HERE AT MIRO, we are working on a visual collaboration platform that empowers us and other team-driven companies to create outstanding products and experiences. This tool helps Fortune 500 companies embrace remote collaboration and be ready for the future. We are always interested in the ways leading organizations are dealing with these issues, and we hope to gather the best insights for our customers. That’s why we are excited to announce our first meetup in San Francisco dedicated to the challenges of building a product in a distributed team. We are also proud to share the intеrview with one of our speakers, Pivotal’s Director of Product Management, Aloka Penmetcha.
What is your background? How did it bring you to the current point of your career?
I’ve been in Tech for 11 years. I started off as an engineer but moved over to being a product manager early in my career. I was a consultant for the majority of my career. As a consultant, facilitating groups was one of the core skills that helped me helped influence groups of people to make decisions and move forward. And that’s where a lot of my opinions on collaborative decisions come from.
Right now I’m with Pivotal. I’ve been with them for about three and a half years. I started off on the consulting side with Pivotal Labs in San Francisco for a year, and then I went to Sydney to open the Pivotal office and grow the team there. When I came back, I moved over to R&D. At present, I’m the product owner for our SaaS offering, Pivotal Web Services [PWS], and I am also responsible for developing the Product practice in San Francisco. I work with teams to facilitate conversations that drive Intent led, customer drive, outcome oriented product building.
What lessons have you learned over the course of your career at Pivotal?
I learned that being successful isn’t just about knowing your field; it’s about being able to get other people on the journey along with you, communicating stories effectively so they can come along on the journey, and making the right connections. Half of being successful is about effective communication and relationships.
Can you please describe your role at the company?
As a product owner at PWS, which is our SaaS offering, my core responsibilities are managing the business and also working with teams to figure out what features are being built. We have several teams in R&D that in some way or form fit into a product at PWS, so a lot of my work ends up being working with different teams, seeing what they’re working on and how I can connect that to what customers want on PWS.
We also have another product called PCF, which is a B2B product and our main product right now. Specifically, I’m working with teams to help them run the experiments, decide where we want to go with design, what the experience looks like, what the problems are that we should be solving with software, helping them go through research and building a strategy for it.
I run the advanced facilitation program along with a few others at Pivotal. As part of that, I get pulled into a lot of conversations in different teams to help them facilitate a strategy and roadmap of what they want to work on as a team or across multiple teams and programs.
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What are the main challenges you face and how do you approach them?
The hard ones are always the people challenges. Because different people are at different skill levels, and also sometimes there isn’t a shared understanding between people. The biggest challenges tend to be working across many big groups and facilitating conversations to help them make decisions that don’t fall apart after the meeting. Find where people are aligned on a problem, then gather together collaboratively and have a plan to move forward. That is a really difficult task when you start thinking about getting groups of a dozen or more people across multiple teams. That’s a really challenging phase.
What’s your “secret sauce” for delivering innovative products, services and customer experiences?
I think the secret sauce is being able to provide the authority to the teams to be able to drive forward and think about things versus being a top-down organization. The individual teams have a lot of autonomy to go out, do the research, come back with the information, make decisions and move forward without having to get consensus all the way up. We communicate the business priority, and then the teams are able to go out into the field to figure out what to do, because we have already agreed on business goals for the year. It helps us move faster.
We also have an XP Agile shop, so a lot of what we do is about enabling fast feedback cycles for our customers. A lot of them are B2B, so getting those fast feedback cycles is actually really hard to do and something that I think we’re getting good at. We keep driving to those core values of Agile and Lean.
What advice can you give to aspiring product managers and consultants?
Find ways to create fast feedback cycles not just for the product, but for yourself. Be focused on how you are doing. And have mentors who can tell you what good looks like and what to aspire to. One of the things that makes someone successful as a product manager is continually learning and looking at new material. I feel like product management is still so nascent, and the software and processes that we have around Lean and UX are still evolving every day. If you’re not reading and you’re not up to speed on how things are changing, then you’re probably going to become irrelevant.
What are your top tools for remote collaboration?
I think Miro, definitely. It’s something that has taken over in our company as the major collaboration tool for remote discussions. Before that, we also used Google Suite and Trello.
ABOUT THE speaker
is passionate about building products and product teams. Before joining Pivotal, she worked for Amazon and SapientNitro. You can follow her on LinkedIn.