Trailblazing Women in Product Management: Jen Cano, VP and Principal Product Manager at Elsevier

For our next installment of the Trailblazing Women in Product Management series, I interviewed Jen Cano, VP and Principal Product Manager at Elsevier. View the full list of this blog interview series to learn the stories of more women product leaders.

How did you get into product management?

I started in Marketing and PR at the beginning of my career. Those fields are all about understanding how people tick, what makes them think, what drives their wants, and how they justify what they want with what they need. It always goes back to the ‘why.’ So, really understanding the ‘why’ was deeply ingrained in me from the beginning of my career. Understanding that ‘why’ is also the thing that matters the most in Product; it was a natural transition.

I was a Vice President of Marketing and I was working on a new eBay market analytics product. In that role, I had taken on evangelizing the product, which meant I spent a lot of time talking with users about the problems they were trying to solve. And that turned into a product management role. From there, I hopped back and forth between Marketing and Product until I settled just squarely on Product.

Any missteps along the way?

So many. But, that’s not a bad thing. The thing that makes a Product Manager valuable is not a perfect career. It’s the learning that comes from failure (either your own or someone else’s). And that’s what makes us more capable of anticipating risks and of understanding what lies at the end of the road the next time.

One mistake I made early in my career (before Agile) was to define a monstrous thing to build and then working to build the whole thing. As a result, I learned important lessons about scope creep and about failing big. From that, I learned about the value of testing early and often. And of failing fast. Since then, I’ve searched out methods for taking an iterative approach to product creation.

What do you love most about product management?

I really love a challenge. In my heart of hearts, I really love it when someone says, ‘that can’t be done.’ The thing about the art of Product is there are many ways to get something done. And if you don’t succeed at one, then you have to go another route. Much of Product is one giant exercise in problem-solving.

What do you like least about product management?

That it’s a love-hate relationship with solving problems. Like everyone else, I’m not thrilled when all the problems happen at one time. You do have to learn to be calm and comfortable with being uncomfortable. Especially when those problems start really raining down in quick succession. You need to learn how to quickly, just take a breath. Remember, that you’re a human being. Take this one thing at a time and remember what the strategic goals are that you’re going after.

When you’re hiring, what skills are you looking for?

I’m looking for someone who can communicate well and crisply. Someone who can think creatively about how to problem-solve and knows how to translate a strategic vision into something they can execute. Someone who can lead by influence. Someone who knows the difference between delivering a feature and solving a user pain point.

What advice do you have for women who are considering getting into product management?

I’ll answer that in a roundabout way. I have a friend who was in Marketing, like I was, and said she was thinking about switching over to Product. My question to her was, ‘why’?

I think the most obvious answer for a lot of people is because they get to make the decisions or they get to have a higher salary. If those are the drivers, don’t do it.

If the driver is that you really love to think strategically, you really love to solve problems for people, and if you have a gift for being diplomatic in how you lead with influence, then those are the skills you should be sharpening for a Product role.

Do you have a personal motto or phrase that you use in life and at work?

It’s not important how hard you work. What really is important are the outcomes you reach. A year from now, your boss is not going to remember all the overtime you worked. A company will never thank you long term for years of overtime. They will thank you for the outcomes you produced. Those are the things that will be memorable. Those are the things that will make your career. So, if you’re working hard, stop and think, what are you working hard for? There’s nothing wrong with working hard. I work hard. But my focus is never on how many hours I’m working. It’s on whether I am achieving the outcome that I’m looking for.

If you’d like to hear my tips on how to create winning product teams, watch the on-demand webinar: 10 Keys to Unlocking a Winning Product Team.

Download the Trailblazing Women in Product Management E-Book

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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

Mira Wooten
Director of Solutions

Mira (she introduces herself as half of a Mira-cle) is your 280 Group concierge. She helps clients navigate our training and consulting solutions, and also oversees our contingent-search recruiting practice. As a certified life and systems coach, Mira is great at listening – not just to our customers, but to our entire 280 Group team. She has a wicked sense of humor and a song for every occasion. Click on our chat button to say “Hi” to her!

280 Group is the world’s leading Product Management training and consulting firm. We help companies and individuals do GREAT Product Management and Product Marketing using our Optimal Product Process™.

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