A Day in the Life of 4 Directors of Product

March 17, 2020

Walking into the following four product professionals’ offices on any given day, you’d find them balancing management responsibilities with strategy and design work. The thread that connects the two main components of the role consists of empathy, vision and a curiosity to better understand both systems and employees. 

“Great product leaders don’t have to be the only ones to propose a vision,” Parilee Edison Wang said about operations at Bread Finance. “But they do have to create an environment where great ideas are heard, evaluated and invested in.” 

According to BentoBox’s Tim Rogus, quality product design starts with problem recognition. With a solid understanding of the issue and access to the tools needed to work toward a solution, industry professionals can figure out “when to emulate and when to innovate.”

 

Bread
Bread

Bread Finance’s VP of product is dedicated to coaching and growing her team. Wang said that while there needs to be close alignment and partnership between the product and engineering departments, launches require at least some level of participation from everyone at the company. That means she looks for legal, marketing, sales, operations and financial support.

 

Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become  VP of product?

I’ve always been personally motivated by the chance to help solve interesting problems without obvious right answers. Professionally, I’ve looked for those kinds of hard but valuable opportunities. I’ve found my greatest opportunities for growth and development when I was focused on solving them. 

I started in product management at Barnes & Noble, launching their Nook Press program after I identified a problem and pitched a solution. I was fortunate to partner with a great engineering team to bring that solution to market. 

Later in my career at OnDeck, I consistently looked for opportunities to get involved in complex and high-impact problems. As I grew in my career and built out teams, I helped my team members do the same. I discovered that I love enabling the people on my team to grow their ownership and impact. I also love building teams, figuring out processes and working cross-functionally to create a strong company strategy and vision. 

I joined Bread as the head of product because I was inspired by its product-market fit and because I wanted to work with the Bread team to figure out how to scale on its strong foundation. The problems we’re solving here are exactly the challenging and rewarding kinds of problems that I enjoy the most. 

 

What are your job responsibilities? 

As anyone in product will tell you, there’s no such thing as a typical day, which is a big part of what makes the function and role both so fun and so challenging.

I focus my time on working with the product leaders on my team to remove roadblocks and ensure we’re aligned on Bread’s top priorities: learning about our consumers, merchants, internal teams, competitors and market, as well as creating, assessing, updating and communicating a clear product vision and strategy. 

I define and follow strong product development processes and practices in close partnership with our CTO and my team and other teams at Bread, as we all assess new opportunities, evaluate growth options, identify bottlenecks and generally turn our strategy into cross-functionally aligned tactics. 

There’s no such thing as a typical day, which is what makes the role so fun and so challenging.’’ 

 

What makes a good head of product?

To me, product leadership breaks down into three main components: clear product vision, building and growing an exceptional team and driving organizational focus and alignment.

Having a clear product vision means ensuring the product team and executive team are focused on a shared vision of how the product is and will evolve. Great product leaders don’t have to be the only ones to propose a vision. But they do have to create an environment where great ideas are heard, evaluated and invested in. At Bread, we’ve focused on creating opportunities for everyone at the company to submit ideas and share insights, carve out time and space for deeper thinking about our longer-term product strategy and introduce quarterly all-hands roadmap reviews to make sure everyone at the company understands where we’re going. 

Building and growing an exceptional team means hiring, onboarding, coaching and enabling great product people to bring products to market. I focus on enabling employees to do their best work in service of Bread’s mission, vision and strategy. 

It takes more than a great product team to successfully launch and grow great products. Our executive team spends a lot of time ensuring that we are narrowing in on the opportunities that matter most to the company and that we’re all working together to turn those opportunities into market-leading features and products. 

 

BentoBox
BentoBox

When Rogus decided to pursue product early in his career, he took more than 80 classes at General Assembly to get a better sense of roles and responsibilities required. He now has 17 years of experience under his belt, including expertise in wireframing, UI visual design, product management, front-end development and product analytics.

 

Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become a director of product design?

