Trailblazing Women in Product Management: Heather Weeks, Vice President of Product Management at Marathon Health
For our next installment of the Women in Product Management Series I interviewed Heather Weeks, Vice President of Product Management at Marathon Health.
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How did you get into Product Management?
It definitely has not been a straight line. I spent a decade in management consulting at Booz Allen which gave me many skills that translated into my current role–strategic thinking, analysis, a consultative approach to problem solving. The most important skill acquired during that time was using data effectively to inform decision making.
Then I spent three years at a brand marketing agency, which taught me to think deeply about the user experience which is so critical in product management. Next, I moved into sales enablement at Marathon Health which morphed into a role leading strategy and innovation, which led into my role as VP of Product Management.
Each role prepared me for the next, but never entirely. I’ve never had a role that I started feeling like I have a total handle on what I’m doing. But I have been willing to move outside my comfort zone.
Product management appeals to me because it incorporates many elements of my previous experiences into something more tangible: actual products.
Any lessons learned along the way?
Failures have really helped me. I had a terrible manager, which has hopefully helped me to not be one. I had a failed solution, which helped me to think more strategically about the next one.
Messy product launches helped me think more thoroughly moving forward. I had a really tough client situation with relentless demands, and the solutions I had to offer were insufficient. This gave me empathy for the demands placed on our client-facing teams who always want more from the product team, and never feel like the team is moving fast enough to deliver what they need. It’s a quest for balance, between the near-term needs and the long-term product strategy.
Also, product management is not just about software development. When we define the core products and features at Marathon Health, we’re really thinking about the healthcare services and solutions that meet our members’ needs, whether that’s primary care and chronic care management, or behavioral health services, or engagement of members. It’s the successful delivery of these products that matters, which involves every functional area within our business. Product is at the hub of successful delivery to our clients.
What do you like the most about Product Management?
It’s never static. There is opportunity for continual improvement in terms of the process–how are we approaching product lifecycle management, or how we’re putting together a product roadmap, or product backlog refinement, or how we’re identifying and setting the right KPIs, or how we’re ensuring stakeholder alignment, which is always a big one.
Moreover, there is opportunity for continual improvement of the products themselves–how are we improving and thinking iteratively about the product and where it’s going from here. I love that it’s iterative and that we’re constantly learning and adjusting. I also love that it takes a relentless focus on the user experience – in our case, the patient experience.
What do you find the most challenging?
First, it is hard to say no. Lately I’ve had to say no fairly frequently to stakeholder requests that aren’t aligned with the product strategy, based on our focus on larger strategic product goals that are aligned with our overall business strategy. That means urgent requests are backlogged. You have to stay focused and have a successful way of saying no, not now, maybe later.
Second, organizationally we’re still growing in our understanding of product management. I want to have a failure-tolerant environment where experiencing setbacks and mistakes is seen as a necessary part of learning new skills, as well as bringing products and features to life.
Fast failure is good. But keep going, it’s not the end. The setback is a good thing sometimes.
What are you looking for when you’re hiring Product Managers for your team?
You don’t have to be deeply technical, but I am looking for individuals who have product management skills, who demonstrate curiosity, and have strategic ideas.
If I’m interviewing someone who has no knowledge of our business and hasn’t formed any perspectives about our market or customers, that indicates that they’re waiting to be told. I want someone who will figure things out. I’m looking for someone who has confidence to be contrarian, bold against other opinions, but in a problem-solving way. I want someone with a growth mindset, who is willing to learn, and who’s thinking, how can I make this work?
As much as we love product roadmaps, there’s not really a great roadmap for most roles, especially leadership roles where you need to be inventive and creative in order to find the right solution.
What advice would you give women going into Product Management?
Women often want to feel 110% ready for a role before we take it on. But don’t wait. There will always be situations where you’re not ready.
You can’t be afraid to be the only female in the room, embrace the opportunity to bring balance. Everyone has a voice. Be confident, but not arrogant.
Back when I was in consulting, I was often the youngest and only female participant in meetings. I felt very insecure. My mentor reminded me that I had a reason to be in that room. It was a relief to the other participants to have me in there as my voice and perspectives were bringing balance. So, go in and speak up!
Any guiding motto?
My favorite quote is up on my office wall, and it says, “Right or wrong, make a decision. The road of life is paved with flat squirrels who failed to make a decision.”
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View the full list of this blog interview series to learn the stories of more women product leaders.
About the Author
Nicole Tieche – Client Relations Specialist at 280 Group
Nicole was born and raised in Michigan; she received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Michigan in French and Creative Writing. After Nicole spent time studying and traveling through Europe, she moved out to California and discovered advertising was a great way to use her creative skills. Not as a writer, but as an Account Executive. Nicole is most creative in how she works with people: building relationships with clients and teammates, learning about them, and supporting them – even in ways they didn’t know they needed.
280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We empower Product Professionals with the knowledge and tools to create products that matter.