We spoke to Product Leadership Consultant, Stephanie Leue, Former Director of Product & Design at Contentful. German Product Management Team Lead, Tom Shingler, discusses Stephanie’s team management, hiring techniques, and her adaptation to being in Product Management as a mother.
Stephanie asserts that the best ways to manage product teams is through trust, communication and setting clear goals. This can allow for flexible working. She says “we hire smart people, that know what they’re doing, so we should trust them to deliver. It doesn’t matter if they work on a beach in the early morning or if they take a break between 4pm and 8pm to care for their family. As long as they achieve their goal.” The onus is on the manager to set clear, achievable goals and ensure that everything is on track. Stephanie continues to stress the importance of open communication. If something is not going to plan, it should be spoken about in an open and honest manner, as soon as possible. “It’s a two-way communication between manager and direct report and vice versa.”
Product Management first appealed to Stephanie as a child. She says: “I am addicted to technology; and have been since I was 12 years old.” Stephanie set up her parents’ first computer, as well as the telephone system, spending days figuring out how to make it all work. Eight years later, Stephanie began her first professional role at an internet company – in 2000 – before the days of “Product Management” as we now know it. Stephanie said it was then that she knew her heart belonged to technology. Eight years later at another company who were employing agile technologies, she attended a workshop run by Marty Cagan, Founder of Silicon Valley Product Group. This was her “eureka” moment, where she realised what she was doing was “Product Management”; this is where she fell in love with her field.
Managing Product Management
We asked what Stephanie enjoyed the most about working in Product, to which she replied:
“Everything. I am passionate about creating awesome end-to-end experiences which bring a wow-moment to the user.” Stephanie asserts that these experiences are rare, and in order to create them, you need to work incredibly hard. This is the reward. She also enjoys the empathetic aspect of the discipline: Truly understanding the needs and challenges that the user faces, in order to build a product that delivers value.
Networking is paramount because “you cannot build any great product without the support of your Sales, Marketing and Customer Success teams.” Stephanie explains that these functions know a vast amount about the customer or consumer from several differing perspectives, so you must acquire their buy-in.
Stephanie states that as a Product Manager, “you are a leader without leadership responsibilities. You need to enable your cross-functional team to deliver without being their manager, which is a challenging but important lesson to learn.” The three key attributes required by a Product Manager are prioritisation, the ability to streamline and persuasion (or pushing to ensure it’s done on time!)
Tom asked how Stephanie managed to balance work and personal life, particularly as a mother.
Stephanie says that three things immediately sprung to mind. Firstly, it’s family: “Family comes first. I want to have dinner together with my family and therefore leave every day at the same time to ensure I can be at home early enough. If I have a meeting later in the evening, I join remotely, which is easy enough to do as a Product Manager.”
Secondly, Stephanie says it’s about communication. She’s open and honest and so her team understand her availability. “It doesn’t mean that everybody understands it or likes it, but they get used to it,'' she adds. Stephanie mentions that not only is it important for her team to understand the importance of work-life balance for her, but also for themselves; her direct reports and peers.
Lastly, the skill of prioritisation is critical when balancing a busy work-life schedule. Saying “no” is a must-have skill, affording focus for the important and most vital tasks at hand.
Tom ended the interview with the final question of what piece of advice Stephanie would give to her younger self:
“Believe in yourself. It doesn’t matter if other people do things different. It only matters that you get where you want to be. “
We’d like to thank Stephanie for her contribution to our series. If you’re expanding your job search and looking to become a Product Manager, Product Owner, CPO etc., get in touch with us. We are a Product Owner Recruitment Agency, as well as one of the leading Product Manager recruiters, so whatever your product need, we can assist.
Alternatively, if you're looking to find a great candidate, and you’d like to benchmark product manager salaries or a product owner salary, we can help you determine the market price. Additionally, if you are building your brief, we can provide colour on Product Manager job descriptions or Product Owner job descriptions, right up to CPO, Head of Product and everything in-between!