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96 / How Product Managers Build Reputational Capital Within Their Organizations

Hosted by Paul Gebel

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Paul Ortchanian

Bain Public

Paul Ortchanian is the President/CEO & Founder of Bain Public. He is a pro at injecting strategies and tactics to monetize clients’ businesses. He’s held leadership roles at Bay Area startups and at high-growth organizations like WatchMojo, Livescale, and Blaze Transit. He’s helped establish product functions as well as large strategic consulting companies like Edelman, where he organized product-led initiatives across national and regional offices.

As a consultant, coach, keynote speaker, and author all wrapped up in one, Paul shares his transition out of corporate world into starting his own business, Bain Public, revealing the extreme challenges of unblocking company culture and policies to do the right thing.

There’s a lot that product managers can do to empower themselves within their organizations. But the path is not a straight one. We know all too well the imbalance between our substantial responsibilities and the comparatively meager authority we have to execute on them.

In this episode of the Product Momentum Podcast, Bain Public’s Paul Ortchanian sits down with Paul Gebel to discuss not only the tactics required to navigate everyday challenges, but also the career strategies we need to build reputational capital within our organizations that allow us to effectively do our jobs.

“It’s a tough world out there for product managers,” Paul says. “It’s an up-and-coming function that’s been around for a while, but it’s still misunderstood by most leaders in organizations.”

There’s a case to be made for training organizational leaders about what a product manager can be, and to deepen their understanding of what the product manager role is truly capable of.

“As much as PMs try to learn and practice their craft, there’s some critical soft skills that we need to learn and apply,” Paul adds. “We want to make sure that we’re planting the seeds that help develop product managers of the future to work within those organizations where the process, the tools, and the value we bring is well understood by leaders.”

Catch the entire pod with Paul Ortchanian to learn his take on –

  • The importance of empathizing with Customer Support and Sales, as proxies of your B2B customers
  • How to manage your leadership team and convince them to embrace PM best practices
  • The power behind the “good, old-fashioned business case”
  • Putting yourself in the position of problem solver – proposing more than a feature, but actually solving the problem

Paul Gebel [00:00:19] Hello and welcome to Product Momentum, where we hope to entertain, educate, and celebrate the amazing product people who are helping to shape our community’s way ahead. My name is Paul Gebel and I’m the Director of Product Innovation at ITX. Along with my co-host, Sean Flaherty, and our amazing production team and occasional guest host, we record and release a conversation with a product thought leader, writer, speaker, or maker who has something to share with the community every two weeks.

Paul Gebel [00:00:43] Good day, folks. Paul Gebel here and I’m pleased to be able to share a conversation with you that I had recently with Paul Ortchanian, President, CEO, and Founder of Bain Public. We talked career and how product managers can level up skills that are meaningful, and general business applications. We focused on tactics to build trust, loyalty, and advocacy within our teams and what it means to lead up in organizations. We’d love to hear from you about ways that you’ve been able to see overlap between your product management career and general business management within your organizations. In the meantime, let’s get into the conversation.

Paul Gebel [00:01:16] Hey, everyone, and welcome to the pod. Today, we are pleased to be joined by Paul Ortchanian. He’s a pro at injecting strategies and tactics to monetize clients’ businesses. He’s led leadership roles at the Bay Area startups, at high-growth organizations like WatchMojo, Livescale, Blaise Transit. He’s helped establish product functions as well as large strategic consulting companies like Edelman, where he organized product-led initiatives across national and regional offices. And as a consultant, coach, keynote speaker, and author all wrapped up in one, Paul shares his transition out of the corporate world into starting his own business, Bain Public, revealing the extreme challenges of unblocking company culture and policies from doing the right thing. Paul, welcome to the show.

Paul Ortchanian [00:01:54] Thanks for having me.

Paul Gebel [00:01:55] Absolutely. Glad to have another Paul on the pod. So as I’m recalling some of the chat that we had before we hit the record button today, I wanted to kind of jump into the state of product and product managers in their communities that they find themselves today in. I wonder if you could help give us an assessment of sort of what are the things that product managers are seeing? What are the ways that they can be thinking about themselves and their career and the organizations they find themselves in?

