Trailblazing Women in Product Management: Michelle Lance, Head of Product Management, Western Alliance Bank.
For our next installment of the Women in Product Management Series I interviewed Michelle Lance: Head of Product Management, Western Alliance Bank. 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?
I’ve been in commercial banking for 30 years and, specifically, in treasury management for over 25 years. I started as a branch teller and went into treasury management customer service before college. Next, I went into sales and operations, then sales leadership. I worked closely with my Product Management partners throughout my career. I had an interest in bringing marketplace intelligence from the sales leadership side over to Product Management, to ensure that we put our clients first, and build a product suite that our clients would want to use, rather than just another typical bank offering they can get anywhere. What attracted me to Product Management, and this leadership role was the forward-thinking innovation aspect. I would be able to marry my background in sales leadership with the product development side.
Any lessons learned along the way?
Communication is key. Elevate awareness any time there’s an update. Spread the word early, so that bank partners are aware of upcoming changes or new product offerings. I believe in elevating awareness out of the gate, especially when you’re getting ready for a product launch, but even in the concept and design stage to encourage collaboration. I would rather over communicate. When everybody is aware, you have commonality in your approach and objective.
What do you find most interesting about Product Management?
When I was considering making the change from sales leadership, people would say, “Product is very technical. Do you really want to go from being client-facing and marketplace-driven to being more technical?” I see it quite differently. I see Product Management as a mix of various aspects, such as putting the client first by designing a solution through the lens of the client, and answering the questions about how will they use the solution and why. There is concept development, technical design, and testing, but all of these facets stimulate the brain — and not just from a “technical” perspective. There is no one right answer. Product Management is a multitude of resources that come together to design the right solution for our clients, to test sustainability, to price it competitively, and to introduce it to the marketplace. I don’t see this being strictly technical.
The list of priority initiatives in our product roadmap can change throughout the year depending on marketplace demand. We have to be nimble, and build flexibility into the roadmap, to be able to adjust priorities swiftly to match the needs of our clients and leadership objectives.
What do you find the most challenging?
The product landscape continues to change and evolve rapidly. I need to stay current with the marketplace demands so that we can remain competitive while looking for future-use, innovative solutions. Navigating to keep roadmap initiatives progressing forward, on-time, and within budget, while adding additional initiatives for future-use offerings is what’s challenging. They are all priority initiatives to our clients, and all initiatives need to get done as quickly as possible.
What are you looking for when you’re hiring Product Managers for your team?
I look for self-motivated multitaskers who are not afraid to ask questions. We want thought promotion within the team — team members who ask, “Have you thought about doing it this way?” or, “Have you thought about looking at another solution?” They are joining a nimble, growing product management team with many different priorities. I need people who can help us see things differently and prescribe ways to gain efficiency in our go-to-market strategy.
I always cast a wide net. I don’t just look for someone who has significant Product Management experience. I have brought in team members who are industry experts, even team members who had no banking experience but had depth of knowledge about a certain product mix from a vendor or client perspective. If they understand the dynamics of what I’m trying to achieve and they are a subject matter expert, they can make a great Product Manager. I can teach Product Management methodology. What I’m looking for is that forward-thinking, self-motivated leader. I think more broadly in terms of what Product Management is, and focus on what that individual can bring to the table to better the team and our product offerings.
What advice would you give women going into product management?
I see more women entering Product Management now than in the last five years, which makes me proud. It’s a dynamic time for women to demonstrate their self-worth in Corporate America, particularly in Product Management. Initially, when I came into this role, I saw more women applying for Product Analyst positions than for Product Managers or Product Leadership positions. I have seen that shift very recently. Now we’re seeing more well-qualified women candidates applying for Team Manager, Product Manager, and Senior Product Manager roles. It is very encouraging to see more women applying and deepening their experience in Product Management.
Any guiding principle?
Ask the question. If you don’t ask the question, the answer is always no. Better to ask and have that thought promotion conversation, rather than to suffer in silence and frustration about not having your question answered. Don’t be afraid to ask why. Either there’s a meaningful reason, or you brought up a good point that stimulates thought promotion.
Finally, treat others with respect and kindness, and expect the same in return. This motto has proven successful for me throughout my career.
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 Solutions 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.