How to Prioritize Effectively with AppNexus Product Manager

Product Management is commonly described as being at the intersection of business, technology and user experience. With that said, part of the challenge is figuring out what to do with all the data coming from these different areas. We spoke with Tina Kit, a Product Manager at AppNexus, to discuss filtering out what she calls, “signals and noise,” as well as the importance of thinking big.

Product Gym: Product Management is different in every company, so what is your definition of Product Management?

Tina Kit: A large part of Product Management can be boiled down to asking the question “What is causing friction between the user and our platform?”  This is mostly how I approach a lot of the problems I need to solve at work.  The way I think about it is that there is some sort of activation energy your client would need to jump over to be using your platform effectively.  Product Management is figuring out what is it going to take to lower that activation energy for your client, (and also a little bit of raising the activation energy to leave the platform).

Product Management is an enigmatic role in that depending on your company’s needs, the role might change. In terms of the famous product Venn diagram, Product Managers are at the intersection of UX, tech, sales and strategy. Figuring out what kind of Product Manager you are based on your skills is really important. You might be more technical-, more UX-, or more sales-focused. It may also vary depending on what your company’s needs are. At the end of the day, what connects these different types of Product Managers is that they are in charge of getting the product out into the market and growing it once it is in the market.

Product Gym: What are some of the day-to-day challenges that you face?

Tina Kit: The biggest challenge I face is having a lot of information coming at me every single day.  As a Product Manager, I am ingesting information in a lot of different ways, whether it is quantitative or qualitative. This information can come from the sales team, engineering team, or other services.  The challenge is really filtering out the signals from the noise.  From there, you can take those signals and turn them into a product or feature that is not only useful for the client but also profitable.

Product Gym: When did you first hear about Product Management and what made you want to get into it?

Tina Kit: I started here at AppNexus as an Engineering Quality Analyst. I was testing our platform and working with Product Managers and Tech Leads to figure out what feature we were releasing, how a client will use that feature, and why we were releasing it.  In this role, I got a lot of exposure to both the business and technical side of the company.

In my first one on one with my boss at the time, the first question he had asked me was, “What do you want to be when you grow up?.” At the time I did not really have an answer because I was honestly trying to figure out what I wanted to do.  Because I was working with product managers regularly, I got some exposure into the work that they do. I realized that the role revolved around questions I liked answering, like, “How can this app make someone’s life easier?”

I later had an honest conversation with my boss about how I found Product Management, and that it was something I wanted to do.  He had given me projects on the team that I would “product manage” so naturally it seemed like a good transition over to actual Product Management. A year ago, an opening in the Product team opened up at AppNexus, so I interviewed for it and luckily got it.

Product Gym: How do you like it so far?

Tina Kit: It has been good, but hard. The whole “filtering out the noise” situation is very real and poses an interesting challenge.  When I was on EQ playing Product Manager, I did not have that much of a “noise” problem since I only communicated with one or two engineering teams. It was easy to figure out what we needed to solve.  Now that there is so much noise coming from so many different places, it is a little harder to find and prioritize the right signals.

Product Gym: What do you mean in terms of noises and signals?

Tina Kit: As a Product Manager, you are working at the intersection of almost everyone in the company. Everyone is working with a different range of clients, and focusing on what is important to them. They have their own goals, and so when they come up to you with problems, you have to not only listen but also determine how much of a problem it is and how impactful is the problem on the company employee(s), the clients, and/or the market.

There are many different things you have to think about in order to be able to prioritize and understand these problems. You are getting a lot of data, and it is up to you to decide what to do with it.

Product Gym: How do you identify the unmet needs of your end-user?

Tina Kit: Something we do here at AppNexus is hold client advisory boards, where you have the client(s) come to the office and talk to us about their experiences with the product. In those meetings, I am focusing on them and the problem. The most important thing is not having the client tell you what they think they need, but what their problem is (and you come up with the solution).

It is a lot of talking to clients and looking at data; then using that data to really understand the client’s workflow and their main end-goal with the product.

Product Gym: Are there any books, blogs, podcasts or other resources that you would recommend to people who want to succeed as a Product Manager?

Tina Kit: One book that I read and liked was Clay Christensen’s Inside the Tornado. He explains the life cycle of a product through case studies of different companies. He discusses how the products continue to be successful and relevant through big-picture and long term thinking. There are a lot of people who think they could handle the tactical job of a Product Manager, but they also need to remember to do big-picture thinking which is what drives those tactical things.

Product Gym: How do you think big?

Tina Kit: I work on our video team. My way of thinking big is, “what is it that I want to see happen to our video product in one to two years that would make me feel like I did my job?” For me, it would be if one of the biggest video publishers would solely rely on us to be able to facilitate ads on their website.

About Tina Kit:

Tina Kit is a technology product leader with a demonstrated background in engineering and platform testing. Prior to her current role as Product Manager, she was also Team Lead and Engineering Quality Analyst at AppNexus.

Tina has a B.S. in Operations Research from Columbia University.

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