Paul Ortchanian [00:02:21] Yeah, oftentimes we have the luxury of working with a lot of organizations, with a lot of products in many industries, so we cycle through them. So we get to see the state of a product manager in most organizations, and there’s a lot of bait and switch happening in the product world where as a product manager, you’re hired. You’re told me you’re going to be in power, and finally, you realize that, you know, you have a relationship or no relationship with this leadership team that’s making decisions. And oftentimes you find yourself in this firewall between you and the engineering team and the rest of the organization, with customer support and marketing and sales not knowing what you guys are working on and a lot of resentment. So it’s a tough world for a product manager. It’s an up-and-coming function that’s been around for a while, but it’s still misunderstood by most leaders in organizations. And, you know, as much as we try to learn about it, there’s some very key soft items that we can basically just start learning more of, I guess, and applying more in order to make sure that, you know, like not our legacy, but the seeds that we’re putting into most organization basically, growing and allowing most product managers in the future to work within those organizations where the process, the tools, the value we bring is well understood by leaders.

Paul Gebel [00:03:34] Yeah. You said a couple of things there I want to dial into just a little bit deeper. First of all, the connection between product and the executive leadership teams at organizations I think is becoming more widely accepted. You used the phrase bait and switch, but I’m not sure I’d call it the same thing. Maybe what I have experienced is more along the lines of where we are bringing artifacts that were once specific to product: roadmaps, business cases, backlogs, and I think that those kinds of things that look like general business tools that can be scaled up to help inform executive functions and operations within the organization. Is that kind of what you’re getting in the way that that connection might be helpful to contextualize?

Paul Ortchanian [00:04:17] I mean, the tools are there. I think most product managers suffer with the acceptance of those tools and those processes by leadership. So oftentimes, like bringing a leadership team in for an hour meeting to just discuss key metrics that the company should be looking at in order to evaluate if they’re actually heading in the right direction. And, you know, that’s perceived as basically a waste of time and half of them don’t show up. And that’s where a product manager really struggles, is how do I basically get their attention? How do they start really valuing, you know, these things that I’m reading on all these blogs and these books, but somehow I’m having a hard time basically getting my leaders to accept and acknowledge it or even put some time against it?

Paul Gebel [00:04:56] Is that a function, do you think, of just the state of business and risk tolerance? It sounds like what you might be saying is there’s a way that we can help take the surprise out of the executive conversations. In other words, the leadership in organizations want to know and be able to share with their shareholders and have a plan for the quarterly earnings call and be able to take the product manager’s knowledge and turn it into actual, you know, business value. And I guess the way that I meant the word surprise is, you know, the thing that leadership wants to avoid is having to backtrack or having to clean up a mess. And maybe they’re over-managing the product managers in their organization. Is that kind of getting at the leadership function and that connection a bit more closely to what you mean?

Paul Ortchanian [00:05:38] Yeah, maybe it’s trust and they’re actually doing a third of the product manager’s job themselves, and maybe they should just trust the product managers to do it. But I think it just comes down to the relationship. It’s all about humans and trust, right?

Paul Gebel [00:05:51] Yeah.

Paul Ortchanian [00:05:51] If the leadership team doesn’t trust the product manager, they’re just going to go back to the board and basically explain the status of the product, its key metrics, its engagement. And you know, the strategy is that it’s basically successfully doing by themselves and they’re going to do the research and all the grunt work required to do it, and they could have trusted the product manager. So ultimately, I think it comes down to the relationships that a product manager can build with leadership. And what I’m noticing is, you know, as product managers come in, they don’t have a lot of experience with the role, and they often create a relationship with the leadership team as a whole, the CEO, the CFO, the CMO, the CRO, but never really spend the time creating one-on-one relationships with each one of them. And so this way that trust develops and where they can count on product to basically come in.

Paul Ortchanian [00:06:37] And oftentimes what we see is that the product conversations are happening in the room without the product manager being there. And that’s the worst thing you can have as a product manager is be a situation where decisions are being made about the roadmap without your presence. There should be enough of a relationship where, you know, an executive or a leader would stop and say, “Hey, the product manager’s not in the room, let’s email him, let’s Slack him, let’s bring him in so that he or she is part of this conversation.” So it just comes down to basically being the hub of your product leadership team, you know, building the right relationship with each member in a synchronous manner. Right? Like I need to have a relationship with the CMO and I need to have a separate relationship with the CTO and I need to have a separate relationship with the CRO, customer support, and the CEO. And I should be able to have lunch with them and talk to them about what’s keeping them up at night. So this way I can fully understand the impact of whatever they are mentioning in a product discussion. But these one-on-ones don’t happen. Product managers are overwhelmed. You know, already managing a roadmap is hard enough, and talking to customers is hard enough, and talking to engineers is hard enough. On top of that, being able to have a one-on-one relationship with each one of your leaders, that’s a lot to do, right? So I think that’s the real issue is, like, should a product manager take the time in their day to managing their superiors?

