This week Paul and Rich are joined by a new Postlight team member, Director of Product Management Vicky Volvovski. Vicky talks all things product management and breaks down the differences between agency work and product org work. She also shares the six things she looks for when hiring product managers and gives Paul and Rich some solicited feedback.
Paul Ford I’m like, I couldn’t get hired at this company… [Paul laughs]
Vicky Volvovski I’d hire, I’d hire you. I’m hiring, you know, plus seven on the PM team I’m hoping to fill pretty soon, Paul, are you interested? [music ramps up, plays alone, fades out]
Rich Ziade How are you Paul? It’s nice to see you. It’s been a while. [Rich laughs]
PF I’m doing alright.
RZ Since our meeting an hour ago.
PF Rich and I, for the context here is that Richard and I talk about seven hours a day. I love you, I could probably make this relationship work with three hours a day.
RZ I could do it with two, if we want to put a goal out there where we talk less.
PF We could probably add some, we could add some efficiency into this friendship. I think it’s time. People at home, listen to us. And they get to know us through the podcast. And then they reach out. And sometimes they become clients. Sometimes they just send us really funny emails. And every now and then somebody says, “This is interesting. Maybe I should come work there.” And what I think is fascinating about that, I always when people do that, I always like to ask them a few months later, because it’s happened a couple of times, how big is the gap between the podcast listening experience and the actual on the ground, day to day existence of being genuinely involved with Postlight? And so that’s not the only thing we’re going to talk about at all. But we’re very lucky to have Vicky Volvovski. We got Vicky on the podcast!
RZ Yes! Welcome Vicky.
VV Hey! Thanks for having me.
PF Vicky is Director of Product Management who runs our product team. God, maybe somebody can finally tell us what product is.
RZ There’s a few excellent podcasts on the topic. Vicky, give us a quick two minute of your background and where you were recently.
VV Yeah. So prior to joining Postlight, I was at Zapier, which is a workflow automation tool. I started there when it was just a start up, I was the 30th employee I started out in support, I helped to kind of grow from support, took over platform and then eventually took over the entire product or got through by five and a half years there. And over that five and a half years helped grow the product and the org quite a bit. And then previous to Zapier, I had my own consulting business for a bit and then worked in healthcare, tech and other couple random things early on in my career.
PF So the most important thing too, we’ve learned we’ve learned a lot from Vicky since she started the most important thing is it’s not pronounced Zap-i-ay, which is what I always thought.
RZ You thought it was a French company? [Vicky laughs]
PF Putting my zapes in. Okay, so you know, one of the things I thought we could talk about, first of all, it’s good to have you on the podcast, good to have Postlight on the podcast. First of all, let’s just address it. How different is the company from what you perceived when you were just listening to the pod?
VV To be honest, I think that’s the part that’s been the most refreshing is it’s pretty the podcast is pretty true to the internal dynamics of Postlight.
VV I think you guys come off, you know, like, there’s a lot of personality that you have in the podcast. And that is very true internally. I think as I’ve gotten to know you guys a bit more, you know, some of the polish has come off. But I would say it’s a pretty accurate marking of what Postlight’s all about.
RZ Let’s reintroduce Vicky as the Vice President of Product Management. [Vicky & Paul laugh]
PF I don’t think that couldn’t have gotten better at like gunpoint, like, that was just, because the unfortunate or fortunate thing about Richard and I is that for all of her many qualities, there really isn’t another person inside here like these are the personalities you have.
RZ So let me set this up by giving a little history around the conversations that we had before Vicky joined, which was conversation one was, she’s very impressive. Paul agreed. Yes, she is very impressive. We had a good back and forth and got to know her. And then conversation two—
PF I’m a big Zapier fan.
RZ Big Zapier fan. A conversation two was us asking Vicky 20 different ways “are you sure about this?”
PF Well, and here’s why. It’s not because we think that we’re like horrible garbage monsters. I mean, we do sometimes. But that’s just to keep ourselves motivated. It’s because agency work. It’s fast. It can be grim. It can be tough. It can be you’re working for people who are not product people who are going to look at you and go “Yeah, but I want it.” And we were concerned for that reason. Because I you know, and this isn’t we’ve had people come in from more traditional product orgs. And it’s a really hard transition for them. But what changed our mind is that you kept leaning in and you also were very hands on and actually no we we didn’t change our mind you actually passed on us at first. Let’s Let’s not fall flat ourselves too much, but then came back. So here we are, right. So like, first of all, what what has been your impression of working in an agency where were this prizes Where were the pitfalls that you weren’t expecting?
