills and apply them to this scenario as well. You need to know your resources. Assess your team for their skill set, and assess yourself. What do you need to learn to make sure that you’re successful?
“You’re no longer just an individual contributor. You might be an amazing individual contributor, but part of your job, and an important part of your job, is management. You will most likely continue to be an individual contributor. Very rarely at a startup, will you be thrust into a management role and that is the only thing that you do. You’re still going to have to get your work done.
“But now, you have to lead by example. Whenever someone who’s working for you is going to look for an example of a competitive analysis, a prioritization review, or an approval for a new budget line item, they’re going to look at the past work that you did. One of the fastest ways to make sure your team is successful is to lead by example. Really think through the fact that your work is going to be scrutinized by your team. And lastly, you have to prioritize your time ruthlessly. All of a sudden, you have these new responsibilities that are a very critical part of your role.”
On being an effective manager
“To create a successful startup, you need to make sure that you are an effective manager. This is making sure that your team is delivering quality work on time. This is a little bit like project management. Really apply those skills to make sure that your team is delivering quality work in a timely manner. And they’re succeeding.
“They should come to you to unblock them for anything that’s going on. You should know how to properly escalate that. If you can actually do something, make sure you walk them through mitigation plans, and come up with ideas on how to solve problems. And at a very senior level, like a senior director, or VP, you’re going to consider how you can use resourcing and people allocation to really execute the most work you can do at the right time. Make sure that you’re driving your company’s strategy and goals.
“This takes a lot of mental energy. You really need to be organized and on top of your game. Becoming a manager of people decreases your time as an individual contributor significantly, and has all of this unseen work, but work that’s really important to make sure that you all succeed. Make sure that you’re coaching your teammates and the people who are reporting to you. You can do this in a very lightweight way in the beginning. But ultimately, you want to make sure that the people who are working for you are motivated, that they want to stay with your company, and that they’re learning to do more and more things so you can offload your work onto them. I like to joke with my team, ideally, I do nothing, they do everything, and I give them all the credit.”
On building empowered product teams
“Let’s look at your team itself. People can operate on different levels. The most basic thing you can do is delegate work to other people so they can help you get it done. You tell them exactly what you want, and then they’ll do it, and you’re just spreading work around to your team. That gains you a little bit of efficiency.
“Effectively managing a successful startup product team is very hard. That is something that you really should pat yourself on the back for. If your team is effectively managed, that is a great place to be in. You all understand what you’re trying to accomplish, everyone can independently drive their own initiatives and execute toward those goals. As a manager, all I’m saying is, you to make sure that you are understanding this new customer base and that you can design a product from zero to one.
“The Holy Grail is an empowered product team. In this holy grail, your team knows the company vision strategy. And they can independently make decisions to drive toward those goals. It doesn’t sound like there’s a ton of difference between effectively managed and empowered. What I’m saying is, I can just say we want to expand our customer base in the mid-market because we want to increase our revenue in that area by this amount. You go think about it, tell me how you’re going to do it, and keep me updated on progress. I don’t have to help them make decisions and I don’t have to lay out a project plan for them. They can come to me if they need help, and they can always bounce ideas off me. And I will continue to unblock them as a manager, but they’re acting very independently.”
About the speaker
Tina leads the Product strategy for WorkFusion's AI-powered digital workers. She is an expert ideation and implementation of AI-driven products that are transparent and reliable for the BFSI space. Before joining WorkFusion, she was at trueEX a startup trading, clearing and settlement platform for derivatives where she successfully launched both the real-time trading platform and the post-trade allocation and clearing product.
About the host
Brian is currently Senior Director of Product Management - Consumer Experience at Assurance IQ. Prior to that he was VP of Product & Design at Huckleberry, working on using data and automation to eliminate the complexity from small business insurance. Before that, Brian was Senior Director of Product Management at Fundera (acquired by NerdWallet), Walmart Labs and Amazon. Brian moved (back) to NYC in January 2020, and continues to experience everything this city has to offer.