Paul Gebel [00:07:56] Yeah. I think there’s quite a few themes that you laid out there, and please correct me if I misheard anything, but I think what we’re observing is a shift from the sales-led to the product-led organization. And in truly product-led organizations, you see that much more manifest where the product leader, the product manager, is the hub of the leadership team. In a product-led organization, there is a culture about product first because we’re looking to create a mindset of service to our end users as opposed to the business at all costs, you know, the goal of the firm is to maximize shareholder wealth. In a product-led organization, it turns much more into, the goal of the firm is to serve humans and to put those relationships first.

Paul Gebel [00:08:36] One of the other themes that I heard come through loud and clear is just the sense of almost corporate hospitality, almost of basic decency of having those connections and not expecting process to be king anymore, understanding that those relationships between meetings happen over lunch, having those watercooler conversations which are hard-fought, especially in the virtual age. Is that something that you think is a skill that can be learned, or is that a culture that you either have it or you don’t? How do we change something practically to make that a more effective touchstone in a product manager’s career?

Paul Ortchanian [00:09:09] I think we’ve spoken a lot about empathy in the product world. You know, we say it’s skill number one for product managers. But listen, unfortunately, it’s like who you listen to. I think that the differentiator here is, if you’re a B2B organization, you’re not listening to the customer as much as you’re listening to customer support, sales…

Paul Gebel [00:09:26] Yeah.

Paul Ortchanian [00:09:26] Because those guys are really the proxy to the customer. And you know, as much as you want to have a conversation with the president of IBM, for example, if they happen to be your client, you know, you’re still doing it through the sales team and whatever they’re basically telling you and maybe listening into some of those conversations. So in some ways, what happens is that, you know, if you’re struggling, trying to get to the client in a B2B organization, it might be better for you to just go back to the watercooler conversation with the sales team and really try to understand what these customers are saying and even propose, you know, having like informal, you know, cocktails with your clients in order to basically get to know them better and et cetera.

Paul Ortchanian [00:10:02] But not really, there’s this perception, especially if you’re dealing with service organizations, B2B organizations, that the product guy, guy or gal, in this case, is just going to come in and promise features, right? And sometimes they look at the sales maturity of that person, the product manager, and they’re fearful of putting them in front of the customer. So it’s often times where we say that we’re product-led, but we’re not product-led. We’re still sales led because the sales team is coming in with their grenades and not inviting the product manager to the party. So it’s really important to just be empathetic towards customer support, be empathetic towards sales, and basically, you know, see them as customers as well, or proxies of the customers, in order to validate some of the anecdotal stuff that they’re telling you.

Paul Ortchanian [00:10:46] In a B2C environment that’s completely different. Now it’s a lot easier for you to just have this customer relationship. And I think product management in a B2C space is a lot easier from that perspective. But there are other challenges you have to deal with, you know, getting people to engage is really hard. Where in a B2B space, you’re oftentimes not even looking at the engagement metrics as much as you are looking at the other metrics such as revenue and other types of metrics that are really important, and like, efficiencies and customer acquisitions and customer satisfactions tend to be a little bit higher there.

Paul Gebel [00:11:19] Yeah, wonderful. I think one of the things that I’m also recalling in our chat earlier was just this culture of nurturing our product management career. And it seems, there is a perception, especially in today’s job market, where there’s maybe an expectation that in order to grow, you need to move out or you need to move up or there’s a, I hate to use the term mercenary, but it does tend to start to feel like jumping from company to company can create, you know, opportunities. But everything comes with a cost. There’s an opportunity cost to that jumping. And perhaps there’s a case to be made for learning and training into our organizations what a product manager can be, and how to leverage some general management as a part of what we’re starting to understand the product manager is capable of. Can you talk a bit about how you see career paths growing for product managers and specifically how they end up affecting the companies that product managers have a stake in?