VV I think for me, most of the surprises are not even surprises. But just kind of like having my eyes open came from a lot of like internal dynamics, in addition to, you know, doing the client work, which is a lot of what I came here for. I was also really excited about running the PM org here, but I didn’t know a lot about running a PM org inside of an agency. So a lot of the things I’ve been learning on is like how the sales process comes in, like in the first couple of weeks, when our strat team was telling us about new potential clients, I’d like panic because on one hand, like we didn’t have I was trying to hire at the same time, but also it’s so exciting. And so now like, you know, I’ve kind of like tempered my under my emotional swings quite a bit because I’ve gotten to know kind of the ebbs and flow of the business. But that’s, I think, been the biggest learning curve for me.
RZ I mean, one of the big sources of anxiety we had about you coming onto Postlight is like we thought you were gonna feel like hey, what’s everybody going crazy about? Why is everyone losing their minds every day? Not that that’s the case but the visibility in an agency and the dynamism around an agency is just very different. So to contrast that tell us what a day or a week is like, give me a normal week and give me like an intense week and I’m gonna guess that intense is like right before launch week or something at how do you say it, Zapier?
RZ Yeah, so give me give me give me like normal week and Zapier and give me an intense week.
VV Yeah, so I think a normal week I’m going to back out from a week to just kind of set the scene first. Typically how we did planning a kind of a in house product org was we had company goals and those company goals translated into some sort of OKR to measure that we’re accomplishing that goal. And then we kind of worked our way back.
PF Wait, what does OKR stand for? We have to show mercy to our audience.
VV Objectives and key results, it’s a framework for setting goals. So essentially some goal that your company is after, grow your user base by X percent, or grow revenue by y percent. So high level those like high level company objectives, and then that gets translated into okay, what’s like the product, how is product contributing to that? What does that look like? And then, you know, you keep kind of working your way down to what is this team that owns this part of the product contributing?
RZ Keep everyone aligned, right?
VV Yeah, exactly. Especially, you know, that’s really easy when the company is 30 people, you have one meeting, you discuss it, and everyone’s like, cool, but once the company is 400, people, you have to kind of have some structure in place in order to be able to like, enable people to make decisions on their own, so that there’s not all these like crazy approval paths that they have to go through. So, you know, we kind of have our high level goals, everybody understands how they fit into those goals. And then the PM and you know, they’re their team, with a designer and X number of engineers is really working on okay, how do we contribute to meeting that goal? What are the product problems we can solve? What are the solutions to those problems, you know, kind of going through the project, like the lifecycle of building a product of research, iterating, showing stuff to users getting validation, building it, prototyping, like iterating, on that, and so on, and so on building up to a bigger launch. So I guess to go back to your question of what is a typical week for a PM inside of a product org look like? It kind of depends on what phase their project is in. But it’s really about getting their hands like talking to users and talking to their team and figuring out what is it that we’re shipping and kind of solving problems along the way that come up through that path.
RZ What was your cycle for key results? Like? How often do you observe key results? Is it every six months? Is it every quarter? Like how often do you peek in and say, hey, we’re doing good or not doing good?
VV So we’d set company objectives on an annual basis, we’d set kind of team level objectives quarterly, and then we check in on a monthly basis to see how we were doing and reflect on like, okay, you know, this is what we said we were gonna do, are we on the right track?
RZ Alright, that’s, that sounds normal to me. It sounds like normal and healthy. Sounds like a good job.
PF Yeah, you collaboratively say your OKRs with your managers, and you say, okay, I think we’re headed in this direction. And then it sounds like a sensible way to live your life.
RZ Now you’re here, you’re at Postlight. Visibility went from 12 months to 12 weeks. [Rich laughs] What jumps out at you as distinctive between the two?
VV Well, I actually think that on the like, in the client work, like in the project work at, you know, at Zapier, in the client work here, the day to day, isn’t that vastly different, you’re communicating a little bit differently. There’s like the client services aspect of it, but like 90% of the work is the same. But as a leader in the org, like, it’s very different in that there’s not this like grand vision that you’re aligning all your different teams to it’s much more about, okay, what is the client work? Who is the team that’s going to be successful in, you know, reaching the goal for the client? And then how do we build a culture inside Postlight, inside the product management team at postflight that connects us all together, even though we’re doing completely different work on our clients.
