Women in Product Management: Linda Andries, SVP Product Management at Measured Progress | AdvancED

For our next installment of the Women in Product Management Series I interviewed Linda Andries, SVP Product Management at Measured Progress | AdvancED.

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How did you get into product management?

My path is also my philosophy, which is ‘see a need – fill a need’. Admittedly, I watched the Robots movie with the kids and adopted the phrase because it is such an appropriate theme for innovation. I started my career in market research, strategy and communications. I have a deep level of curiosity and love figuring out how and why things work, testing out new ideas and then positioning them in the market place.

As a market strategist, I wrote business plans and helped organizations re-engineer or re-imagined where their spaces were and where they were going. As my work progressed, I moved into Product Management where I get to live out my passion for building new products and services. In the last ten years it’s been about platforms as a product. The awareness came that we had content experts in certain products and deliverables who had many of the same needs, but really did not understand the best media in which to bring their products out to market. In the education market the need continues to be to meet students where and how they learn by creating an ecosystem of offerings to bring forward. It was really about creating balanced assets.

Any missteps along the way?

I specialize in working on projects and with organizations that are looking to reinvent themselves. Missteps are expected in the new product development funnel. For the most part, missteps are planned as part of the testing out of new ideas and new functionality. Major missteps happen when you don’t take the learning and apply it because you or your organization is not willing to give a product up. I was really a big fan of a product, but the runway to get it to viability was too long and too expensive. We should have done more work up front on that one. Understanding the size and scope of a product runway and then having the appetite to execute is one of the biggest challenges. Another challenge is when you are creating blue ocean strategies. There I can’t really say we missed the market opportunity, but it was a tough climb. In hindsight the competition took a path that was a lot easier. We were first to market, but there was clearly an easier path that we just didn’t see. Then we couldn’t pivot fast enough.

Those are some of the things that are challenging. You really need to know the core competencies of your organization to gauge where and how you are doing to bring new products to market. You’re either out in front of everybody and more susceptible to the risks associated with it (and can gauge the financial benefits), or you’re behind and you’re playing catch up.

What do you like the most about product management?

I like the diversity of it. I like the idea of being able to own something through an entire life cycle: from the strategic value and vision through the ideation funnels to development. I like building and creating it. My resume back in my earlier days said I’m a builder. I build products and services that delight customers. I love it when you get a group of people together and you ideate about what could fill a market need. What would get people excited? And then together you see the vision come together. That’s empowering.

That’s what keeps me going every single day, because it’s just fun. I learn something new every day.

What do you like the least about product management?

Sighs. Oh boy. The internal negotiations.

I’ve heard product managers say they hate working with Sales and they hate Engineers. That annoys me. There is supposed to be a healthy angst. So as a product manager, you have to be in that middle ground. You have to be a good listener. There’s a lot of influential and very knowledgeable leaders across the organization in sales, marketing, finance, customer service etc. Sometimes it’s harder to negotiate with some of them more than others. Especially when personalities get involved. However, if people feel heard and you use data to drive decisions, it is no longer a negotiation but a fact. I actually think that some of my best partners started off as an antagonist. Mutual respect is critical to bring excellent products to market.

When you’re hiring people for your team, what are you looking for?

I look for people smarter than me. I have to be careful personally, because I think it’s really easy to hire people who are like you. The birds-of-a-feather type thing. I tend to gravitate toward candidates who are entrepreneurial and who can think outside of the box. They have to have the ability to gain respect through action as opposed to commanding it. I try to hire folks that have the same aspirational goals, but not the same personality types. I am type A, but one of my favorite CEO’s was a type C. He was very creative and thoughtful. When working with him I knew he would percolate on a concept or idea for a few days and then provide some very insightful feedback. Most importantly I look for drive, curiosity and communication skills, and then obviously the skill set just has to be there.

When you’re interviewing people, what are you looking for?

Natural curiosity – that is the biggest trait that I have found works in product folks. If there is not the innate desire to learn and fix it becomes difficult to take them to the next level.  You can teach anyone about the tech stacks, sprint management and user experience, but if the drive isn’t there it usually doesn’t all come together, or you end up with a solid B level product owner, which is okay too – not everyone can be a rockstar and teams need different levels of players. 

What advice do you have for women that are entering product management?

It’s just a good place to be if you are comfortable leading, are comfortable with yourself and really want to make a difference within an organization. One of the things that women need to do, and I had to learn it too, is stop apologizing. As I said earlier mishaps happen. If it was a mistake own it, learn from it and move on. My big thing with anyone is: don’t ever complain. When there is a wall blocking your progression, find another way to get through it, under, around, or even over it.

Any guiding principles or motto?

I am an optimist. I am always looking forward and looking out. Don’t spend so much time looking inside your organization, because true innovation will not be found there. They’re not sitting at your desk and they’re not going to come find you. Get out in the market, make mistakes, learn from them, and keep digging to find out what excites your audience.

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