Paul Ortchanian [00:12:12] Yeah. I mean, I think that every company, no matter how experienced and successful, has something to learn, right? And the ones that realize this have a clear advantage when it comes to product management. If they realize that product management can, like processes, tools, approaches, can be improved and identify that as a problem, it’s not going to be hard for the product manager to do their job and really introduce new approaches, new ways of doing things.

Paul Ortchanian [00:12:35] What really makes it hard is when companies, you know, because of success, because of experience, just deny the fact that product management is an area where the company has something to learn. And that really makes it very, very hard for product managers to establish the right processes, you know, use the best tools that we’ve been talking around. And that basically leads them to just say, “look, I’m fed up with this, and all I want to do is just move on to the next company.” And this is where that bait and switch comes back into play. And I know you don’t like that word, but ultimately, you get hired in a company, you basically look at, you know, their maturity level in terms of being honest with themselves: “we hit a wall with the previous product managers, we definitely want it to change, and we have something to learn; help us, bring in some of these processes, these best practices.”.

Paul Ortchanian [00:13:22] But if that’s what they’re saying at the interview level and then you walk in and you realize that there’s grenades being thrown by the sales team, the marketing team, and roadmaps are blowing up everywhere. Then, you know, you’re going to basically just look at moving on to the next company. And I think that as product managers, we’re not going to get better at our craft if we simply, you know, escape from one company. Every bait and switch is an opportunity to move on. You know, the grass isn’t greener elsewhere. So you just got to buckle down at some point and say, “part of my job is to manage this roadmap, part of my job is to listen to the customer and try to create value for the customer, but also part of my job is to create processes in this organization, this is a roadmap that’s full of landmines, and I’m going to have to figure out how I’m going to manage this leadership team so this way they put in some of these best practices.”

Paul Ortchanian [00:14:13] And if that’s not part of our understanding of our job as product managers or acceptance of what we are, then, you know, maybe product manager is not the right role for you in some ways, right? Because it’s like being a shrink. You cannot go into and solve a problem if the person on the other side doesn’t realize that they have a problem to be solved. Right? So at some point, we have to elicit that from them and say, “Did you hit a wall? Why did you hit that wall and how does product management help you move forward?”

Paul Gebel [00:14:41] Yeah. This kind of begs the question, what happens when a product manager does grow in their career? What is that seniority path? I’ve heard it traditionally in the terms of, you either start to manage bigger and bigger parts of the product and eventually, you know, programs and portfolios worth of product, or you branch off the people management route and you start to become a manager of product managers. Is there a third way? Is there a way to think about seniority in the product manager role within organizations that can be viewed maybe from a different angle that might be more helpful than just this traditional dichotomy?

Paul Ortchanian [00:15:15] Yeah, I think the third one is you’re basically managing your leadership team. I mean, I see empathetic product managers who don’t even have product managers in terms of, like, hierarchical function inside the company. They’re a CPO, but they don’t manage the product team, nor do they manage the product, but they’re able to work strategically, tactically with the leadership team up in the organization, making sure that, you know, there is a process that the product team is handling, that the engineering team is handling, that everything is interconnected, and in some ways making sure that there is empowerment.

Paul Ortchanian [00:15:47] I don’t know if you can exclusively do the third. That would be rare. But I would say, like, you’re either managing a product and managing a leadership team or managing product managers, plus managing a leadership team. But, you know, like exclusively managing the leadership team, it sounds fun, it’s a luxury maybe, but what I dread is when I see a product manager who’s gone from one bait and switch to the other eventually end up in a product leadership role as a CPO or Head of Product and basically managing product managers, but doesn’t have the tools to manage the leadership team.

Paul Gebel [00:16:22] Yeah.

Paul Ortchanian [00:16:22] And it surprises them constantly, provides them with no solutions and ultimately ends up basically forcing them to make the decision. And if that leadership team is making a decision on behalf of product, then ultimately, they might as well decide not to have a Head of Product anyways. And that really undervalues the worth of a Head of Product in an organization.

