July 23, 2018

Interview with Product Gym on Product Manager Soft Skills

Product Gym, a company that provides tools for people looking to transition into product management, invited me to speak at their event highlighting Women in Product Management, and interviewed me on crucial soft skills that make for effective product managers. The interview, originally posted on their blog, is pasted below:

 

PRODUCT GYM: What is your definition of Product Management?

NICOLE LENZEN: Product Management involves the definition, build, launch, and iteration of a product. In terms of the role itself, I think what you said about product management being so different depending on the organization is really key. Maybe you’re very technical, or design-oriented, or have a strong business mind. However, there are some general areas of expertise that overlap whether you're working for a product-based startup, doing digital transformation within a large company, or working within the growth hacking space.

I think one of them is being able to communicate at all levels to all different types of backgrounds. It’s really having that right brain/left brain thinking to understand either a designer, engineer, or business person and communicate and translate the ideas and concepts of each of those various groups to the other. There’s also a lot of communication up and down, so at one moment you may be working in the weeds and the nitty-gritty, and the next moment at a very high level with executives and key stakeholders, so being able to again translate and communicate with the right fidelity is important. Does that make sense?

 

PRODUCT GYM: Absolutely.

NICOLE LENZEN: That's just one thing. There are other things too that I can quickly tick off. I think one of them is just being generally super organized and the source of truth. Being great at planning, documenting, and getting people on the same page to ensure they're all tracking towards the same vision is another that comes to mind. It’s making sure everyone is motivated towards achieving the same objectives and goals, which may be short term or long term depending on whether you're looking at an MVP, a pilot, or a really long-term calendar.

That kind of leads me to another one which is focused around leadership, and being able to really nurture your people. You're in a position where (as everyone always says) you manage product, not people. So you don't necessarily have a hierarchical position. You may not be above the people who are working on your team. However, you own the deliverables and the success of the product, and in many ways, the culture of your team. To that end you have to keep everyone engaged and feeling like they are individually contributing and growing, and that their voices are heard.

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August 1, 2017

Changing the Narrative: Girls Who Code Today Become Women in Power Tomorrow

As part of the Girls Who Code summer immersion program, I organized a day of activities for 20 Los Angeles area high school girls at BCG Digital Ventures headquarters to learn about various career paths in the digital innovation space. Throughout the day, Girls Who Code participants took a tour of our Global HQ in Manhattan Beach, saw rapid-fire presentations on what each of our cohorts do in their day-to-day jobs, had an informal Q&A with women in leadership over lunch, and participated in a design thinking workshop to help ideate products that help girls figure out “what they want to be when they grow up.” 

In the post below based on my keynote speech, I discuss the importance of women in the workforce–not just in technology, but across all industries.

Programs like Girls Who Code didn’t exist when I was in high school. As one of the few females in my computer science classes, I was used to being an outlier. But it was incredibly difficult to figure out what I wanted to be when I “grew up.” As a result, I ran a lot of experiments in real-time. After working in Silicon Valley for a stint, I pivoted my career and went back to school to study fashion design. I went on to run a number of businesses, including a consultancy in the digital space, which led to product management at BCG Digital Ventures.

The specific set of challenges women in tech face are front and center right now–and for good reason. The number of women graduating with CS degrees now is even less than when I was in school. In order to continue to make progress, we must keep this topic in the forefront.

From my experience, there is no direct path for any individual. You can play many roles in your lifetime and you don’t need to climb any particular ladder in any particular order. I believe that we should continue to introduce opportunities for young girls to explore what they enjoy and discover what they’re naturally good at doing.

As digital becomes part of everything we do, technology and new job growth are becoming synonymous. You don’t have to work at a stereotypical “tech” company if you have tech skills, and you don’t have to be a full-stack engineer to have an amazing career at a “tech” company– building game-changing products requires input from all disciplines. Within the next few years, we will see the demand for skilled workers outpace supply. There will not be enough qualified people to fill the jobs created–let alone enough female talent.

Women are typically the early adopters, accounting for–by far–the majority of spending decisions in the US. If women are the ones using the technology, then shouldn’t we be contributing to its design and development? Recently, a friend of mine working on a women’s health app noticed that every single team member (including him) was male. Something is wrong with this picture! We need balanced viewpoints and actual end-users guiding key product decisions.

When you consider that companies with women founders perform three times better than the S&P 500, and that female-operated, venture-backed companies average higher annual revenues and use less capital, it’s of paramount importance that we increase the amount of women in prominent, influential roles. Ultimately, we need to create an environment where females are securing positions of power not just in the corporate world, but as entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, politicians and beyond.