RZ I mean, let’s talk about that for a second. You get one grand objective, you say a prayer. You’ve pledged allegiance to the objective every morning at a product company. Well, how do you create that connection and establish a unified culture of any sort when everybody’s on different things? Some projects are going, let’s call it, say it out loud, going better than others. Some clients are much warmer than others. How do you do that? Is that one of the things you think about as a product leader?
VV Yeah, absolutely. And I think I made the mistake when I originally came in, I was so focused on hiring and staffing side that I thought like, oh, hey, we’re gonna bring all these people in, and it’s going to happen organically. And I think you guys actually asked me a question, I don’t know, a few months ago, where you said, What is the PM culture? And I was like, oh, yeah, right, like, okay, this needs, this needs some thought. And so we have invested a ton in building that product culture within Postlight. And I can share a few things. It’s they’re gonna sound all relatively silly, because I think I’m kind of on the surface they are, but they help contribute to like the team feeling like a team, even when our day to day stuff doesn’t necessarily overlap. So a few things, I actually one thing I brought over from Zapier that we used to do is an exercise we call wins and worries. So it’s on a, we’re doing it probably every two to three weeks, the PM team on our weekly call, everybody goes quiet for a few minutes, and we fill out a little Coda doc that says, here’s like my one big win that I’m proud of that I want to celebrate. And here’s the thing I’m worried about. And then everybody takes a few minutes to read. We upvote things and then we tell you know, we let the person who had the highest wind kind of brag a little bit, share a little bit about what they accomplished, maybe it’s something they learned, maybe it’s something that you know, a launch on their client that went really well.
RZ Are all the team members sharing their worries?
VV Yeah. And so those usually are the most fruitful.
RZ This is not very, I mean, Paul’s Irish, he’s never heard of this approach to creating teams. But I gotta imagine some people hesitate with that, I would assume?
PF Well, first of all, I think like, there’s a thing going on where we’re moving from a very ad hoc based culture, which and we’ve talked about this on the show before, like Richard and I have delegated a lot more, we’ve given up a lot of control, because we want to see the firm grow, sort of, you know, on its own terms, and this is a big part of that is creating these processes and systems. And it’s, you know, the more the more we’re out of it, actually, the better which sometimes is hard. Sometimes I wouldn’t be the one to make the cool system.
RZ The worries aspect of it is interesting to me, because I do think that’s how people connect is through struggle, sharing struggle, not just high fiving each other and feeling great. What else do you do?
VV Yeah, well, just to elaborate on the worries piece real quick. I think you’re right that like you have to people have to trust each other in order to be able to share it. I always notice as new folks join the team, like the first wins and worries, they sit in on the like worries blocks, I can see their cursor, and it’s blank, because they’re like, oh god, what do I share? But what we’ve cultivated in the team is, you know, we both the worries, and then we let the person talk and say like, okay, what is it? And the team kind of thinks about, is there anything they can do to support the person? Have they experienced something similar before where they’ve got advice? How do we kind of sometimes it’s just, you know, like an empathetic pat on the back that they that they end up getting, don’t necessarily solve their problem, but it’s usually a pretty productive exercise just to let someone talk it through. And it helps build that trust between the team members.
RZ I gotta imagine, because we, you know, our model is we ship people off to the projects. So they’re kind of walled off from each other people don’t know what other people are going through, or what the work even is, unless we you know, we have demos every so often. So it’s a, it’s a great way to shatter that and get people to connect. It’s May 2021. We’re still remote. And so that’s meaningful here. What else? What else do you do to sort of create that connectedness?
VV Yeah, so maybe this, this is my Zapier roots showing, but we’ve built a lot of bots. And again, on the surface, they’re very silly, but they poke, they poke into our channel and ask questions. So Friday, at the end of the week, there’s always a bot that pings all the peons and say, ‘Hey, what’s your, you know, what’s your weekend plan?’ And also, like one asks one silly question from I think it’s from some kids game, and it always starts a pretty good conversation. So one of the I think one of the questions that asked recently was, ‘what’s your favorite game to play outside with friends?’ which turned into a debate of whether having cocktails in your backyard is a sport in which case or is a game in which case that is our the PM team’s favorite game, but it helps helps kind of build some funny connections where you learn something new about your coworkers, and there’s always one person that like, rejects the premise of the question. And, you know, that’s, you know, when it’s your turn to reject the premise of the question. That’s, that’s a good sign too.
RZ Early days, you’re hiring pretty quickly right now. Does it work?
VV Does the hiring record work? Or does the team building pieces work?
RZ Does the team building pieces work? Like obviously it’s it’s a work in progress, it’s early days, but I guess this has been a tornado of a business for us. For the for five years, we didn’t do stuff like this, you were making Paul and I look really bad right now on this podcast, it’s just worth saying.
