Trailblazing Women in Product Management: Quisha Light, Manager, Product Development and Lifecycle Management at Portland General Electric
For our next installment of the Trailblazing Women in Product Management series, I interviewed Quisha Light, Manager, Product Development and Lifecycle Management at Portland General Electric (PGE). 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 hadn’t thought about product management before joining PGE, and in fact, to be honest, not until four years ago when my manager asked me to lead a strategic project for the company. Specifically, they asked me to lead a project to design clean, renewable solutions for our large, nonresidential customers. I immersed myself in every product management article, book, watched online videos, webinars, and whatever I could find so I could lead this effort. I put together a cross-functional team that spent a lot of time together learning about product management, product development, market research, and marketing. We spent a lot of time with our customers, learning what they needed and why.
Ultimately, we were able to create a very successful product for our customers, and when we launched, it sold out within two minutes because of all the great work that we had done with those customers. That had never happened before with any of our programs. As a result, I was offered the opportunity to lead the product development team.
Any missteps along the way?
When I initially started the project, we conducted customer surveys to help inform the product. We designed a concept based on what we gleaned from that research. The concept did not land well with our customers and it was clear that we were not asking the right questions—or so I thought. After interviewing customers, I learned that the answers they provided were correct, but we just didn’t understand the ‘why’ behind the answers. We had designed what they said they wanted, but it didn’t address their true problem. Through one-on-one interviews, we could go deeper with customers and ask ‘why, why, why,’ until we understood their problem and the ‘what’ they needed from us.
What do you love most about product management?
Frequent interactions with customers really is the key for me. Again, prior to that project, PGE did not do a lot of iterative, product development where the customer discovery process is happening in a very Agile, rapid fashion. We engaged in Agile customer discovery on that project, and it was fascinating how rewarding that design and validate cycle process was for us, but more importantly for our customers. They loved the interaction with us and felt heard. We learned things about their pain points that customer research just wasn’t capturing in a survey question.
We needed to see the reaction on their face and to be able to ask ‘why, why, why, why’ over and over again. It is so critical. I just love that, and I like to see and hear how a proposed solution really landed with the customer. I want to hear them say ‘yes, that’s it’ or ‘yes, you nailed it.’
What do you like least about product management?
Well, in a utility company we still have a lot of silos, which means it can be challenging to get the necessary buy-in from groups that don’t deal with customers about issues that impact the customer experience. My team has to negotiate and advocate internally with the finance team, the legal department, the tax groups, regulatory compliance, and operational teams. Many of these teams are not dealing with customers, so you’re constantly getting a ‘no, no, no, no, no.’ This is contrary to product management, which is about possibility, creativity, and innovation. We explore many ways of solving a problem. But internally, we hear ‘no’ a lot. It can be challenging to create solutions that meet our company’s various needs while trying to move things forward for customers—but that’s the job.
When you’re hiring, what skills are you looking for?
In the past, I wasn’t looking for product development or product management experience, but now I’m starting to look for people who have some of that experience. We’re looking for people that have any type of customer experience, because traditionally, utilities haven’t had to be very customer-centric. But today’s utilities must understand our customer’s and their clean energy needs. I’m also looking for people with general business knowledge and understanding so that they can engage with their counterparts in finance, legal, and etc. Utility experience isn’t critical, but it certainly helps.
What advice do you have for women who are considering getting into product management?
Know your craft and have the ability to speak at all levels of understanding about product management. Know and understand your corporate goals, the strategy to accomplish those goals, and how your work drives results in support of the goals and strategy.
Particularly women of color, lean in. Sit at the table. There’s just no other way. I’ve had people say to me in the past, ‘make sure you sit at the table.’ I can’t believe how much we’re still having to say this to women. Advocate for yourself. Advocate for your work.
Don’t just sit back and let someone take credit over and over again for what you’ve done. When I get the opportunity, I present my own work. I don’t allow other people to present my work, because I need people to hear from me. They need to know that I understand the topic. Leaders may ask you to just email a report, but don’t be afraid to respond that it might be better for you to present the information, because there are nuances and no email is going to capture that information. There are times when yes, I understand it’s an executive meeting and they need to just be able to go in with data. But every time I get the opportunity, I present my own work.
Do you have a personal motto or phrase that you use in life and at work?
There are two things I hold to. The first: whom much is given, much is expected. Often, people want ‘the more,’ but they don’t want the work that comes with ‘the more.’ So, ask yourself, do you really want ‘the more’—whatever it is—because there’s a lot that comes with getting more.
The second: know when to share, shift, or shoulder. Some things are meant for you to share with other people that can help you out. Some things are not even yours and you need to shift them where they belong. And then, other things you just have to shoulder and get the job done.
Download the Trailblazing Women in Product Management E-Book
View the full list of this blog interview series to learn the stories of more women product leaders.
About the Author
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!