Hi all, we are happy to present the first episode of "The Product Management Leaders Podcast"!
Our aim with this podcast is to connect you with some of the top PM leaders and share their real-world strategies and tactics for building world-class products with you.
In today's episode, Grant Duncan speaks with Greg Montalvo, the Director of Product Management at Inmar, a 5,000+ person company. Greg has previously worked at Deutsche Bank, Veritas Software, and others. He’s been a software engineer in the past, and even has an MBA from Duke’s Fuqua school of business. So he has a lot of great insights to share with you.
Hope you enjoy! Subscribe to be notified of our upcoming episodes!
This podcast is sponsored by Voximplant, the leading serverless communications platform and no-code drag and drop contact center solution.
Voximplant enables product leaders and developers to integrate communications into their products such as embedding voice, video, SMS, in-app chat, and natural language processing and it enables customer service teams to run their whole operation from one place.
Join over 30,000 businesses trusting Voximplant such as Burger King, 8x8, and Hyundai.
If you have any questions, tweet Grant at twitter.com/grantmduncan
Grant Duncan 0:05
This is the Product Management Leaders Podcast in which you hear from some of the top PM leaders about their real world strategies and tactics for building world class products. It's sponsored by Voximplant, the leading serverless communications platform and no code drag and drop contact center solution. Voximplant enables product leaders and developers to integrate communications into their products, such as embedding voice, video, SMS, in app chat and natural language processing. Join over 30,000 businesses trusting Voximplant. Now let's jump into the show.
Grant Duncan 0:42
Hi, all this is your host Grant Duncan. Today I'm speaking with Greg Montalvo, the Director of Product Management at Inmar, a 5000+ person company. Greg has previously worked at Deutsche Bank, VERITAS Software and others. He's been a software engineer in the past and even has an MBA from Duke's Fuqua School of Business. So he has a lot of great insights to share with you. Let's jump into it.
Grant Duncan 1:08
Hey, Greg, great to have you on the Product Management Leaders Podcast. To get started, could you share a little bit about yourself, your role and where you work?
Greg Montalvo 1:18
Yeah, sure. Thanks for having me, Grant. It's a pleasure and honor to be here. So yeah, to start out - a bit about me. And in fact, I'm going to answer the second part of your question first, if that's okay. Talk to you about the firm I work for.
Grant Duncan 1:32
Yeah, sounds good.
Greg Montalvo 1:33
So the name of the firm I work for is Inmar Intelligence. We've been around for about 40 years. We've made a name for ourselves as a trusted intermediary between retailers and manufacturers. So Inmar, as a data and media company, we provide analytics, among other services to our clients. Now, my role with the firm is I'm the Director of Product Management. And so more specifically, I lead our automotive practice. So that involves the entire customer experience, how clients interact with our brands, what products do we develop for them, how do we compete and differentiate amongst others in the market. So those are some of the questions that motivate me throughout the day.
Grant Duncan 2:25
Yeah, I'm sure a lot of our listeners probably can resonate with some of those things as well. Cool. So can you tell me a little bit more about your team and how it's structured?
Greg Montalvo 2:38
Yeah, sure. So that takes a little bit of explanation in terms of how and why we exist in the first place. Right? So at Inmar, We have an entire pitch process for starting a new, really a new group within within the firm, right? And so you can think of it like Shark Tank. That's how it works. And you get funded and you get a certain milestone set. So that's how my group started. When I said earlier...
Grant Duncan 3:08
Did you pass the sharks?
Greg Montalvo 3:10
I did, as a matter of fact, right! Of course, you know, you get past the first hurdle. Then there's other hurdles continually put in front of you.So the sharks keep coming. But at any rate, whereas our typical business was manufacturers, I say that it's a consumer packaged goods manufacturers thing like J&J, PnG, ConAgra, and so on the manufacturing side. Retailers are the likes of Kroger and Publix, and so on, right? We didn't have an automotive practice. So that was the basic pitch - do the same things we do elsewhere, except do it for the automotive industry. And so the sharks bit. And so that formed the group. Now we're about a dozen people, as we have this conversation today. And that involves product people, such as myself, engineering people, operations people, it's the entirety of an organization. I would say my current role is not typical for a Product Manager, and that, you know, really, I'm the Managing Director for the entire group.
