Trailblazing Women in Product Management: Mina Ghaani, Director of Product Management & Web3 Product Leader at PwC
For our next installment of our Women in Product Management Series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mina Ghaani, Director of Product Management and Web3 Product Leader at PwC.
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What she loves about product management:
“I am passionate about working cross functionally and hearing different insights and inputs from stakeholders who have varying interests and corresponding priorities.:
What she finds to be the most challenging part of Product Management:
“For me, it’s figuring out the optimal “time-to-market” and gaining first mover advantage.”
What she looks for in building a product management team:
“I always look for people who come from different backgrounds than I do. I think that diversity is the key to creating an optimal team.”
Advice for Women considering Product Management as a career:
“…Women and allies continue to pave the way for the next generation of women leaders. If you had or have that mentor or champion, pay it forward. Do the same for the next generation of up-and-coming women in Product Management.”
Nicole: Mina, thank you so much for your time and for sharing about your journey with us.
Mina: My pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity to speak about my experience. I think it’s awesome that the 280 Group is doing this.
Nicole: I will kick it off with my favorite question because it is never the same answer twice, what led you to Product Management?
Like many Product Managers, I ended up in the field almost serendipitously. I started working for a consumer electronics’ startup in Brooklyn, New York. It was a very lean company. I was originally hired as an Industrial Designer, which is my undergrad. They hired me to be their Lead Product Designer for all their hair tools, such as blow dryers, hair straighteners, hair curlers, brushes, as well as designing their packaging and even some custom trade show furniture. I was fortunate in having the opportunity to design everything they were producing.
As with many startups, I was wearing multiple hats. I would conceptualize and render my designs and apply many different iterations via user-testing, performing observational inquiries on movie sets, photo shoots, and hair salons, so I could understand the users, iterate, and improve my designs according to their needs. When it was refined enough and the trends in feedback indicated shared consensus amongst users, I would build out the corresponding tech packs to send to our manufacturers. But it didn’t end there. I was heavily involved in working with our engineers and the manufacturing business owners to source and specify raw materials, to assess costs, as well as the breakdown of materials, define each product’s financial model according to our costs, and establish our resourcing based on timelines to ship. I was positioned and integrated across the end-to-end product life cycle and seeing the products through to public availability.
That is not what I would include in the “designer” category at all!
Exactly. As an entry-level Designer, I hadn’t anticipated being so closely involved in end-to-end, mass manufacturing processes, shaping launch strategies, planning shipments, knowing the granularities of electrical certification requirements across continents, applying financial considerations, figuring out landed costs, and overseeing key parts of production and development and design. Suddenly, in inheriting these responsibilities my “world” and perspective broadened well beyond functional and aesthetic design, and that evolved my career into Product Management.
That’s the beauty of a startup. You wouldn’t get that experience at a large company.
It really is. It launched me into the field of Product Management, and I’ve never looked back. I couldn’t be more grateful for that experience.
That’s exciting. I saw on your LinkedIn profile that you have a design and arts background. How great that you got to use that to launch into Product Management. Now what are some lessons that you’ve learned along the way? I’m sure that you have one or two nuggets of wisdom to pass on.
I’ve learned many lessons along the way thanks to the diversity of my experiences, but there are a few I hold close to my heart and in practice. In my earlier years, I assumed I needed to be an expert in the domain or industry I’d be serving as a Product Manager, but that assumption evolved over the years. I believe domain knowledge is crucial so you can effectively empathize with your target users to define meaningful product features. Additionally, in an effort to acquire information, insights and collective alignment, a certain level of fluency in the domain is powerful in fostering trust amongst your business and technical stakeholders. Nonetheless, the lesson for me was, that I don’t need to be a domain expert to strategize and build impactful products. In fact, I strongly believe that not being an expert goes a really long way in terms of how imaginative and creative you can be in conceptualizing a product’s potential. Working within a specific domain for an extended period of time, affords professionals with a wealth of knowledge and insight, but, in the context of product, can sometimes translate into perceived “limitations”. When a domain expert is accustomed to seeing things done a certain way, often it makes it difficult to imagine possibilities beyond those familiar and traditional approaches. On the other hand, coming from a different background, with a different level of domain knowledge, you don’t necessarily have those contextual limitations. This way, you can leverage some of your knowledge gaps specific to that industry and repurpose them in a manner that enables you to think more imaginatively and outside the box.