PF Which is great.
RZ Which is great. [Rich laughs]
VV Which is why I came. This is my long con all along.
PF It’s fantastic, right? Like this is like, just I’ll share something personal, which is I thought before I started post like that I’d be more of a mentoring type leader, I had this self portrayal of myself where I was like, I’ll listen and help and be thoughtful. Turns out what I’m actually good at is sales and kind of broadcasting, I’m good talking to 1000s of people, and much less good talking to one person. Like, it just turns out, that’s not the strength, we thought it was right. And so there’s a point where you just go like, okay, I can fight that and try to become something else, or I’m just not going to. And so like it’s it’s actually very wonderful, that we’re starting to fill that in, and that people who are good at those kinds of communications and are concerned and are connected or are showing up. And with that comes process and named approaches and things like that, which I used to roll my eyes. And now I’m like, that sounds great. I want to hear more.
RZ We’re also growing, right? I mean, I think Vicky doesn’t have the small company biases that we do, because she wasn’t there for 25 and just hacking it together. And “let’s all go get lunch. We’re only 18 people” or whatever it is like that those days are gone.
PF The greatest risk that you and I bring to the organization, right, is that we just assume that it can, it came out of our brains at some level. And so we assume that it can kind of go away at any moment too. It never feels as solid to us as it might to somebody else. And I think like learning to respect and listen to that, as opposed to being like “Postlight? I created Postlight!” which is the worst way to be I’ve worked for those bosses. It’s something we’re figuring out how to do.
RZ What’s been the hardest aspect of transitioning to an agency?
VV I think and this is somewhat related to the what makes a good pm question. I think between the two companies or the two types of the roles. For me, it’s like getting back my client services, like building that muscle backup. It’s something I did early in my career and then took a long pause. And so it’s not so much that it’s been like hard. It’s just that like it took a minute to put on the client face and—
RZ Reorient yourself.
VV Yeah, yeah, absolutely.
PF I wanted to get back to a question you actually asked earlier, Richard, which was what makes a great PM at a classic product or versus what makes a great PM at a client service agency?
RZ Or Option C, which is a great PM is a great PM, no matter where you put them.
PF There’s that too.
VV Yeah, so I’ve thought a lot about this, because I get asked this a lot during interviews, and I would say 90% of the skill set is the same. Like ultimately, you have to be a good strategic thinker, you have to be able to lead a team to deliver a product, you have to be a good communicator, a good collaborator, with your team, etc, etc. So 90% the same. Here’s where I see the biggest differences. First is around how much ambiguity and how much like what you used to make decisions essentially. In house, you have kind of usually the keys to everything, right? You’ve got your decision science team and data team, and you’ve got all of your UX researchers, and you kind of have all of the information in order to make decisions. And here, it really depends on the client, right? And so some clients might give you access to everything others might answer the questions, you ask them. And then the third kind are a little bit cagier and they aren’t going to give you as much information. And so a really solid PM de-risks the most important thing, and then makes a decision and moves on. And I just think the level of information that you have about the decisions you’re making is different. So that’s number one. Number two is the client services aspect. And I’ve actually experienced this with a few of my projects here, which is, you know, as a product manager, you’re thinking about the end user and the goals that you set for the project, and what are the right decisions to make in order to be successful there. And sometimes you have to take off your product manager hat after you’ve given that advice and say, like, okay, like, I gave you my best product advice you for whatever reasons are choosing the another path, like this is where client services comes in. And you’re like, alright, cool, like, let’s figure out how to make that path successful. Because ultimately, it’s your product.
RZ What do you tell a product manager who knows they’ve been told to do the wrong thing?
VV So I think the first thing I would ask is, do they feel like they communicated the you know, the best advice and they share the trade offs that the like, does the client understand the decision that they’re making, essentially? So you know, if there’s two paths, we’re recommending path A, here’s the trade offs we’re making with that, here’s why we recommend it. And here’s the same things for path B. So did they communicate If so, and the client still chose whatever, like try to understand the reason why and then figure out how to make that thing successful, right? Like ultimately, clients are making decisions with their business in mind. And so we should try to figure out how to work with that. And it’s okay if it can be frustrating, but they did their job if they gave them the best product advice that they could then moved on.
