photo of Elise Fox in a teal circle on a dark background with The Product Manager podcast logo

How To Transition Into Product Management (With Elise Fox From Chegg)

Michael Luchen is joined by Elise Fox, a Senior Product Manager at Chegg, an education technology company striving to improve the overall return on investment in education by helping students learn more in less time and at a lower cost. Listen to learn how to transition into product management.

Interview Highlights:

  • Elise Fox is a Product Manager with experience in higher education, publishing and education technology companies. She specializes in product growth and content strategy initiatives, and is also highly skilled in SEO Optimization, roadmap management and copy editing. [0:50]
  • Elise is a Senior Product Manager at Chegg, an education technology company striving to improve the overall return on investment in education by helping students learn more in less time and at a lower cost. Elise is currently focusing on Chegg Life, a vertical cheque dedicated to supporting students beyond just their academic needs. [1:09]
  • Elise started her career in traditional publishing. She worked for a large children’s book publisher for a number of years, and she found herself dealing in roles that were very cross-functional. She ended up looking for a role in an education technology company, because she felt very passionate about the digitalization of education and how the changing landscape was turning out with things moving on to digital versus sprint. [1:53]
  • Elise applied for a job at Chegg as a subject matter expert or a citation product that Chegg created back in 2017. She was working with designers, engineers, and other product managers, as they were developing a roadmap for this new writing and citation products that Chegg was developing. [2:19]
  • Being organized and being a good communicator are the two biggest skills that Elise looks for when they’re either hiring new product managers or if they’re interviewing candidates for different roles in product management. [4:59]

“Part of product management is making sure that you’re taking requirements from various teams, such as engineering teams, design teams, and user research teams.” — Elise Fox

  • There’s a lot of great benefits to a product management role. The biggest for Elise is you get to essentially solve somebody’s problems. [5:36]

“Something that is really rewarding about product management is you get to have that hands-on tactical role in solving a problem for someone or some group at your company.” — Elise Fox

  • Teamwork is so important to every product management role, because you’re really working with a ton of different departments, a ton of different cross-functional team members. [6:45]
  • If you’re coming in on the product team, then if you were to come in on a more of a shared service kind of team, the function of your job is basically to dilute information from stakeholders across the company. [7:34]
  • Product management allows you to be a little bit scrappier and a little bit more nimble, because if you’re working in a startup environment or on a brand new product, it’s a lot of testing things, failing, iterating and you get to be doing a lot more cyclical tests and releases. [8:57]
  • If you’re working in a startup environment that doesn’t have a very robust team, you might not have a lot of user research or have the resourcing to do interviews with potential users or customers that could help guide your roadmap. [9:31]
  • If you’re considering a product management role, you need to love meeting with people. You have to be a people person. You need to be open to collaborating, and you have to have this idea of being able to manage different priorities. [14:54]
  • As a product manager, you have to do a lot of managing expectations of other team members, as well as some prioritization of different projects that have fallen onto your plate. [15:55]
  • As a product manager, you’re always learning. You’re learning new systems, you’re learning new methodologies, you’re learning new ways to organize your work basically, constantly throughout your job. [17:50]
  • It definitely would be nice to have some formal background in computer science, but that’s not necessary to get into product management. More important than a certification is an openness to try new things. Experience in a cross-functional role is also important. If you have project management experience, the transition to product management can be really great. [20:53]

“If you have a computer science degree, great. If not, it’s not going to prevent you from being a really good PM.” — Elise Fox

  • Showing some experience in planning, organizing, figuring out the right order of operations to get something completed from start to finish is a really valuable skill, because there is often some crossover between the roles of project manager and PM. [27:29]
  • Being a product manager means you’re not anyone’s boss. Even though you’re not anybody’s boss, you’re going to find yourself inevitably in situations where you’re “telling people what to do”. [28:03]

“You’re not their boss, but you are responsible for the outcome of their work in a lot of ways.” — Elise Fox

  • Elise’ personal habits that have contributed most to her success is organization. [31:29]

“I really pride myself on being very organized and being a good planner.” — Elise Fox

  • Elise’ favorite tool that she uses regularly is Figma. It’s a tool to make wire frames, even low-res mocks for different designs and things. [32:02]
  • Elise’ advice for someone at the start of their product management journey is “be open to learning as much as you can”. [32:47]

“As long as you’re open to learning new things and applying them to your work, you’ll have no problem being a successful PM.” — Elise Fox

Guest Bio:

Elise Fox is a Product Manager with experience in higher education, publishing and education technology companies. She specializes in product growth and content strategy initiatives, and is also highly skilled in SEO Optimization, roadmap management and copy editing.