I started working for a few different small digital agencies right out of high school and all through college. I designed and coded websites for small businesses, e-commerce and early-stage startups. When I moved to NYC, I shifted to in-house work at startups. I was interested in all aspects of product and took more than 80 varied classes at General Assembly. That helped me see the bigger picture and connect the dots across product, design, engineering, marketing and operations. 

I also built my own side products, which was educational. Over time, I took on more responsibility and was trusted to lead product design.

 

What are your job responsibilities? 

I lead the product design team initiatives, which cover end-to-end design including user research, interviews, competitive research, conceptual planning for features and product ideas, wireframing, design and prototyping. I work with engineers and PMs to check for viability and feasibility, negotiate compromises or alternatives and iterate on products using feedback and analytics from real usage by our B2B clients, all while keeping our design system consistent and robust. 

As the director, I also have management responsibilities. I run design reviews, workshops and one-on-ones. I also mentor and level up our designers. I work with BentoBox human resources to recruit and grow the team and coordinate with our VP of product to execute the roadmap and plan for future quarters.

A good product director finds the balance between user needs and business goals.’’

 

What makes a good director of product design?

A good product director is someone who digs in deep to find the balance between user needs and business goals while questioning and validating assumptions. It is someone who can instill in the organization the value of research and evidence-based decision-making. Product directors should have an awareness of product problems and solution design patterns (both in and out of industry) so they know when to emulate and when to innovate. 

Lastly, design leaders must have respectable skills to be able to provide the right kind of feedback, even if they are no longer pushing pixels themselves.

 

Electric
Electric

Electric’s VP of Product Tara Goldman considers herself a strategist, researcher, designer, technologist, project manager and even therapist. She uses the people skills she developed during her time at The College Board, where she first discovered her passion for product, in her current role creating and optimizing operational processes.

 

Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become  VP of product?

I started my career in the NYC digital agency world, building product experiences for clients. I quickly learned that I wanted to be able to continually improve on those experiences rather than hand them off and pray the client invested further. I discovered my passion for product after a lateral move into project management and subsequently product management. Specifically, one of Marty Cagan’s trainings got me hooked. 

Since then, I’ve held product leadership roles at various companies including The College Board, Weight Watchers, General Assembly and currently as VP of Product at Electric AI.  

 

What are your job responsibilities?

I’m accountable for our end-to-end product experience as well as the product management and design teams. If I’m being honest, there isn’t really a typical day. However, I’m always spending time on our product strategy thinking both short (quarterly) and long-term about how we get to where we want to be. I partner with my team, the engineering team and other key cross-functional groups to make this happen. I speak with customers as often as I can and deal with the occasional fire. 

In order to excel in a variety of areas, you must be curious and empathetic.’’ 

 

What makes a good director of product?

We are generalists who wear many hats. In order to excel in a variety of areas, you must be curious and empathetic. If you are naturally curious and ask the right questions in an effort to deeply understand what people need, you’ve tackled half the battle by identifying problems worth solving. The other 50 percent is business acumen and being able to define a strategy that aligns those problems with business value. 

 

Stocktwits
shutterstock

As a product manager at StockTwits, Michael Bozzello said the company’s users are his North Star. He has found that his previous experience as operations and community manager has served him well in his current role, adding that a learning curve exists in relation to hard skills development. 

 

Tell us a bit about your professional background. How did you become a product manager?

Prior to Stocktwits, I helped grow a community of traders from 50 to 5,000 participants. My responsibilities included managing and cultivating the health of the community and tracking engagement and growth. I also did operations and product work. While it was a great experience, I wanted to be a part of something that was scalable. I saw a community manager position at Stocktwits and applied.  

The growth from a community role to product was really natural. I understood common pain points and could help the users. Although the soft skills overlapped perfectly, the hard skills were different. I learned to prioritize user needs.  

 

What are your job responsibilities?

On a typical day, I never know what’s going to happen. I try to help facilitate a lot of work in progress and think of new project ideas. I put out any severe fires and identify user issues.  

Product managers should be positioning the user as the North Star of what they do.’’

 

What makes a good director of product?

Being empathic to users and to co-workers. Actively listen to people and create plans based on brainstorming sessions. Product managers should be positioning the user as the North Star of what they do.

 

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