RZ It’s worth pointing out that’s not a purely agency dynamic, you could have an ill informed decision maker who is making a call that in your heart of hearts don’t believe is the right one. That happens in big companies, it actually often happens, actually, it’s a great source of our opportunities as Postlight. Some bad decisions that got made three years ago, we’re coming into, like, do it right, or clean it up, or whatever it may be. So it’s not uncommon. I don’t want to I don’t want this to be pegged as an agency thing.
VV No. And it’s also there’s very few, like, there’s very few problems, or I guess, decisions that you’re making that are like truly one way doors, right. Like a lot of times you’re saying, path A is the right path. But honestly, like you’ll get, it’s fine. And so you can still like, unless it feels like a truly this is an existential crisis for the organization if they make that decision, like cool, give it the time it needs based on how big it is, and then move on.
RZ You know, I think the agency demands more of the human management aspect of it, the people management aspect of it. But also, I think, an unusual amount of flexibility to hear things out. Know that, you know, the only way we’re going to get them there is if they see why this is a bad call. So we’re going to prototype it for a couple of weeks. And then hopefully, they’ll see it because I couldn’t convince them with words. That kind of flexibility, that kind of sort of longer game thinking can be frustrating, but actually is a hell of a skill to learn.
RZ It is a powerful skill to have.
VV Tailoring your message to the audience. I think that’s the other big difference, right? Like in house, your you know who you’re talking to, you’re all on the same team, you work for the same company in an agency setting, maybe you’re talking to a product person on the other side, maybe you’re talking to a marketing person, maybe you’re talking to a founder that has no idea how anything gets built like no, no idea how the product world works.
PF This is to think it’s it’s a good entrepreneurial training, but not in the way that people think. I mean, I think what people think is I’m gonna come work on a whole lot of projects, and I’m going to get really good. And there’s truth in that, right. Like, I’m going to touch a lot of stuff, and figure out how it all works. And I’ll see a lot of different technologies and different industries. And maybe that’ll help me shape a start up, or they’ll help me build my career, people come to agencies to build careers. But the thing you actually learn, I think, especially in product is how to advocate and present what you do in such a way that almost anybody can understand it. And it turns out to be really, really hard. And it turns out that you learn as much about institutional dynamics and patterns as you do about sort of technology and, and sort of product driven patterns. And like that is hard fought knowledge. It’s a tough one to communicate to people because I don’t think unless you’ve had that experience where you’re like, I did the right thing, and no one could understand what I was doing. And then they went with some weird other third party thing. And now it’s all broken. And I told them, but no one listened. Unless you’ve had that feeling in your life, it’s very hard to get motivated to, to like, go in this direction. To me, I look at agencies as like, once they’ve burned all the other money, they come to us. And then you go, “Okay, let’s not burn any more money, we should stop that. I bet we can fix it for you, if you let me talk to some people.” And it turns out you can about a lot of the time you can. But that is a specific thing you have to love in your life. I always think of the agency as the meeting place where I can have the MTA and the giant institutional bank. And so everybody comes to the office. And I love that about it. But it is actually a little bit of a hard sell. It turns out that not everybody is excited about that as I am.
RZ Paul, we made a terrible mistake and assumed everyone has their exact same worldview of product management as we do. Which product management is in draft form as an as a profession to this day, I feel like in a lot of ways.
PF There was a day—so I quit, I quit a job, I got a new job. I was consulting. And all of a sudden everybody’s like ‘product managers’ like one day, it’s about 10 years ago. I’m like you said you were a webmaster six months ago? They’re like no, no, I’m a product manager. And I’m like, what the hell is happening, man? ‘Cause I’d been away at a magazine, nobody was talking to me about anything. And turns out, I was a product manager. Turns out, everybody was. So anyway, it’s a funny, it’s a funny career. Because on the west coast, it actually has a little bit more lock in the through the biggest companies starting with Microsoft really created it as a discipline. But once you get back here to the east coast, it’s a real mix as to what that job is.
RZ We’re recruiting, in fact, and we look at resumes, and we have outside firms that try to help us and because there isn’t a sort of globally understood definition of what the job is, you have to just do the work of going through the right—because a lot of product managers, most of their job is actually on the product performance side after it’s out in the world. And they’re just looking at metrics and turning knobs, like I brought costs down and whatnot. That’s actually post-launch which and then there’s the product marketing angle of it, which is a whole, these are professions, frankly, under the product management umbrella. So I guess, to take it to a question. Are the traits you look for at Zapier different than the traits you look for at the agency? And also what are the traits? Like what are the traits that are like, ah, I want to meet this person! What are those traits, Vicky, and are they different? Do you have a different lens that you apply now?
