A Day in the Life of a Product Manager at Pivotal Labs
PRODUCT MANAGER, PIVOTAL LABS, NEW YORK
I found Pivotal Labs… through a former boss who once worked with Pivotal Labs as a client Product Manager. He told me I should apply because I’d love the agile product development process. He was right.
I decided to join Pivotal Labs because… One of the things that stands out to me about Pivotal Labs is that it’s sane here. There’s an emphasis on sustainable pace. Another thing is that you are not assigned to one project forever. I also like our motto of doing what’s right. I have worked places where we have known that something is not a great decision but we have had to do it anyway. Having “do what works and do what’s right” as a guiding principle is really attractive to me.
I am currently working on… A customer-facing iOS app for an enterprise organization.
I come in around 8.45 am and grab some breakfast in the cafeteria. Office standup is right after 9 am. Our team of 80 Pivots gather in the main office space. It takes us short of five minutes. We welcome any new faces (who are either new hires or visitors), see whether anyone is asking for help with something, and share anything interesting we’ve come across.
After office standup, I head over to my team’s daily standup. We have remote team members so we do our standup on the phone. Due to the nature of our client’s business, we’re restricted from using video chat. We haven’t found a good video solution that works in this particular corporate setting yet. I’m constantly thinking about how we might make this process better.
I’m getting ready to interview a candidate for our Chicago office. I like our interview format. We give Product Manager (PM) candidates a homework assignment which they present to one of our PMs when they come in. We also do a collaborative exercise with them.
I feel like I can empathize with the candidates I am interviewing because I remember being in their shoes. I like the collaborative exercise. I won’t reveal what it entails, but it covers all the things that are our bread and butter – defining product goals, deciding how to measure success, wireframing, prioritizing features and writing user stories. It’s fun to do that process at a small scale.
I just finished the interview. I like to write down my notes on how it went right away. I’ll type up my feedback later and share it with our recruiter Monica as well as the other PMs who interviewed the candidate today.
Earlier this morning I did some work on a client proposal. I’m refining a scoping document that I started writing yesterday. I have to review the content and polish the language today. I enjoy being involved in the process at such an early stage, and seeing the business side of things.
PRODUCT AND DESIGN STANDUP
At noon Jon, who heads up our design team, summons all the Product Managers and Designers with his ukulele to the daily product and design standup.
We go around and share the status of our projects. I like knowing what everyone else is working on. There was one day when I was summarizing a round of user research that I had done. A designer had just done the same thing and we got a chance to compare notes. This is also really helpful when we rotate on to new projects. I have some context on every product that we are working on. I’ll know at least a bit about what’s going on when I join a new team.
LUNCH TIME TECH TALK: TANNER FROM BUZZFEED
We host a lunch time tech talk every Tuesday. Lunch is catered by our chefs Brian and Carla. The speaker will either be a fellow Pivot or someone from another company.
Today’s tech talk was from Buzzfeed editor Tanner Ringerud. Tanner talked about the evolution of the wildly popular Buzzfeed quizz and Buzzfeed’s culture of product experiments. It was interesting to hear how they have learned that the most popular quizzes are the ones that reveal something about our identity (like the Geek quiz or the expert level Mean Girls quiz).
USABILITY TEST PLAN
I’m working on a usability testing plan for my team. We met with the client yesterday. Our client PM wants to validate a list of things. We test each week but this time around we’re going to travel to our client’s office in Washington DC and their usability lab there. It will definitely be more hardcore. We’ll do a full day of user interviews. I have to figure out what activities we should do, articulate what it is we want to learn and what we need to prepare for the trip. Our client will do the recruiting. We’re used to doing it all ourselves but we’ll just observe and take notes this time.
MEETING WITH THE OTHER PRODUCT MANGERS
The PM team meets each week to talk about the product practice and trade experiences with each other.
Today we talked about pairing with designers. It was a good conversation. I especially liked talking about how we collaborate with designers in usability testing sessions. I didn’t know usability testing was going to be part of my role when I got here but I really like it.
If I were to pick the three most valuable skills I’ve learned at Pivotal Labs so far, I’d say it’s usability testing along with scope writing and workshop facilitation. With facilitation, everywhere else I have been the PM has dictated things and been the sole voice of the product in meetings. Here, it’s much more collaborative. It’s not your job to tell everyone the answers. It’s much more about being a good listener and stepping in at the right moments as a facilitator.
I’m getting ready to discuss our backlog with the client. I have to re-set some deadline expectations. It can be tricky to work these sort of things out when agile meets quarterly planning. We work in a realm of uncertainty towards defining some certainty. At any given moment things can change. It’s a bit of a struggle to give people the certainty and comfort they want. But we have to recognize that other organizations operate differently than we do. Part of the job is coaching people how to live with that constant change.
The saving grace is that I have a wonderful Product Owner who helps me prioritize the work. Even if we don’t get through it all, I know we’ll get through what’s most important.
We sat down together last week and went through all the stories in the backlog, moved lots of them to the icebox and came up with new ones. She owns the business opportunity and decides what we should do next. We act as advisors. It’s a very different relationship than at most client services firms, where one person on the client side is the owner of the precious thing called the product. Here, it’s a partnership.
I just wrapped up the proposal. I have to pair with Francisco, who is the designer on my team, tomorrow to get his feedback on it before we send it to the client.
I have some more work to do on the usability testing plan. I have to book our travel so we make it out to the client’s test lab.
The day is almost over. I’m doing my timesheet real quick before I head out to meet up with some friends for dinner.
Pivotal Labs is an agile software consultancy. We collaboratively build and design mobile and web apps for the world’s largest brands.
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A Day In The Life of a Product Manager at Pivotal Labs was originally published in Built to Adapt on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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