Grant Duncan 4:29
Got it! That's really interesting. Can you tell us a little bit more about what that looks like? Almost like as an MD for the product, engineering, operations that you mentioned?
Greg Montalvo 4:42
Yeah, sure. I mean, one of the things I love about it is that it's because of its, you know, I'll often use the term entrepreneurship. Because it's that kind of endeavor. It has many of the earmarks that an entrepreneurial venture has. There's a client meeting, right? Well, how does that client meeting get set up in the first place? You know, there's a lot of smile and dial involved, hanging on to business cards, putting together slide decks and so on. And then saying: "You, you, you, you're coming with me, we're going to this client site to this idea". As one example, on the other end of the spectrum, there has to be something you're actually pitching, there has to be a product there. So on the other end of the spectrum, I find myself doing many of the things that you would expect of a product person. What is that? Well, you know, there's of course, the typical agile ceremonies, attending stand up each and every day. Everybody has responsibilities to each other, and nobody's exempt from those responsibilities, you know, product sprint grooming, backlogs, development of tickets, etc. Yeah, all of that stuff. Even... and we have a finance person as well, even sitting down with finance and saying, Okay, what are our expectations around revenues and cost? What are we going to do for the next year? Let's come up with those projections, right, knowing, like I said a moment ago, I'm gonna have to, at some point, sit down with the sharks and say - here's how we did. To really justify ourselves. So does that answer your question, give you a sense of what a day in my life is like?
Grant Duncan 6:47
Yeah, that's really interesting. In some ways, I've also heard, kind of what you're doing being called a business line leader, you are really looking across the whole business as this Product Management Leader to think about - how do we drive this forward? That's really interesting.
Greg Montalvo 7:05
Yeah, yeah, thank you for that. And I think I've learned a lot and I think it's directly applicable to even, as you think of, the purely Product Manager role, right? I think a lot of what I do each and every day, you know, I'll certainly forever take it back with me at some point, if I go back into a purely product role. These experiences will certainly affect me. And I think they're valuable.
Grant Duncan 7:29
Yeah. I also wonder, though, maybe this is where more product roles are evolving to - really having a broader scope and thinking about the product and the business strategically.
Greg Montalvo 7:39
Yeah, I would tend to agree, even before I was in this kind of role. Things that I do today, the business canvas, right. I was doing those previously,except I wasn't justifying an entire organization, perhaps it was an application, perhaps it was just features within an application. But I was still doing those kinds of things.
Grant Duncan 8:02
You mentioned earlier, the typical Scrum ceremonies, like daily stand ups. So a couple of questions there. Do you actually stand? Do you and your team have to stand even though you're remote? And how long do they typically last?
Greg Montalvo 8:18
Haha, yeah. So a couple of a couple of things. As of today, no, we're all sitting down. Right? Just like you and I are right now, in front of the camera. Although when we were in the office, yes, we did. We did stand, we'd be around a table, chairs right in front of us. Part of it, you know, I prescribe to the philosophy that a stand up is very focused. What did I do yesterday, what am I doing today? What are the problems that maybe somebody in this room can help with? And so correspondingly, they tend to be very, very quick. A dozen people will still get through that in 15 minutes. Part of it is, we live and work... I mean, I spent the first eight years of my career in the army, and I was a noncommissioned officer, and then I was an enlisted guy. And so from that experience, I'm a very, "join them in the trenches" kind of a guy. And culturally, it fits well. And so that allows our stand ups to be quick, because we really kind of already know what everybody's working on, what they're doing.