It is my hope that we will eventually come to a place where gender roles no longer exist–no labeling or discrimination by race, sexual orientation, or otherwise. But the only way we are going to get there is to flood the workplace with diversity, open-mindedness and amazing talent. That’s where organizations like Girls Who Code come in. The more girls we get excited about technology, the more women we will have in the workforce in the coming years.

April 12, 2016

Podcast Research Project

Podcast_Project

I recently did an independent project for a company on podcasting, putting together a product feature strategy to test the hypothetical assumption that listeners who interact with other users have a better overall experience, using the podcast app Stitcher as the example platform.

The project was fun and informative, and got me hooked on podcasts. After testing a few apps, my preferred one is Pocket Casts (on Android), and since finishing the project I have listened to the entire first season of Serial. I've also explored episodes from Here's the Thing, Actuality, Radiolab, There Goes the Neighborhood, and Dollars to Donuts. (I welcome any other recs!)

My friend Simon and I have a bit of a soft spot for 007, and once he discovered my renewed interest in podcasts, tipped me off to James Bonding (of The Nerdist empire). Simon recently purchased the entire 007 collection on Blu-ray, so we've started from the beginning with Dr. No, and are proceeding to watch each film in order of release. I'm then listening to the corresponding podcast soon after. I must say, they're pretty entertaining - I was definitely caught walking down the street laughing out loud.

Anyway, back to the project at hand... My research had me inclined to think that podcasting is a more personal experience than other share-heavy mediums, but the brief was specifically directed towards increasing user-to-user interaction so I took a feature strategy that I felt best aligned with the typical podcast user: saving and sharing highlights of a podcast with friends and colleagues. Check out the project deck above for research, insights, and feature design.

December 2, 2015

Industry Insights with Francis Bitonti of Francis Bitonti Studio

Francis_BitontiFrancis Bitonti with the first functional 3D printed shoe created in partnership with Adobe

The future of fashion shows up everywhere—in movies, advertisements, and editorial photo shoots. Most of what is dreamed up is some sort of high-functioning, hard-lined design that promises all the technology we have yet to think up. Francis Bitonti is one of the people doing the actual thinking—not only for the fashion industry, but the entire industry of manufacturing. Bitonti is the name behind Francis Bitonti Studio, a design studio focused on "emerging models of mass production and processes for material formation." Of the many things the studio focuses on, 3D printing has proven a newsworthy endeavor. Something you might remember: His 3D-printed gown for Dita von Teese.

Bitonti_Dita_Gown
Francis Bitonti Studio Collaborated with Michael Schmidt Studios and Shapeways to create a fully articulated 3D printed gown designed specifically for Dita Von Teese. The gown has nearly 3000 unique articulated joints and is adorned with over 12,000 Swarovski crystals. Photo by Albert Sanchez

In talking to Bitonti, you can tell he's an educator above all else—which makes sense, given most of his early career was spent as a design professor. But that didn't stop once he solidified his own studio. Bitonti still holds workshops for students looking to learn about the future of emerging manufacturing models and how to utilize them. Ahead: We chat with Bitonti on the state of the fashion industry, where design schools fall short, and more.

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November 17, 2015

Recap: Pioneer Mode 2015

Last weekend marked the very first Pioneer Mode conference—two days full of inspiring conversation, problem solving, and designing. A lot of people contributed to Pioneer Mode’s success—our amazing group of speakers and workshop leaders, all of the attendees, the volunteers. Instead of hearing how great it was from us, check out all of the tweets shared using the #PioneerMode2015 hashtag throughout the course of the event.

November 9, 2015

Industry Insights with QCut’s Crystal Beasley

Crystal Beasley is taking on quite the task: to provide custom-fit denim to people around the world without having a physical retail space—for now. By taking five measurements and putting customers through two fittings, Crystal says QCut will get your fit 95 percent right. Considering most store-bought jeans are tried on and still don't see the light of day, it's quite the promise—not to mention a great lesson in efficient production. Each pair is made on-demand in the USA, meaning there's no pulling from the stock room when it comes to QCut.

Recently, Beasley made the decision to forgo a business partner and take the project on herself, with lots of support from her personal network. We grabbed some time to chat the important of outside support, the state of innovation in the fashion industry, and more. Meet Crystal.

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October 9, 2015

Industry Insights with Wabi Sabi CEO Michele Cohen

Originally posted on the Pioneer Mode blog, where we dig into the core of the fashion industry by collecting perspectives, identifying the key issues, and uncovering potential solutions. In our Industry Insights series, we interview key stakeholders to consider their day-to-day challenges, and reveal their contributions towards a stronger, healthier community of fashion enterprise.

