Michael Luchen is joined by Natalie Mandriko, product manager at GroundTruth. She manages products B2B/B2C by using data and collaborating across departments to deliver valuable and usable experiences for your customers that are viable for your business. Listen to learn how cross-functional collaboration empowers product growth.
Natalie is a product manager with experience in both the B2B and B2C space. Her emphasis is in using data and guiding collaboration across multiple departments to deliver valuable and usable experiences for her businesses. [0:42]
Natalie’s background runs the Gamut from software development to QA positioning and she is extremely well to have truly excellent insight into what guys effective cross-functional collaboration. [1:01]
Currently, Natalie works in the growth industry as a growth product manager for WeatherBug, managing partnerships and leading growth in analytics. Alongside that, Natalie is a community leader in the Washington DC area with two major groups, UX, DC, and the Miro DC user group. [1:12]
Natalie started her career as a software engineer on the backend. She had this understanding of how important it is to understand the datas and have structured data behind the scene. Then she moved to project management and now she feels like she could combine the whole history of her exploration with deep appreciation for data and how to use data to influence the grocery sheets for the product. [1:46]
Having this growth mindset within the team requires cross-functional collaboration, meaning we have different perspectives from engineering, from the data side, from marketing to inform the challenges that are most pressing for our product and then together, we adiating solutions going back to design thinking. [3:07]
Collaboration depends on the projects and products that you’re executing. [5:40]
Natalie has three major roles depending on the needs of the projects. Those roles might be fulfilled from different departments and this way you unlock cross-functional collaboration. [7:50]
The most important part of cross-functional collaboration is, first, empathy. You need to have empathy within the team members. [8:36]
The second most important part of cross-functional collaboration is you need to have a strong sense of why you need to struggle through it. [9:03]
The biggest challenge that Natalie experience when they’re creating and guiding the cross-functional team is lots of empathy. [10:39]
“It’s natural that we want to have the structure so people feel safe within this structure. It’s natural to have processes, to make sure that you’re not overwhelmed with work.”
— Natalie Mandriko
Hippo – the highest paid person’s opinion. A person who has a definite answer or definite opinion that we need to just follow. [14:53]
North Star metric – the metric should show how your product delivers value to your customers and to make it more practical. [16:41]
Having the North star is not enough. Now you want to decompose to make it relevant to deeper levels in your organization. [18:19]
One way to engage is through Push Notification. [19:25]
“If you start with the product strategy, then that should inform your North Star metric, and then you have smaller decomposed ways to move that metric so you can realize your strategy.”
— Natalie Mandriko
The product manager’s role specifically for cross-functional teams and making it support product growth is more of a facilitation. [23:08]
Natalie’s friend, Ethan Garr from Breakout Growth mentioned in their first conversation, “when you start doing growth the number one thing is to help everyone in the organization to learn their role in growth.” [23:17]
“When you start doing growth, the number one thing is to help everyone in your organization to learn their role in growth.”
— Natalie Mandriko
Natalie’s number one job is to empower her team to grow. [23:49]
“I want to do better for the people that I now see in each seat. I want to be better for my clients and my customers, and the only way to do it is to empower everyone.”
— Natalie Mandriko
Natalie personally guides her team with metrics by showing how quickly they can execute. [26:27]
Natalie’s personal habit that has contributed most to her success is investing in herself. [28:29]
Favorite tool that Natalie uses regularly is a timer. She uses a timer every morning because she does meditation. She put 10 minutes to meditate. [28:47]
Natalie’s advice: First, invest in yourself. Understand your needs, inclinations, habits, strengths and weaknesses. Second is to think about what makes you tick. The third is to stick with it no matter what. [29:09]
Natalie Mandriko manages products B2B/B2C by using data and collaborating across departments to deliver valuable and usable experiences for your customers that are viable for your business.
She has 15 years of IT experience from software development to QA/BA/PM. 10 years of leading teams, including 5+ years of distributed team management.
Specialty – Data Projects: API, API Management, Analytics.
Growing edge – Growth, Data Science
She has a strong software engineering background with ever-evolving design, management, analytics and data skills.
Core concepts that she applies daily in her work: Growth, Product Analytics, Project Management, Quality Assurance, UX Research & Design process, Agile, Lean Startup, Customer Discovery, Design Thinking.
