Women in Product Management: Megan Schmidt, VP Product Management at CompuGroup Medical
For our next installment of the Women in Product Management Series I interviewed Megan Schmidt, VP Product Management at CompuGroup Medical
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I started out working in more of the technical side. I was working in laboratories and the biology field and ended up moving from research into industry. At one point, I was working for technical support with clients supporting their applications and had a manager at the time pick up from me that I was interested in continuous improvement of the products. When you are in tech support, you’re always hearing what’s going on in the industry. You are in front of your clients all the time, and you’re always wondering why can’t we make this better? Why can’t we change this feature? Product Management was an opportunity for me to have more impact on the products and still interact with customers and clients, which I like. So, I had the opportunity to move into the business side through that mentoring opportunity.
I was curious what Megan had to learn to step into that role.
Initially, I had to learn a bit of finance and skills for presenting to stakeholders and executives. That was a big transition for me. I had to learn Product Management methodology. My first three years as a Product Manager, I didn’t have any formal Product Management training. It was all very much on the job mentorship. I was asked to take on the Product Management role and then had to learn my way around it. I was lucky to have good mentorship. Eventually, I was able to take some Product Management training that provided me, and the people on my team, a common vocabulary that we shared. Training also helped other parts of the organization in understanding of what Product Management really does. Sometimes I feel like we’re in the movie “The Office” when the consultants say, “What exactly would you say you do here?” I know that is how I felt when I was in tech support, wondering what the heck Product Managers do. I quickly learned just how much they really do.
When I asked what Megan found most interesting about Product Management, innovation came first to mind.
In a company with a good culture there is a wide-open opportunity to innovate. With Product Management you really have ‘the world is your oyster’ sort of feeling. If you can identify an opportunity in the market and understand your customers, you can create a business case and bring it forward and potentially do something completely new. That is exciting. Obviously, you are working within the constraints of your company’s mission and vision but, as long as you’re on strategy with where you’re headed, you can really develop and be creative. I also like interacting with c clients. Getting out there talking, visiting client sites, and developing relationships with key clients that can develop into partnership.
Often, what is the most interesting part of the job also becomes the most challenging.
The biggest challenge with Product Management is that there is no end to good ideas. Sometimes finding the right thing to say ‘no’ to is a challenge. In my situation right now, we have many clients. We are a leader in terms of installed sites. There is certainly a lot of input for ideas and enhancements to the product from clients, our sales channels, and from other for marketing information. Probably the most challenging is being able to say no to really good ideas so that we can focus on the ones that are going to have the biggest impact.
I was curious how they did that now. How did they decide which products and features to take to market?
We try to take a market-based approach to what we’re doing in the product and balance that with general enhancements that would benefit the client base. In terms of process, we don’t want to just take all of our client input and prioritize that to work on. We make sure that we are also thinking about things that may not have occurred to the client during their day-to-day use. We spend time visiting client sites to observe potential impacts to workflow. We spend time understanding where our industry is going. We watch things like molecular and genetic testing and other things that are developing in the industry. We do that through conferences and staying current on reading journal articles.
When I asked Megan if there had been any missteps or lessons learn along the way, she laughed.
Daily! Pricing is always difficult. You can do research for what you think the market can bear. You can understand what your competitors are charging. You can test, but sometimes it’s a leap of faith when you finally release something to the market. Even if you believe you’ve got all your features right, pricing can be something that’s really tough. In terms of missteps, I remember having released a product and immediately getting feedback from the market that pricing was not right and having to quickly redo it. You have to be willing to fail and react quickly. If you hear the feedback, and you address the feedback quickly, you can do that before there is major impact.
Agile methodology has also been incredibly beneficial to our industry because of the freedom to hear your customers and adjust. The previous waterfall methodology made you build everything in a long view. You couldn’t adjust easily or quickly. It’s not always easy to quickly pull back and change if you’re developing something for years.
I was curious what qualities Megan looks for when she’s interviewing new folks for her team.
I like to find people who are good listeners. Our job as Product Managers is not to sell.. Initially, it is to observe and to find opportunities to innovate. We have to make many decisions, so I am also looking for people who can make a decision and then explain how they came to that decision. I also look for the candidate to say, “I don’t know.” It’s important to be able to admit it than to feel like they have to have the answer and make it up.
When I asked for advice for women going into Product Management, Megan’s answer was all about passion.
My advice is to go into what you’re passionate about first. A Product Management career is transferable from many different industries. If you are in science technology engineering, you can grow technically and do this this job further down the line. In fact, bringing those technical skills with you could be a big benefit. For women who do not want to go as deeply into the technology or engineering, Product Management is a great way to keep a pulse on the scientific community. You can be involved in it, be talking to thought leaders and incredibly intelligent people, while yourself maybe staying at a higher level and not having to specialize as much. You have a choice of whether you’re going to be an inch deep and mile wide. If you are like me and want to be learning constantly, and seeing what the next big thing is, and be involved in something that is exciting, I think Product Management a great role. It also gives you an opportunity to be a leader. I feel passionate about empowering women, especially in the STEM area.
This might be one of my favorite mottos: Say what you do and do what you say!
Integrity is really important, so one thing I tend to say to myself quite a bit is, ‘say what you do and do what you say’. If you commit to something, it is important that you see that through. It is important to your colleagues and to building those relationships that you’re reliable.