Elise is a Senior Product Manager at Chegg, an education technology company striving to improve the overall return on investment in education by helping students learn more in less time and at a lower cost. Elise is currently focusing on Chegg Life, a vertical cheque dedicated to supporting students beyond just their academic needs.

Photo Of Elise Fox

“Project management is the “HOW” of how you’re going to get something done, whereas a PM is more responsible for the “WHAT”. 

— Elise Fox

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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:

Michael Luchen

Product management. It’s a role and skillset that is both broad and specific. There are numerous definitions of the role, and it can vary from company to company. If you’re considering a career in product management, what should you be looking out for? What are the things that you should know? And how might you leverage your existing background product? 

Today, we have a very experienced product manager in the education technology space joining us to help answer these questions. Stay tuned. 

This is The Product Manager podcast. The voices of the 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 we’re very fortunate to welcome Elise Fox to the show. Elise is a Product Manager with experience in higher education, publishing and education technology companies. Elise specializes in product growth and content strategy initiatives, and is also highly skilled in SEO Optimization, roadmap management and copy editing.

Elise is a Senior Product Manager at Chegg. An education technology company striving to improve the overall return on investment in education by helping students learn more in less time and at a lower cost. Elise is currently focusing on Chegg Life, a vertical a cheque dedicated to supporting students beyond just their academic needs. Elise is also a contributor to our very own, The Product Manager. 

Hey Elise, welcome to the show. 

Elise Fox

Thank you so much for having me. Looking forward to chatting with you today. 

Michael Luchen

Awesome. Awesome. Me too. So, transitioning into product management. Ready to get into it? 

Elise Fox

Yeah, let’s do it. 

Michael Luchen

All right. So just to start, can you share a little bit about your background and how you transition into product?

Elise Fox

Sure. Yeah, so I actually started my career in traditional publishing. I worked for a large children’s book publisher for a number of years, and I found myself dealing in roles that were very cross-functional. And I ended up looking for a role in an education technology company, because I felt very passionate about the digitalization of education and how the changing landscape was turning out with things moving on to digital versus sprint.

So, I applied for a job at Chegg as a subject matter expert or a citation product that Chegg created back in 2017. And I ended up just kind of feeling my way through this role. And I was working with designers, engineers, other product managers, as we were developing a roadmap for this new writing and citation products that Chegg was developing.

And I kind of found myself asking, you know, both myself and my manager at the time. How can I grow my career outside of my subject matter expert role? And a suggestion by him actually, it was, well, you should look into product management because you’re kind of doing those types of functions already, as you’re helping to develop this roadmap and working with a dedicated engineering team.

So, I started looking into what product management was. What types of skills are needed to be a successful product manager and I was able to transition into an official product management role about a year and a half into my time at Chegg. So, it was really a matter of me identifying that I was doing a lot of what product management entails as I was kind of helping to spin up this new product at Chegg’s. That’s kind of how I got started in product management.

Michael Luchen

That’s really cool. I mean, that’s a story that I hear a lot of in our craft is that sometimes people just kind of start picking up product management and it comes naturally to them like it did to you which helps inform that transition. 

Elise Fox

Yeah, it’s an interesting type of position because it really, what it comes down to is being really cross-functional.

And if you’re good at working cross-functionally with a lot of different teams, then that’s a skill that is super valuable to any product management position.

Michael Luchen

Definitely. So for those watching here, listening and considering a transition into a product management role, what skills or backgrounds should they be bringing to that?

Elise Fox

Yeah for, I think there are a couple of skills that are just supremely important to any product management role and product management roles are different across all different industries, but I think that there are a lot of universal truths when it comes to, you know, skills that one should have when they’re looking to transition into product management.

One is, you definitely need to be super organized. Part of product management is making sure that you’re taking requirements from various teams, such as engineering teams, design teams, user research teams. It’s a lot of information that you’re going to have to be able to consume and summarize for potentially folks on the leadership team, or maybe even on the executive team of the company that you’re working for. 