“For product management, it’s important to understand that if you step into it, it will be a tremendous personal opportunity for you to grow yourself.”
We’re trying out transcribing our podcasts using a software program. Please forgive any typos as the bot isn’t correct 100% of the time.
Read the Transcript:
We know collaboration is key for success, but how do you guide collaboration across diverse skill sets? Taking that further, how might this cross-functional collaboration set your team up for successful growth of your product? Today, we have an experienced B2B and B2C product manager join us to help answer these questions. Stay tuned.
This is the Product Manager Podcast, the voices of a community that’s writing the playbook for product management, development and strategy. We’re sponsored by Crema, a digital product agency that helps individuals and companies thrive through creativity, technology, and culture. Learn more at crema.us. Keep listening for practical, authentic insights to help you succeed in the world of product management.
All right, everyone. Today, I’m so fortunate to welcome Natalie Mandriko to the podcast. Natalie is a product manager with experience and both the B2B and B2C space. Her emphasis is in using data and guiding collaboration across multiple departments to deliver valuable and usable experiences for her businesses.
Furthermore, Natalie’s background runs the Gamut from software development to QA positioning and her extremely well to have truly excellent insight into what guys effective cross-functional collaboration. Currently, Natalie works in the growth as a growth product manager for WeatherBug, managing partnerships and leading growth in analytics. Alongside that, Natalie is a community leader in the Washington DC area with two major groups, UX, DC, and the Miro DC user group.
Hey Natalie, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Michael. It’s wonderful to be here.
All right, so cross-functional collaboration and product growth. Ready to get into it?
All right. So just to start, what’s your personal background with product growth?
Yeah, I think it makes sense to share the whole context. So I started my career as a software engineer on the backend. So I had this understanding of how important it is to understand the datas and have a structured data behind the scene and then I moved to project management and then to product management and now I feel like I could combine now the whole history of my exploration with deep appreciation for data and now can use data to influence the grocery sheets for the product. So it’s now is excellent, please, and I feel at home finally to see how it can all overlap.
That’s awesome. So as we think about cross-functional collaboration, where does that come into play? And why is cross-functional collaboration a prerequisite for a product growth?
Yeah, well, before I felt like it’s my privilege to understand each role in the software development cycle, cause I’ve really love people and I love products and the way I build product is to, I engage people to build products. So, for me it was natural state, but for me, it was really hard to convince people just to do right thing in all, have cross-functional collaboration and build with class.
So now I have different leverages and saying, okay, not only you need to do right thing but it’s beneficial for your product and let me show you a framework how, you know, having this growth mindset within the team requires cross-functional collaboration, meaning we have different perspective from engineering, from data side, from marketing to inform, you know, the challenges that the most pressing for our product and then together, we adiating solutions going back to design thinking. Now we have multiple solutions from different perspectives and seem now feel engaged and invested in the outcome, which is a outcome of having good product for a good people.
Yeah. Yeah, no, that’s really good and a lot of ways really investing in your people creates those outcomes that you’re looking for from a product perspective.
Yeah. And that’s it. I really feel at home. So this is my ground.
I love it. I love it. So, for everyone here, let’s go ahead and shift gears a little bit to some set some foundations of what is cross-functional collaboration. So, just to start like overall simple levels, like what makes that cross-functional collaboration?
Yeah. Well, in my perspective to unlock this cross-functional collaboration, not only I need to have people in the room on a zoom call, I need to provide why so personal, so relevant to each role. So they feel like why they’re spending the time with me. Why growth is important for this role, for his role and how his contribution is actually will influence the product future.
That’s really good, like starting at that, Why is something that can be so easily overlooked, especially if you’re pulling in developers. Sometimes you know, organizations may be like, well, why do they need to know the why? And that’s, well, that’s like the foundation of starting a ground for cross-functional collaboration.
You know, beyond developers, like what other roles are typically going to be involved in a cross-functional team?
Yeah. Well, it depends on my 10 years of experience and stuff as a consultant speaks through it even outside the script. So I would have to say it depends and I used to have a sticker.
The actual sticker from an NG group with the no work, it depends. And it would have been the laptop and every time it had conversation with my new clients or existing clients, I just put my laptop first so they can see the immediate answer would be, it depends. So this is long story to tell that cross specialists collaboration depends on the projects and products that you’re executing or initiatives.
