Trailblazing Women in Product Management: Lisa Yokoyama, Head of Product for Amex Digital Labs at American Express.
For our next installment of the Women in Product Management Series I interviewed Lisa Yokoyama, Head of Product for Amex Digital Labs at American Express. To read the entire series on Women in Product Management make sure to sign up for our newsletter.
How did you get into Product Management?
After undergrad, I went into the Peace Corps then worked at an international health NGO in DC. I loved the mission but wanted to try working in the private sector. I went to business school and came across American Express when I was looking for an internship. In my initial conversations and interviews, I found that American Express had a great combination of customer dedication, integrity, and authenticity.
I started in marketing, then moved to program management. Then I moved to a team focused on growing our relevance in online commerce. In that role, I built our first online checkout payment button called Amex Express Checkout. Customers tapped on the button when shopping online, entered their Amex user ID and password, and the site form-filled their payment information. That was back in 2011 when we didn’t have the Product Management terminology, but I loved the intersection of thinking about the customer, the technology, and how the marketplace dynamics fit with business strategy.
Skipping ahead 11 years and many product launches, I recently took the role of Head of Product for Amex Digital Labs. In addition to the digital payments practice, I now manage teams focused on AI and automation for servicing, as well as research and development in emerging tech.
Any lessons learned along the way?
Working in a lab, we’re always learning about new technologies, new customer trends, new ways of interacting with payments, and broadening our skill set and expertise. This is exciting, but we’re also operating in areas where we don’t have much history. One lesson for me is to know when to bring in the right external experts.
Several years ago, we were building an Amex-exclusive payment solution so customers could tap their wearable device against a contactless reader and pay with their American Express card. We got too in the weeds of supply chain logistics. Certain things are appropriate for us to learn, but it was more effective to bring in experts because they had a deeper bench of knowledge to get the work done.
Now, when we’re in a new area, we may look for academic expertise or lean on a startup with focused expertise. It’s a balance of how much to upskill in-house teams versus when to rely on external advisors and partners to make sure you’re doing it right and getting to the market quickly.
What do you like the most about Product Management?
Product Management at American Express is fascinating because finances are so emotional. They are rooted in how you plan for the future and how you balance your wants and needs. I love solving customer pain points around something that is so personal and important.
Having been at American Express for so long, I was able to shape the Product discipline from a capabilities mindset to a Product Management mindset. I’ve been a founding contributor to our product inclusion work, to ensure we are proactive and deliberate about product inclusion at every step of the product development journey.
We’ve established this new practice deliberately to hear from diverse voices and consider the needs of people with different relationships to the product. We’ve infused this product inclusion framework in our testing practices, creating an environment in which people can speak up if they have concerns about a product’s design. This change in approach has led to richer conversations across the Product Development team, and has allowed us to build better products for our customers by purposefully considering individual needs.
What do you find the most challenging?
There is a lot of context–switching. In a meeting-heavy culture, there’s a new topic almost every 30 minutes. As a leader, I need to spend enough time one-on-one with people to develop and coach them. At the same time, I want to be a product practitioner. When there’s a hard problem, I need to protect chunks of time to find a solution, to make connections, or to listen to a podcast that helps drive inspiration. I’ve learned that even when it’s challenging to make time to do this, it’s essential for my success as a Product leader.
What are you looking for when you’re hiring Product Managers for your team?
I’m looking for curiosity, tenacity, and empathy. Curiosity is the nature of our work as we figure out the next thing to offer our customers. Product Managers need to ask questions and have the energy to go after the answers. Tenacity is important because we’re an established company with more than 170 years of brand trust to protect. We’re pushing initiatives forward that might feel uncomfortable to some people initially because they are new and that’s the role we play. That tenacity helps to ensure we do the right thing for our customers and our constituents.
Empathy is at the root of finding opportunities. When the team pitches a concept, I ask, “What problem are you solving?” If they can’t articulate that, they go back to the drawing board to get to the crux of the customer problem. Customer needs are always what we circle back to when we’re refining our ideas, and the incremental additions we make post–launch.
What advice would you give women going into Product Management?
I encourage women to be attuned to things that aren’t working because that can be a superpower. As a mom of a 3-year-old, I realized how women have low expectations for solutions. We’ve accepted that some solutions aren’t going to meet our needs, so we cobble together life hacks and shortcuts – and we compromise. But if we can identify those challenges, it helps us be more attuned to our customer’s problems. Being aware of subpar experiences in our own lives helps us see opportunities for improvements everywhere.
Any guiding motto?
I think about mind, heart, and gut alignment to check with myself on whether a decision feels right. There’s a science to Product Management – performance data, testing feedback, and customer input. But there’s an art to it, as well. That’s where the mind, heart, and gut alignment comes in. To me, if the process we followed to launch a product and the design of that product has that full alignment, then I feel confident I’m launching a great product in the right way for the customer.
View the full list of this blog interview series to learn the stories of more women product leaders.
Download the Trailblazing Women in Product Management E-Book
About the Author
Nicole Tieche is Clients 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.