So, being organized and being a good communicator, I would say are probably the two biggest skills that I look for when we’re either hiring new product managers or if we’re interviewing candidates for different roles in product management.

Michael Luchen

That’s good. And speaking of organization and communication, because often it helps benefit others. What do you see as the, what’s the role of product management offer to others on your team? 

Elise Fox

Yeah, there’s a lot that being a PM can bring to somebody both that has experience in a technology company or somebody who is new to tech.

You know, there’s a lot of great benefits to a product management role. And I think the biggest for me is you get to essentially solve somebody’s problems. You know, whether it’s, you’re solving a problem for the business that you’re working for, or you’re solving a problem for the user or the customer for whatever product you’re leading development on. 

It really boils down to the fact that every day when you go to work, you get to keep that in the back of your mind and say, okay, what am I going to do today in order to solve a problem for someone? It could be something as simple as making the checkout experience faster and more frictionless for a user, or it could be redesigning an entire website for your company. 

It really depends on what the issue is, but I think, you know, something that is really rewarding about product management is you get to kind of have that hands-on tactical role in solving a problem for someone or some group at your company. And then the other thing too, that I think is really great about product management is it lends itself really well to people who enjoy working on a team. 

Like teamwork is so important to every product management role, because you’re really working with a ton of different departments, a ton of different cross-functional team members. So if you enjoy working on a team, it’s a great way to kind of flex those muscles and be a team leader and a team contributor. 

Michael Luchen

Yeah, that’s really good. And it really resonates with one of my favorite parts of being a product manager myself, is the fact that we get to work with so many talented individuals from all different disciplines, from design to development and more. It creates a really rewarding kind of day-to-day if you will.

Elise Fox

Yeah, definitely. And you know, it’s probably the fastest way to learn about a new company. Like I think you’re more well-positioned to learn about members from all different teams at a new company as a new employee. If you’re coming in on the product team, then if you were to come in on a more of a shared service kind of team, because you know, a function of your job is basically to dilute information from stakeholders across the company. 

Whether it’s a big company, small company, you’re pretty much the go-between in a lot of ways between a lot of different stakeholders. So you are really well positioned to meet new people. You know, yet inside into different parts of the company, like outside of your own team. So I think that’s really valuable and a really big benefit of product management roles. 

Michael Luchen

Absolutely. So let’s kind of drill down a little bit into the role a bit. So in product development, there are new products you can build, and there’s existing products that you can join as a product manager and help elevate, help evolve. How do you decide as a product manager, as an individual product manager integrate into this career which area to focus on? 

Elise Fox

Yeah, it’s a great question. And I think, you know, there’s a lot that you can learn from building something from the ground, up.

You hear a lot about people getting into product management by way of joining a startup which can be a great way to learn about, you know, not only the inception of a product all the way through its release into the world, but you also get to get a lot of insight into how product management as a role fits in with a broader team.

It allows you to be a little bit scrappier and a little bit more nimble because you’re, you know, if you’re working in a startup kind of environment or on a brand new product, it’s a lot of testing things, failing, iterating and you get to be kind of doing a lot more cyclical kinds of tests and releases.

Then you might be able to on something that’s been around for a long time. I’d say the challenge with that though is you don’t have a lot of historical data to make assumptions on you, especially at the very beginning, might be flying a little blind. If you’re working in a startup environment that doesn’t have a very robust team, you might not have a lot of user research or have the resourcing to do interviews with potential users or customers that could kind of help guide your roadmap.

So I think like for people who are uncomfortable with the unknown, that might not be like the best path forward for them. But on the other hand, if you’re really into being creative, being scrappy, being able to transition between different, you know, different work every single day, having every day be different.

I know is something that a lot of people say they like about product management and working on a new product can be super rewarding. Existing products, on the other hand, you know, you might have a very well-defined roadmap already. Whether you’re inheriting it from another product manager or from, you know, leadership at your company, or if it’s just something that’s been around for a long time, it can give you a really good grounding in what the next path forward should be.

What the next group of experiments you should run should be. But on the flip side, there might not be as much room to be creative. You might have a lot of guardrails kind of guiding you in terms of these are the things that we know we can’t change versus these are the things we know we want to iterate on.

