This week Product School hosted Brian Kelly, Senior Product Manager of UpToDate for an #AskMeAnything session. Brian discussed getting your foot in the door at a company like UpToDate. He also offered his experience and resources with acquiring the knowledge required to become a successful product manager and the best practices in product to implement.
Meet Brian Kelly
Brian is a senior-level SaaS product management professional who has spent over two decades in the industry, building world-class products that delight customers. He currently deploys his skills as Senior Product Manager at UpToDate, which is part of Wolters Kluwer Health. For the past 8 years, Brian has been leading the company’s initiatives through all phases of the product life cycle, from site redesigns and search innovations to personalization features and localization projects. His success is based on strong skills in creating product roadmaps and consistently delivering results.
Brian first broke into Product at Ceridian, an award-winning human capital management technology company. During his extensive tenure of over 7 years, he was responsible for creating and implementing product strategy. One of his achievements includes successfully launching two new comprehensive web sites in twelve months while achieving higher user satisfaction ratings. Brian is an inspiring speaker who strives to keep transforming each company he leads with advanced technology using intelligent digital, social and mobile solutions.
How do you prioritize tasks?
For me, it’s about what’s going to deliver the most value. A balance between what’s best for the customer while also considering cost. I like to think of what I read about Steve Jobs from a while back. With so many requests, so many things to work on it’s really important to have a relentless focus on what matters most. You should also be comfortable in saying “no” to many, if not most, possibilities.
As someone from a pure business background (education) did you take up any courses in tech? Does this ever create issues with engineers? If yes, how do you get around it?
I’ve picked up the tech part along the way. I know really good product managers who have strong tech backgrounds and those who do not. I find that there are various types of product manager positions — some are very tech-focused, some are not.
It’s about finding the right fit. I tend to work with some great tech people and they are okay with my level of technical knowledge — don’t want me to be coding but I understand what I need to know. And as I tell them sometimes… it’s enough to be dangerous!
What are the best resources you have found for the PM/PO role?
It depends on the role but if it’s heavy on UI/UX type things, my favorite book about this is Don’t Make Me Think (by Steve Krug who I think is a great thought leader). A book on Agile development would probably be good too. There are a lot of books out there and many quick reads.
I would love to hear how you hold internal teams needed to bring product to market accountable (especially engineering). This is one of the toughest parts of the PM role in my experience and I am a recovering engineer!
For me, it’s about developing a strong partnership. I think what’s key is involving them about the “why” — taking the time to explain market problems, showing user survey results, and bringing to life the impact that their work will have.
I have seen a lot of places where they have too many metrics about products. Most of the time, stakeholders do not really enjoy that. How does one prevent that?
I think keeping it as simple as possible makes a lot of sense. There’s sometimes a temptation for having some metrics and then driving for more that although may be helpful can be a slippery slope. So I’d say establishing a good solid dashboard of product performance makes sense — keep it high level.
How do you influence your engineers to deliver results?
To me, it’s about a key skill that good product managers have — influence without authority. Things like sharing info about the “why”, celebrating the successes, a willingness to jump in on tasks that are in that middle ground, and leading by example. For example, signing up to get a small task done or taking one for the team helps make everyone engaged.
It also helps to explain the realities of projects. For example, if a project really needs to be delivered on a certain date explain clearly that it’s because of a customer issue/commitment and/or whatever the case may be.
Are you using any framework to measure product success? What tools you are using to measure?
Depends on the project, it is hard to come up with a framework that would work for everything. For example, a new product would be about things like sales whereas a new feature would largely be about things like utilization, awareness, and satisfaction. So for each project, I would say doing an analysis on what benchmarks/KPIs make sense early in the dev cycle is the best bet.
Hi, what is the career development path of product managers? For example, will you tend to work in a specific segmented industry continuously, such as healthcare, finance, education, since you need to equip yourself with the industry background knowledge. Or does this matter?
I look at product management as a discipline that can be adapted to various industries. The concepts are largely the same and it’s a matter of getting to know an industry, the company, etc.
Agile Development principles help us to manage the risk of delivering the wrong product, but also create challenges, specifically for a product part of organization. For example, the gap between requirements and implementation is growing and sometimes it might take lots of iterations to deliver a feature. What is your perspective on this problem? How do you make it work smoothly?
I would say the short answer is in doing as much upfront work as possible and hopefully get customer feedback early and often.
Do you have any final advice for Product Managers?
I would just say that it’s a great profession because it balances a variety of activities — technical, non-technical, strategic, tactical, etc. A good blend of lots of interesting things.
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