VV Yeah. So this was actually one of the first things that I did when I came here because we needed to hire so badly. So I asked like, what are like, what makes a PM successful at Postlight? And I talked to a bunch of people in the org got vastly different answers. [Rich & Paul laugh] and so kind of started taking that information.
RZ We really got our shit together at Postlight, man!
PF What a great indicator that always is. [Rich laughs] When you get the five different stories, and you’re like uh oh!
VV Yeah, no, I mean, but it was it was an enlightening conversation with you know, as I said, like a group of people from across the entire organization. And I started asking more and more questions and kind of boiled it down to six competencies that we now screen for, you know, do interview for and then evaluate performance on that’s strategic thinking, it’s execution. So actually getting the work done. It’s stakeholder management, which is, you know, like, can you build that relationship? Can you make sure that the relationship is healthy? Can you make it win-win, and then the softer skills like communication, collaboration, and then growth mindset, which is also super, super important for PMa at Postlight. So those are the six things that we look for.
RZ And do you have to check all those boxes? I find that—
PF I can’t remember the name. I can’t remember the name of my children and I have twins. [Vicky laughs]
VV I spent a lot of time hiring here. It’s basically what I’ve been doing for you most the four and a half months that I’ve been here.
PF I know, I know. It’s been great! Every now and then, you know, you get that moment where you’re like, oh, okay, I see inside the brain a little bit. And as those six just spun off, I’m like, okay, all right, good. We’re done. I’m fine. I’m gonna take a nap.
RZ Nobody’s hitting it nine out of 10. On all those metrics, there’s no way right, like, I mean, they’re out there. They’re jewels if you find them.
RZ But I guess, help me think about that aspect of it. I mean, you know, how you say, oh, you know, week on two and three, but really strong on one, five and six… let’s give it a go? Like, you know…
VV Thought a lot about this as well. So I think there’s some like, kind of just table stakes things, right? Like, you have to be a solid communicator, and you have to be a good team player collaborator. Like those are table stakes if you don’t have those, and it doesn’t matter how smart you are, how good you are, how good of a strategic thinker you are, etc, etc. So table stakes. I think where you get start to get the balance of like some PMs are really, really strong. executer is like once the work has shaped, they can take something incredibly complicated with multiple streams of work multiple huge teams, and they will execute it flop flawlessly, that’s super valuable. You’ve got other people that are going to be stronger on the like, here’s a lot of ambiguity and you have to give it that shape more this the earlier phases strategic thinking, both are valuable. And as long as we feel like you are strong and you know one of those and you have kind of the raw material for the other, we can figure out how to support you. And we can figure out how to staff a team around your strengths. So you’re right i think it’s it’s a lot to ask somebody to be able to do all aspects of a product manager’s job flawlessly, but I think at the core, those kind of like core skills, we can play with different flavors of it.
RZ I think this is what makes it so tricky as a profession to hire for. I mean, the truth is, if someone has just blown us away on any aspect of those things, we may lean in and just say, you know what, we’ll help them grow the other bits, but we’ll take it. You know, the analogy I like to use is baseball analogy, right? You want fast, you want speed at the top of the lineup because they got to keep running around the bases. You want power later. So you have complimentary skills. I think, recruiting here It isn’t about a one dimensional sort of like PM, PM, PM, PM type hire. It’s more of a okay, I’m short on strategy. I’ve got a lot of executioner’s I need more of that. And then it’s a matter of helping those people connect with each other and teach each other.
VV Totally. Yeah. And it’s also you know, the diversity of the backgrounds people come from to like the industries that they come from I were thinking a lot around how do we build out the team to have you know, to be able to have a lot of coverage across the board. Going back to a previous question you asked which is like what are some of the activities I’m doing to build culture in the on the team and one of the things we did was like just a quick like everybody write down, it’s a free for all, write down all the things you’re an expert in and then people kind of like add themselves like oh, I’m also an expert in this but I’m I’m interested in this other thing. And now we have this like kind of messy but kind of but really useful raw database of the things people are experts in and what they’re interested in, it’s amazing. The list is like 80 lines long, right? And it’s tools, it’s industries, it’s topics. It’s pm concepts. It’s super valuable. But that diversity, I think of the team is really important, especially in an agency setting.
RZ I gotta say, Paul, this podcast is highlighted how badly we fallen short as leaders cultivating culture at Postlight.
PF Well, yes. What else can you say?