So I think it really depends on the person and there are definitely pros and cons to both. I’ve done both and both have been rewarding and both have been challenging and different in different ways. So I think it really depends on what you’re looking for. Like creativity versus more of a regimented kind of a backlog of ideas to test. 

Michael Luchen

Yeah, that’s very well said.

And I think, you know, to add to that from my experience, sometimes starting with an existing product strategically there may be value to actually kind of not necessarily scrap that because you have users that are using that, but from a business perspective, needing to rebuild it into something more modern and kind of starting to build that other version of it on the side, until it can come in and replace the existing product.

And so sometimes there’s even worlds where you’re working on both maintain an existing product as then you also are building the new one that will ultimately replace that as well. 

Elise Fox

Yeah, absolutely. We’ve done that, those sort of things before, you know, it could be something where you’re updating the infrastructure of the backend of a product, which like isn’t necessarily the most exciting thing to some people.

You know, other people really enjoy that kind of like very technical, very in the weeds sort of work that, you know, you would work with like a backend engineering team on maybe it’s you’re moving on to a new tech stack for instance, or you’re modernizing the tech stack that your site is built on.

You know, those things are really important, but they don’t allow you the level of creativity necessarily that I’m working on a brand new product from start to finish would. So, yeah, I think it really depends on the incoming PM’s interests, you know, what their ideal function would be some folks really like the commerce side of things.

They really like getting into the weeds of the checkout experience or the billing engine or those kinds of things. While other people are a little bit more interested in the user experience and what the site looks like to a visitor. So, it depends on the interest I would say for the individual.

Michael Luchen

Definitely. So, as a new product manager, should you look to focus into a specific industry for your career? 

Elise Fox

I would say that, you know, somebody who’s brand new to product management, you know, you, there’s always this aspect of you don’t want to eliminate a potential role just based on the type of company that it is.

If you feel like you could gain meaningful experience from that role, but I do think that it’s helpful to have some sort of north star in mind about, you know, this is the kind of company that I want to work for. This is the type of mission that, you know, I’m interested in being a part of, you know. Personally, I knew that I really wanted to work in EdTech, because you know, I had some teaching experience in the past. 

I was working for a children’s book publisher. So I had a little bit of insight into how products and materials could be leveraged in the education space. And I felt like being at the forefront of that in education technology made a ton of sense for me.

So that helped kind of guide my journey into product management in the EdTech space. So, I think this is really where people get to follow their passion, you know. This is really where you get to say, you know, maybe the first position I take in product management isn’t necessarily in the industry that I’m really passionate about, but as long as you can identify in that position a way and a path forward for you to gain experience and to potentially leverage that into getting into the industry that you really feel passionate about, then I would say like, don’t discount anything if there’s good experience to come from that.

But I think this is really where as a PM, you get to kind of chart that course for yourself and do some reflection on this is where it like ultimately I would like to be in my career. 

Michael Luchen: Awesome. So let’s dive into the role itself. What are some aspects of the role of product management that our listeners should consider?

Elise Fox

Yeah, it’s a very rewarding, but sometimes very pressure-filled role, I would say. You know, it’s something that you want to keep in mind as you’re considering a product management role is you need to love meeting with people. You have to be a people person. You need to be open to collaborating, and you kind of have to have this idea of being able to manage different priorities.

Like a good example of this would be, maybe your design team that you work with says. Hey, we need to do an accessibility audit across our site because we know that our UX isn’t necessarily up to standards with the latest accessibility guidelines that have been set. And then your engineering team could say, we want to do that, but before we can, we have to migrate to this new tech stack and it’s going to take four months to do that before we can even get to the, this accessibility piece. 

So you have to do a lot of managing expectations of other team members, as well as some prioritization of different projects that you have fall onto your plate. And you have to be able to kind of manage those different expectations to different stakeholders in a good way, and be just a team leader and be able to roll with the punches, be able to kind of have this notion that every day could be a little bit different than the one before and be okay with that, and embrace that. And yeah, I think it’s really just being a good team leader or a good communicator and really a people person who likes working with different team members. 

Michael Luchen

Well said. You know, and on that, it makes me think about a few things that I, how I look at the role. So you mentioned like being able to roll with the punches and to me, that is resilience and it is also the value of being flexible.

Oftentimes we come across our own tool sets or processes or ways of looking at product that we have near and dear to our hearts as individual product managers. But as we are working with people and we’re collaborating through teamwork every day, that flexibility and that personal resilience just allows us to help support our teams even more.