Paul Gebel [00:16:43] Hundred percent. You know, as you’ve been unpacking the concept of managing leadership, it struck me that it sounds a lot like what I’ve heard folks start to call product ops. And what I believe many people mean when they use the term product ops is it’s managing, not process per se, but it’s managing the things that get the product to the humans at the other end. It’s the trellis that we’re hanging the product processes and frameworks on so that there’s an understanding within the organization of what we’re doing, when it’s going to be delivered, who’s in charge of what, and almost going back to a RECI matrix and just understanding who’s going to be accountable, who’s driving it. And some of those terms start to get a bit blurry and I’m wondering, is product ops a good enough term for what you’re talking about, or is there a distinction there that might help contrast and get a better understanding here?

Paul Ortchanian [00:17:31] You know, I’ve investigated that term. I’m even having a hard time understanding it. But to me, you know, like whatever you say about DevOps or you’re talking about operationalizing the actual A.I. cycle of taking a machine learning module, training it, and then putting it into publishing, that’s usually ops, right? So saying that something so human as relationship building, one-to-one meetings, and really, you know, influence creation, you know, social capital that could be resumed by the word ops… To me, it’s just like it’s kind of like an automation of something that is so human. I would call it something else, but I don’t know if that’s the real definition. I mean, I think at the end of the day, it’s just like if you’re a Head of Product in any organization, you just have to be human and you got to basically make sure that you have relationships with the right people. And that’s just like, you know, humanity one on one.

Paul Gebel [00:18:19] Wonderful. Yeah.

Paul Ortchanian [00:18:20] We lost a bit because of COVID too. COVID actually forced us to work virtually. And that also removed all these opportunities to being human and building relationships.

Paul Gebel [00:18:28] It removed some, it created others. I think there’s a way to view the virtualization of work in a positive light. It gave room for some of the quiet voices to become louder and it gave space for people who were not comfortable in big boardrooms full of highly paid people to be more present in meetings. So I think just as much as we lost, we did gain some things. So it’s really about where you look for that silver lining. I want to shift gears just for a minute and talk a bit about what you termed sort of the pillars of the product manager and their toolkit. There are three or four things that in recent years have become their keys to the kingdom, so to speak, of the product manager toolkit. And some of them, I think, are obvious, some less obvious. Can you share what you mean by those terms? Those phrases, the pillars of the product manager?

Paul Ortchanian [00:19:12] Now, we use the word pillars. It’s a funny word that came out. I don’t even know where it came from. But basically, I find that product managers oftentimes talk about feature mixes. You know, we’re going to take five features that together solve a problem. And instead of, you know, basically selling the problem and its solution to, you know, the decision-makers and who are going to prioritize the roadmap, they basically sell the feature, right? So here we are talking about feature mix, promising feature X, Y, Z to the sales team to promise to the customer, marketing is expecting it, and somehow there’s an under-delivery. You know, there’s a missing feature and suddenly everybody starts blaming product.

Paul Ortchanian [00:19:47] So we basically went back and said, “Well, why don’t we just call it a pillar, which is a feature mix, but right on top of the feature mix, we’re going to put this layer in, which is basically the business case, the good old-fashioned business case, right?” Like, what are the objectives of this particular initiative? What is the value proposition? What are the key results we can expect? What’s in it for the company? What’s in it for the user? How does this align with the company strategy? And just presenting it in that way. So this way, when a prioritization decision is made, it’s not about, “we’re adding feature X, Y, Z.” It’s really about, “we’re going to be solving this problem,” and that the marketing team, the sales team, the support team, and the CEO and everybody else can go out, balance to the board, to the customer, as well as to the prospects and promise them solutions to problems rather than promising them features.

Paul Ortchanian [00:20:33] And I think ultimately the product manager is able, within the constraints of an engineering team who gets sick or something happens, to under-deliver the features. Maybe they promised X, Y, Z, but now we’re just going to deliver X and Y just because of issues that were outside of the product manager’s control. But ultimately, so long as they solve the problem, you can solve it at 90% rather than 100%, but that’s still a problem solved. And as long as the sales team, the support team, the marketing team, the CEO and the customer sees the value of what’s been delivered, then that creates reputational capital towards the product team. And I think that oftentimes what we do is we just promise feature mixes or prioritize feature mixes. And once those features don’t get delivered, then our reputational capital as product teams just basically starts going and sinking inside an organization. At which point the leadership team might just suggest solutions for us. And then they the question, what’s the role of product in an organization?

