Inside Enterprise Product Management with Walmart’s former PM

This week our #AskMeAnything session welcomed John Dictson, former Product Manager at Walmart!!

Meet John Dictson

John Dictson is passionate about understanding needs, developing solutions, and improving experiences. He’s skilled at weighing subjective feedback with statistical data to extract meaningful insights and interested in championing positive outcomes over wholesale output.

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John is Professionally recognized as a tenacious customer advocate and cross-functional collaborator with an eye for process optimization. He spent over four years with Netflix, five years with Walmart’s eCommerce team. Currently, he is a Senior Product Manager at Adobe where he is both a Product Owner for multiple scrum teams and leads product development strategy for Marketo.

The Product Management Career

In your experience and opinion, what are the top 3 responsibilities of a Product Manager?

  1. Maintaining a well-prioritized backlog of initiatives based on the overarching goals of the business. You can’t effectively do any part of your job unless you know what your priorities are.
  2. Having a clear understanding of what your customers biggest pain points are so that you can effectively prioritize your backlog.
  3. Clearly communicating your vision for what problems need to be solved in such a way as to minimize confusion from those who will be responsible for delivering it. I find comprehensive and concise user stories one powerful vehicle to accomplish this.

If you could name a single part of your practice which has been most helpful in achieving success, what would that be? In other words… How is it you manage to do what you do so well?

In one word – collaboration. I have no illusions that I know everything when it comes to the challenges of tech, business, design, and finance and I think one of the most important skills of a PM is networking and collaboration.

I spend much of my time collecting data and viewpoints from stakeholders and synthesizing this information to help me come up with well-informed opinions. As a PM, the sooner you can recognize that you are not the smartest person in the room and lean into the knowledge and experience around you, the more successful you’ll be.

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Enterprise Product Management

What are your main daily challenges? And how do you overcome them?

My main daily challenge is the signal to noise ratio. As a PM, I feel that the business tends to think of me as a Jack-of-all-trades, so I am constantly fielding Slack messages, emails, and drive-by’s to solve problems from P0 to P99.

It can often be hard to say no and get lost in the chaos. So I’m continuing to work on ways to prioritize every task that comes my way, but it’s a work in progress.

What are the challenges Product Managers face at the enterprise level (compared to challenges at the startup level)? What was your experience like? How did you overcome these large company/enterprise-level challenges?

I think the biggest challenges that I’ve faced specific to the enterprise level is entrenchment in dated, inefficient processes. I have to approach this with patience and realize that things in large enterprises won’t change overnight, but also with tenacity and more importantly, data.

I love the challenge of finding an inefficient process and working to chip away at, improving it through small wins and hard data to show the organization that there can be a better way than “this is just how we do things here.”

How do you think industry 4.0 will influence Supermarket buying strategies?

I don’t have a good quick answer for this. Not familiar enough with industry 4.0 to do it justice. However, I do think that the richness of the data that supermarkets are able to collect around customer buying patterns through online ordering and pickup/delivery is already going a long way to better inform buying strategies and minimize waste.

What are some of the challenges you’ve personally witnessed regarding the product strategy at the large company/enterprise level? How have you overcome those shortcomings?

This is a complex one. I’ve encountered entirely different problems in this regard between B2C eCommerce and B2B SaaS. At the end of the day, the biggest challenge is balancing the bottom line with customer satisfaction.

So often, leadership is so focused on selling more, that experience can suffer and it’s often difficult to clearly communicate that the experience ultimately drives the bottom line. I can’t say that I’ve been incredibly successful in overcoming this, but I do my best to leverage data and small wins to create clear cases.

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Transition into Product Management

How did you get into Product Management?

I came to Product Management through support. While I was managing a support team at Netflix, I had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time working with Product Management and Engineering relating customer issues and this led me to want to solve problems at a larger scale.

From there, I took a job a Walmart as an analyst doing support and data analysis for VOC in the product organization and was able to get a job as a PM by taking ownership of the VOC platforms.

What was your 1st month like when you started in your current PM role? 

Most of my first month in my current role was spent learning the existing product and meeting people in the organization. The Marketo product suite is pretty complex, both from an experience perspective and from a technical perspective, and I wanted to be sure I had a firm foundation before I began making any product decisions.

How did you jump from Netflix to Walmart? How do you become a Product Manager from one tech domain to another?

I don’t have any special recipe other than just being me. I’m a pretty transparent person and I try to be as honest and genuine as I can in interviews. Outside of that, I think just doing your best to take a broad view of your experience and view it through the lens of whatever company you are interviewing for.

It’s easy to get specific when talking about a project you worked on. Instead, think about the skills and experience you gained from working on that project and communicate that.

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Do you think 33 is too late to switch into Product Management coming from a developer/designer background?

Not at all! I started my first real product role at 33 and I am very excited about my future in this field.

Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?

  1. Never stop learning. Read everything you can get your hands on. There is no single recipe for Product Management, so collecting as many perspectives as you can will go a long way in helping you understand what works best for you.
  2. Find mentors. I am so thankful for the folks I have in my corner that I can bounce ideas off of and vent to. Again, having different perspectives at your disposal is huge.
  3. Network. For me, being a PM is about being a people person. The larger your network is, the more resources you have available. Social capital is huge in this business. If you are an introvert, do your best to make time to engage regularly with people in your company. Simply get away from your desk and walk around the office and make sure people know who you are. I think this has taken me a long way.

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