Elise Fox

Yeah, absolutely. And you know, it’s not a role that necessarily allows you to be very set in your ways, because things are always changing. It doesn’t really matter if you’re working for a big company, a small company, a startup, or a well-established company that’s on the New York stock exchange.

Things change for everyone. Priorities change for everyone. And something will always come up that, you know, kind of challenges your preconceived notions about like the best way to do things. But the cool thing about it is, you know, that makes it sound like a very like stressful kind of like chaotic job.

But the other way of thinking about it is you’re always learning. Like you’re learning new systems, you’re learning new methodologies, you’re learning new ways to organize your work basically, constantly throughout your job. So it’s a great way and a great position for people who love to just keep learning and keep leveling up and keep feeling like they’re continually engaging with new ways of doing things. And it’s great for people who love to try new things as well. 

Michael Luchen

I love that. That’s like, that is one of my personal favorite things about product management, is there’s always something new to learn every day. There’s always new approaches, new content out there that’s always informing how I approach product management.

And it’s just, it’s so cool. How things are just constantly evolving and honestly in order to, I think, be successful in the career, you really have to embody that desire for constantly improving and learning or else, now a few years from now, you’re not going to be able to sustain where you’re at today.

Elise Fox

Yeah, exactly. And I think that there’s a lot to be said for, you know, there’s always opportunity for formal learning. Like many companies offer product managers opportunities on a very formal level to either take courses or take part in workshops or you know, do those types of things. But I find at least personally that I’ve done most of my learning, like just on the job because of the necessity of being nimble and being able to you know, just adapt the way that I work in order to help my team and help the company move forward with its initiatives.

So it’s great in a way because the learning is kind of already baked in. Like you don’t have to really do a lot of outside learning, like outside of work, because you’re learning as you go, whether you might not even realize it. In a lot of times where you know, you kind of just have to, as a necessity of being a good PM.

So it can be a great position for people who like to learn new things. 

Michael Luchen

Yeah. And that actually brings up a really good point. And I know a lot of our listeners are probably wondering is, if I want to get into PM, do I need to get certifications? Do I need to get specific degrees or any of that? Or is it just something that I can learn on the job? 

Elise Fox

Yeah, it’s a great question. I know that there are a lot of companies out there. You know, the Googles of the world that had very strict kind of standards for PMs that they’re hiring. You know, many of those companies, those big tech companies look for computer science degrees.

They look for, you know, certifications maybe in different areas of product management. But I would say that I’ve found from personal experience. I mean, I don’t have a computer science degree, so in my own experience, like not necessary for my job. It definitely couldn’t hurt. There are a lot of times where I would say.

You know, I wish I had a little bit more formal training in computer science, because like I was mentioning before I’ve had to do a lot of learning on the job, kind of learning as I go, being open to doing that kind of learning as I’ve moved throughout my career. And it definitely would have been nice to have some formal background in computer science, but I don’t think that it’s necessary to get into product management. Like I don’t see that as a barrier to entry at all. I think more important than a certification is an openness to try new things. Experience in a cross-functional role is really important. Like if you have maybe project management experience, the transition to product management can be really great.

Or if you’ve had an operations type of role before where you were dealing with a lot of different stakeholders and managing work from many different stakeholders. Like those are the things that I look for when I’m hiring product management candidates, because to me, the computer science side of things can be learned, can be taught and can be absorbed through the work that, that the person is going to be doing.

So I would say if you have a computer science degree, great. If not, it’s not going to prevent you from being a really good PM. 

Michael Luchen

Yeah, I think that’s really well said. And it’s a debate that I have often gone down a really deep rabbit trail throughout my career on but have ultimately kind of concluded that there are so many ways to close the gap on kind of computer science if you will or development knowledge or more, that is valuable to you as a product manager. Specifically, so that you can empathize with the development team that you’re working with or the designers that you’re working with. 

I think knowing just enough to be able to have a level of empathy and be like, okay, I understand why this feature is going to take X amount of time to develop. And then that helps me communicate with the stakeholders or clients that I have, is just enough of what you need. And that can be usually covered in a really simple online, short intro to X language that your development team is using course.

