Women in Product Management: Louise K. Allen, SVP Product Management and Solutions Marketing at Planview

For our next installment of the Women in Product Management Series I interviewed Louise Allen, SVP Product Management and Solutions Marketing at Planview.

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How did you get into Product Management?

I went to school at Trinity University in San Antonio to play tennis and played professionally for 11 years after I graduated from college. I had to make a make a living after that and went back to get my MBA just to try to figure out what the heck I wanted to do. It was a great two years at The University of Texas. My undergrad was in Business and I majored in Marketing. Austin has a ton of startups and after I graduated from MBA school, I got at a position at a startup in Marketing.

I was working with three or four Product Managers in the company and I noticed that they were really smart and what they were doing was really interesting. I started gravitating toward Product Management then. I started as a junior Product Manager and then just worked my way up. I ran marketing a couple of times and had Product Management in my purview, but I found that my passion was definitely around building world-class products and working with customers and the market.

Did your MBA prepare you for that role?

The business background did. I’ve been pushing the Texas Business School to have a Product Management track, which they don’t have today. It is kind of shocking in Austin. They have a couple of Product Management classes, but my pitch to them was that it should be a discipline.

Any missteps or lessons learned along the way?

We have found out over time that not everybody thinks about Product Management like we do at Planview. We just can’t hire Product Managers or product owners off the street, even if they come recommended. We have struggled over the years to hire the right people for those roles. We ended up taking the best and brightest who are early in their careers from other departments in the company and training them on Product Management. They are known quantities and we move them over after they have some domain and good business experience.

When you are hiring, what are you looking for?

You can spot product people by the way they talk and the way they think. I look for people with good instincts that make good decisions and can handle themselves under pressure. That’s why the known quantity thing is so great for us. We have seen them in action. I have done this so much that I can tell right away if people have good instincts by how they have dealt with situations. Instincts are definitely important and their passion about what they’re doing. If you can’t be passionate in an interview, you’re not going to be passionate about the role. Product Management is not an easy job to do and it can be very stressful at times. You have to really love it to be able to do it well. I always hire people that are smarter than I am. That’s a rule of mine. Hire really smart people, and always be looking for your replacement.

What do you like most about Product Management?

Every day is a challenge. You don’t ever live the same day twice in a row. Every day you come to work is different and that’s interesting for me. We’ve come up with what we call a Product Management Manifesto because we’ve acquired four companies and they all did Product Management differently. We ended up putting the Product Management manifesto together that explains how we think about Product Management at Planview. We look for people who definitely agree with the manifesto because it’s not for the weak of heart.

I believe that if you live by that manifesto, the days are so different and challenging. That’s what I think is so interesting about Product Management. I feel like I’m always learning and shaking the box and looking at how can we do things better. That to me is really interesting.

I run Product Management and solutions marketing for the company across our product lines. We feel very strongly that Product Managers have to be able to do both. They don’t get to choose to be just development facing or just talk to customers. They have to be able to think about how to sell their product, how to message and position their product, as well as help drive what we work on and what’s our backlog. Product Managers have to get in front of our user community and be able to pitch it and sell it with the best of them. Even though we have great product marketing people, that is almost a 100% prerequisite to do well here in in a Product Management role.

What is the most challenging part of Product Management?

We’re constantly looking at making sure we have the right mix of innovation, customer-driven enhancements, and behind the scenes infrastructure across all our product lines at the same time. That’s an art, not a science.

Depending on your competitive environment, that’s a huge challenge that we see in our business. The percentages are always going to change. Having done multiple acquisitions, I can say that those are challenging as well. We own enablement for our sales team and figuring out how we enable our sales team to sell the products that we’re acquiring is challenging. We have to get them to think broader about our value proposition. Change is very hard for people. I feel like 80% of my time is spent as a Chief Enablement Officer.

Any advice for women going into the Product Management field?

We’re about 50-50 men and women Product Managers, which is great. Planview has a new female CIO and the we recently started a Women@Planview group to try to support and mentor the women in our company. I always tell women coming into a Product Manager role, “don’t change yourself.” Women shouldn’t feel like they have to change their style just because there may be mostly men in development. Keep whatever style has made them successful so far, because there are many ways to be an exceptional Product Manager.

The other thing I always say is be prepared, especially when you’re running a meeting or there’s a meeting to discuss a topic. Be prepared and come with knowledge, not just your opinions. Come with data or customers to back it up because people always will listen to data.
I learned very early on in my Product Management career that it’s not your opinion that they’re going to listen to, but if I say that I talked to these five customers and this is the way they think, that’s how I got respect from development.

The greatest piece of advice I ever got from a peer was to go to meetings early, especially the important meetings. Sit near the person that is running the meeting, whether it is a C-level person or CEO. Make sure that you’re in their purview and make sure that you give your opinion. Be prepared and give your opinion, because you will be seen in those meetings and you will start to get respect. It’s a simple piece of advice, but it is amazing how successful that is. Get there 5 minutes early and be prepared. You get listened to that way.

Any motto or guiding principle?

My thing is, “words matter.” We agonize over words and how we how we say things, but those words do matter. The precision of your language matters with how you present the product or how you speak.

The other thing I mentioned earlier was to bring passion to everything you do. Be the heartbeat of the organization and the passion, and you can lead the way with your passion. Passion is innate in a good Product Manager.

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