Product Manager Interviews: Sally Duda

Today, in our continuing series of one-on-one interviews with product management professionals, we’re talking with Sally Duda.

Sally is a Product Manager for a privately-held b2b software and services company with over 25,000 customers in more than 70 countries, and has a wealth of experience behind her.

How has her multi-faceted background benefited her, her products, and her team? And what’s the hardest lesson she’s learned as a Product Manager?

Answers to these questions, and more, after the jump…

Sally, what inspired you to become a Product Manager?

I guess you could call me the Accidental Product Manager. Oh wait; I think someone already has that moniker. Let me explain…

I’ve been in the software industry for over 15 years and held several positions: Technical trainer, implementation specialist, developer, product analyst, and now product manager.

So you didn’t set out to be a Product Manager?

Right. I was looking for a new challenge after working as developer for over 10 years. The revolving door of learning and implementing new software technologies had gotten somewhat old.

I had the opportunity to join a new department, Product Management, as a senior product analyst. Nine months after I joined the department, each analyst was assigned a product and elevated to the position of Product Manager.

What do you like most — and least — about being a Product Manager?

What I enjoy the most is performing research and problem solving. Product management affords me the opportunity to do both–research market problems and create solutions to those problems.

The most frustrating part about being a Product Manager is that the position is not well understood and it means different things to different people and organizations.

What’s the hardest lesson you’ve learned as a Product Manager?

The biggest mistake you can make is not questioning assumptions.

If a customer asks for a feature, dig deeper to find out what problem the customer believes the requested feature will solve for them. Never assume you know the answer. Never be afraid to ask for clarification. Never take anything at face value.

Has your varied background helped or hindered you?

Definitely helped. My previous coding experience has allowed me to identify and assess pre-production issues prior to launch. My customer facing and training experience has allowed me to better define and drive our product’s goals to meet the ever-changing needs of our customer base.

For example, I’m intimately acquainted with the object model for our reporting solution. I was able to use that knowledge to guide the team on how to support custom versions of reports.

If a new Product Manager doesn’t have that kind of varied background, how would you recommend them getting some of that direct experience?

As soon as builds of your product become available, install and use your product. Not only will you gain valuable experience in testing and troubleshooting, you’ll also identify potential issues earlier in the development cycle.

Be sure to train your internal customers: You will get a unique perspective on the challenges your co-workers face in selling, training and supporting your product.

Who, or what, has recently inspired you as a Product Manager?

Most recently, I’ve been inspired by Rich Nutinsky, an instructor with Pragmatic Marketing. I credit him with encouraging me to find creative ways to work around the barriers that exist in every organization. When you encounter a barrier that cannot be moved, do not complain. Be creative!

Another source of inspiration comes from my association with other product management professionals that I’ve met through Twitter. Jim Holland, David Locke, Stewart Rogers and Jennifer Doctor have especially been very helpful and generous in their support.

Where do you see yourself in five years time?

Five years from now, I hope to be doing the same thing — only much better!

Follow Up

Thanks, Sally! If you want to connect with Sally, follow her on Twitter @SallyOutLoud.

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