RZ I think a lot of a lot of the advice here, and a lot of the tools you’re using, frankly, are universal. I think they apply in other disciplines and other professions, in terms of connecting people in terms of getting people to open up and sort of share what the skills they’re proud of the struggles they’re going through. These are things that probably cultivate culture, regardless of profession, in a lot of ways. So it’s worth saying that out loud. Paul, you’re smiling as I talk. I can see that.
PF There’s a wonderful indicator here that I’m really enjoying, which is about a year and a half, two years ago, you and I sat in a room and we instituted some standards for quality, we call it core QORE, quality, opportunity, risk and relationships and efficiency, four axes and criteria for how we evaluate an ongoing project. Because we needed a way to say this is going well or this is not, like it was that simple. Yeah, we needed to be able to do that across 2030 projects at once. Because we couldn’t literally you can’t hold things in your head anymore. And so at that point, we sort of set into motion, the idea that Postlight would really be committed to quality every week, we would dedicate a lot of our times to ensuring quality across the org. And really what I think is happening, watching it as I’m listening to Vicky, I’m feeling that that culture and that identity for the firm is starting to take new shapes inside of the company that we would never have predicted, right? Like it’s, hey, these are the standards for product, we have to meet them. We have to be flexible. A lot of times what we think about is like oof, boy, this is a hard job. Sometimes you have to talk to people who may not know what the hell you’re talking about. And you have to tell them about your job. And they they don’t even know what you’re saying. Right. Yeah, that is actually like, that’s hard. And I think I dwell on that part. But in the meantime, things keep moving forward, even if we’re not involved. So it’s very exciting. Vicky, great opportunity for you. In all seriousness, okay, you listen to the podcast, you’ve been here for months. What feedback do you have for Richard and me?
VV Oh, God, I have to do it live?
PF Yeah, absolutely. [Rich & Vicky laugh] Come on, give the listeners a little something. What what could we have done better?
VV I think I’ve actually shared this feedback with you, which is there is I think you guys have so much history and context about the business in your heads. And I think that you’re the company is growing so quickly, and you set a bar for the quality of the work and the quality of the talent, but being able to download a lot of that context from you all, I think is something that’s so valuable to the firm. I think the podcast is great. I think people get a lot from that. I think there’s just more that we can do internally. And you know, we put some things into motion that I think help with that already, like doing versions of fireside chats where people get to ask questions around, you know, what are you guys thinking about all day? What do you see as the future of this company? I think you take for granted how much people care to hear that stuff. And so that’s my feedback to you is share it and share it wider internally.
RZ Yeah, it’s good feedback. You know, it’s surprised us, we found out that a lot of the people at Postlight, a lot of the employees listen to the podcast as a way to connect with us, we didn’t connect the dots, we thought—
PF Connect with the firm, not even just with you and me, but just to kind of understand what’s you know, where things are going. That is very, very well taken. I think that true, I think, you know, for us, there’s this sense of, especially early days, a lot of people came to us were like, thanks, please continue to sell the services. But let’s, let’s not get in our way. Okay? We’re going to build our engineering and our product and our design, we’re going to build those teams and you guys build the business, we’ll build the team. And here we go. And that actually worked out really, really well.
VV I think that’s still, so that still works. I think that the part like I mean, I want your input, obviously, I want your opinions on the product org, but I want to build that I don’t need you to tell me how to, you know, do my day to day job. What I need you to do is tell me about the future of the business so that I can build the right product team.
RZ The objectives part.
PF This all used to be kind of in one blob, and it was kind of we can take it for granted that we were all because the firm, yes, there were disciplines. But we were often in this exact same room. We’re just kind of talking continually. And so culture could be taken for granted. And that has been a recurring lesson for me over and over. I learned that people don’t know internally about our hiring practices, they don’t know about different social commitments we’ve made in the firm or things that we’re doing out in the world or internally to try to make the place like a better, fair, good place. That everyone feels great about and it’s like, but no one would know because we don’t tell them, right.
RZ Or we did tell them a year ago and you know, we’ve since hired 18 people and a few have left, and they don’t know about the thing we told everyone a year ago, or whatever it is.
PF What happens is people fill the vacuum with their perception of business and how companies work sure, that they get from the rest of the world. And so you actually, like, you know, one of the things I’ve been thinking is, do I read one section of the charter during every all hands meeting so that we get through it, there’s about 6000 sections in the charter, I know, ’cause I drafted it. And, you know, so that we get through it once a year, and just kind of like, just remind people that of the values of the place. And as I’ve been looking at more and more how other people lead out in the world, starting with values before you get to here’s what we’re working on. And here’s what success is, but actually, like, over and over saying the values and telling the history of the place is really valuable. And I actually just I always think like, I don’t want to bore them with that. But I think it’s we’re hitting a scale where it’s completely necessary.