Elise Fox

Yeah, absolutely. It’s like you said it’s really about being a team member that has empathy for the work of the other stakeholders involved. I mean the same can be said. We’re talking a little bit specifically about the development side of things with computer science, but the same could be said for design teams you work with too. Like, you know, that’s another piece of product management like the user experience teams that you might be working with, whether it’s designers, researchers, whomever you know, just learning enough where you can speak their language and understand their bandwidth and where they’re coming from, what their resourcing looks like.

You know, that’s really more important than an official certification in my opinion. And there are a lot of backgrounds that have that kind of experience without, you know, having product management in their title. So that’s what I would say. 

Michael Luchen

Yeah. So as someone looking to build a career in product management, I might see that there’s product management and then some organizations might have an area that’s like the project management office or PMO.

What’s the difference, and what should I consider when looking at those? 

Elise Fox

Yeah, it’s a great question. And there’s a lot of, I think, misconceptions about how those two things are different. I actually heard a really great story about this once where a former mentor of mine, who was a VP of product management at a different company now. 

She said that when she was first getting into product management, she thought she was applying for a project management role and ended up getting the job anyway. And just, that’s how she got into product management, which is kind of interesting that like, even in her mind, there is a ton of crossover and there is. But there are some very key differences, I think that, you know, when you’re entering into a PM role, or if you’re interested in a PM role, you should keep in mind. 

So the way I like to talk about this with candidates or other people is, you know, project management to me is the how of how you’re going to get something done, whereas a PM is more responsible for the what. You know, as a PM, you’re responsible for defining the requirements for an initiative in order to meet some sort of goal or you know, maybe it’s X amount of conversions in a quarter or something, but you get to define what requirements are needed in order to execute that goal. 

The project manager would help the PM figure out how they’re going to get there. So they would help you figure out how many engineers do you need. How much time is it going to take for this to get done. What are the other dependencies that you might have on other teams, such as, do you have a dependency on a design team?

A data science team. Maybe there’s another engineering team that you have to work with outside of the one that you normally do, because it requires some cross collaboration across different parts of your product. So, I think that’s really the best way to think about this is the PM is what do we need to do?

Whereas the PMO is how are we going to get there and how are we going to keep things on track? And the PM also, you know, gets to say. These are the opportunities I think that the business has you know, through their testing and their iterating and then the PMO would help them say, okay, based on those opportunities that you’ve identified here are the ones that we can get done this quarter versus here are the ones that need to wait because there’s other projects going on that are higher priority for whatever reason.

So I like to kind of split those two roles up in that way. 

Michael Luchen

Very cool. And you know, something I would also recommend to anyone that is seeking a career in one or two of these areas is look closely at the company that you’re applying for. Because personally, like I this navigating between these differences is something that I’ve also gone down many rabbit trails throughout my career on.

And one of the conclusions I came out with is the reason why there’s so many rabbit trails is because so many companies define PM role and the project management role differently. Sometimes they’re combined. It really just depends. So, what your mentor said is it’s like you have to look at the role that you’re applying for.

Elise Fox

Yeah. And it’s so true because even at, you know, companies I’ve worked for, with within product management, there are times where for whatever reason, maybe your team doesn’t get assigned to a specific project manager. So as the PM, you’re kind of absorbing some of those responsibilities.

But yeah, it really depends on the company and sometimes it even depends within the same company. It can depend on the specific team you’re working on, depending on how big the company is and what their resourcing structure looks like. So, I definitely would say that as a new PM, it’s great to have some experience in project management.

Doesn’t have to be specifically like you don’t have to be a project manager or anything. But I would say, you know, showing some experience in planning, organizing, figuring out the right order of operations to get something completed from start to finish is a really valuable skill because there is often some crossover between the two roles.

Michael Luchen

Yeah. So being the people focused and communication heavy role that product management is that we’ve talked about. Can you talk a little bit about how does a product manager build leadership through influence? 

Elise Fox

Yeah. So oftentimes with being a product manager, you know, you’re not anyone’s boss.

Very often you, especially when you’re new to the role, you know, you will find yourself being on paper, an individual contributor or an IC. However, even though you’re not anybody’s boss, you’re going to find yourself in inevitably in situations where you’re “telling people what to do”.

And not so many terms like you’re helping to define the work of an engineering team and you’re not their boss. And it’s very important to remember that you’re not. But you are informing their work. So I think, you know, there’s an art to that and there is a big kind of personality fit there where you have to be good at communicating those kinds of the requirements to people without making it sound like you’re being their manager.