Grant Duncan 9:32
It's great that you can go through it that well. And you talked about your sprints, the grooming and backlog and such - do you do two-week, three-week, one-week? What's a typical sprint time for you all?
Greg Montalvo 9:46
Yeah, there's something I often say that I'm tempted... I'm going to go ahead and say right now. If you've seen one scrum team, well, you've seen one scrum team. Every team varies and I'm okay with that. And, in fact, I think it should be that way. I will say on my own team, part of my team is in Hyderabad, India, part of my team is in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Now, we recently combined them, and as a combined team, we're on a three-week sprint schedule. The team in North Carolina, they were always on a three-week schedule. However, the team in India, and there were specific reasons they were on their own... They're just the more junior team. I wanted a faster feedback cycle. Right? If they were going off the rails, I wanted to know that sooner. Why? So we can course correct. Get them back on the rails quickly. So that was a one-week cycle. And we had all the ceremonies start to finish each Monday through each Friday. Over the course of the past year, they've become much more mature, which is why we combined the teams and everybody's on a three-week schedule now.
Grant Duncan 11:08
Cool. Thanks for sharing. So I imagine you track some of the Scrum typical metrics. But when you think about like a week or a month or a quarter - what metrics do you report out on and track?
Greg Montalvo 11:29
To me, there's two, two different types of metrics, two different classifications of metrics. There's the internal facing the external facing metrics. One is, how am I doing for my clients? How's my business operating? The other is: well, how is the internal structure? How's my, you know, and I'm going to use some agile terms here. What's my velocity? So, yeah, we do. You know, so we'll ticket count. How many tickets per developer, per sprint? Right, those are some of the things that we look at, knowing full well...
Grant Duncan 12:06
Do you t-shirt size them as well, or kind of keep them more generic?
Greg Montalvo 12:10
Yeah, we do. I mean, so as we start each sprint, we go through and we size each. We use a point system. For us, we use the Fibonacci sequence. But same difference, right. So we size them. And we also recognize even at the end, there are things that you plug into a spreadsheet that don't necessarily translate, and what is that? You know, not every ticket is created equal. You can have one ticket, that's like, broad, general, build me a back end service. Right? That's gonna take a talented individual several weeks, probably several sprints. Where another ticket could be like, well add a combo box to this specific page, right? So yeah, there are things we track, but at the same time, you know, we just understand that those metrics, those internally facing metrics, they're not saying everything. So I broke that answer into two parts. That's the internally facing metrics. I do want to speak to the externally facing metrics, but in between the two, I want to pause and offer you an opportunity for follow on questions throughout the internal metrics, the more typical agile stuff?
Grant Duncan 13:31
No, I think your explanation makes a lot of sense. You know, I think people listening are probably going to find that kind of information helpful, as they're probably wondering too, how should I be measuring my Sprints? Or are we really sizing this correctly? Is the method we're using the best? So I think your answer was great.
Greg Montalvo 13:51
Okay, great. Thank you. So the other part of it, is I like to know, I feel I have responsibility, in fact, to know that we're building the right feature. It's not just that we are building features and product, and so on - we're building the right features and products and so on. And so there are things that I track externally. Now, these are the more classic business school kind of metrics. Customer retention rates - year over year, how many customers am I gaining? How many am I losing? What is my share of the market? I mean, regarding the automotive industry, I can tell you here and now, there are roughly 15,000 dealerships in the United States. How many of those rooftops are using my software? That's something I care very deeply about. And, you know, on a month over month basis, on a quarterly basis, how is that number tracking over time? And then the third one I'll offer for you and your listeners is - profitability metrics. Because it's easy to gain market share, if I just give the software away, right? It's not just about putting a product into the market, it's also about building a business, taking care of families, who are working on that product. How are those numbers? You know, specifically, a number I care about is EBIT. How's that number tracking month over month, quarter over quarter, year over year?
Grant Duncan 15:33
Yeah, yeah. And so because Inmar is focused on these different industries, kind of verticals. Does each one report out on these? And then you can kind of look across? Or do they focus on a more general number overall?
