Where Product Meets Design - Rafa Flores on Post-Launch Strategies for Product Managers

December 12, 2023


Alex Smith: Design Leader Insights is brought to you by Fuego UX. Fuego UX is a leading UX research, strategy, and design consultancy. Hey Rafa, thanks so much for joining in the show today. 

Rafa Flores: Happy to be here, man. Thanks for having me. 

Alex Smith: For sure. And yeah, just to get started, can you give the audience a little bit of context in your journey in product management? 

Rafa Flores: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I'll start with the name. Rafael Flores, right? I'm a product executive today. Wasn't a product executive my whole career, so I actually started, funny enough, I got into product management. I knew I wanted to do product management early on because I love the business savviness of it, but I also love the technical chops that come behind that. And I actually started my career as an engineering recruiter because I wanted to learn from the best engineers and the best product managers at the best companies and did that. I set a goal. I said I will quit by x date. I did, got all my studying done and then I went down the product management route. Fascinating journey today. I've done product management. I've also led CS, so it allows me to understand customer challenges. I think a little bit better and be more empathetic to go to market teams. And yeah, I mean, I've been at, you know, small startups, big companies been through multiple X's acquisitions and I'm at 6sense today. I'm leading a big charter there. It's fun. It's a fun career, fun journey to date. 

Alex Smith: Awesome. Sweet. Well, let's dive into it. Let's get started with the lightning round. Are you ready? 

Rafa Flores: Let's do it. I feel like I'm in a competition. Let's go. 

Alex Smith: In the hot seat. All right. What's a common myth about product management? 

Rafa Flores: I think a common myth about product management is that you have to be technical to go into product management. I actually disagree with that. I think anyone can learn anything. I'm a big believer of that. If you really put your mind and you put effort into it, right? Putting your mind is one thing. Actually doing it is another. But I think oftentimes people think it's easier to go from engineer to product management because that's historically the trend you've seen. But I think business savviness is very important, right? I think we're in an era where product management, you have to understand the customer problems, right? And be that sounding board, not just be the voice of them, but that sounding board. And that comes with a lot of business evidence. So if you're in CS, if you're in marketing, right, you're an account manager, you're in AE, there's no way that should be frowned upon. And you should be able to get a career in product management. You'll have to start, right? You have to be an associate PM and scale across, hopefully grow with the company. But you don't require the technical chops. 

Alex Smith: Love that. Yeah. What's the most important lesson you've learned? 

Rafa Flores: You don't have to just be the voice of the customer, right? A lot of people will tell you, you are the voice of the customer. It's all about the customer. I agree it's all about the customer. But you're a sounding board to them, right? When a customer asks me, hey, we need the following feature. Right out of the gates, I ask them, why do you need that? Explain to me the challenge. What is the pain point every day? Do you really need that? Or do you need XYZ? Have you considered ABC, right? Don't just be the voice of the customer. Be a voice reason to the customer and a sounding board to them. So that's on the product management side. On the career side, I'll tell you this. And my recipe is, it's always been the same hard work does pay off and I know it sounds cliche but when the right people see that you work hard good things happen to you.

Alex Smith: What's one thing about product that no one agrees with you about?

Rafa Flores: I consider product management to, even though you have the title of product manager, product management really is done across the board, right? So to me a full product management structure is go to market, voice in the room, a product manager in the room, a UX designer in the room, and an engineer in the room. And also QA. So I'm going to separate dev and QA, right? Because people say engineer and they throw away QA. That bubble, that's really how products are built, right? Because you don't just do requirements and scoping, right? You do mods. You do feasibility assessments. You make sure that people can sell this thing. They understand what they're selling, right? That is what a product really is, a successful product will come to life when we take away hey, product management is just you know what, put requirements, get mocks done, execute on it. It's more than that, right? It's a big picture. What story are you going to tell us?

Alex Smith: What is an underrated or indispensable tool for product management? 

Rafa Flores: It's not about roadmap planning tools. It's not about Jira for execution. It's not about Confluence documentation, right? Pando for you. It's not any of that. It's spreadsheets. Right? I hate to say it because I hate the thousand spreadsheets. The last 13 years I've been doing product management, leading teams, being an IC, being a junior PM. There's always a spreadsheet involved in some step of the process. Either it's the whole process, or it's involved in the process, right? So, to me, that is the one tool that I hate to use, but it's always an indispensable tool because you are going to use it.

Alex Smith: Final one here, what's one piece of advice you would give to someone starting out in product management? 

Rafa Flores: My best advice is, I'll tell you two, right? In normal macroeconomics and in current macroeconomics. I think in normal macroeconomics, when the market's booming, etc. When you go into product management go to a place where you have a strong leader who's willing to spend the time with you. That's number one, right because you're coming in new as much as you're gonna try to learn on your own. Don't make the same mistakes we've made right and that's what a good leader will do for you. So find that leader and forget about the company, right? Look at who your boss is going to be.That's going to be hyper critical for you to succeed as a product manager. So this is normal macroeconomics. Current macroeconomics, if you're going to go into product management, you have to look at the life cycle of that product, right? If you're going to go into a company and you're going to be assigned, let's say you're going to do integrations for a company that does data, right? How many integrations do you foresee that they're going to do, right? Do you understand the landscape there and do you understand the competitor? Look at the company from how long can I sustain my product? Not my career or my paycheck, right? How long will my product be out in the market because then that really allows you to be in an end to end well rounded PM, right? Normal times look at your boss. Forget about the company. Look at your boss. Can they help you get their current macroeconomics? Look at your product. What's the life cycle of that product from here until you can actually lead that company.

