Where Product Meets Design - Teresa Cain on the Many Roles of a Product Manager

July 19, 2023


Alex Smith: Where Product Meets Design is brought to you by Fuego UX, a UX research, strategy and design consultancy.  Hi, Teresa, thanks so much for coming on the show today. And so as we get started Teresa, can you give the audience a little bit of insights into your journey in product management?

Teresa Cain: Absolutely. So I've been in the product and technology space for a little over 15 years, and I've had the opportunity to work for multiple fortune 105 100 organizations. And I also have been coaching startups for the past several years as well. So I've had a really fun journey really starting out as a product manager owning many different types of products. At one point, I owned 13 mobile apps at a time, you know, found my way working up through leadership. And now I'm leading a team of product managers, UX researchers and designers at Travie pay, which is a global, b2b, fintech.

Alex Smith: Are you ready to hop into our lightning round question?

Teresa Cain: Yeah, let's do it.

Alex Smith: So the first one is, what's a common myth about product management?

Teresa Cain: You know, it really pains me to say this. So I started off really big on pragmatic, you know, I have my pragmatic certification. I'm, you know, a Scrum Product Owner, I've done product strategy courses at Northwestern. But ultimately, if for those that aren't familiar with the pragmatic framework, they're really well known for saying a product manager is the mini CEO. And why I'm kind of saying that's a bit of a myth is being the mini CEO implies that you have full control and full decisions over everything. And the reality is, as a product manager, you have to work with stakeholders to really get the approvals and buy-in to be able to move everything forward with all the stakeholder groups. While you may have some aspects of owning many different components with different departments, you don't really always have control and ownership, like a CEO would as a mini CEO, what's the

Alex Smith: Most important lesson you've learned?

Teresa Cain: So I think, really, the biggest lesson is around, you know, not every user is going to like your product. And I think that's a really hard lesson to learn to take critical feedback on your product. As a product manager, you have to understand that there's going to be users that like your product, and ones that don't like your product. And you always have to strive to do the best you can, but you kind of have to go with the 80% rule and try to meet 80% of the customers with with everything that you're designing and putting out there

Alex Smith: One thing about product that no one agrees with you about.

Teresa Cain: So this will be a controversial one. So oftentimes, you hear, you know, the customer comes first. And I kind of joke, but I'm actually serious when I say this, but I kind of think it's engineering. So you know, if you're not, if you do not have a good relationship with your engineering teams that you're working with on these products, you're not going to have a great time as a product manager, because that really is a key relationship that you need to have a positive relationship with and how they're sizing any features they're working on, on how they understand your process as a product manager, and whether or not you get along and are successful, is really going to determine the success of your product and how quickly you can release new features to customers.

Alex Smith: What's one underrated or indispensable tool for Product Management?

Teresa Cain: My biggest tool as a product manager, and this has been like for a really long time, is the Samick. Like, I love going in and creating mockups and the Samick. And even as an avid figma user, you know, I've used Figma Sketch, Envision, I still go back to the Samick. And I am able to do quick mockups and prototypes in there.

Alex Smith: Gotcha. And what's one piece of advice you'd give to someone starting out in product management?

Teresa Cain: So I would say the biggest piece of advice, really starting out is become a sponge. I think when you go into an organization, do not expect that you are going to be on that same product when you leave the organization, be open to learning anything and everything about the company and where the org is going. Because your career is going to change as you grow as a product manager.

Alex Smith: No, those are all great answers. Thanks for doing the lightning round. I think one of the questions I have for you. We spoke at UX CX. And in our conversation, you were talking about product managers being asked to do sales and being told to do design feels like a lot of PMS are pulled in 55 different directions. How do you focus and how do you prioritize? And I'd love to learn a little bit more about PMS being asked to do sales to that sounds that sounds interesting. Yeah.