Greg Montalvo 15:48
So both is the short answer. And I want to be careful, you know, how much I say about the broader firm. But, yeah, there are verticals. And all of that is reported at a vertical level, as well as firm level.
Grant Duncan 16:08
And you talked about, you know, calculating costs, I think, sometimes getting COGS... You know, if you're a PM and thinking "How do I look at the pricing structure? And how do I factor in the costs here?". What are some of those decisions on what you include and what you don't? Or how you, take for instance, infrastructure cost - do you include that? Do you not? Do you spread it out over current number of users, future users? How do you think about some of those hard questions?
Greg Montalvo 16:38
Yeah, great question. It really depends. Some questions are so marginal. But infrastructure specifically, right. So as your costs, AWS costs, there's a certain element of you're not going to get away from them. One. And two, you know, those are competitive markets. So there's not a whole lot of value. Plus in the bigger scheme of things, they're the smallest costs. So, you know, I'm not tracking the cost of desktops and virtual machines and so on, that becomes kind of a line item that just gets cut across an entire business. But other more operational costs, I'll call them more marginal costs, the cost to service a specific customer, right? So I'll give you a more concrete example. I often refer to this as the "So what, now what?". We spend an awful lot of time in the "So what?" area. What is the "So what"? Well, that's all the number crunching, modeling, you know, and I often use this term, just because I like to see the response to the hierarchical clusters that we create of consumers. Because I like to see how people use a term like that, I like to see how people respond to it. But that's all the data sciences that I'm referring to. They're the things we do in the background, the number crunching, we spend a lot of time, a lot of money in those areas, right? That's the "So what?" part.
Grant Duncan 18:18
And your partner with other teams to do that, you're not going in and doing that yourself?
Greg Montalvo 18:24
We do those things ourselves. We have, I will say it is a shared resource, but we have our own data science gal, in this case, with a number of advanced degrees, and she is everything you would expect from such an individual. Love her to death. I want to name her personally, but I'm gonna hold that back. At any rate, we do have our own person who's dedicated to our stuff. Okay, so that's the "So what?" part of things. Now, what do you do with this? Invariably, in many cases, it's driving some kind of marketing program. Right? So we'll send out email, direct mail. I know, we all get them in our inbox. I don't know too many people who say "Man, that was a great postcard you sent me", but yeah, we do send those things. Those things then become the marginal costs associated with individual customers, right? How many social media ads did I place at how many customers? And so on. So those are some of the costs that will be accounted for, as we're planning the business out, saying, okay, so many rooftops... and that's how I think of things - a dealership, rooftop, one and the same. And so with each rooftop, what does that mean for our business? How do we grow over time?
Grant Duncan 19:47
Yeah, it's really interesting to hear you again, kind of talking about putting on that MD PM hat, plus, how that can really look across, you know, other areas of the business here. That's cool. I think being more collaborative and thinking about it holistically is really, really valuable.
Greg Montalvo 20:05
Can I add one more point there? I would be remiss. So and this is one of the things I love about product management is you get to work with so many people throughout the organization. And in this case, as we're planning out the cost of goods, right? I do sit down with a counterpart in finance, who keeps me honest. Right? He says, "Now, wait a second, you know, this is not according to GAAP accounting rules. You can't do that.", and she'll reel me back in.
Grant Duncan 20:37
Yeah, they want to make sure it's correct to the CFO when they see it.
Greg Montalvo 20:41
Grant Duncan 20:43
Yeah. All right. So this is a hard question here, that I think all PMS deal with. How do you balance customer requests with new innovations, when they might not be aligned? That trade off prioritization question.
