Alicia Dixon is a Product Manager with a specialization in mobile software. Her expertise includes product development, product strategy, and market research. Throughout Miss Dixon’s career she has successfully produced enterprise and consumers products through positions held at leading companies including Hilton Worldwide, UPS, Dell, Blackboard, Fruit of the Loom, Nike & Toys R Us. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Howard University along with an MBA from Baruch College, CUNY and an MS in Marketing from the University of Alabama. She is an active member of technology community and sits on the planning committee for ProductCamp DC.
We thank Alicia for taking out time and be part of ‘Three Questions’ series for product managers.
Product Mantra: What is the biggest challenge facing the discipline of Product Management?
Alicia Dixon: In the push for designers to learn to code, and developers to learn design, and everybody doing product, I feel that one of the biggest challenges for product management is staying relevant. Lately there seems to be a trend that everybody feels that they can do product successfully. My personal point of view is that this is because people assume that doing product is easy. I attribute this to the fact that the core skills and talent needed to do product are so esoteric.
You learn product by doing it and you can’t really get it from a book or class. And there’s no one-method-fits-all approach to building successful product. Thus, there’s an assumption that since the skill set is so undefined that it’s an easy one to master. Those of us doing the job know this couldn’t be further from the truth. We know that creating product is an art form. And like all good art, you know when it is good or bad, but you might not be able to define WHY it is good or bad.
Unfortunately, there is a growing trend to push product away from working with potential customers to formulate business strategy and into areas that should be handled by other disciplines. In an effort to clearly define the product role, hard requirements for the job (such as being ScrumMasters, Design Thinking facilitators, and multivariate testing experts) have become commonplace. These attempts to make the parameters of the role more concrete have actually had an adverse effect; making product roles irrelevant because there are already groups that do project management, design, and analytics. As those groups claim the job functions that are rightfully theirs and there are no other defined components to the product role, I believe that the result is those disciplines start to question why product is needed.
Of course, product is needed! Why, you ask? My answer is to give direction as to what comes next. Product is out canvassing the streets to uncover the customers’ problems and bring those back to the organization to say ‘here’s an unsolved problem that we have an opportunity to fix’. Understanding the challenges that target users are facing and why of those challenges have significance is the cornerstone of the product management function. Achieving this requires listening and empathy — two soft skills that don’t translate well into a job description or RACI matrix. All of this means that the onus is on Product Managers to prove their worth. Doing that is really hard when we are off doing tasks that we shouldn’t be doing in the first place.
Product Mantra: How best can a product management professional leverage upon the growing virtual community of product professional for his/ her personal development. Would you share some insights on this with our readers?
Alicia Dixon: Social media and online networking have made it so that Product Managers now have a thriving virtual community. Through my own experience I can say that everyone I have met virtually who works on product has been very welcoming and friendly. While it is tempting to seek out a relationship with the most popularly recognized product folks, I encourage you to connect with people who work on similar products or within your local area.
My advice for anyone wanting to acclimate oneself with this community is to start by consuming the popular blogs and following thought leaders on LinkedIn and Twitter. Then start commenting on any post or article that you find compelling. Share these within your network as well. As you get more comfortable, create your own posts based on your specific experiences. Finally, don’t stop with the virtual community. Make connections that you take into the real world. Meet other product people for coffee, take them for drinks, and attend local meetups or ProductCamps.
Getting involved in this way will not only expand and improve your product knowledge it might just lead to your next opportunity. For example, a good online friend of mine is now slotted to be the keynote speaker at an international conference based on a referral I made. I spoke at the event last year and recommended her to the organizers. I knew that they were recruiting speakers for this year and that she would be great at it, so I was happy to connect them. Most of the product people that I know are eager to help foster the community in this way.
Product Mantra: Which is your most memorable experience from a startup and what do we learn from it?
Alicia Dixon: A key learning that I took away from working in a startup environment was that what is appealing at any given moment can quickly change. My startup experience was actually at an internal startup at a 90 year-old company. When I first joined the business, the product that I was working on was deemed the next generation evolution for the company. It was to be the new and significant revenue stream for the business. All of the executives were very excited about the new growth opportunity and trade publications spoke highly of the upcoming industry change. At that time, the product was the core focus. So it was heavily funded.
However, the industry had a hard time moving forward with the adoption of a disruptive technology. The need to continuously make iterative product improvements was a new paradigm which was not embraced by the company nor clients. The one-and-done mentality (i.e. build it once, then sell until sold out) was so ingrained in the business that they just couldn’t get past it. Over time, funding was gradually pulled from the initiative.
So the takeaway from a product sense is that one must continuously scan the marketplace to be aware of the receptiveness to what you are creating. When you notice it begin to wane, it is time to move on, either to another product within your current role, or to a new position entirely.
Alicia Dixon on Social Media
- Follow Alicia on twitter at @Li_Li_D
- Get connected with her on Linkedin @ https://www.linkedin.com/in/dixonalicia
- Read her blog http://just1morething.com/