Entrepreneurs

Why Communication is Key to Succeed as a Product Manager

Your name: Daniel Ayele
Your title: Senior Product Manager
How long have you been at your company? 3.5 years

Tell us about your career journey: How did you end up working as a product manager?

Like many product managers, I stumbled into the role. I started my career in an analytics role at a small startup, and while there discovered the product manager role. I fell in love with the cross-functional nature of the product role. As a person with lots of interests, being able to work on all things and nothing at the same time sounded wonderful. As I grew I found a broader interest in the intersection of software and economic development, and ended up joining a job search startup called Bright that was later acquired by LinkedIn. There I learned how to hone the product craft and understand what it takes to grow a product and team effectively. After a brief stint in venture capital, I landed at Atlassian.

What attracted you to work at Atlassian? How did you know it would be a good fit?

I’m a person who’s drawn to things that I don’t understand, and there’s so much about Atlassian that piqued my interest. For one, the company was founded outside of Silicon Valley and somehow had managed to grow and scale a distributed team through smart investments and acquisitions. They’d also been profitable very early in their journey as a company and were early to the idea of self-service enterprise software sold like all other things on the web. I’d also been a power user of Confluence, Jira, and Trello at previous companies, so I had first-hand experience with the thoughtfulness of their product culture and deep and nuanced understanding of how to build great team collaboration tools. Overall, the unique culture and thoughtful focus on great products made me interested in joining.

What are you responsible for as a product manager at Atlassian?

I lead the Confluence collaboration team, which focuses on empowering teams to engage meaningfully and move work forward. We drive collaboration loops in Confluence and make them simpler, more intuitive, and more useful for customers. So that’s everything from our “front door,” which is typically a notification, all the way through to lightweight actions that people take around content itself to share feedback, stay informed, and interact with their team. (Think: comments, team discussions, tasks, and many more social and interactive features to come.) We want customers to know that Confluence is an amazing tool for collaboration and a true all-in-one workspace where everyone can collaborate on content, share feedback, and move work forward together.

What does a normal day in your job look like?

There is no normal day in product, but the vast majority of time is spent on prioritization and communication. On an annual basis we set company, product, and team level objectives and key results based on a cocktail of customer needs, business needs, and research/insights. During planning season most of my time is spent synthesizing insights, meeting with partner teams, and aligning on our plans and key initiatives.

Using that as a general framework we do team planning on a quarterly basis and maintain a working backlog of key initiatives prioritized according to potential impact on our OKRs. We have multiple project streams running across our team at any given time and each of those is typically in a different stage, so depending on the stage and need I could be spending the day doing user research, deep dives on data insights, working with our engineering team on clarifying priorities to help with architecting solutions, or prioritizing customer bugs or issues that are flagged by our support team or in various support channels.

Communication is such an important part as well. I am constantly communicating with leadership, my peer team, and other partner teams about what we are doing, why it matters, and how we can align on priorities to get things done together.

Please describe the product development process at Atlassian.

There is no single product development process at Atlassian. Teams have a good amount of autonomy in determining how they work. Individual teams are organized in triads with a product manager, designer, and engineering lead, and each team is responsible for building their own OKRs and setting priorities for initiatives that ladder up to the product and company level goals.

This process gives teams time and space to review research, data insights, and the competitive landscape and use those to set overall strategy, goals, and initiatives. From there we set plans quarterly and run biweekly engineering sprints, all managed in Jira and Confluence! We also run biweekly team retros to iteratively improve our process and handle issues as they come up, and we have a biweekly team meeting called “What’s Up With Collaboration?” where the product and design teams share key customer insights, strategic or priority information, or designs and concepts for earlier stage projects.

How is the product team structured?

The Confluence product team is organized into groups focused on different aspects of the product. There’s a core experience group (which my team is a part of), an insights group that works on making our product smarter, a revenue group focused on driving growth, and a backbone group focused on performance and scalability. I report to a group product manager who runs experience, and each of the other groups also has a senior product lead. The senior leads all report to the Head of Product for Confluence.

What other stakeholders, teams, or types of people do you interact with on a regular basis?

We have a number of product platform teams at Atlassian that support the key product teams, so I spend a lot of time working with them on aligning priorities and initiatives. I also spend time collaborating with product marketing, analytics, research, and support on a regular basis.

What skills are essential to succeeding as a product manager at Atlassian?

We talk a lot about product management craft and have identified key pillars that are important to success in this role: leads and inspires, drives outcomes, and communicates effectively. All of these are key in being successful and growing as a product manager at Atlassian, and I’ve found in speaking with former colleagues and folks elsewhere in the industry that many of these pillars apply to their most successful PMs as well.

What are you working on right now that excites or inspires you?

I’m very excited about unleashing the opportunity for Confluence to be a project collaboration and social intranet tool for more of our customers. Every time I’m on a customer call I’m amazed at how little of our product customers use today, often for many different reasons. If folks could peek inside and see how we use Confluence at Atlassian they’d be amazed at how bringing people, practices, and tools together can unlock way more potential for collaboration and level up the knowledge, understanding, and interaction for so many organizations. I’m excited to bring more of that energy and potential to more teams by making our product simpler, performant, and fun so it better fits their needs.

What do you value most about Atlassian’s company culture?

We live by our values. I’ve seen many companies in my career who have values posted on a board somewhere but don’t actually find ways to incorporate them into their daily work and processes. Very few days go by in my work where I don’t hear someone reference our values in helping make a decision. I think companies with strong organic and meaningful values help their employees understand each other and their purpose and have a common language for better decision making.

What advice do you have for product managers applying to jobs at Atlassian?

Be honest, be humble, be yourself, and try your best to reflect our PM craft and company values in all of your interviews.

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