Greg Montalvo 20:59
Yeah, this comes up all the time. I'll tell Junior Product Managers I work with, or those on my team - if you're not good at answering this question, you really have to find another job. Because it's going to come up again and again. Now, I will say terrain always dictates, right? Each and every case is its own case, and really deserves that kind of thought. So that's a bit of a not answer, admittedly. So let me give you some rules of thumb that guide me as I go about answering that question. What is the size of the customer? What is their value? That's an important element to consider. Right? Not to say any customer is more important than any other. But it does give you a sense of implications, right?
Grant Duncan 21:55
If I pay you $1000 versus $10 million is a very different scale.
Greg Montalvo 22:00
Exactly. Right. So what are the internal factors, what do we have in the queue right now? What are the time implications? What are we working on right now? What are the implications of kicking that down the road? There are some costs arguably associated. What is that cost? Also, this last one, I think, is the most important one. In fact, I would recommend any listener to start with this one. And that is the time implication, right? Because I've often found that if you go to the customer, and you say, you know, "Do you need this now? Or can you wait some amount of time for it?" - everybody can have their cake and eat it. If the timing can just be worked out.
Grant Duncan 22:46
Yeah. And as you mentioned, because you're a close partnership with actually talking with your customers, I'm sure that that helps as well. So when you think about planning, do you do it on an annual, quarterly basis? How do you do that? And how do you even determine what those goals should be?
Greg Montalvo 23:04
Yes? Is the short answer. We do it on an annual, as well as on a quarterly basis. And one really drives the other. The way I think about it, is I think about where do I want to be a year from now? And through backward induction, right? Work my way back to - well, where am I now? When we're talking about it on an annual basis... I mentioned it earlier in this conversation, the business Canvas, I'm a big fan of it, because it's lightweight, it forces you to ask yourself the right questions. I'll use that as a tool to then outline the things I need to do. Again, I have the end in mind. So what are the things I need to do? What are some of the competitive threats along the way? How am I gonna answer those competitive threats? So on an annual basis, those are the kinds of things I'm doing. And then yeah, also building out the financial models around it to say, "Does this make sense?". And so as we get into the year, I think of that as like the strategy. As we get into the quarter, right, that becomes far more tactical.
Grant Duncan 24:21
And one quick question, when you talk about the annual, like, let's say, your fiscal year starts January, I don't know if it does, how many months earlier do you start that? Is it a couple of weeks? A month, four months?
Greg Montalvo 24:35
I know the answer I should give, but I'm going to give you the real answer, haha! We've got a great planning process - months in advance, right. We go off into some retreat, out the other side comes this pristine... No! It's a lot messier than that. Why? Because, you know, firefighting and tactics - those rule a day. And I'll tell you, I've worked in a number of different organizations and marquee organizations, it's the same everywhere, right? People think to themselves "Oh, wait, there's the way it should be". Now, I've worked at these places, there's the way it is, right? And so what happens when things are the way they are? It means, you know, you got to do strategy planning. You differ on it as long as you can, right? Of course, senior leadership, their dates don't move. So as a practitioner, you're constantly pushing up against those days. And at the last minute, and I say the last minute, you know, last few weeks, it's like, okay, rush, rush, rush. Let me let me go put these materials together. Here's kind of what I'm thinking about. Head off in this general direction. They'll get some buy-in from sales people, maybe some clients. Put together your materials. And quickly present it as if you spent the whole year thinking about that plan.
Grant Duncan 26:10
Okay. And then you also mentioned quarterly goals and planning. What does that look like? How do you determine those?
Greg Montalvo 26:19
Since to me those are much more tactical. In any given quarter I like to tell product, those on my team - "Listen, this coming quarter should be pretty crystal clear for you. You know the terrain, you know what we're up against, you know where we're trying to go. You also know what we finished and didn't finish last quarter. So it should be unsurprising". Right? So in the week, two weeks preceding a quarter... I like a tool called OKRs. Didn't invent the idea. Objectives and key results. Are you familiar?
Grant Duncan 26:55
Yeah, we use them as well at Voximplant.
