Monica McCool helps customers leverage big data to create new forms of competitive intelligence, insight and analytics that improve productivity and profitability. Her focus on uniting people, data, process, and technology guides her to create solutions that solve customer’s business problems & exceed expectations.
She is an “intrapreneur” focused on creating new revenue streams and bringing them to market for B2B and B2C applications in the transportation, insurance, legal, banking, financial services, retail, and healthcare industries. McCool holds an MS in Information Management from the University of Washington Information School and has taught product management at Product School.
“How does ‘Big Data’ product manager differ from being a ‘standard’ PM’? Do you need deep technical knowledge in order to deliver on your goals?“
I would say that being a product manager focused on data means productizing and monetizing data to help customers improve productivity and profitability. This is a focus on applied use versus theoretical applications.
“This is my first job as a PM and I’ve got a month to create a roadmap for the next quarter. There are loads of items in backlog but no quantitive data to see impacts to prioritize. Now my concern is, should I first build the system to track data for all these loads of backlog tickets or do I use logic/experience to priortize?“
This is a great question for both new and experienced product managers. My suggestion is to look at how you’re helping the customer get the job done better. This article from Harvard Business School is a classic read – I hope you find it helpful!
“While developing a product for the client, how do you deal with situations where your team advises the correct approach for a certain functionality (ie. the UX/UI aspect of it) but the client keeps denying it regardless of your explanations?“
This is definitely a juicy, real life situation. I would say that you might want to consider whether you want to customize your offering for this customer or if you’re committed to your approach regardless of what the customer says. In my experience in B2B, the answer is not always straightforward when $$$ gets involved. In B2C, it’s probably easier to toe the line unless there’s enough ground swell to have more than one version.
“Have you followed the design sprints? And was your customer part of the design thinking process?“
Yes, I’m a big fan of design sprints. It engages customer, product management, marketing, UX, and development resources to work together to solution. I have seen much better outcomes and faster time to market using this approach versus designing in a vacuum and tossing it over to an agile development team to implement.
Yes, the customer is part of the design thinking process. But not by directly asking them what they want. Instead, focus on understanding their world, help them get the job better in one area, and then take on additional areas until you own the platform.
“Any insight on switching from purely technical to PM? Which route would you take a look at for people like me coming from cyber security space?”
Coming to product management with a strong technical background is a plus! If you’re in a strategic focus, it can be a challenge to stay in the land of Why, versus What and How which you may be used to and more comfortable with. I think cyber security is a high demand area of expertise and with expanding your PM capabilities you’ll be able to write your own ticket.
“What techniques have you found to be successful in targeting industries that may not be deeply experienced in using big data?“
Big data can mean a lot of things. Most people will agree that it means there’s lots of data available (volume), lots of different kinds of data (variability), and the data changes frequently (velocity). So who cares?? LOL. It’s about making it useful to real people. From a B2B perspective, I like to use a crawl, walk, run, fly analogy.
“Could you please elaborate on the Crawl-Walk-Run image? Looks promising.“
When I’m thinking about how to help customers who want to use data to inform their business, it’s important to think about where they are from a data strategy perspective. Do they run on gut alone? Do they look at data every day? Is it shared? Etc. I try to create solutions to help customers on their journey through data versus trying to jump to giving them predictive analytics that they don’t understand, won’t trust, and therefore won’t use.
“How do you prioritize your product features?“
I like to to think about the outcomes in terms of satisfaction, importance, and opportunity. Here’s a review of an approach you might consider using: https://hbr.org/2002/01/turn-customer-input-into-innovation
“I’m a Machine Learning Engineer leading an R&D team at a tech company, but want to move towards PM roles. Any advice would be very helpful in this transition. Is it even possible to get a PM role without official prior background or job title?“
There are a number of certification programs out there if you want to work on theory, process, and application. That said, product management is not something most people wake up and say they want to do when they grow up. My experience has been that product managers are excited when others reach out to them to learn and to grow. I got my start coming off being on the IT side of the house and saying to a director of product management that I wanted to grow in to a role.
I initially transitioned in to what at the time was called technical product management (product owner role) and as I learned and grew a team on that side of the house, started learning more and more about the business side through mentorship. I would say, don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for mentorship and round out your skills with some type of education whether that be informal or formal. Good luck!
“Is it compulsory to have Btech in computer science and MBA from renowned University to get into PM role..?“
I don’t think it’s compulsory to have a Btech in computer science and MBA from renowned University to get into a PM role. I would say that some companies look for those credentials as a way to filter through resumes but that doesn’t guarantee success as a product manager. Product Management is more about having a growth mindset versus a fixed mindset – continually experimenting and learning versus learning how to become a general manager.
“Which 3 books would you recommend the most?“
Tough to narrow it down to 3, but here are some that have served me well: 1) Information Architecture, 4th Edition by Peter Morville, Louis Rosenfeld, Jorge Arango 2) Getting Things Done by David Allen 3) Sprint by Jake Knapp
“You mentioned that when it comes to prioritization of product features, you like to keep a focus on satisfaction, importance, and opportunity. Would you please elaborate on the “opportunity” aspect? Do you have any guidelines you like to follow when taking opportunity into account?“
“The best opportunities spring from those desired outcomes that are important to customers but are not satisfied by existing products and services. The basic formula is:
[Importance + (Importance – Satisfaction) = Opportunity]
The higher the number, the greater the opportunity to offer value that isn’t currently being served.
“As a PM in the Big Data space, how do you quickly get buy-in from top management? What KPI’s do you focus on as you slice and dice your data? What business tools do you use to validate data, explain/present to management?“
I would say buy-in comes quicker when you’ve thought through the stakeholders’ needs and views and know how to address them up front. Even if it’s an internal project, creating a pitch deck will help you clarify your thinking even if you don’t actually present it.
A suggested format:
Mission Why does the company exist? What’s different once the company’s successful? The best mission statements show a sense of purpose, give a clue to the company’s larger ambitions, and help the viewer understand generally how to think about the company they’re about to see. (Note: if your mission statement includes the words ‘leverage’, ‘synergy’, or ‘holistic’, you might just want to skip the mission slide altogether.)
Problem Do you understand the customer’s problem? Prove it. Clearly articulate the problem, and include metrics that quantify the scale of the problem that this customer (and others like them) has. When done well, you’ll see lots of nods around the table, along with gratitude that at last someone understands just how serious this issue is. If you can describe the problem they have, they’re primed to believe that your solution will be compelling.
Solution Now is your chance to talk about your product. The context is the key: while you’re talking about the product, your real focus has to be the customer’s problem. Otherwise you’re just showcasing bells and whistles. Remember the metrics you identified in slide #2 above? Show how your solution improves those metrics.
Team If I’m in the audience and you’ve convinced me that your company solves a large problem, I need to know you’re the team that can actually deliver the solution. Highlight the team — have you worked together before? Do you have deep expertise in this space? What is it about your team that makes you uniquely suited to solve this problem?
Appendix Anticipate questions your audience might ask, but don’t cover every one in the slides themselves. Give your audience a chance to feel engaged (and heard) — then show that you were prepared by covering the answer in one or more slides in the Appendix.
Re: product success measures. Here are some suggestions:
- Customer Lifetime Value (LTV)
- Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC)
- Customer Conversion Rate
- Average Revenue Per User (ARPU)
- Churn Rate
- Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR)
- Bounce Rate
- Dwell Time
- Net Promoter Score (NPS)
- Organic v/s Paid Traffic
Before we go, do you have any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?
Final advice – don’t forget that you’re a product too. You have a unique set of features and experiences that give you superpowers that you likely don’t realize. Make a pitch for yourself to get clear.