Paul Gebel [00:21:29] Wonderful. You talked about a couple of other pillars, you know, defining the problems that you solve, finding out what key metrics and KPIs you can start aligning towards. It’s all kind of assumed in the business case, but some of these things aren’t always top of mind, and they get sort of overshadowed by some of the more glamorous aspects of the practice. Can you talk about what maybe we can do in terms of aligning KPIs to strategy? That really, I think, is an underappreciated art in the product manager’s skill set. KPIs are kind of a known quantity, and strategy is kind of a known quantity, but there’s a real art form in connecting the two and making sure that we’re not just measuring vanity metrics.

Paul Ortchanian [00:22:07] Yeah. Every startup, scale-up, or successful tech company pretty much has a board of investors, right? I mean, software is a VC business because it takes so much money and engineering to get a product up that you’re basically just, you know, putting the money upfront. So the reason I’m bringing this up is that every CEO and every leadership team of an organization has a quarterly board meeting with an investor, an angel, or a VC or anything. Right?

Paul Ortchanian [00:22:37] So it’s important to note that within those meetings, a deck is presented by the CEO and the leadership team of this company that pretty much has some very, very key metrics that are the metrics that each department of an organization is responsible for moving forward. Right. So sales is responsible for acquisition, so we look at customer acquisition, cost conversions, you know, number of downloads if it’s an app or number of bookings if it’s a B2B customer. We look at satisfaction for the customer support team and net promoter score, overall satisfaction. We look at efficiencies from a CTO point of view, like, you know, the cycle time to basically deliver things and you know, how much margin are we doing, et cetera. And then there’s revenue for a sales team and retention from HR.

Paul Ortchanian [00:23:19] So these are key numbers that anyways exist in the organization that are being tracked by the CFO and that are being presented on a quarterly basis. So what I really ask product managers is, what’s preventing you from asking those numbers from your leadership team? You know, why are they living in this bubble shared between them and the board, but not really with the product managers? And how we can we basically take ownership of those numbers? Because if the sales team is responsible for MRR, or average return per user, or lifetime value per user, and, you know, basically we’re trying to basically get throughput of engineering to go up through a CTO, then having those numbers and proposing, you know, features that are going to solve some of the problems.

Paul Ortchanian [00:24:01] If the company has an issue with for example, quality, and the first pass field of every feature that’s coming out is pretty bad. And so there’s a lot of rework and that costs us 28% more work, for example. Right? That creates delays. So as a product manager, am I responsible for that, or am I responsible for the adoption usage of the product? Well, ultimately, if the product is bad and has quality issues, then obviously it’s going to have an impact on my metric, which is the daily active usage or the adoption of the actual product. So if I were able to say, “here’s a business case of how we could basically make the engineering team’s throughput, or first pass yield, better, right? Which will decrease the amount of bugs, which will ultimately decrease the customer support cost of this organization. It’ll also allow us to deliver faster and increase our customer engagement and adoption of the product.

Paul Ortchanian [00:24:49] So ultimately, as a product manager, you put yourself in a problem solver position where you’re not really proposing a feature, but now you’re asking yourself, how does this engineering team react better and deliver quality better? Is it through better communication? Do we need better tools? And working with the CTO in order to improve that. Is that part of product? I believe it is. It’s between the CTO, maybe the COO of an organization, to basically determine that as being something the product team can help with. But ultimately, it always comes down to the way the tickets are created, the way the wireframes are created, the way meetings are happening between engineering and the rest of the organization, to understand scope, the way quality assurance basically writes their test cases. Is product responsible for that? Of course we are. That’s our job. We’re not just pumping out features, we also have to make sure that features are being pumped out well.

Paul Ortchanian [00:25:36] I mean, the same thing could be said for the sales team. If our customer acquisition costs or the customer acquisition payback period is too high and that’s a metric that’s being discussed at the board level, then how can we basically make that reduce the customer acquisition costs or payback period? Maybe we can propose a number of features that could basically help. For example, all sales teams constantly complain about demos. Could we have a demo environment? Do we have to manually ask the engineers to create a demo environment for every client? Can we automate that somehow? Are there ways of basically improving that process so this way customers can get a demo faster and then we could basically get them inside this, I don’t know, freemium to premium funnel?