Greg Montalvo 26:57
Yeah, brilliant. So about two weeks before the end of the quarter, I will write my OKRs for the coming quarter, and then get with team members individually to review their previous quarter, as well as to give them an opportunity to see mine. And then there'll even be a follow up for their OKRs as they then go right on. And so it's very "Hey, I want to get this feature into the marketplace". Maybe it's not "I want to get this feature", maybe it's "I just want to wireframe that feature out". And so on. Those are objectives. What are the measurements, the things that we can all look at and say, yeah, that took place. What are the key results, that will up to those objectives? So that's the formula we follow. I like to follow personally. And I find it also, you know, when you get into the Uber tactical really the Agile sprint ceremonies, it all just flows. Now you're just creating the the stories, and the tickets, and the epics that support your OKRs.
Grant Duncan 28:05
Yeah. So, obviously, a very key partner for Product Managers is the Engineering team. How do you think about working effectively with Engineering teams?
Greg Montalvo 28:18
Alright, so another pause here, I'll give you another bit of my background. I was an engineer myself for a number of years, cut my teeth, with the likes of... I want to name the firms I've worked for, but I know I would bait myself and many of your listeners might not even recognize the names! Nonetheless, wrote an awful lot of code in my career. And so those times affect me, now that I'm a Product Manager. I can't help but recall, you know, the inauthentic guy or gal who just walks around the office on his or her mobile phone all day. Just, you know, "I'm making miracles happen around here". Like, what exactly do you do?! Right? Never want to be that guy. So for me, the most important thing is authenticity and credibility. And how do I build that with engineers? Well, I join them in the trenches. You've heard me talking about it throughout this discussion here. The artifacts that I'll build, I want them to know, each and every day that I am as dedicated as they are. That I'm not just asking them to build a feature, because it's going to look nice in a slide deck and make me look good in front of the CEO. It's because there's real market value there. And I've done my part, so far as I'm able to, to say it's not just a feature, it's the right feature. Right, and this is the right time to build that feature. And so, so yeah, do your market research, competitive analysis, who are our competitors here? What are they doing? When I approach them that way, they say "Wow, yeah. Okay, that makes sense. We're going to kill it!" - there are a lot more brought into the concept. Again, company with the financial metrics. And then product specifications, which I know product specifications are so 1990s... but showing that I think through the product that they have to build, again builds credibility.
Grant Duncan 30:34
Yeah, yeah, I think the credibility piece is super important. I mean, as the VP of Marketing for Voximplant, I am not working with engineers in the same way. But when I think about the times that I do interact with them, or let's say, with our front end web development team, being able to have some idea of even how long things take goes a long way. And so I'm sure you being able to draw on that experience to say like, "Oh, well, I understand why you're doing this". This is why you're choosing this Fibonacci number here. Right, versus this other one?
Greg Montalvo 31:09
Grant Duncan 31:10
So do you think that to be a Product Manager, or a leader in Product Management, that you need to have had engineering backgrounds? Or?
Greg Montalvo 31:22
No. So, you know, it's interesting, and great question, by the way. Because I talked to people in my company and other companies, you know, and they have questions "How do I get involved in it?" Product management is an interesting field, there's no institution that I know of, where you can go and be like, I'm going to get my Bachelor's degree in Product Management. If it exists, maybe it does, I don't know, I've never heard of it... So we tend to come from very fields, right? Computer Science, Marketing backgrounds. I've got a guy on my team, as we have this conversation right now, he's a Product Manager with a Math major? He doesn't care for coding very much. It's a multi faceted, multi talented individual, for Product Management. The ability to reach across disciplines and engage people in high quality conversations, I think is a prime requisite for the role.
Grant Duncan 32:30
Yeah, well, I'm sure for those who don't have an engineering background, they're relieved to hear some hope that they can continue to grow or enter Product Management.
Greg Montalvo 32:43
Sure. Yeah. I mean, I love it. But of course, you know, my opinion's biased here.