Alex Smith: Makes a ton of sense. I want to switch into delivering, or I guess I should say launching successful products. When we spoke before, you mentioned looking beyond the launch 30, 60, 90 days. And I think a lot of people get so caught up in launching that feature and the road to the launch and aren't thinking about what's arguably more important, which is the success past the launch. So tell me a little bit about that. I love hearing about your thoughts on that. 

Rafa Flores: Yeah, I mean, it's so SDLC, right? I look at the world, very standard product management. When you have ideation. You have planning, you have execution, you have delivery, and then you have the optimize piece, right? Similar to driving a campaign. You launch a campaign, you get some ROI metrics in return, you optimize, you target better, right? Shipping products is the same way. And when I think of shipping a product, there's two mistakes, right? It's a long road. I 100 percent agree with you. It's such a big effort to launch a product, right? Like a tier one, major launch, major effort across the board. So it's a tiring road, right? You get to the end, you ship it out as a product manager. You're like, great. This is out. This is in CPQ ready to go. Great, right? That's a mistake though. You have to look past that. Your road has just actually started because now you have people who are willing to pay for this product, right? So, I look at it from that angle, right? The other mistake that comes with that before I actually answer your question is, people see it from as soon as they ship, what's the next enhancement right? Next thing on the roadmap is a combination of a long road plus not even getting to the end of the road and already thinking how am I going to do the next enhancement? That's going to lead you to actually fall in love with your product instead of killing a product that's not working early. And it's also a need for you to invest more in a product that people don't love because you're just trying to patch it, right? Band aid, band aid, band aid, band aid. Instead, if you ship a product out, and let's say when you ship the product, you want it to drive adoption. And you want it to drive adoption across the following go to market segment, for the following user set, right? And they're going to see the following flow end to end when they log into your product until they exit. If that's not happening the way you thought it was going to be, right, and based on all your testing, you might have built the wrong product, right? There may not be the same appetite. So, but it could also mean a thousand things. Maybe the go to market teams and are enabled properly, right? And they cannot train users properly on the product. That's why you're seeing them not adopt or not go through the right flow path, right? So, you have to look at that initial metric, and you have to focus on it right at the time of launch. Don't get caught up on the roadmap. Don't get caught up on an enhancement backlog. If you do that, it's just technical depth over time, right? It's not adding value. You gotta add value as a PM. 

Alex Smith: When you mentioned that 30, 60, 90 roadmap after, how are you kind of planning that from the onset? Because I think it is tough to look beyond, okay, we're gonna launch this. And then feature, you know, feature iterations, exactly what you said. So how do you fix that? 

Rafa Flores: Yeah, I mean, you have to, it all starts with how you portfolio plan, right? Like, how are you going to invest the time across product management and your technical teams? When you ship a product, what percentage of your total allocation is going to go to making sure that product is successful? Like, you should have a success percentage, right? You have roadmap development, you have technical debt. In roadmap development, you have a couple of things. You have the feature sets you're building, which could be maybe 30 percent out of the 50. Another 10 percent could be all other things operational, and then a 10 percent should at least be success, right? So knowing your investment allows you to structure the team properly, which allows you to plan the right execution of that. The 30, 60, 90 days is different too, right? As you go from 30 to 60 to 90, things will change, right? First 30 days are critical for performance, scalability, right? Our users giving you a high NPS. 30 to 60 is actually the deployment of the product. How quickly are customers getting deployed? How are they actually consuming the data, right? If it's data or how many results are getting. 60 to 90 days is, are these customers going to churn revenue or are we going on the right track? Right? And that's the most critical one. That those are different steps. But that 60 to 90 really shows you how much value did you add, right? And at the 90 day mark, I personally, right, when I've been fully in charge of things, if we get to 90 days and I'm not seeing it, you have to stop having those strategic conversations across C suite and say, hey, you know what, this is a product that we're going to have to kill. We invested on it, right? My bad, comes with a title, but it's not the right product. 

Alex Smith: What advice do you have for teams on, like, increasing that collaboration or bringing X into the fold? 

Rafa Flores: Here's the biggest problem that I see with how a lot of product leaders work with UX. It's two, two things, two sides of the coin. They bring them in too late into the conversation, which happens all the time. UX should have helped you ideate right from early get go. So that's one side. The other challenge is when UX doesn't get involved, they actually come in the picture. Too many product leaders I've seen, they will go and actually say, I don't like it. Right? So you're bringing them on late and then you're crushing them. We're not deciding the right thing. Well, guess what? Those two go hand in hand, right? They weren't involved early in the process. So the propensity of them to get crushed because they didn't decide the right thing is very high. They don't understand the customer stories. They don't, they didn't do a lot of the testing needed or the brainstorming, right? So You have that for it between the two and so those are big challenges. My best advice for working with ux: Always involve them early, period. 

Alex Smith:Yeah involve them early and often. I love that Rafa thanks so much for coming on the show today.

Rafa Flores: Yep. Thank you