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The Product Management Blog

Tips and Free Resources to become a Great Product Manager
Tips and Free Resources to become a Great Product Manager

Utilize Your Data Skills with Home Depot PM

It’s usually the data scientists that follow the data flows and analyze more closely what the data is trying to tell them. However, realizing that data is also a Product Manager’s best friend will help product managers excel at their job. Every decision a Product Manager makes needs to be based on data. Even if saying “no”, you need to show why. In our recent live chat, Liliya McLean from the Home Depot urged product managers to really utilize their data skills.

 

Utilize Your Data Skills by Home Depot Product Manager

 

Liliya McLean
Liliya McLean is a Lead Data Science and Enterprise Search Product Manager at the Home Depot. Previously, she was a Lead for Walmart Labs‘ Personalization and Item Recommendations team. Last year, her team went through a massive Google Cloud Platform, GCP, infrastructure migration which was a great learning experience for her.

 

 

Table of Contents

What is the skill set needed in product? Also does one need a Product Management mentor to learn from?

A product position heavily relies on having good mentors in the space because it’s often about learning certain behavioral patterns and knowing how to react. It’s not mandatory, as I started without one but it makes your journey more difficult and longer. Regarding types of necessary skills – analytical thinking, observation skills, empathy for the user and the internal and external stakeholder are important. Also, technical chops are always a big plus.

 

Can you talk about what your day to day looks like? How does data science mix with your product management position?

My day is often a mix of business or strategic planning meetings, one-on-ones with engineers and data scientists where I give them constructive feedback and have back and forth discussions with them on design and choices. I also have prioritization meetings. The difference between an experienced product manager and a data product manager is that you need to have a much deeper grasp of the whole ecosystem within which your product lives.

 

What are some of the technical challenges you have faced at the Home Depot? What applications are you building?

Some of the more interesting challenges stem from the format of the business. It’s an omnichannel business, so we need to be able to handle the customer demand regardless of the channel through which they communicate with us. That means we need to be able to support many different modalities of the data (visual, audio, text, clickstream, etc).

Also, we have a very distributed business which consists of many sub-brands and sub-divisions and they all have to appear as one common experience for the customer. That makes creating data models and common information retrieval solutions challenging.

 

I am an administrative associate, I code, and I’m 32 years old. Is it too late for me to transition to product management?

Never too late at all, product is a very complex and comprehensive field, so any prior experience could come in handy. As a product manager you need to be able to grasp the problem from all aspects – what the user is feeling, how the technology is working, how the company associates are using it, what the pain points for everyone along the whole pipe are. So, your prior experience could be a super valuable element. 

Utilize Your Data Skills by Home Depot Product Manager

 

What is the difference between a large business and a start up? How can you stay relevant in a large business or grow larger in a smaller team?

The main difference between large and small companies is that in a large company you are often shielded from “busy work” or from some of the surrounding tasks (i.e., analysis, design, legal, etc). In a small startup, you do it all – and I mean all. Startups are valuable, but also very dangerous, so it’s a matter of what you want to achieve in the long run.

If you are looking for where you will learn the most, even if that may take you a bit off the route of fast success, a startup is great. If you are looking for a more traditional path for growth that may require some political maneuvering – big all the way.

 

What are some must-read topics or books for aspiring PMs?

There are many books but I am personally a visual person and prefer video materials, here’s a few: 

The Art of Building a Roadmap – Atlassian Summit 2016 

A Product Manager and a Developer Walk into a Bar – Atlassian Summit 2015

 

What are some of the most common conversations you have with your engineers at Home Depot?

We often talk about some architectural choices we have to make, as well as data quality.

 

How can someone make a change from the project or program management space into product management?

I would recommend using your project/program role to find a sub-project that you can manage from end to end (from ideation to scoping to creation).

 

What customer metrics does your team formulate for building an effective product solution? How do you measure them?

I try to divide my metrics into three categories – business/customer/systems:

  • For business metrics, I would select whatever is of importance to my business model (i.e., attributable/participatory revenue, frequency, ATC, AOV, traffic, etc.)
  • For customer metrics I’d go with whatever represents my customers’ interests (i.e., CTR, bounce, conversion, CSAT, friction scores, relevance scores, etc.)
  • For systems, I look at operational excellence metrics (i.e., up time, throughput, no. of resolved issues, etc.).

For search, in particular, there is a fourth group too which are the more scientific search metrics (i.e., nDCG, MRR, distance to click/skip distance, etc.).

