Trailblazing Women in Product Management: Monika Portman, Associate Vice President of Product Management at Cox Automotive.
For our next installment of the Women in Product Management Series, I interviewed Monika Portman, Associate Vice President of Product Management at Cox Automotive. 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?
Early in my career, I had a mentor tell me I should try Product Management. I was managing a sales team with revenue targets at the time, but my mentor stressed that Product Management was a great way to stay close to clients while getting a fundamental understanding of P&L. I was with BLACK+DECKER, who flew me out to corporate to learn more about the role. It was such an exciting space that I was sold! It was a perfect fit for me, because I love identifying customer pain points and solving problems. The exposure to a cross–functional group—engineers, design, marketing, manufacturing—and learning about different aspects of the business was exciting. I truly liked owning the end-to-end process of understanding user needs, transforming that into a sellable product, then working with the marketing team to take the product to market. That spectrum really hit on a lot of my passions.
Any lessons learned along the way?
I’ve spent 20 years in Product, mostly in manufactured goods, and now in software. I’ve learned that “product” is defined very differently from one company to another, but the foundation is the same. Whether you’re in a B2B space or a B2C space, when working with the end user, always be an advocate for them. Don’t lose sight of their needs and the jobs that they’re trying to get done as you go through the discovery of the problems you’re trying to solve. Don’t assume you have all the answers.
Another lesson learned is that products always need to be improved. If you strive to solve 100% of the problems, you’re never going to get a product on the market. You can’t wait for perfection. Focus on breaking the big problems down to little pieces, then drive incremental value.
What do you like the most about Product Management?
There’s never a dull moment in Product Management; no two days are the same. I like the chaos that it brings, and I love the experimentation that, I believe, should be allowed to refine a concept before taking something to market. But one of my favorite things is watching a customer be delighted by something my team or I developed. There are products that I launched at BLACK+DECKER more than 15 years ago that are still in stores today. It makes me happy to see the evolved version of that original product on the shelf—maybe it’s cordless now, but with some of the same features I implemented!
What do you find the most challenging?
Most people don’t understand what Product Managers do. The role is a bit of a catch–all that requires collaborating with multiple departments and helping convert a strategy to something executable, all while taking a product to market. It’s a complex and challenging balancing act that requires: listening to what the stakeholders are asking for, listening to what the users want, working with engineering to come up with a concept, working with marketing to bring it to market, and working with salespeople who are driving a revenue number, and working with client support when they see a spike in call volume. Prioritization is probably one of the hardest things a Product Manager needs to embrace.
What are you looking for when you’re hiring Product Managers for your team?
I look at my team members as puzzle pieces. No two are the same, and it takes all the pieces to create the picture. I notice the gaps and look for candidates to fill those gaps. When interviewing, I look for four things. First, curiosity makes the best Product Managers. Second, diverse backgrounds. I started in manufactured goods. I brought a lot of value from what I learned into software. Different backgrounds and journeys make good team members. The third thing I look for is the ability to articulate measurable results. It’s easy to talk about what we did as individuals or a team. It’s harder to articulate what that means in terms of business outcomes. The last thing I look for is the ability to have fun!
What advice would you give women going into Product Management?
Women feel like they’ve got to go deep in their skillset. In Product Management, we need all skillsets. Don’t assume you need a business background to be a Product Manager. It’s about being curious and wanting to grow or apply skills you already have. Curiosity is about looking for opportunities and ways to grow. Find a mentor willing to provide actionable feedback. Then leverage resources and tools to help you develop in the areas you’re getting feedback on. The best Product Managers are passionate about the users of their product, so focus on what you’re passionate about.
Any guiding motto?
Never stop learning. Assess your skillsets and seek out opportunities to fill in the missing pieces through learning and shadowing opportunities. Take on non-traditional roles, a new role, or a stretch assignment. Always get feedback, so that you can incorporate it into your career and development plan. Then share it with your manager, who can help you fill in the gaps and serve as an accountability partner. You can’t wait for people to tap you on the shoulder for the next opportunity. Seek out what it’s going to take to get to that next level and own your 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 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.