VV It is and what you’ll find I think, if done well is that you start to hear that echoed back at you, right? Like I think rather than it coming from you, once it gets internalized into the org, then you don’t have to be the messenger anymore. It’s like you’ve got the employee A telling employee B and that that to me is like when that really takes off.
PF You know, I love Richard, I don’t know if you heard it there but the “I think what you’ll find” said Vicky, “if done well”. [Vicky laughs] Just pure Product Manager right there. Like just like yeah, yeah, you know, that’s a great idea if execution is effective. Right? [Rich and Paul laugh] And yeah, that was that was just a flawless PM moment.
RZ Paul, it turns out, this is all been one big dirty trick. This is a job ad for Postlight. This entire podcast.
PF Oh my god, are we back to marketing?
VV I am hiring. I am hiring many many.
PF We’re gonna have Vicky on other times, this is not the only time that she’s coming on here to advertise. So you haven’t been securely marketed to, we’re, we’re making sure that—
RZ We don’t call it marketing, it’s called recruiting! It’s not marketing, man.
PF Hell yeah.
RZ Though, we do have a great looking website with a lot of great case studies. And you can reach us at email@example.com. But that’s not the point of this podcast. Vicky, what are you looking for?
VV So I am looking for a variety of different PMs who are interested in working with big, interesting clients solving big platform and product problems, who like leading teams, who are interested in all the remote culture, all the PM culture, things that we talked about here who want to grow their careers as a product manager. And yeah, that’s a big list of things that we’re looking for.
RZ Experience level? Any?
VV Right now we’re leaning into some of the more senior and lead roles, but we’re always interested in candidates earlier in their career as well. So we’ve got I think, all three job posts up and we’re just constantly, we’re very fast, a candidate told me yesterday that they were impressed with how quickly we got through like three steps of the recruiting funnel, so we respond quickly. And we’d love to chat.
PF We work hard on those processes. That is we have a good dedicated HR team like we’ve always, in each of the disciplines.
RZ What’s the URL Paul?
PF Oh, Rich, oh my god, https://postlight.com/careers.
PF Hit that site. You don’t even need to go to Postlight. You can even type in Postlight, like in your browser, go to our website and hit the little button that says Careers a little bit of text on the top. So you don’t have to remember that whole URL, you just have to remember one word and that word is Postlight.
RZ Well done, Paul. Vicky, this has been great. Actually, you gave a lot of good universal advice for managing people.
PF Well, now that we know the six things that make a good product manager, there’s like 8 million pieces of content that are coming out of my brain like okay, well, each one of those needs, you know.
VV I got you.
RZ Vicky doesn’t know it, she’s been recruited to write five articles for Postlight’s Insights.
PF Here’s what I think about Vicky. I think Vicky is actually smart. And I think what she’s gonna do is just get six product managers to write each, right? [Rich laughs] Because she’s smart, unlike you and me who are like, oh guess I’ll write another one! Yeah, no, no, that’s I get that sense. Delegation. Turns out it’s a skill. One day I’m gonna learn it.
RZ Vicky, this was great. Thank you for your experience, wisdom and observations about product in general and Postlight in particular.
VV Yeah. Thanks for having me on the podcast, and thanks for hiring me four and a half months ago.
PF Wow, that’s nice. We don’t get that, most people don’t thank us for hiring them.
RZ They don’t! [Rich laughs]
PF Alright, look, this is really good. And it’s, it’s been really fun to watch you in the last, you know, almost five months. Because you came in, you’re like, “I got it” and we’re like you do, but hold on. It’s a little different. And then it was like it literally like a two week process and your brain went brrrp! And you’re like okay, now I got it. And it was really awesome to see.
RZ Also, she had fresh perspective. Like we were biased and it’s been helpful to see it.
PF It’s funny how valuable it is to just get that perception because we live in our own little world. Like Postlight is incredibly real to us and it’s what we do all day and it turns out that for most of the world, yeah, it’s a company it is what it is. So it’s very good to to learn about the outside world. Well anyway, if you want to come work for Vicky, she’s, she’s a good boss, takes you seriously, puts you on a career path. You get in touch if you want anything at all, firstname.lastname@example.org.
RZ Have a lovely week. Vicky, thank you again for doing this. This was great.
PF Go dust up your resume if you want to get a job as a product manager, that’s for sure.
RZ Have a good week, everyone!
PF Bye! [music ramps up, plays alone, ends]