As part of our Tales in Tech series we’ve been catching up with members of our tech community throughout lockdown to share the journeys, lessons learnt and advice that has helped them through their careers to date.
Maggie Walsh is a Lead Product Strategy Consultant at ThoughtWorks and has worked in the Product space since 2010. Originally from Florida, Maggie made the leap to move over to sunny Manchester back in 2017 and hasn’t looked back since! We sat down with her to talk about her journey from Copywriter to Product Manager, her experience collaborating as a remote team and her advice for building relationships with stakeholders from different technical backgrounds.
Tell me a bit about yourself and your role at ThoughtWorks:
My current role is Lead Product Strategy Consultant at ThoughtWorks. I initially began working with ThoughtWorks as a client and really appreciated their perspective, so I wanted to give it a go myself! I've been in consulting for three years now, but I’ve been in product development since 2010. Most of my role is going into established product functions and bringing a fresh set of eyes from the outside to look at everything; introducing new tools and ideas and supporting product teams.
What brought you to Manchester in particular?
I've been back and forth between the UK and the US a couple of times. I’m originally from Florida and moved over to Oxford to work in academic publishing, then moved back over to New York to work for ThoughtWorks, which was amazing! I got put on a huge enterprise project where we were bringing a load of our platforms together to create an omni-channel experience, and that’s what brought me to the UK. I was given the opportunity to work in either the London or Manchester ThoughtWorks office and I had already done the big city thing in New York for about a year, so I chose Manchester. I’d only been here once before I moved here but I really like it, so far so good!
What would you say is your favourite part of a typical workday?
I love the feeling when a workshop goes well and you feel like you've had that collaborative magic moment. We don't do workshops every day but when we do I really like all the prep that goes into them. I'm often involved in the idea genesis and early stages of projects and it's great when all those ideas come together. It’s been more challenging whilst we’re remote though.
How have you found remote working? Have you found it's been easy to adapt agile sessions to virtual formats?
It was definitely a learning curve. Having worked remotely for 9 years back in Florida I had experience of what it was like to be sitting in front of a computer all the time product managing. It was hard at first because you immediately want to reproduce every physical thing you do in the office virtually, so a lot of people got zoom fatigue. But I think the most important thing to realise is there's a real difference between asynchronous and synchronous communication and that you can use both. You can collaborate without all being on the call together and use tools like Mural or even Google Slides. It's about being creative and not just completely replicating every one of your rituals, and having that moment in time to say, are we having too many meetings?
I appreciate the need for meetings and having interactions, but I think you have to give people space to process their thoughts and come back to the table with something to contribute. So a healthy mix of synchronous and asynchronous communication has been key for us.
What have been some of your greatest achievements throughout your time in Product Management?
I love seeing people who are new to the role come through the whole journey and start to use product thinking and evidenced-based decision making in their work. I'm a bit like that proud parent rooting from the side! When you do a lot of hands on work with someone and then see them actually use those tools and really benefit from them, it’s a really great moment.
What about the most interesting challenge you’ve faced?
Making evidence-based decisions is integral to product management and it’s something I have a nose for! You have to be able to sniff out when someone is making a decision based on a gut feeling or an opinion and be ready to challenge people’s assumptions. It’s about having the confidence to be that person to challenge others, even if the person comes from a very different technical space or background.
What advice do you have for building good relationships with Engineers when you've not come from a technical background?
It's about finding common language, particularly with Engineers. When you’re working in a team, you’re all striving for the same things in different ways. I like bringing the scientific method into the way that I product manage, and I think that's something that resonates with people from both a humanities and social science background as well as those with more technical backgrounds. It’s about finding that translation layer and the right language to be able to communicate with people across different levels.
Did you go to university with the intention of becoming a Product Manager?
No, but I knew I wanted to be in communications. I come from a technical writing background as I started out writing the back covers of engineering textbooks. From my first job I was always working with highly technical authors and talking to them about how to sell their books. So, I don’t think it's that strange a progression from there to a Technical Product Manager. I’ve always been adjacent to people who are in that space and pushing innovation through science, so I've found a natural fit where I can use my communication skills to help them articulate problems they’re trying to solve.
Do you attend many meetups or digital events?
I did go to the virtual Leeds Digital Festival which I went to last year in person. I also made my way up to the Lean Agile Conference in Scotland a few years ago and I really enjoyed that. I mostly consume a ton of stuff on Medium. I'm a huge fan of Jeff Patton and I took his course on CSPO which was amazing.
I think these virtual events have opened up many more possibilities. I've travelled quite far to some of these meetups before so it's nice to attend really well-run virtual events and conferences and it’ll be interesting to see where that's going to go in the future.
What advice would you give to a Junior Product Manager or someone who’s looking to start a career in product?
Push through with confidence in places where there's ambiguity. In product there's always going to be ambiguity and direction changing and you need to have that confident edge to call out assumptions and use your methods to plot decisions.
A massive thank you to Maggie for sharing her journey through the world of product management. We hope the advice and insight shared will be useful for anyone tackling any similar challenges and experiences.
As Maggie discussed, now is a pivotal time for us to be innovative in the ways we collaborate and work as remote teams. For more ideas and initiatives to introduce into your teams for remote collaboration, read the key takeaways from our latest webinar: Is it possible to redefine agile sessions remotely?
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