Max’s story: From Design to Product leadership

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Yesterday, or to be exact, 8 years ago, I was joining Buzzvil as a product designer. In late 2014 Buzzvil counted a little more than 20 members and the design team was only 3 members including me. There were no PMs and all our focus was on our B2C app called Honeyscreen. Today, or 8 years later, our company counts over 120 members and we offer Monetization and Engagement booster solutions to dozens of publishers. We still manage Honeyscreen too, but we use the service as the best showcase of our tech. Today I also evolved along with our company growth, to be a product team leader. I also manage our design team, which now counts 8 talented members.

So how did all this happen?

Growing inside a growing organization

Growing as an individual can be done anywhere I guess. But if you are joining a startup that redefines itself permanently and grows fast, your chances to have opportunities to grow along with it are of course higher. I consider Buzzvil as the best school I’ve ever had (and the bar is high as I am also very proud of my design school back in France). Working here for many years transformed me as much as the company changed. And the reason why I am still here is that the company still finds ways to reinvent itself even today. It pushes me to do the same, permanently reinventing myself by learning and doing.

Mentorship is all

While the organization grew, I was asked to take on more responsibilities. And of course, I said yes (because why not?). Each time, this new challenge came with a couple of stressful weeks, as I had to perform things I had never done before. But this was possible thanks to the great mentorship I got from my upper leads. So today, I also do my very best to provide the same level of guidance for my teammates to perform well in their new R&Rs. I spare a considerable amount of my time into coaching others in order to reach their short-term goals. And even more important, I also do my best to mentor others on career goals and directions. And I hope they do the same later on within our organization or another (preferably ours 😅).

From Design to product

It’s no news that Product people and Designers are vowed to interact a lot. And the more a Designer gains seniority, the more their understanding of the business reaches enough maturity to reduce the gap with what a PM does.

The PMs and their super-powers

I believe that all PMs have a superpower. A specialty that they are bringing with them when moving to the PM role. This super-power can be various depending on the person’s background and interest. For instance, technical PMs will generally come from engineering or associated fields such as QA management. As for designers, their superpowers are usually their customer-centric mindset and their capacity to visually communicate an idea or concept. So my superpower was just that, I could comfortably visualize what an early concept would look like, even during the customer problem definition space. I was able to start from nothing and advocate leads for the team to discuss and build upon. If you don’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

Filling the gap

Of course, moving to a PO, and then a PM position required some serious learning curves. And as we are a startup, the need for results is now, not tomorrow. So I learned by doing, and by reading books recommended by more experienced leaders in our company at the same time (you’ll find the list at the bottom!).

Managing Cross-functional teams

The first big gap to fill was to learn how to lead and guide very different members in a mission team. For this, you need to learn enough so that you can communicate with all of them. It’s about understanding what’s at stake and being able to discuss it with the related members. You don’t need to bring solutions to the table, but to understand and prioritize the problem.

A stronger business understanding

The way I define product design is including business knowledge. The design of a product should acknowledge business goals and include them in the solution. Yet, there is a gap between what a PM needs to know. It’s not only about acknowledging but manipulating and setting up business goals (through KPIs, OKRs,…). It’s about controlling the risks and performances with proper trackers, it’s about reading through the data to grasp the insights the team needs to move forward.

Aiming at outstanding leadership skills

I think that being a good leader isn’t just enough. The leadership style and methods will have a direct impact on the performance of an entire team. So good won’t make it. The more leaders have people with them, the more they should be outstanding at everything that touches leadership. From the recruiting strategy, to the mission and vision setup, daily coaching, and long-term mentoring, I try to put most of my efforts to empower and support my teammates. Accepting a leadership position is accepting the fact that you can achieve more with a team than what you used to do as an individual. But for this to be true, you are required to learn new skills and not just continue to be the specialist you once were.

Today’s challenges and tomorrow’s dream

Here I am, after leading a large team in charge of our monetization products, I recently started an entirely new mission. We need to find our next business opportunity. It’s for me another chance to connect the dots with Design practice as we now deep dive into product discovery. This new mission team needs to find a model that can expand our monetization products’ customer reach, and this, within 2 years from now. From this goal, pretty much everything is up to the team. We function as a startup inside the startup and would get more “funding” from our CEOs only if we can prove that our model is viable. As we move toward confidence, the team already unlocked a few more resources to hire our core members. Tomorrow’s dream is for the team to set a dual-track development where both product discovery and delivery stages can co-exist inside our team workflow. In a way, this is about closing the loop and merging design/discovery and product/delivery.

  • Multipliers by Liz Wiseman
  • High Output Management by Andrew Grove
  • Coaching for performance by Sir John Whitmore

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