Paul Ortchanian [00:26:12] I mean, these are all stuff that the product team could bring and align themselves to these metrics that are being shared by the board. So, now, the first thing that I would say to any product manager is, sit down with the CFO and just ask them, “what are the metrics that are being shown on a regular basis? Show me all the decks that you guys have reviewed over the past six months, nine months, 12 months, and let me align myself to these metrics, because ultimately it’s going to allow me to propose solutions, pillars, and initiatives that are basically going to help the company achieve, you know, better outcomes.” That’s going to be at the benefit of the customer and the company as well.

Paul Gebel [00:26:50] Awesome. That’s a really great synopsis of sort of the state of product in organizations. There’s a lot that we can do to help empower product managers to think about their career and take ownership, even though we may not have the authority all the time, but being essentially cause in the matter of where a situation has landed us and being present in the organizations instead of waiting passively for something to happen. Really interesting train of thought there. I have two last questions. They’re quick, but I do want to get your thoughts on two last things. First is one question we ask of all our guests. What does the word innovation mean to you? How would you define innovation?

Paul Ortchanian [00:27:24] I wouldn’t define it as intellectual property, to be honest. Like, for me, innovation is basically network effects. If you can have network effects, as in if you have customers who can add value through whatever they do to the product, to me, that’s innovation. It could be data and network effects as well. Ways basically users free people moving around the city to basically make its algorithm better and make better recommendations, right? Innovation could be R&D in the form of protecting yourself, but it could be on the other side, the way Tesla does it, where everything just goes out for free, open source. That’s innovation as well. Right.

Paul Ortchanian [00:27:56] And then a third one for me, it always comes down to lock in. How can I innovate the way I’m going to lock in my customer to my product? And people don’t like that word, lock in. Well, I’m embedding myself into the workflow of the customer in order for them to be able to innovate their operations, you know, however, they’re using the product and basically optimize their workflows in some ways. But to me, creating that type of lock in is an innovation. Because if I were to give an example, like Salesforce, the way they basically embed themselves into an organization by giving them these tools, these languages that allow them to create anything they want. Right? The way that Shopify gives all these plug-ins for you to create whatever engagement you want with your customers through all of these plugins that are available in the marketplace. I mean, this in itself locks in the customer into the product. But it is an innovation. A marketplace is an innovation. You know, a coding language that’s proper to the software that allows them to customize the software is an innovation. So I basically see it as network effects, IP, and customer lock in. So those usually end up being the three ways I would define innovation.

Paul Gebel [00:28:59] Interesting. Last thing before I let you go is, what’s been inspiring you? What have you been reading or listening to? What book would you recommend be on a product manager’s desk?

Paul Ortchanian [00:29:08] Oh my God. I’ve been so far away from reading product books these days. I’m actually trying to struggle with myself in tennis. I find tennis is an interesting metaphor to life because you’re there struggling against yourself, right? You’re playing against an opponent but it’s all happening in your head at the same time, in real time. And you have to solve problems. And I find that kind of there’s a parallel to product management because you’re alone in an organization and everybody else has different objectives. And in some ways, you have to figure out how you’re going to make it work. You have skills, you have processes, you have tools, but, you know, every situation is unique. And just like in tennis, everybody you play against is unique. You know, sometimes the weather is unique, sometimes it’s windy, sometimes it’s too hot, sometimes it’s whatever, your racket’s not in the best shape. And you need to figure out how to get out of it. It’s kind of a step back from product management, but I always try to find parallels about like how athletes are capable of just managing themselves in tough situations that they can’t control. And I think that’s a reality for us in product. We’re always in organizations where, I think, 90% of the things we can’t control.

Paul Gebel [00:30:14] Yeah. Product management is sport. I like it. Well, Paul, it’s been great talking to you today. Thanks so much for taking the time to be with us. I really appreciate it.

Paul Ortchanian [00:30:22] Thank you for having me. Have a good day.

Paul Gebel [00:30:23] Cheers.

Paul Ortchanian [00:30:24] Cheers.

Paul Gebel [00:30:27] Well, that’s it for today. In line with our goals of transparency and listening, we really want to hear from you. Sean and I are committed to reading every piece of feedback that we get, so please leave a comment or a rating wherever you’re listening to this podcast. Not only does it help us continue to improve, but it also helps the show climb up the rankings so that we can help other listeners move, touch, and inspire the world just like you’re doing. Thanks, everyone. We’ll see you next episode.

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