Grant Duncan 32:48
Haha, sure! Okay. So if you had a magic wand and you had one wish, you could solve one product management problem, what would that be?
Greg Montalvo 33:00
As I think about it - focus. So just a moment ago, I was telling you about how we work with accountants, with finance, sales people. The very next day, we're meeting with clients, right? Pitching products. And all of that, I think, should apply for the typical Product Manager... should absolutely apply. As well as, and it goes without saying, sitting down with your engineering cohort, right? So because we are these individuals who can work cross functionally that way, at least it's been my experience - you get thrown at fires early and often. It's like, you become a firefighter within the organization. We got a problem here, go parachute in and solve that problem. Okay, let me get everybody together, everybody in the boat rowing at the same time. Now, I'll admit, there's a part of that problem that I find rewarding, I'm guilty of this problem myself, right? People tap me, and I'm like, "Yes, I'll be Johnny on the spot for you. I love it". Because I like that feedback when a problem is solved, I enjoy the adulation that comes along with it. But there's a problem there. There's an unintended consequence that results. Now is that the best use of my time, right? Arguably, I should be spending all of my time thinking about product, thinking about the competition, growing our business, and so on. Anything that takes away from that, you know, is not a net benefit for the team. And so, focus is my answer. Being able to appear in the eyes, in the organization or even a loss right? Chief Executive comes to me and says, "Hey, I want you to come take a look at this problem", being able to look at them and say, "Well, you know, I can do that for you. But understand, here's the cost of not doing that". Far too often - it's not like that. So focus can be a bit challenging.
Grant Duncan 35:21
Yeah. Yeah. I would imagine that probably everyone resonates with that. So how do you explain to your family or maybe someone not in the tech industry, what you do?
Greg Montalvo 35:40
Um, I'll admit, this is probably the hardest question. I don't think I have a good answer.
Grant Duncan 35:48
Work with computers? Haha!
Greg Montalvo 35:50
Haha, yeah, I have answered it that way! Here's the risk of that answer, though, invariably leads to "Oh, you know, I am having a problem with my Mac or my Windows. Could you..." - that's not what I do. Yeah, I'm not your your personal Help Desk assistant. But then I start talking about data science and modeling, and so on. I mean, even when I tried to keep it in a business sense, identifying the signals of when you're ready to buy something... Still, eyes glass over. And I lose people. It's a bit of a cop out answer, but my most common answer is, and it's not even true, but that doesn't matter. I say I write software.
Grant Duncan 36:35
I mean, it gets the point across probably that, you know, you're working for some software company dealing with software stuff.
Greg Montalvo 36:42
Yeah. Yeah. And that's good enough. And it also avoids the "Oh, can you fix my computer?" question.
Grant Duncan 36:52
Yeah, I'm sure you have enough to do that you don't want to be a personal friend Help Desk. So if you think about that someone's listening and they are thinking about how to be a better PM leader. What would you say are the top couple strategies you use that you'd recommend to others?