So in my context now with speaking about the growth initiatives and doing the growth initiatives within the company establish companies. I experimenting with the framework of, okay. I have experiment owner which is like a temp role for a person to join this maybe sprint or you coming from a scrum, it’s more of a sprinter growth sprint and that experiment owner. Maybe in real life, a marketing lead is as in my you know, fresh experiment and that person is responsible to understand why they want to do this growth experiment. He needs to, or she needs to execute the experiment, see results of it and internalize the results.
Okay, can now I understand how I need to do my work in the future, ensuring that will grow the the product. So this is the number one role is experiment owner. Now the second role is I see it’s working now is the data analyst, obviously you need to have data to inform your experiments and see how it’s working.
So in my setup, it’s not, you know, permanent role either. So I may have a product manager that, you know, wants to do more data and who wants to understand analytics system that we’re using. So I will like him to be a data analyst for this specific sprint or what we call it, the initiative for short duration and the last third role is growth advisors. People who needs to, they need to understand why we’re doing this work but they don’t need to be involved in the actual work. Think about how had a product she needs to understand the why of this growth experiment is important for the overall strategy of a product or Roadmap, and think about the engineers.
So, sometimes engineers not the active like experiment owner, but more of adviser. Like I now, he understands technology obviously, and he can advice advice what we can do and cannot do with the current implementation terms of experimentation. So this is like a base for my last experiment when we done the push notification optimization, I kind of feel like it’s okay.
I think I have like a three major roles and it, depending on needs of the projects, those roles might be fulfilled from different departments and this way you unlock cross-functional collaboration, just, you know, removing people from the stylist departments into one group and assigning temporary roles so they can see the common purpose.
Interesting. Yeah. So it’s really about like, figuring out what is the challenge we’re trying to solve and then who’s the team makeup of that and then kind of almost like there’s like this balance of, I understand you’re an engineer or you’re a head of product, but it kind of set those titles to the side and benefit of cross-functional collaboration.
So what is the most important part of cross-functional collaboration?
Oh, I have interestingly I have two major ones. First is empathy coming from different backgrounds and different responsibilities we don’t have enough visibility from other peoples other roles life and when you creating this teams first time, obviously you will see some friction in terms of understanding the reality and to make it a successful transition from not understanding to the shared understanding. You need to have empathy within the teams members. And the second one, when you have empathy well, even if you don’t have empathy, you need to have a strong sense of why you need to struggle through it, or I have to destination with this team. So basically going back to why, and as you go through achieving that why, you need to have empathy.
Yeah, empathy is so, so important. One of the tactics that we’ve gotten in the habit of doing on our product teams at Crema is at the start of some meetings doing what we call feelings wheel exercise, a you can Google feelings wheel, and it’s basically, we ask everyone on like a mural board to just drop their like a dot of like, Hey, this is how I’m feeling today cause you’re right like people have so much more than what they bring to the meeting. They might have something outside of work that they’re struggling with and knowing that context really allows everybody to come in as equals to work effectively a cross-functional collaboration.
I love it and that’s so feel insecure to do it at my own teams, but I have to do it.
It does take a push. You know, even when we’ve started, we work with a lot of clients and oftentimes it is uncomfortable to be like, wait, I have to talk about my feelings. But once you do it, a couple of times, what we found is that it really does it doesn’t only just allow you to focus on more effective discussions at the time, but it also creates better long time, long-lasting relationships.
Especially right now, everyone’s meeting through zoom all the time and there’s always humans on the other side of the screen. So, you know, speaking of maybe navigating some of that challenge with humans what are some challenges on your mind that organizations need to look out for when they’re creating and guiding the cross-functional teams?
Yeah, I think we nailed to looked in the last, you know, conversations, so one of them, the biggest one is lots of empathy. It’s not because people are evil. It’s just because the environment that we set up in the organization, it kind of not unlocking this innate power of being, you know, having empathy for other human and not human beings.
So I guess the structural challenges departments. We need to have departments, right? We need to have a sense of control. We need to have sense of belonging to a specific group, right? Otherwise they’re not going to see, like, what is my community. If I have organization over 200, there is no sense of community until I have, you know, my immediate team members that I can associate with and share zipper challenges in my work, right?
