For our next installment of the Women in Product Management Series I interviewed Corey Fiedler, VP and Head of Product Management at Broadridge.
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What attracted you to Product Management?
My first role after graduating with my M.B.A was as a project manager for a small Fintech company where I was employee number 15. Given the company’s growth stage, I was required to wear many hats … but what I enjoyed most was Product Management, which to me is the core of any business. I loved the opportunity to be in the middle of all of the action, to think strategically and innovate. But, I was also able to dig in and get my hands dirty. I talked to clients, performed market research, translated that research into requirements, and then worked with Development, QA and Client Services to launch the product to market with Marketing and Sales.
Product Managers do a lot of different things on any given day and we’re able to evolve the product — whether it’s through organic development or even inorganic development with partnerships and business development acquisitions.
How did you get the skills to step into that role? Was there training involved?
Product Management isn’t normally a role many people envision following as a career when they enter business school. And each organization does Product Management differently. I have worked for companies of all sizes; companies that are sales-driven and those that are client service- or operations- driven. It is fascinating to adapt Product Management skills to each situation.
One of the main reasons I was drawn to Product Management was the ability to listen to clients and really understand their pain points. It is then a puzzle, first looking strategically at the product and then figuring out how to solve the client’s pain points with an existing product or exploring if a new one should be built. It also requires both a short- and long-view of the customer needs, the market and an in-depth understanding of the company’s 5-year business plan. The melding of the company vision with the customer needs ensures that you are bringing a client-driven solution to market that can grow sales and hopefully disrupt the market.
A majority of my training has been on-the-job training. I am a strong believer that a Product Manager can be created through experiences. By holding several different roles throughout my career (project management, strategy, business development, management) in companies of all sizes, I am more aware of interpersonal skills and cross-functional challenges required to be successful in the role. I have made some missteps along the way – but those mistakes are the best type of training.
I suggested that one of the reasons women are so good at Product Management is their empathy and the communication skills. Corey, do you agree?
Definitely. Women tend to be more empathetic; we listen to clients, to internal teams, to management. We also tend to be well-equipped to switch gears and multi-task. For instance, on a given day I can attend eight different meetings about eight very different topics. I have to be able to immediately shift focus, understand the topic thoroughly and contribute either through strategic thinking or tactical action.
If you don’t mind sharing, what are some examples of missteps you’ve had along the way?
Earlier in my career, as a Product Manager operating in a waterfall environment, I felt the need to build the perfect product on the first try. I would spend months gathering market research and client feedback. I would try to force as many features into the first product release as I possibly could. However, I missed any first-mover advantage that we had. More often, I ended up building features that no one ever leveraged. In addition, after product launch I learned how people were actually using the product; often times clients had uses for the product that were different than we had originally anticipated. But, by then we had spent too much time wasting resources on features that weren’t needed. Now we have the benefit of agile development and the opportunity to iterate with clients through prototypes. Now we can get the M.V.P. product out the door quickly and then adapt as we get client feedback.
The other mistake is listening to the squeaky wheel. There is always one client that is constantly asking for features and functionality, which may derail you from your product roadmap. Their requests might not be representative of what other clients need or the direction of your product strategy. I will keep one ear open to the squeaky client but have learned to keep the other ear to the ground to hear the rumblings of the broader market. So we may be delivering something that solves the majority of the loud client’s unique problem, but we are also staying focused on solving the bigger market problem.
What do you found most interesting about Product Management?
I love the fact that no day is exactly the same. It is exciting to listen to a client’s challenges, then contemplating and presenting back to them their challenge solved in a new product idea or through the evolution of your own existing product. Product Managers also have the ability to work with senior executives and the corporate strategy. I love the challenge of convincing stakeholders of a market opportunity; gain their level of trust and investment in the product, and then executing to bring a product to market.
What do you find challenging about Product Management?
It’s a challenge to balance the business-as-usual requirements of a stable and mature business with innovation. At Broadridge we have many competing priorities. We have regulatory requirements. We have to continue to improve efficiency for our client service team supporting our clients. We need to ensure our technology, data centers, and security remain up-to-date and robust. The ability to balance these priorities with the need to innovate to meet client needs is a challenge. We also need to make tough decisions when an idea may lead our product strategy astray, or when you think you may not be able to implement that idea to the full satisfaction of the client. The push and pull within a Product Management prioritization process is a constant challenge, but also a healthy one.
How do you drive success with your team?
I’m actually working with them all right now on their role mandates. A role mandate ensures that the corporate goals and my goals are aligned with theirs. We also create objectives for the upcoming year, which may be tactical but are certainly measurable, to ensure that their goals are really tied to the overall corporate goals. Those could be financial targets or innovation targets in terms of building new products, releasing them to the market, and managing a very talented team.
My most important role is to act as a sounding board for my team and help clear the path or any obstructions in their way. In addition, I encourage and mentor them, especially when it comes to market research and client interactions. It is important to hear client’s ideas and ask the right probing questions to help re-direct them as needed. Through listening, they will have their pulse on the market, a pulse on the clients, and a pulse on the competitors. Listening will set them up for success.
What do you look for when you interview new talent for your team?
Interestingly enough, for me, it’s not really all about experience or subject matter expertise. My ideal Product Manager is someone who is positive, curious, driven, and can problem solve. This person does not need to be micro-managed but instead comes to me with ideas and challenges the status quo. Obviously, we also need team players who are collaborative and are comfortable in front of clients.
Hiring Product Managers is often one of the hardest things to do in my opinion. Will the Product Manager run with an innovative idea generating brand new product? Or, does the role support a stable mature product? Though the experience of the person may vary slightly, all Product Managers need to think strategically but act tactically. That is a very difficult skillset to find in the market.
What advice do you have for women going into the Product Management field?
Be willing to wear a lot of hats in the beginning. When I started my career, I was willing to be the project manager. I was willing to be the business analyst. I was willing to go meet with all clients and perform client trainings. I was curious. I was collaborative. I was always asking questions, and when the company was ready to further invest in the product, I was the next logical choice to lead the effort.
Learn as much as you can about the business, about the market, about the clients and about the competitors. Also, make sure you hit the road and sit in with sales on as many client presentations as you can. There is no better training than “boots on the ground” to see how sales present your ideas and how prospects and clients react to them.
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