Women in Product Management: Jeannie Griffin, VP of Product and Technology Solutions at BCD Meetings and Events

Women in Product Management Jeannie Griffin

For our next installment of the Women in Product Management Series I interviewed Jeannie Griffin, Vice President of Products and Technology Solutions at BCD Meetings and Events.

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How did you get into product management?

I love telling this story.  About 20 years ago I got involved in a software company doing account management, and transitioned into implementation, which allowed me to interact with the development team a bit more.  What I soon learned was my questioning of why we did things a certain way, and in turn the ability to tell clients the story behind the product decisions was a skill not many people had; the best part was I was so passionate about making things better for everyone in the equation, that I naturally moved to product management and haven’t questioned that decision since. The funny thing is I was never formally trained in product, but kept gravitating to it by asking questions of development teams and always poking holes.

So any missteps along the way?

[Laughs] Oh, yeah – absolutely! My philosophy is everyone needs to make mistakes or they don’t learn. The hardest lesson for me was learning to let go of knowing every technical detail, configuration option and day to day management for my products. Trying to be the go-to for all questions, focusing on the bigger picture and how to drive the business, in addition to my own desires for career advancement kept me stuck for a few years. I felt like I had to know it all, do it all, and then kept trying to add more.  You have to let go to move forward, and trust the team you have been grooming.  The terrific part is they want that too! But it was hard for me to see – we all have insecurities and I had a feeling for a long time that I had to prove something more as I never graduated college.  That weighed on me as something to constantly prove – that I could do it!

What do you like the most about product management?

I really like being an influencer. I think that was one of the things that drew me to the role. Being able to influence the conversation with all of the different stakeholders within an organization and really understanding what they mean and being able to put together a picture.

You have to have a heightened sense of emotional intelligence in this position and that is something that I gleaned early on. Being able to really leverage that, and get to the heart of the matter, is quite fulfilling to me. The other piece is that I’m always able to just stick to the facts and cut out a lot of emotion at the end of the day. Being that kind of rock for everybody else to come to and a touchstone is not something everyone can do. That’s difficult for people and you deal with a lot of emotional personalities in this position.

What do you find most challenging about product management?

You are responsible for everything, but a lot of times don’t directly own anything! Dotted line reporting structures, shared teams…it goes on and on. At the end of the day you have to be able to influence, which can be difficult depending on the culture and hierarchy. Reality is that is part of the fun too….you have to always be aware and engaged to understand the timing of engagement and influence.

When you’re interviewing people, what are you looking for?

Natural curiosity – that is the biggest trait that I have found works in product folks. If there is not the innate desire to learn and fix it becomes difficult to take them to the next level.  You can teach anyone about the tech stacks, sprint management and user experience, but if the drive isn’t there it usually doesn’t all come together, or you end up with a solid B level product owner, which is okay too – not everyone can be a rockstar and teams need different levels of players. 

What advice do you have for women wanting to get into product management?

Ask for what you want.  Early on I was timid, as I was usually the only woman involved on the product or tech teams. I didn’t put my ask on the table, but became bitter when what I wanted wasn’t happening.  I had a great friend/mentor who was a former manager, that said ‘figure out what you want and ask for it, but more importantly – stick to the facts and take emotion out of it’. Sometimes it can be that easy.

Any guiding principle or motto that you use in your life or work?

I have two; first is correct and redirect. I actually read this in a running magazine about pronation when I was training for a half marathon, but realized this is a guiding life principle.  Often times we get stuck and can’t move forward with decisions, and I’m a bigger fan of moving forward and figuring it out. You will figure out the wrong answers soon enough and redirect as needed.  My second principle is that there should always be laughter. Laughter breaks down walls and allows us to connect. 

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