So it’s natural that we want to have the structure so people feel safe within this structure is natural to have processes, to you know, making sure that you’re not overwhelmed with work, but you know how to do your work and processes will guide you through it but the draw you know, the draw back of it is when you, we kind of, you know, feel so comfortable with departments, feel so comfortable with the processes, it might be so overwhelming to know that reality is lots structured as much more messy. And when you start doing this cross-functional, let’s say discovery of a product, as a new product, talking about the consulting side, right. It’s very uncomfortable or you do first initiatives within the company, or you do growth in a severely uncomfortable to for those people who are accustomed to be safe within departments, within current processes, the major barrier would be okay now I need to be feel less safe, less comfortable, less open to new ideas and less, feel less knowledgeable because of cross-functional knowledge is different knowledge.
So I’ll listen a lot to see or relax how can I show him the benefit being uncomfortable. So then he can decide by himself to be included and try it.
Yeah. Well, well said, I, you know, the thing about being uncomfortable in in for any role in product, I think is probably the biggest challenge.
It roots herein that like strive towards cross-functional effective cross-functional teams, but that being able to embrace feeling uncomfortable is it’s the biggest challenge for the success of any product role. Whether you’re a product manager or someone else working in a product. So much of what we do is rooted in ambiguity and if you embrace that discomfort, great things can come from it, but it is so hard to do it and it is much more hard than I would. I would argue much more harder than building any, like even classic product skills, like being able to understand and oversee process and more.
Yeah and well said as well. Yeah, and definitely value would be grow as a person, grow understanding of the ultimate reality. So this is why kind of, I feel for product management, it’s still important to understand if you stop in into it, it will be a tremendous personal opportunity for you to grow yourself.
Yes, definitely. So what’s, speaking of growth, let’s go and shift gears a little bit as we look towards alignment for product growth. And so Natalie, how do you align cross-functional teams towards product growth? Once you’ve got the cross-functional teams now, how are they aligned towards that product growth?
Now I’m gonna share uncomfortable reality of things you know, we have this idea of hippo the highest paid person opinion in their own and usually what happens if we have the person in the room, we kind of look up and see whether he has a definite answer or definite opinion that we need to just follow. It’s going to be easy path for us, even though we might complain a key or there is no productivity issue, we just follow his or her direction. But at the same time, we kind of rob ourselves off from our own responsibility and accountability. So, the uncomfortable truth is I still need to work with hippo, a highly paid person in the room and his directs first. So it’s still going to be a top to bottom approach in terms of, we need to determine product strategy. I need you to think through how do you measure the ultimate value you provide through your users? You need to agree between yourself, what would be the most important metric for you? And that will help you along the way if I feel that you’re lacking and naturally will lack a, you know, deeper understanding of growth as a discipline.
So provide some templates several provides some way of thinking through it, but this is your sensibility to determine the product strategy. This is your responsibility to determine the number one metric that the whole teams will follow and I’ll take my own responsibility to decompose one North star metric into levers, and I will work with levers with the teams to move the levers.
Can you talk a little bit about the North star metric? What is the North star metric?
Yeah. So this concept of the metric, it should be a simple one, but the metric should show how your product delivers value to your customers and to make it more practical is an example that one of the famous example is Airbnb has book and nights booked.
So this is the ultimate value, right? The reason you using the product is to book the night as a guest, or the reason you using this as a host is to offer your property. So then you can get the book booked nights and get money out of it, right? This transaction. So the ultimate goal for both sides of the market is a nights booked.
Right? Now the question, just in terms of frequency for guests most probably you will doing this maybe once a year, maybe twice a year. So for you, the natural frequency would be a number of nights booked per year and for hosts natural frequency would be, yeah, I actually want to book, like I have, I need to have a book out like maybe every month or even better every week, but at least this start with monthly. Right? So monthly number of nights booked. So I’m going to be successful. You are, as a platform will be successful. You have more nights booked. So this is then you know, North star metric for Airbnb. So it comes back to your value prop of a product and how do you measure the delivery of this value to your customers?
So that’s awesome. And I’m curious, like once you’ve identified that metric, how does that, how can you use that metric to guide the alignment of your cross-functional product team?
