Learnings from 8 years in Product: an AMA with Reza Shirazi
"Product management is a team sport and collaboration is such an important part of the role. Being remote creates some challenges as you lose the contextual richness of being in person. So how do you up your communication game to make sure you make up for it?"
Reza is a Product leader with a background heading up companies in AI, ML, Fintech, and SaaS platforms. He currently is a Principal PM at Procore Technologies. Previously, he led a team of engineers & data scientists at SolarWinds, serving over 30K enterprise customers. In addition, Reza is the creator of the Austin Voice of Product blog where he has interviewed 100+ PMs.
In July we were lucky to welcome him to the Propel community for a virtual AMA. We've curated just some of his luminary answers to your questions on his journey, best practices, and team learnings.
On his Product journey
How did you find yourself in Product?
Like many folks in product, I got there by accident. I was a project manager that always asked why we were doing the project. I was never satisfied with just executing on some plan. When I joined a new company, I landed in a program management role - which was a mix of execution with some strategy sprinkled in. We got a new CTO and he asked me what I was interested in and how I wanted to grow. I said that I am interested in the impact that technology can have on customers and our business and how to do that better. I was not satisfied just executing.
He said "sounds like you are a Product Manager." I said "what's that?"
The rest is history! I felt like I had found my tribe. The role and career as a PM has been the best thing that has happened. I love this job and I love how it taps into all that I love about being cross functional, being creative, being collaborative, constantly learning and always having a clear focus on the customer.
When and why did you start Austin Voice of Product?
I started Austin Voice of Product four years ago. At the time I was trying to get better as a PM and I realized that I was not learning enough from the job I was in. So I started reaching out the PMs in my community and having coffee with them to talk shop. These were amazing conversations and I thought, I would love to share what I am learning from them with others. At the same time, I was trying to find a way to contribute to the product community in Austin. It felt like I was on the outside of it and the best way I thought I would become a part of it would be to do something to give back and grow it.
With these two thoughts in mind, I said - let me start a blog where I will interview current and future product leaders and share their insights with the community. It has been an amazing four years. I have met over 100 folks in our PM community and I have received amazing feedback from folks. I especially heard from a lot of women that thanked me for showcasing women product leaders. This led me to become very intentional about who I interviewed and featured. I decided that I will focus on interviewing women and underrepresented communities in tech so that I could inspire others. I believe that this [diversity and representation] work I do helps inspire the next generation of future product leaders. They see folks like them in these leadership roles and know that they can become a product leader as well.
On building Product teams
What do product-led organizations look like and how do we identify them?
I have spent a lot of time thinking about this question. In fact I wrote this article to answer it.
How has the role of the PM changed over the last 10 years?
I have been a PM for only 7-8 years. That is a reflection of the newness of this career path - and that is why it continues to evolve. Some key things that are being recognized are:
- Product managers have to be full-stack - focused both on Product Discovery and Product Execution. And product discovery is being recognized as being a critical part of the role.
- Product Management is not Agile. It used to be conflated, but a Product Owner is not a Product Manager. And by being Agile, it does not mean you are doing product management.
- There is a shift to a focus on outcomes - not outputs. Not just delivering features, but empowering a product team to deliver value that will drive outcomes for the organization.
What have you learned about PMs that work really well in a remote environment?
Product management is a team sport and collaboration is such an important part of the role. Being remote creates some challenges. Communication becomes even more important as you lose the contextual richness of being in person, so how do you up your communication game to make sure you make up for it?
Work Out Loud
When you are remote, there are fewer chances to have a quick chat with someone and communicate an important piece of context.
So you have to make up for that by writing really well and communicating not just the end result of your work, but the work in progress so your teams can see how you got to where you are.
What are some tips for PMs who have recently adopted data science teams?
There is a big difference between working with data scientists vs engineers. Data Science is exploratory - there is a lot of experimentation to come up with a model that reflects the outcome you want. This is hard scientific work and you don't always know when the 'aha' moment will come. By contrast, engineering software is more known and rule-based so you can have a clearer answer on the feasibility and viability of what you are trying to do. It feels very different working with these two roles.
On team learnings
After the 2020 data breach at SolarWinds, do you have any advice to PMs and entrepreneurs in Propel on being able to brace for the unexpected?
Act with urgency
The first of the three things that the team at Solarwinds did really really well, was that we acted with incredible urgency. Everything was stopped and all hands were on deck to address and remediate this incident.
We did a good job of being transparent and sharing as much information as we could with our customers. All of us internally got talking points. We brought on some high powered folks to help us with addressing the incident and communicating about it.
Reframe the situation
We now talk a lot about Secure by Design - like a tag line. We state that this incident has driven us to be more secure than any of our competitors. We are using it to our advantage. It was amazing to see our CEO put a positive outcome on all of this. It rallied the teams to not just feel like we had to fix a problem, but provided a vision for the future where we would come out of the incident in a better place.
Reza's recommended resources
- Learn how to identify product-centric companies
- Set yourself up for success as a new PM with Marty Cagan's 90 day onboarding plan
- Read Four Thing In The Heights Can Teach Business Leaders about Belonging
Keep up with Reza at https://austinvop.com/