That makes sense. I imagine that impacts how you hire too as you keep that lesson in mind when you think about the diversity you bring onto your team. And that does seem to be the debate: does a product manager need to know everything about that industry or domain?
So, what is it that you like the most about Product Management?
I am passionate about working cross functionally and hearing different insights and inputs from stakeholders who have varying interests and corresponding priorities. Whether you’re speaking with primary users, buyers, business stakeholders, engineers, or designers, they all offer a compelling viewpoint. The beauty of Product Management is that you are uniquely positioned at the center as the “receiver” of various inputs and experiences. You’re then empowered to distill and translate those inputs into a value-driven vision and mission that develops into a product.
What I find most enchanting as part of this process, is the behavioral aspect in translating those received perspectives. For example, when sourcing user feedback via interviews to define a feature, you’ll have scenarios where your primary users may be so particular about needing a very specific feature and they’ll describe what it should look like, how it should work, everything down to step-by-step details. Simultaneously in conducting observational inquiry, you may identify behaviors that slightly contradict what’s being specified by the primary user, are more in-line with another core need, and align closely with other user-interview findings and trends. All this to say, there’s a real art to how, as Product Managers, we receive feedback, source primary and secondary data, observe user behaviors, and identify patterns beyond what’s being said at the surface-level.
I have a natural curiosity and fascination with observing human tendencies to draw insights into common gaps and needs. Being a Product Manager taps into this area of interest and enables me to translate and apply that information into a functional solution that impacts and transforms people’s everyday lives.
Yes, and I’m sure you really draw on your creative and artistic background on that. I love that.
So, there are lessons you’ve learned, there’s what you love, now tell me, what do you find the most challenging about Product Management?
I like to reframe the term “challenging” and call it “compelling” because I think that makes it more fun. For me, it’s figuring out the optimal “time-to-market” and gaining first mover advantage. I think that’s one of the most compelling parts of Product Management because there are so many different factors that are out of our control. We can spend so much time planning for contingencies and anticipating certain outcomes, but only to a certain extent. Acknowledging that, and using whatever experience you have, your defined time-to-market strategy, and the overarching plan you’ve put into place, you also come to develop an appreciation for the factors you can’t control. Over the years, I’ve learned how much these factors that are out of our control equally help drive your ability to make effective trade-off decisions and, ultimately, expedite your time-to-market.
With that said, making the right trade-off decisions in favor of time-to-market plans is a dynamic skill-set that continues to improve over time with experience. What’s really compelling is that there’s never a perfect formula. Determining time-to-market, in my experience, boils down to establishing the right balance of tradeoffs, while still meeting the most crucial user and market needs in a timely manner so you can achieve that first mover’s advantage, without compromising what’s in the best interest of your end users.
Right, it’s a balancing act, absolutely. Our readers are from different companies and different industries, but they’re all concerned about time to market, and that balance or tradeoff. Circling back to your teams and to onboarding new Product Managers, when you are hiring, and I know we talked about that domain experience, but what else is it that you are really looking for?