Yeah. Like I, if I, as I mentioned before, once you have this North star, the biggest one is this is not enough. Now you want to decompose to make it relevant to deeper levels in your organization.
So meaning if I have this metric now I need to think, okay, what are the biggest phases? How I can, you know, move this metric up and basically we have, you know, acquisition, you want to acquire more and maybe it will move this metric up’ now we have retention. How do you retain users? How do you engage users more so they can, you can, it can lead to value delivered and then, well, the more of a outside of things as monetization.
If you think about that Airbnb example well, it’s not right. So when you booked denied, they actually gives you money. So it’s still a part of a picture. So you have this like three major phases, acquisition, retention, and monetization, and then this is not enough. You need to go deeper and when you go deeper, let’s say I talk about the engagement, and in my specific product is a B2C mobile app. One way to engage is from Push Notification. So one of the small leverages would be okay, How can they optimize my Push Notifications? So it moves up engagement, but at the same time, I want to make sure that Push Notifications are relevant.
So I’m not how introducing attuition to my users. So they’re not you know, this consume push notification and they wouldn’t, they keep the app and they didn’t want to uninstall the app because the push notification wasn’t relevant for them. Right? So this is like a deal low-risk level, going from the North star metric to the users and then determined the focus.
What phase you want to work on and then going deeper. Okay. What are the leverage within that specific phase? And then you create initiative around optimization for that specific lever and see if your experiments would work to move that small lever, to see how is that then going in pack the highest star metric.
That’s really, really fascinating and it really, that gives a great overview of how the North star metric, if we kind of like map that to our like product strategies and how we figure those out, where you have like the vision and then it kind of breaks down into the strategies and feature sets where you basically did was you just mapped out like the North star metric is essentially the vision metric and then that breaks down into individual strategies, like the Push Notification strategy in order to increase increase that.
Absolutely, and it’s a good you know, a bridge toward the product strategy. If you start with the product strategy and then that should inform your North star metric and then you have, you know, smaller decompose ways to move that metric so you can realize your strategy.
So you’re measuring these metrics and service, whether it’s like small pieces or large pieces, like the North star metric and service, ultimately of that vision. Do these measurements and for making any modifications to how your team operates or what those primary target metrics are. Do you change the North star metric? Do you change the push notification metric, things like that?
Yeah. I actually began invested in this just you know a past six months. So I don’t have like a ton of examples, but so far we S yes, it did impact the way, how we think about prioritization in terms of what we need to do now. I it’s less you know, of you know, guessing like what we need to do now less of a pulling from, you know, immensive list of a to dos but more asking a key, why is this important? How is it relevant to an affirmative that we should announce chosen to follow? And how should we measure the impact we’re making, if any, and over time, what I want to see like every project, like a small projects within the product that we execute. We want to be very articulate in terms of how we define this more of a hypothesis.
I know not every project is like a hypothesis driven. It’s like, you want to just operate your system on the backend. There is no hypothesis. You just need to do it. Right? But sometimes when you do the feature said, no, I better have conversation. Why you think it’s important? How would you measure that? How can you scale the effort to see if it’s going to be impactful for users.
Awesome. That’s really good and, you know, I’m kind of curious you’re providing a lot of guidance and oversight. So, maybe we can talk a little bit about how you as a product manager, like what your role specifically is inthis focus for cross-functional teams and making it support product growth.
So. You know, we’ve talked about cross-functional collaboration, we’ve talked about the North star metric that generates that alignment. What is the product manager’s role in this at the end of the day?
Yeah, with this context in terms of growth? It’s more of a facilitation. So I need you to step back I provide empathy and listen.
Well, I need to learn stuff, right but at the same time if my friend Ethan Garr from Breakout Growth mentioned in our first conversation, like when you starting doing growth the number one things is to help everyone in organization to learn their role in growth. So that translates into, okay, even though I’m learning this awesome frameworks, I believe my own understanding how it’s all work as a system, but this is not the number one job.
My number one job is to empower my team to do growth. So I need to know, consume all the knowledge, simplify it and share enough context and that’s why for a specific team to do the growth. So ultimately, since like my role now, in terms of being part of being a growth product manager is to consume information. There’s still There’s still this test show on make it relevant for organization and just share enough information to get the organization moving.
