Continuing our series of candid, one-on-one interviews with product management professionals.
In the spotlight today is Vanessa Ferranto, Senior Product Manager at Leaf where she is responsible for mobile point-of sale and web application products. Prior to that, she worked at Boston.com and WGBH defining CMS products and features as part of the full development of the CMS.
What was it like for her to introduce product management into several very different companies? And which literary figure most resonates with her? Read on…
Vanessa, thanks for chatting. You’ve worked at a diverse set of companies. Just looking at WGBH and Leaf — those are two very different organizations. What has that experience been like?
At both companies, a product management team was either not in place or not formalized, and I came on board to initiate and integrate a formal product management process to gain efficiency in product development.
That’s a big task. What challenges did you face?
One of the biggest challenges coming into a team that is not familiar with product management is helping the team understand the value that someone in my role can bring to the company.
Some consistent misconceptions about the role of a product manager is that we are project managers or product owners, and though the role can mimic aspects of those positions, we absolutely bring something unique to the table.
A product manager leads the focus, vision and strategy. We are an advocate for the customer, the engineers, the design team, and our stakeholders. Each time, after a period of time, the role of product manager has been embraced and appreciated.
What helped you succeed?
Learning from previous experiences, and and applying that knowledge to current opportunities.
Equally important is effective communication, concise documentation and implementation of appropriate levels of process. However, one of the most crucial elements of success is knowing your colleagues.
Once you understand how your colleagues work, what they need, and in turn understand how you work, you become more effective in your role as a product manager.
We’ve talked a lot about internal business, so now let’s look outside the building. How do you interact with customers and turn learnings into actionable next steps?
I prefer to initiate conversations during the planning phase to identify the appropriate amount of “real world” use. Additionally, I like to follow-up with the user or customer to ensure the requirements identified will support their experience — or, in the case of Leaf, the merchant’s business.
In regards to the interaction process, it’s important to have as many one-on-one conversations with users/customers. My goal is to hear their needs and requests first-hand, which provides me with an opportunity to react and respond. It is a cyclical process from start to finish, making sure at each point in the process that we are maintaining alignment with our goals.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
To understand and be able to balance industry standards with innovation, process with flexibility, and open discussions with diligent documentation.
Who’s your favorite fictional character?
My mother introduced me to the Nancy Drew book series when I was a child. Nancy Drew’s courage, problem-solving and strength resonated with me as a child, and still does today. She faced challenging situations and took them head-on with determination that allowed her to uncover the truth. And to top it off, she always went back for more!
Sounds like a PM to me! Any last words of advice?
A product manager should always be ready to take initiative, dig in, and get their hands dirty. It’s vitally important that the product manager truly lead the team and provide insight and direction to increase the chance of success.
To connect with Vanessa, contact her via LinkedIn.