Michele Cohen has a word for how she runs her business, Wabi Sabi Ecofashion Concept: "Octopus" (more on that later). Michele, who started out in finance and business strategy, has found herself leading a team for a burgeoning fashion brand—somewhere she never expected to end up. Talking to Michele, you can tell she lives the lifestyle her brand promotes: eco-friendly, sustainable education focused, versatile, completely centered on personal values. Wabi Sabi is gearing up to launch its second collection, but we caught some time with Michele to talk industry pain points, meeting your consumer on every available platform, and her lack of fashion business role models (it's not as negative as it sounds—we promise).

The Daily Pain Points: Tradition and Breaking Stereotypes

Michele: "There are many pain points around being an entrepreneur, specifically with a small company. There are pain points focused around fashion in many aspects—both the idea that it’s difficult to present to the consumer, and that brands are very competitive. Another part that is challenging is the supply chain. The whole manufacturing / production / supply side is very traditional in our industry. Yet we’re in a very consumer-focused, innovative, fast-paced industry. It’s just two different worlds, manufacturing and marketing. They often collide more than they combine. That’s my personal day-to-day pain point: looking at that divide between what’s behind the company and what we do moving forward in terms of commercial strategy.

I always say I’m not sure if I’m an entrepreneur in the fashion industry or if I’m an educator and communicator.

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August 29, 2015

Industry Insights with Bag the Habit’s Liz Long

Originally posted on the Pioneer Mode blog, where we dig into the core of the fashion industry by collecting perspectives, identifying the key issues, and uncovering potential solutions. In our Industry Insights series, we interview key stakeholders to consider their day-to-day challenges, and reveal their contributions towards a stronger, healthier community of fashion enterprise.

We’re continuing the fashion industry conversation with Liz Long—Bag the Habit founder and consultant to Maker’s Row. Last time around, we caught up with Kaight’s Kate McGregor to chat what it’s like as a retailer to work with small brands (spoiler: so much more flexible) and the lack of environmental impact-focused discussion within the design industry. Given that Pioneer Mode is aimed at bringing industry pain points to light, we asked Liz to add a few to the list.

Liz is constantly in contact with fellow entrepreneurs of all levels as they make their way through Maker’s Row—a website dedicated to matching designers with factories. Her own business, Bag the Habit, is focused on creating reusable totes made of 100 percent eco-textiles. Through her own business experience with Bag the Habit, Maker’s Row, and teaching virtual courses through sites like Skillshare, Liz has constantly found ways to grow and share insight through global sharing (something she wishes there were more of—more on that later). Read on to hear Liz’s thoughts on the state of the sharing economy, growing the education-tech space, and whether or not “American made” is here to stay.

What I’ve seen from teaching on these [educational] sites is not just me teaching the students—it’s them connecting with each other. I’m watching this organic connection happen and it’s just awesome.

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August 13, 2015

Industry Insights with Kaight’s Kate McGregor

Originally posted on the Pioneer Mode blog, where we dig into the core of the fashion industry by collecting perspectives, identifying the key issues, and uncovering potential solutions. In our Industry Insights series, we interview key stakeholders to consider their day-to-day challenges, and reveal their contributions towards a stronger, healthier community of fashion enterprise.

To kick off our industry insights series, we chatted with Kate McGregor—the owner and founder of Kaight, a specialty boutique in Brooklyn focusing on sustainable fashion and educating shoppers on the importance of knowing about their clothes' backstory, by putting the idea of discovery at the front of the shopping experience. Kate—who launched her brick and mortar store in August 2006 and the online shop within the following year—has always put the idea of “slow fashion” above all when it comes to the merchandise she carries. The store, which has become a neighborhood favorite, has garnered a multitude of press on its message. In Kate’s words: “We’re all about helping customers style themselves and get the most wear out of their purchases. I’ve had people comment that this philosophy and type of selling is counterintuitive for a retail store: We’re not trying to push products on people. We want customers to really think about what they’re buying and be thoughtful consumers.”

“We’re all about helping customers style themselves and get the most wear out of their purchases. We’re not trying to push products on people.”

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August 9, 2015

The Path’s Dina Kaplan on How a Two-and-a-Half Year Trip Around the World Changed Her Life

Dina Kaplan was the co-founder of multiple companies when she realized it was time for a change. Specifically, it took breaking down across the street from her office for her to realize that something wasn't quite right. Up until that point, she had been very successfully running Blip.tv, the New York City-based Founders Club (which is exactly what it sounds like), and Calliope Group—an organization of women founders looking to connect with one another. All of these organizations were healthily adding to her growing network and resume, but also slowly taking over every minute of her life. Her answer: a two-and-a-half-year trip around the world to fight a few fears and make some friends along the way.

While we're going to dig into her story in a minute, it's important to recognize the outcome: The Path—a new business that integrates some of Dina's newfound practices (mainly meditation) into daily life. With a newly opened location for The Path, we took a few minutes to chat with Dina about her story and how she got to where she is today. Take it in:

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