That’s really powerful. I mean, it’s like, here’s all this awesome stuff we talked about growth and cross-functional collaboration, but at the end of the day, it’s not a silent role.
It’s a role from the position of us as product managers to ultimately guide, facilitate and empower our team. So that way we can pull out the greatness from everyone within our team that has all those unique vantage points in order to really align towards those North star metrics to ensure a successful and results-based product growth and more
Yeah, just so you know, getting goosebumps. That’s right. So, and that’s why, like I was studying this conversation that now I see it’s all kind of, unified in my universe. It was, I’d been in the staff the engineering seat, and that’d been empowered. I been in, you know, by accident k because I didn’t have K and I wasn’t empowered.
I didn’t understand why I’m doing this work. I being the business analyst and I wasn’t courageous enough to ask her hard questions to my clients. Why are we doing this work? I’ve been project manager forced to execute projects that did not have any benefit except us getting money off our client accounts.
So that was really uncomfortable situation and that led me, okay. I want to do better for the people that I now see in each seat. I want to be better for my clients and my customers, and the way on the only way to do it is to empower everyone, to provide strong “why”.
That’s so good. I mean, cause like it’s, that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day is if you don’t, if we don’t cultivate that environment of empowerment for the team, then like nothing is going to happen or it’s just going to be like those examples that you had to work through in your career and, you know, speaking of your career you’ve mentioned that you’ve, this has really been your focus for the last six months. So, can you talk a little bit about how are you personally guiding your teams with metrics right now?
You mean like the current or same meter? Okay.
Yeah, I think it’s the biggest thing. You know, thing I’ve done is to show how quickly we can execute. So, you know, I have like a great you know, frameworks. You don’t have to follow all steps. You just see the immediate need and pinpoint. You see that everybody understand this is a very painful as an example, push campaigns that increase attrition it’s very painful.
We want to fix it now because we want to continue to engage our users, but make it a safer and relevant for our users. Right? So it’s obvious we want to fix that and then I started, you know, releasing this small piece of nuggets, of understanding how we should attack that and provide, you know, tools and the framework and what the discussions and execution throughout the week with the results at the end of the week.
So after six weeks of experimentation, first experimentation, my experiment owner told me, and she’s the marketing lead that she said, okay, now I feel what messaging will resonate. Now I know how to think about measuring of my feeling and I can predict no results of conversion. So now when she’s sending the messages, she can predict in terms of numbers, conversions, meaning how many people will react and open app after this message, and then she can go back to the numbers and see, okay, I was right and that boost confidence in terms of now she’s comfortable communicating with users, not only because she feels as a human, but she has support from data side. So this is the ultimate first and easy win that achieved that in my growth role.
That’s incredible. That’s awesome. So, Natalie, before we wrap up, I’d like to ask some personal lightning round questions if that’s okay. All right. So, first, which, which of your personal habits has contributed most to your success?
Investing in myself. Like every time I invest in my own house and wellbeing.
What’s your favorite tool that you use regularly?
You mean in terms of an essence and myself?
In yourself, or your favorite app or whatever you use your day to day.
Well a timer? Yeah. I actually use timer every morning because I do meditation. I just put 10 minutes to meditate.
That’s awesome. And the last question is for somebody who is at the listening today, the start of their product management journey, what’s the one piece of advice that you would give to them?
Yeah. So this question. I was thinking about my own journey and seems like for me, what’s working is working now is three steps.
First is I already mentioned invest in myself to understand my needs, my inclinations, my habits, my strengths and weaknesses. And then after done this discovery, my second step is to think, okay What makes me tick what’s it. So I have an urge like a, now I have for growth. I can not do it without it.
So this is my, you know, what makes me tick when I discovered that, know the hardest thing is to stick with it, no matter what I feel, passion, and then we’ll follow it.
That’s awesome, Natalie, thank you so much for joining the podcast and sharing your knowledge today. I have certainly learned a lot. Thank you so much for joining us.
Thank you, Michael.
For everyone who has been listening, you can find out more about Natalie’s work on her website, natalie.mandriko.digital, or find her on LinkedIn. Again, thank you so much, Natalie, for joining us. Thank you everyone for listening and be sure to leave a review of our podcasts. You can let us know what you like to see more of otherwise please join and follow our community online at theproductmanager.com.
Thanks again, everyone and enjoy the rest of your day.