I was born in New York but spent most of my life growing up in Hong Kong. I have hence always been drawn to organizations that expose me to a range of challenges and opportunities to learn across disciplines and borders. I have had the pleasure of working as a Product Manager at Perpetual for the past year and a half. In that time I’ve been involved in over 5 projects from healthcare to news production and even helped the city of New York solve energy conservation challenges while working with team members across the globe.
Every day holds a novel challenge here, as time sensitive requests and issues inevitably arise, meaning a Product Manager in this role needs to simultaneously be alert and ready to tackle things as they come while being able to handle them with a plan and process. In this time, I’ve learned important lessons that have led me to grow both personally and professionally that I want to share in this post.
From day one I have been involved in projects where I was given the license to become heavily involved with the client while working between teams. My first undertaking saw me working with an animal healthcare startup known as Roo. In the capacity as PM for this project, I began by understanding the current functionality of the platform which enabled me to begin planning a long term roadmap and priorities with the client. From there, I was able to create detailed user stories and then structure sprint plans over time.
I began supporting Roo at a time when the product was about to be launched to market, so prioritization and identifying launch critical issues became the most important part of my early involvement with the company. We assisted the client in setting up tools best suited for the challenge at hand, which included a project tracking tool, JIRA, along with a centralized document to easily log any critical issues observed in the field. These tools, along with a pragmatic and delivery focused process, resulted in the product getting to market in time, with critical issues addresses, and post-launch items prioritized and ready for the development team to seamlessly continue their delivery. You can learn more about the project in this Case Study.
Through this experience, I came to understand how quickly things move in the startup world and the importance of prioritization to keep track of tasks and handle them in the most effective way possible.
My next project was in the corporate world, which I learned moves at a different pace. In this case, our client was Thomson Reuters, a large multinational media company with over 25,000+ employees, which meant our team had to take a different approach to working with such a large client. Unlike the hyper agile nature of working with smaller startup companies, tasks can take longer and involve more people and teams, which means it was important for us to stay on top of dependencies and consistently highlight blockers to make sure we stayed on track.
The goal of this project was to help journalists speed up the output of certain types of news stories. This initiative involved taking an existing application that allows news editors to create drafts of recurring news articles, and templatizing them in order to create self-updating articles that would populate with information from a data source, ready to publish.
Early in the process, I worked with the legal editing team to see what types of articles they wrote on a weekly basis to try and ascertain which content types could be templatized. To do this, I underwent a review of articles written in a given week by the legal news team and began to draw conclusions about recurring topics such as plaintiffs, judges, and courts. With this information, I began to collaborate with our development team to perform data modelling on these inputs along with feedback from the legal editing team as part of our iterative process. The end product integrated novel legal data sets with the existing article templatization tool.
This undertaking taught me a lot about the process of iteration as we were consistently making progress while checking in with users and stakeholders. This allowed for a productive back and forth where we occasionally pivoted our approach as we gained and incorporated new information during the development process, resulting in a product that evolved to meet user needs. Another challenge in this project was building an end-to-end product for data vs. a well defined user interface, which pushed me to think about the value that different types of data can provide, without the benefit of a visual to guide this understanding.
While these two projects were focused more on defining and building products for our clients, I was also heavily involved in projects that were more focused on UX Design overhauls and improvements. In this role, I played the role of a Project Manager more than a Product Manager (see my post about Project Manager vs. Product Manager here).
Working with one of NYC’s largest moving companies, our team was tasked with revamping the look of the entire website and the way users navigate the various pages to improve overall move bookings. This project was unique due to the various stakeholders from different areas of the company being involved in the process, since different pages had varying requirements for what needed to be displayed, including business, marketing and legal.
For example, redesigning the long distance moving page required input from a specialized team involved with those customers, while creating a new insurance page required us to call in to the claims department to ensure we were stating the right information. This was key so as to not mislead prospective customers and occasionally, to adhere to legal terms. While designing all experiences, above all, marketing was a key consideration: we had to ensure our designs didn’t impact Search Engine Optimization (SEO) on the website. This meant ensuring our designs followed standard guidelines in terms of layout and mobile responsiveness, and accommodating content and copy optimized for SEO. This process involved working with the marketing team, an SEO expert and content writer. It was insightful to see how small changes we made drastically affected SEO performance, so a build-measure-learn approach was key in this process.
This project taught me to be flexible in light of situations where input can arrive from a variety of sources. Additionally, working between the development and design teams at Perpetual was an exciting opportunity in itself as it gave me the chance to interface between these disciplines and work together to realize common goals. You can learn more about the project in this Case Study.
In another User Experience focused project, where I played the role of Project Manager, we worked to revamp the entire product line for a unified communications company that looked to us for rebranding, design direction and most importantly user experience and interaction design as part of a larger company rebranding. This project allowed our design team to take a more ground up approach as we began the project by taking a full inventory of the existing products and reimagining what improvements could look like for end users. For this client, I acted as the liaison between our design team and our stakeholders in order to keep the project on track, while ensuring deliverables and key action items were followed up on in a timely manner. This gave me the chance to learn deeply about UX principles while gaining new insights into the intricacies behind product branding and advanced interaction design for a suite of enterprise products.
While client projects provide invaluable learning lessons across a range of industries, I was also given the opportunity to apply my knowledge to an internal project built from the ground up. As part of the team working on Perpetual’s ideative participation in the 2019 NYC BigApps Blockchain Innovation Challenge, I worked with our development team to create a blockchain backed reward platform aimed at improving carbon emitting behaviors. After a period of ideation, I went to work creating wireframes and user stories to inform the development team. Over time we brought our tool which we named “Power Chain” to life and began dogfooding our product among our team members to understand how users would interact with the self reporting portion of the product. Our hard work culminated in a pitch to the representatives of various NYC government agencies where the Perpetual team finished in the top 3 spot for the “Energy” category of the competition. (You can read more about it here.)
My work on “Power Chain” involved a period of thorough ideation with the team as we bounced ideas off each other and considered the feasibility of our ambitious attempt to change the energy consuming habits of our fellow New Yorkers. I also got to present the pitch (video here), honing my startup pitch and communication skills in the process.
As I mentioned at the start, being a Product Manager at Perpetual requires flexibility and perseverance. Working here, new projects and challenges are always on the horizon which keeps me on my toes and out of my comfort zone. As a result, the learning opportunities never stop coming and there are always different ways to apply yourself to the tasks at hand. Overall, my time here can be defined by the numerous lessons I’ve received in the ever-changing space of technology which I believe has the power to spark meaningful change in the world.
I’ve gained a better understanding of the process of iteration and it’s benefits to creating a well rounded product. I’ve also experienced the pace of working in the product development world and how to prioritize effectively in light of competing tasks. Most of all, it has become clear to me how interdisciplinary and engaging the role of a Product Manager truly is, and I am constantly reminded how much more there is to learn. As more new projects come down the pipeline, I am eager for new experiences and look forward to everything that lies ahead.
- George Molina is a Product Manager at Perpetual