Truly, for me, it boils down to diverse backgrounds. I always look for people who come from different backgrounds than I do. I think that diversity is the key to creating an optimal team. It’s an effective way of accomplishing a comprehensive approach to everything you do collectively. You’ll be in a room with individuals that look at things differently than you do, that perceive information and process it differently than you do because they have different lived experiences both personally and professionally. This way, as a team, we can catch blind spots or highlight aspects or variables we may not be considering and I think that’s integral for every team, department, or organization, especially in the context of Product Management, where we are our customer’s biggest advocates. We need to consider every possible aspect and use data to make the right decisions to create impactful and engaging products. In my teams, I’m always looking for ways to surround myself with a group of people that are different from me, that I can learn from and broaden not only the way I think, but also the way others on the team think and solve problems. I’m a firm believer that diverse teams foster the most comprehensive approaches towards driving meaningful impact through products.
That’s fantastic. I fully appreciate that, and I’m hearing that more and more. I didn’t use to hear that as much in the past. Now I am hearing that real strength and power is found in the diversity of your product team. I know we’re specifically talking about women, so we might be thinking of diversity in gender, but it’s really diversity in experiences and all kinds of backgrounds.
As this series is designed to attract more women to Product Management, do you have some advice specifically for women who might be considering Product Management as a career?
As of September, we had 35% of nearly 50,000 product managers in the U.S. that are women. I know it’s an improvement from when I first started in the field, but it’s still not enough. Firstly, for women pursuing this career, it’s important to recognize that there will likely be times when you’re one of a few, or the only woman in a meeting, team, or department. Those circumstances will be frustrating and may make it perceivably difficult to speak up. I suggest repurposing that frustration into a personal differentiator – you are one of few, or the only woman there, you offer a fresh perspective. It’s integral for us to remind ourselves, in moments like this, that we are there for a reason. We were hired for our skillset, experience, and proven capabilities. It would be a disservice not to share your talents and your strengths that you were hired for. Try to look beyond the feeling of being the “odd one out” and channel that as your power, share your opinion openly and remember that you’re there for a reason.
Right. If you are the only woman in the room, you are now 100% of the women in that room. How much more important is it that we hear your voice?
Exactly, and to add another point, women and allies continue to pave the way for the next generation of women leaders. If you had or have that mentor or champion, pay it forward. Do the same for the next generation of up-and-coming women in Product Management. If you didn’t have that mentor, please consider reflecting on what role a mentor, champion or ally would have played in situations where you were a minority? How would she have supported you? What did you need most when you were feeling like the “odd one out”? Please remind yourself of the challenges and consider how you can show up for the next generation of women leaders so that they don’t feel the same way in these moments and, instead, they feel supported. Be the mentor you wish you had.
That’s really strong. I love that. And I like that our next question is regarding a motto or guiding principle. “Pay it forward” could possibly be that for you. Is there something else you would like to share on that?
You’re spot on. But my overarching motto has always been, “Think big and plan backwards.” This can span across anything and everything you approach in life. However, in this context, it goes back to what I was talking about earlier about not having limitations when you’re not an expert in a certain domain. Just think big. Think outside the box. Imagine a utopia in terms of what your product can do for your user groups, and then work backwards. There will always be skeptics, but don’t let that dim your imagination! You’ll ultimately identify inevitable tradeoffs you’ll make, but with big, out-of-the-box thinking, you’re going to really expand on the art of the possible, or what you could actually bring to life, be it via software or hardware. Just allow yourself to imagine and conceptualize it, and then start being tactical about it afterwards.
That should be a plaque in your office, or perhaps a screen saver. Is there anything else you would like to share?
I love the questions that you asked, and I’m passionate about doing anything I can to make sure that there are more women in the field and that they are not leaving the field. It’s very tough. A lot of us who stay start to see the numbers dropping around us, especially as you hit more senior levels. However, I think it’s imperative to build a network of peers, colleagues, and other women, who have shared experiences and are your allies. Find that network and try to take actions collectively to foster change. I do believe we’re seeing change and it’s going to only get better from here, but our resilience and collective support for each other will expedite this for future generations.
Thank you, Mina, for sharing your stories. I loved hearing them, and I’m excited we get to amplify them with our Trailblazing Women in Product Management series.
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.