How to Manage Teams with Capital One Product Owner

This week our #AskMeAnything session welcomed Mark Yamashita, Product Owner at Capital One, to talk about how to manage teams, Product Management in Capital One, and some tips for new Product Managers.

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Mark Yamashita is a Product Owner and Business Manager at Capital One Canada. He began his career as an engineer at IBM, working on the compiler for IBM mainframes.

He earned an MBA from the University of Oxford and from there joined Capital One as a Business Analyst. During his time as a Business Analyst, he found his niche at the intersection of technology and business and joined the Product Management Team.

How to Manage Teams

How do you delineate between the Product Manager and the Product Owner? Any best practices for working well with the PM? Any tips for a new PO?

I see the role of a PM and PO as a spectrum. Where a PM is 80% focused on strategy and 20% execution, and a PO is 80% focused on execution and 20% strategy. As a new PO, really nail down the execution piece and start to think more about strategy.

Have you ever faced a situation where the engineering team keeps pushing out the deadline? Also, what is the trick to working with a team that does not directly report to you?

First, I never think of it as the engineering team is pushing out a deadline – MY team is pushing out a deadline. I consider them my team first, and if something needs to move out, I should be the first to know.

To more directly answer your question, I would want to know why. What did we not expect or what risk materialized? If something gets pushed out, it probably means that I pushed the team to take on something they didn’t understand or couldn’t consume.

I work with a tech team that doesn’t report to me. While I don’t manage them, I feel that I lead without direct authority. It’s a fine balance, but one based on mutual respect. I never see myself as directing them what to do, I inspire them to achieve something that aligns with the goals of the business.

When you publish a new task to your team, how do you make sure the estimated completion date your team provided is realistic?

I would think less about error checking the team and more about instilling them with the desire to be better size their work. They should want to size it and schedule it properly. If you build that culture, you can be confident they are sizing it as accurately as possible.

How do you balance team voting vs. your own responsibility of making decisions if both are based on customer problems, insights, data, etc?

Great question, sometimes tricky at times. The aim is always to guide the team to the right decision – where you and the team are aligned. But, sometimes you need to realize that you have the context and the scope to see the bigger picture.

Capital One Product Management

Who are your customers and how do you engage?

Our customers are any Canadians who are in the market for a credit product and we have many ways to engage them. We reach out to them digitally through our online channels (eg. surveys), we talk to them on the phone, we bring them into our offices.

We have so many different ways to engage, and they all help reveal a different piece of the puzzle. The more ways and settings you can engage your customers, the better you will understand them, and the better you can serve them.

Can you talk us through where product ideas come from at Capital One? How often do priorities for product development come down from leadership and how often do they emerge from customer testing on the product team?

It does vary considerably across such a large organization, but in my experience, leadership sets the objectives and the customers provide the insights that help the team generate the ideas.

We look at a lot of data and talk to a lot of customers to really understand their needs. Then we sit down with the team (not just leadership) to decide how best to solve the customer problem.

What are your daily tasks and what methods do you use to make effective product roadmaps?

I have a few interesting thoughts on product roadmaps. One, uglier is better. If you go and create a beautiful roadmap, you are less likely to change it, even when you should. I use excel to create mine.

Also, your roadmap should be pretty specific in the next month, medium-specific (epics) 2-3 months out, general ideas for next quarter. If someone asks what you will be doing a year from now, they do not know what they want.

Can you elaborate on what factors you consider while prioritizing items from the backlog? How do you measure the business value of each item?

I like to use the RICE framework to prioritize work. I’ve found it simple and easy to communicate with stakeholders. I estimate Reach, Impact, Confidence, and have the team assign an Effort. Then, R x I x C divided by E. Whatever is highest gets prioritized.

What does Capital One look for in candidates for Product Manager / Business Analyst roles? How does Capital One view those roles differently from other financial companies?

I believe Capital One looks for the qualities of curiosity, intellectual rigor, and a focus on solving customer problems.

How frequently do you release in Capital One?

As often as possible! It varies by team, but from what I have seen it is pretty frequent for most teams.

Do you ever get to a point where the number of new observations and hypotheses goes from overflowing to a slow trickle? And if so, what do you do at that point to make new features/improvements?

The issue that I sometimes see is that new observations stop generating new insights – they just confirm what I already knew. In this case, I realize that I’ve stopped asking the right questions. If I don’t learn something by doing customer research, I’m probably asking the wrong questions. It might be time to go back to the drawing board and start at first principles – what am I trying to achieve, who are my customers, what do they need?

Transition into Product Management

Does Capital One have an Associate Product Manager program like Google/Facebook? What does someone need to do to go from scratch to becoming a PM?

I don’t believe Capital One has an Associate PM program. That’s not to say it couldn’t happen in the future – we have programs for business analysts and data scientist.

I think going from scratch to a PM is hard – really though, what do you mean by scratch? Every PM uses their background to bring something new to the table. I had tech is my back pocket, others in my company have a business background, others a customer service background.

The PM is such a jack-of-all-trades job that you’ll probably use some of the skills from your previous job at some point, regardless of your past position. It’s really about selling the skills you’ve built. If someone doesn’t have PM experience, I look at how curious are they, how analytical do they think about customer problems, and how well can they motivate a team around them.

What do you look for in a Product Management resume and candidate?

For me, I look for candidates that are passionate about helping the customer and are great storytellers. Helping customers is a no-brainer, but the second one is a little harder.

I believe a really good PM can help their team empathize with the customer. This helps inspire and guide the team to build the best possible solution to help their customers.

Can you give some guidance on how you made the transition from Engineering to Product Management?

I used my engineering background to open some doors in product, but it was really about changing my thinking to start with the customer instead of the technology. I still use my tech background to work with my team, but I only rely on it for what is possible.

Did your MBA play a huge role in the Product Management transition?

I don’t think my MBA played a huge role in my transition. It was helpful for me when I joined Capital One as a Business Analyst, but the transition was based more on my skills and passion. I do feel that the skills and competencies I learned in my MBA have been very helpful as a Product Manager.

What would your advice be for someone trying to land their first PM job?

My advice is to be curious and to demonstrate that by walking into your job interview with a set of recommendations. Someone once walked into an interview with a product roadmap they built and I was very impressed. It wasn’t all that useful, but the insights were right and the initiative was spot on.

How important it is for a Product Manager to know AB testing? Not just in theory, but actually setting up experiments?

I think AB testing is a valuable tool in any PMs toolbox – especially for a web application. With that said, I wouldn’t pass on a PM that didn’t have experience setting up AB tests. I would expect that it is a skill that can be learned and honed like many others expected of a PM.

I’m working on building a portfolio as I interview for PM roles. Any insights you could share on how to think about the product idea and what else to include?

As much as I believe general ideas are good, the really impactful ideas are the ones where you can talk about the product that relates to the role you are interviewing for. I’ve talked to many potential PMs about ideas, but the ones that impress me are the ones that are ideas for the product I’m working on.

Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?

Stay curious and always bring it back to how you are helping the customer.

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