Utilize Your Data Skills by Home Depot Product Manager

 

How do you work in product if there’s no vision or strategy to work from?

Any problem could be ambiguous unless you narrow it down to a manageable scope. Sometimes ambiguity stems from lack of sufficient data, sometimes from lack of clear vision. The most straightforward way to proceed is to pick your battles carefully and handle them one by one. What is the big picture? Okay. Who does it apply to? What is the business objective? What are my current and near future capabilities? And so on, until I narrow it down to solvable bite-sized problems.

As for situations when we lack data: quick iterating – fast failing. You cannot operate in product without vision, or there will be chaos. You have to create your North Star to know how to choose where to spend your calories.

Do you do customer journey maps and then come up with the opportunities to tweak the customer experience based on where there are frowny faces?

Yes, we do customer journey maps, we analyze explicit and implicit feedback and much more. Sometimes the “frowny faces” may be sufficient to trigger a new feature on our end, but as with everything else in product – it’s all about priorities.

So, you have to know what you are stacking that opportunity against and if it won’t be taking resources away from a bigger win. A win could be anything from higher customer delight, to better profits for your company. That is also part of the tough choices we have to make.

 

Do you have tips on how I can take advantage of shadowing a product manager and show my presence on the team?

I would suggest you request a roadmapping session with your Product Manager mentor and ask them for feedback on your strategic thinking regarding selection of features going into the roadmap. Also, ask for more one-on-ones with other stakeholders if possible.

 

How do you go about the challenge of gaining the engineers’ and designers’ trust and respect to execute the vision effectively?

In the beginning, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty – do as much of the product and non-product work you can get ahold of (design, HCI research, some programming) so that you know what everyone else is going through. In the meantime, make sure you participate in the strategic meetings others are driving (do not try to drive them yourself, you won’t be optimal from the start without practice), just patiently observe. Once you feel confident, try to take on a feature or set of features and drive those.

Utilize Your Data Skills by Home Depot Product Manager

 

What tools do you use day to day?

I use all sorts of thingsBigQuery (Google), Google Cloud Platform, Omniture, Slack, Skype, Jira, Pivotal Tracker, Confluence pages, etc. Depends on what you are trying to achieve.

 

When the tech team builds a new feature, it doesn’t get featured on live product but stays in a testing environment. How do you test its likeability in the testing environment, A/B testing live?

It depends on the feature. If it’s a data feature (i.e., new data model, new classifier, ranker, etc.), maybe we won’t even go as far as A/B testing before we built a sandbox version of the model and then we will put it in stage or beta. If it’s an experienced feature (has UI), it may go through a client-side A/B/C test + business UAT.

We also do interleaving for continuous evaluation of live traffic, as well as offline crowdsourced validations and evaluations, systematic unit tests and more

 

Would you be more likely to hire someone with product management experience or experience with your product? Why?

I think it depends on the company and the team. In my specific team – I need someone with enterprise, scalable platform product experience regardless of whether they know the Home Depot domain or not. In a more experience-focused team, the opposite may be perfectly sufficient. The difference comes from the fact that in a more technical role, passion for the product is not enough to breach the knowledge gap quickly enough at first.

 

What is the difference between program and product manager in your experience or opinion?

A program manager oversees the overall program flow with all of its stakeholders and desired achievables with timelines, while the product manager usually owns a specific element of that program in its full depth and has ownership over the actual strategy behind it. One role is a lot broader and more surface level at scope, while the other is a lot deeper and a true expert in the space.

Utilize Your Data Skills by Home Depot Product Manager

 

How do you start off with competitive analysis? Are there any tools?

We do start off with competitive analysis. Depending on the area in which you are doing it, there may be different tools. In search, we often compare our search results’ relevance against our competitors and run crowdsourced experiments for that purpose through tools like CrowdFlower and Appen.

 

What is the best way to get your foot in the door? How often do companies hire Product Managers with no experience?

Start with a product internship. It’s a fantastic, low to no risk way to get your foot in the door as a Product Manager. If internships are not interesting for you, then just request from your leadership to own a specific feature you initiated, and you are willing to take the responsibility for.

 

Does Home Depot have a product marketing team? How is the role different from the sales team when product managers gain customer insights?

Yes, we have a marketing team. It’s very different because the product marketing team is focused on high-level strategic programs (imagine something like Prime shopping), while the sales team is focused on specific business deliverables.

 

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