Featured Product Management Consultant: Todd Blaquiere
For this featured interview from our Consultant Interviews Series we have Todd Blaquiere, who shares with us his valuable advice on how a Product Management organization can be more strategic and up-level its team.
How and why did you break into Product Management?
Like most Product Managers, I didn’t determine a clear path into Product Management. My career started in creative media, specifically, in online video. I owned a start-up and after that, I transitioned into Marketing. I was Director of Marketing for a couple of companies.
The company in which I last held the Marketing Director title was a non-profit organization, and they were looking for someone who could lead the Marketing department., but they were also really attracted to my video experience because they were planning on launching a video-based addiction recovery program. That was when I first started participating in Product Management tasks, without knowing that is what I was doing. As part of the process of developing that product, I was helping design the user experience and content for the platform, and was responsible for deciding what metrics we were going to use to track, to achieve the desired behavior from our users. So, this was my first interaction with the software development process.
My first actual Product Manager title was at the LA Times. They hired me because they were looking to launch into the set-top-box and OTT space. so they needed someone to lead those distribution video platforms. My friend told me I should apply for that job, and I said: “No, they are looking for a Product Manager, and that is not me.” My hiring manager was very smart, and she hired me based on my background. Because of my previous experience, I was already naturally focused on the user, and she knew I could also understand video, audiences, and customers as well as create experiences for them. She believed that because of that, I would be a great Product Manager. I had impostor syndrome at the beginning, but it turned out to be the right call and the right move for me.
What is your favorite thing about being a Product Manager?
A friend of mine once said being a Product Manager is like playing in all the sandboxes. In this role, you get to interact with the design team, the marketing team, the sales team, and the developers. That was true for me, and that is what I fell in love with.
In the process of becoming a Product Manager, I learned a few things about myself. f I need constant challenges and new problems to solve, or else I don’t engage with the job. Something else that was fascinating to me was the strategic elements of the job: defining a product strategy, “the why” behind doing something, and achieving that outcome. I am also a communicator at heart;, I like telling stories, and a good Product Manager is a data storyteller. You are constantly telling stories to stakeholders, engineers, and the Product team, all the time trying to help these teams to understand understand each other and ultimately provide value for your customers and the business. All of that is what I fell in love with and made me realize this is where I belong.
What are some experiences you can share working with notable products and companies?
At my first official Product Manager job about ten years ago at LA Times, I participated in the launch of the first Tribune Publishing Roku and Fire TV apps, as well as LA Times and Chicago Tribune Hulu channels and set-top box. That was very exciting for me. You must understand your users and your consumers and live their experience. I enjoyed interacting with the different options in the controllers and watching people use video. We would record people using the video to watch how they did it, and it was a crazy and fun experience for me.
Another experience that stands out is when I worked for IQVIA, the world’s largest CRO (contract research organization. They have tons of clinical health data, and they were trying to learn how to prioritize it to create better health outcomes for people and better trial outcomes for pharmaceutics. I got to do interesting things in the AI/ML space there, working with the data science team, and I enjoyed that.
Way before I became a Product Manager, and I had my own start-up company with partners, I was making stuff up as I went all the time. Looking back, If I knew then all that I know today, there are a lot of things that I would have done differently. I realized we were applying lots of principles accidentally that were correct. We would iterate all our development processes, and I would adjust them based on feedback from my Creative Director. I was fine with being flexible and changing things to suit the team to do things better and faster. I let them self-organize and define the how, which is what I do as a Product Manager.
If Product Management is done correctly and you are doing agile well, you are flexible. Agile is less planning and more communication.
What is something that a Product Manager can start doing today to be more strategic?
As a Product Manager, you always must deliver, and it is easy to get pulled into tactical or day-to-day tasks while putting out fires. The true value of a Product Manager is not found in the ability to deliver features. Sometimes Product Managers are evaluated incorrectly based on that. If you feel like you are getting stuck in that cycle of putting out fires, the first thing you need to do is to take a step back and start considering the outcomes for all the things that are being done, and challenge leaders and stakeholders to do the same. Start asking them, “Why are we delivering this? Why are we doing that? What is the desired outcome? What are you hoping to achieve?” Sometimes they speak in deliverables and outputs, not in outcomes, and that’s how you get stuck being tactical and not strategic.
What’s more, don’t fall in love with your product. I think it’s wrong when people say your product is your baby. Your product is not your baby. You love your baby no matter what. Your baby makes bad choices, but you still love your baby. If your product makes bad choices, you don’t’ love your product.
You need to see yourself as a consultant who is delivering on business outcomes via a product, and that mind-shift alone will help you become more strategic, because now you will be able to ask yourself, “Is this the right thing to do?” instead of just worrying about delivering something on time.
What can a Product leader start doing now to up-level their team?
Enable and empower them, give them space to grow, trust them, and have fun!
As a leader, one of the best things you can do to up-level your team is provide them with clear outcomes then give them space to find that out. Help them find their roles but allow them to self-organize. You need to enable and empower your team and allow them to be strategic. Don’t create boundaries that are so rigid that they can’t be successful. Try finding the balance to enable your team with support and provide them with the resources they need, while giving them space to do their discovery and learn. And, it’s important to prioritize trust.
Finally, make sure you’re having fun. If you and your teams are not having fun, it’s going to be difficult to create innovative and creative products.
What’s your best advice for a Product Management organization?
Outcomes over outputs.
To be a strong Product Management organization, there needs to be clear paths to users and customers for your team.
Another piece of advice is something we talk about a lot at 280 Group: outcomes over outputs. To be a strong organization, you need to define your business outcomes clearly. When your Product team doesn’t understand the purpose of the business and what they are trying to accomplish, they just be making stuff up. They also need access to data. To summarize, first, set a clear objective, then set a real clear path to get to customers and users, and finally, provide access to data.
One last piece of advice: 280 Group can help you define a framework that fits your organization. One of the biggest mistakes people make is taking a cookie-cutter framework and applying it to the business and team right away. You need to consider and design a framework that fits your organization, your industry, and your people. Don’t wrestle with your framework or force it to fit. Your framework should serve you and your people, increase efficiency, and create a common language so teams can talk to each other simply and be on the same page.
That is why 280 Group’s training courses are helpful. We can help everyone be on the same page, use the same terminology and speak about things in the same way. The next time I am a Product leader, the first thing I will do is make sure objectives are clear and everyone on my team is using the same terminology. That way we will be able to move faster.
Many Product Management teams find themselves burdened by insufficient role and decision-making clarity. That’s where 280 Group can help. 280 Group’s Product Management consulting team has helped hundreds of companies transform their Product Management organizations to achieve the next level of excellence. Let’s start the conversation about yours.