Teresa Cain: I mean, I will say one of the things that drew me as into product management was that you're able to have many touch points. But really, you know, that notion of being pulled into many things really depends on the size of the org. So I've worked that organization, you know that I've had over 10,000 20,000 40,000. And I've worked at organizations where it was much newer, so 20 people, 100 people, and then with startups, and so depending on how your org is built is really dependent on your role. And I have helped several sales, heavy product manager roles. You know, one in particular, I was working for a healthcare organization where I mentioned the 13 mobile apps I was over. In a really big part of my role as a product manager, it kind of bled a little bit into being a general manager as well. So I was really helping to drive that sales process. So that meant every single client meeting, you know, I was on that trying to sell. And a big part of that selling point is that I was getting direct feedback from the users in this case, it was physicians, and making sure I was putting their features into the product. So it really was a holistic experience of me getting direct feedback, I actually sat in on over 100 patient visits, and one of the products I was building at the top organization. And with that, you know, I kind of feel like I've got, you know, like my online MD there with WebMD, with the amount of patient visits I had there. But ultimately, that was a rule where you have a super sales heavy and I would say, in terms of most of the rules I've been in sales has been a part of like 20% of my product rule at least. And that one in particular was probably upwards towards 50. But I think it's critical to really know every aspect of the business, do you want to be more sales driven? Do you want to be more strategic driven on where you're defining where the roadmap aligns with the business mission and values? Or do you want to strictly be more of a product owner, where you're working really heavily with engineering, and you don't touch any of those other pieces? Again, I think it really depends on the org, but really how I handle this balance, and as well as with my team, so I currently support product UX, and design is really building out a structure that supports it. So maybe you have a product, and you have a product manager and a solution manager or product manager and a product owner that are both supporting that same solution and dividing up the responsibilities. So that's how I've really seen that a lot over the years. I've got two people that are really supporting the different areas of the product, or, you know, one of the values, you know, I like staying busy. And I think not every product manager likes that. So sometimes I will divide up, you know, my senior product managers are expected to really take on those attributes where my greener product managers, I won't stick them in front of sales deals unless they're really excited about it.

Alex Smith: Well, let's switch gears to the focus of the interview, which is how product design can work better together. So I'm wondering if you have any advice there, from your perspective and an experience.

Teresa Cain: So this might be biased advice, because I'm over both departments. But I really think the best way for them to work together is to put them under one orc. So this, this is actually the second or third organization where I've really helped to build out the UX and design component. And oftentimes, UX has really been starting to sprout. And in fact, Nielsen Norman Group has said that UX is going to 10x by 2050. Right. And so UX in every organization hasn't become its own department. And because of that a lot of product managers are sharing the responsibilities of what a UX researcher would do. And we talked a bit about the time component, right? You have sales, you're working with engineering, you're talking to customers, okay, now I have to do UX and create designs, wait a second, when am I going to do that. So ultimately, I do have some product managers where they are doing a little bit of UX. But the best way to really make the case for building out a UX organization, is to have your product managers start doing that UX role a bit more, to really build out that case for how they can implement that, as a team, in building

Alex Smith: Out these product teams, what were some of your initial UX hires? How'd you go about that?

Teresa Cain: So to be really honest, they're really like hodgepodge roles, right? So like, they're kind of doing a little bit of everything. So the last organization I worked for, we were actually spending over $100,000, hiring third parties to come in to fulfill that role. So the use case was, do we really want to spend $150,000 Every year instead of bringing in a handful of people to run this team? I think the biggest way to look at it is what is the cost of the missed opportunity of not investing in UX. Because if we're not investing in UX and our products, we very well could be releasing a bunch of features that aren't going to hit the mark with users. And in turn, you know, we talked about the reviews on Apple and Google, either they're not going to use your products. You're going to have low user adoption, low engagement, or you're going to have a bunch of negative reviews.

Alex Smith: Well, thanks so much for being on the series today. Where can people go to find more about you or connect with you?

Teresa Cain: Absolutely. Thanks for having me. So I love to connect on LinkedIn.com, find me as Teresa Cain. I also have a few courses on Udemy and a book on Amazon called solving problems in two hours. So always happy to connect and hear more about what your experiences are in product or UX.