And it’s important to think of it, as, you know, leading through influence, you know. You’re basically saying this is what we should work on. Here’s why. And a big part of that is making sure that the teams that you’re working with are engaged. They feel like they’re part of the brainstorming and discovery process.

They feel that they’re involved in defining the roadmap, making sure that they’re included in those conversations. And, you know, not taking those things on unilaterally, I think is super important. And then, you know, eventually when you successfully roll things out and are pushing things into production and starting to feel like you have a really good you know, cyclical kind of workflow with your team, it’s only going to get easier.

As those things go and people will look to you as, you know, a leader in your space. So that’s what leading through influence is to me. It’s making sure that you’re balancing that kind of line between informing the work of the team that you’re working with while also making sure that you’re not, you know, trying to be anybody’s boss or you’re not.

So yeah, that’s a, it’s an important role, I think for product managers. 

Michael Luchen

Yeah. It’s important to remember that you’re managing the product. You’re not a people manager. 

Elise Fox

Right. Yeah. And I think, you know, often I’ve heard this analogy when it comes to product management where you know, there’s this kind of, I think in some ways dated kind of analogy that says that you’re the CEO of your product.

I don’t know that I necessarily like that. Because it kind of gives that connotation that your word is law and you must, everybody must just kind of follow what you say. And I th I have issues with that. I’ve heard another one that I actually like a lot more, which is you’re the executive chef.

So you don’t own the restaurant. Like somebody else owns the restaurant, but you’re the person responsible for kind of figuring out what needs to get done at what time in order for things to be successful. So I would say like, if somebody is looking for a good visual, like that’s the best one that I’ve heard.

And it kind of goes back to this point of leading through influence. Like you’re not their boss, but you are responsible for the outcome of their work in a lot of ways. 

Michael Luchen

That’s really awesome. I love that new metaphor because I’ve also been seeking something to replace the CEO metaphor because I also agree that it’s kind of dated.

Elise Fox

Yeah. Yeah, for sure. 

Michael Luchen

So before we wrap up, I’d love to ask some personal lightning round questions if that’s okay? 

Elise Fox

Yeah. Let’s do it. 

Michael Luchen

So first, which of your personal habits has contributed most to your success? 

Elise Fox

For me I think it’s organization. You know, I have this tendency that you know, my husband will probably say it can be annoying, but I really pride myself on being very organized and being a good planner.

And I just think that’s been critical to my success as a PM. Being able to kind of predict the unpredictable as best I can. And then you know, kind of preparing for many scenarios at once. And being organized in that way, I think has been really helpful. 

Michael Luchen

What’s your favorite tool that you use regularly?

Elise Fox

Recently it’s been Figma. I’ve been trying to get more into being more collaborative with our design teams and Figma is a really great tool to do that. It’s a tool you can use to make wire frames, even you know, low-res mocks for different designs and things. I’m really bad at the design side of things.

I am not a creative person in that way, so I, but I’ve been enjoying trying as best as I can. You know, in collaborating with UX designers with that. 

Michael Luchen

That’s awesome. I’ve been getting into Figma for exactly the same reason too lately. It is a great tool. 

Elise Fox

Yeah, for sure. 

Michael Luchen

So lastly, for someone at the start of their product management journey, what’s the one piece of advice that you’d give them?

Elise Fox

Yeah. My piece of advice is really just you know, be open to learning as much as you can, you know. Be a sponge and, you know, from my, if I look back on my first product management role don’t feel like you are, you know, dumb because you don’t know, like, you know, some shorthand that an engineering team might be using.

Like all of those things are learnable. And you will learn them. I would say, just be patient and be open to learning new things. As long as you’re open to learning new things and applying them to your work, you’ll have no problem being a successful PM. 

Michael Luchen

Awesome. Thank you Elise so much for joining us today.

Elise Fox

Yeah, this was great. Thank you so much for having me. 

Michael Luchen

Awesome. Well, thank you everyone for listening in or watching. Definitely leave a review of this podcast and let us know what you think. It helps us guide our content as we move forward. And if you haven’t already, please follow and join our community at theproductmanager.com.

Thanks everyone for listening and see you later. 

Elise Fox

Thank you.