Greg Montalvo 37:13
Okay, so I'll start with the more organizational stuff. Have you heard of Joel Spolsky. "Joel on Software", read his book, 20 years ago or so? I try not to date myself. But there, I just did it. Not my favorite book because I really learned something new from it, but really, I like it because it gave voice to things, I felt as a practitioner, were true. And so I will, when it comes to organizational stuff, I will lean on the kinds of things I think he would say, right? How do you advance the art and the practice at the organizational level? Here's why product managers are important. And I'll give you an example here. You've heard people far more famous than me say, you know, the difference between a good developer and a great developer is 100x difference in return. Have you heard that expression before? Well, I have my own corollary on that, which is a good Product Developer, will give you a 10x return on any engineer, even the best amongst them. How is that? Because we're answering all the questions before they need to be answered. So that 100x developer, he looks over a few things really quickly and he says, "Okay, yeah, I get it. I can build that". To me that's a good day in the office, when, when my lead engineer looks me in the eyes and says that. And that's how we become the 10x, the force multiplier within our organization, right? Not every organization gets that. So some of the practices that we've talked about in this conversation, those are some of the artifacts. I say, "Hey, guys, let's all get on board and do these things. I promise, there's a return on this investment". Right? And then taking people through it. You know, holding lunch and learns and so on, is what we do all day every day, love it! If we don't love it, that's okay, but this isn't the job for you. So that's the more organizational stuff, right? Speak to the practices, the value of it and try to get others on board with it. At the more more tactical level... The day in and day out. Here again we've been talking about it throughout this conversation. Those tend to be the more agile ceremonies. Let me pause for a second and talk about process in general, right? I'm not a process heavy guy. And that's from somebody who... I started my career when, you know, heavy processes were kind of the rule of the day. And having mountains of paperwork, that's how you justified your position. And so I believe it's, you know, function over form, processes are the forms, right. And some organizations will spend a lot of time and energy... "Are we doing agile? Are we doing Scrum the right way?" It's like, well, does it work for you? "Yes". Okay, it's the right way! Don't get too hung up on, you know, do you stand or do you sit for stand ups? So long as it works! And to give you an example of something that wouldn't work. Let's say you're all standing, but your stand ups take an hour. Then clearly you've missed the point there. There's something not going right there.
Grant Duncan 41:07
Tired feet stand ups!
Greg Montalvo 41:09
Yeah, right! So as it pertains to the day in and day out, I will use agile practices, because it's a process that works. And then I adapt it to what I need. And that's all okay. I remember the days of... you remember the capability, maturity models. Do you remember those?
Grant Duncan 41:29
I used to work for consulting firms, so that was their jam.
Greg Montalvo 41:33
Okay. Well, wait, can I talk bad about them? Or am I gonna hurt your feelings?
Grant Duncan 41:39
No, I'm not tied to them in any way.
Greg Montalvo 41:41
Yeah, okay. Well, the reason I want to talk bad about them, is I remember how much time and energy organizations put into them, which it was all about the forms, right, forgetting about, you know, we actually have to write some code here. You have to put product in the market. It's more about the forms over the function.
Grant Duncan 42:02
Sometimes too expansive as well, almost like "in the clouds" kind of ideas.
Greg Montalvo 42:08
Right, right. I mean, theory and practice don't always line up.
Grant Duncan 42:14
That's a great quote! I'm gonna put you on the spot here, but what would you say is one of the hardest product decisions you've ever made?
Greg Montalvo 42:25
Wow. Yeah. What's coming to mind is something along make versus buy? Right? The reason I say that is, sometimes that affects livelihoods. And people kind of intuitively get that. And will dig in to say, "No, wait a second. Now we should be building this", for example, right? On one side. Or on the other side, they say, "You know, I really just don't want to be doing this". So they're going to be pushing even though it should be a core competency and we should be building it - they just don't want to do the work. So make versus buy decisions, tend to be more emotionally driven than purely in a business school sense, right? You crunch the numbers - what does it cost us to build it? Then you crunch the numbers - what does it cost for us to buy it? There's a clear answer and a clear winner... It's never that easy.
Grant Duncan 43:38
Yeah, yeah. That's a great point. Cool. Well, thanks so much for chatting today. Greg, are there any parting thoughts that you'd want to leave with up and coming PM leaders?
Greg Montalvo 43:51
What I would recommend is over everything else, be flexible. Evaluate the situation. Don't be in too big of a hurry. It's easy to rush down the wrong path. It takes time to be deliberate. And yeah, it's not always what you think it is. Be flexible. Listen to those around you. And give it a try. If it doesn't work, adjust quickly.
Grant Duncan 44:16
Great points. Awesome. Well, thanks so much for coming on, Greg. We appreciate your time. Have a good one!
Greg Montalvo 44:23
Thank you. And likewise, it's been a lot of fun with you here, Grant!
Grant Duncan 44:27
Yeah, you as well! Bye!
Grant Duncan 44:31
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