This past week, a few of my colleagues and I had the good fortune to host Catherine Wong, Domo’s amazing Chief Product Officer, along with several up and coming product management execs for a Product Management master class dinner. I’ve gotten to know Catherine really well over the past 4+ years in my work on the Domo board. Catherine joined Domo from Adobe, and she had previously worked with Domo CEO & Founder Josh James at Omniture. She’s an incredible executive. Product, engineering and design all report into Catherine, and she’s turned Domo’s product into a powerhouse. The discussion was lively. Here are a few of the highlights:
- Use a Multi-Layer Cake Strategy to Get Customer Feedback for an Enterprise Product. It can be difficult to get deep customer feedback for enterprise products. Catherine prescribes using many different approaches. For example, (i) develop a customer advisory board (CAB) and make sure the developers and product teams get to listen in to their conversations to get the emotion of the feedback, not just the metrics, (ii) run usability tests and make sure the developers and product teams are there to observe them, (iii) listen in to support calls (even have developers take some of the support calls) and beta program feedback sessions, (iv) develop direct lines of communication with your most advanced customers AND the customers who break your product most frequently to understand why, (v) appoint a dedicated support liaison within product, and (vi) have a feedback button within your product. Catherine believes its imperative that the engineering, design and product teams viscerally feel the feedback from the market, so each of these techniques is key.
- Managing Product, Design & Engineering Together Has its Benefits. Although many companies split these three disciplines into distinct units, Catherine believes having each under her gives Domo some unique advantages. Catherine has created several pods with developers and embedded product and design folks. She seats each pod together and ensures the members identify with their pod and the features they each own. The pods develop more agility this way, getting to know their features well and allowing the pods to draw on their relationships when tension arises. With a strong leader and a healthy tension amongst the leaders of each of these groups, great things can happen.
- Manage By Influence for Maximum Success. Catherine stressed that the ability to influence is critical to succeed in the Product Leadership role. To manage inevitable conflicts with peer leaders of engineering and sales, find core company goals that everyone is agreed on and map the conflict back to the core goals. Demonstrate empathy as well – most people respond best to a human connection. Also, seek senior mentors in the organization to ensure you have the big picture context. With your team, you can never be too stingy with praise, and little things can mean a lot (such as a sticker series for new feature releases). Managing by influence with the development team can really come in handy when the inevitable tension arises when deciding between fixing “broken windows” and cleaning up technical debt in the product versus working on new, exciting features.
- The Product & Engineering Organizations Need to Focus on Sales. Although this isn’t always the case in other organizations, Catherine believes in the primacy of Sales, and her organization is very focused on serving the needs of Sales as a result. While she believes in keeping an open mind with respect to re-ordering and re-prioritizing certain features to help Sales win in the field, she draws the line at fracturing the code base however. When conflicts arise, escalation to the CEO is critical. The CEO then needs to hold both Sales and Product accountable to the commitments they’ve made. Setting up a Product Leadership Counsel internally that includes execs from Sales as well as other functions is key. Lasty, the Product leader must also learn to line up feature announcements and be prepared to charismatically launch them at customer events to help Sales.
- Keep Your Organizational Structure Flat Wherever Possible. Catherine also preaches keeping the product, engineering and design organization as flat as possible for as long possible. The need to insert additional management layers will be apparent when new feature production slows. Embedding both graphic design and production design together is key to ensure great ideas make it to production. Matrix reporting so that product, engineering and design also report into their respective leaders as well as their pods will ensure consistency of design and feature rollout timing.
Thanks to Catherine for her amazing advice and to all who joined for participating in a great evening!