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The Big Picture of Big Data - Nurturing a Product Team That Can Make Sound Product Decisions

In a company that's focused on consumer-first products, knowing our customers' needs is our goal.

Date:
December 6, 2021
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In a company where we focus on consumer-first products, we need to be fully aware of the nature and requirements of our customers. Our mission is to deliver to our customers’ needs to improve their financial lives as much as possible. Since Bright is a data-driven company, the experience of running a product team here is unique. Our CTO, Varun Modi, discussed this in his interview.

To a new graduate, how would you describe what a Product team does?

The Product team in an organization owns the problem statements, the solutioning, and the outcomes. This makes it an amazing and exciting job. Additionally, this team also drives the process that delivers the solution -  the project management part of the process.

The job involves bringing people with different skills together. Engineering, design, content, customer success, sales, marketing, operations, you name it, all of these must work in tandem if things have to get done.

It isn’t just about building the coolest things you can think of. It is about knowing what to build, and also knowing what not to build. It involves knowing when to build, and when not to build. It involves relentless prioritization and managing trade-offs.

What are the skills a new Product team member would need?

Given the nature of the work, which involves problem-solving and bringing everyone together, almost any skills you have acquired in your life can prove useful in your job. An ideal product manager would understand enough of tech, data, analytics, design, content, and user experience to bring it all together.

They would also need to quickly be able to grasp industry or domain knowledge. The absolute requirements vary from industry to industry and company to company.

At an organization like Bright, having a strong tech or analytics background will help people succeed as product managers. Having said this, the soft skills of stakeholder management, excellent communication, empathy, and a clear structured thinking process are equally, if not more, important.

What are the skills a successful Product Leader needs?

Apart from the skills that make you a good product manager, like problem-solving, good communication, empathy, etc., product leaders need to be good at hiring, team building, managing and mentoring a product team. Like in any other business leadership position, they should also be sound in strategy and cross-functional leadership.

What is different about how Product works in a big-data-drive company?

While the ability to use data to make good decisions is a core product management competency anywhere, in a big-data-driven product the game is different. Data is not just a decision-making tool, it is the core of your product.

Data and the algorithms running on top of the data directly affect a user’s experience. The computations and outcomes of a data-driven product may be rational, but they must also be easy for a user to intuitively understand.

So one very important role that product management has to play is translating the mathematics of data and algorithms to the right user experience and translating the user expectations back to mathematics. The other equally important and more challenging role is to use one of these methods to make up for the imperfections of the other - this goes both ways!

What types of companies are becoming big-data-driven Product companies? Why is Bright a company like this?

In this world of A.I., the personalization and automation of tasks often unthinkable before, are possible. Any company can benefit from being big-data-driven.”

However, there are few companies which are really able to make this their core advantage. Bright is one of them. Our Credit Card Manager simply wouldn’t be the delightful product it is without the Data Sciences and Machine Learning that powers it.”

As Bright grows, what will the Product Team have to do to ensure Bright keeps the culture and builds excellence in being a big-data-driven Product company?

Like every team at Bright, the product team will also be committed to quality and speed. To do this we will need to hire the right people, create the right processes and build the right culture. We focus on three aspects:

People - Hiring the right people becomes imperative, so we always look to hire people with strong tech or analytical skills .

Processes - The Product team will always work hand-in-glove with Data Science and Engineering teams to ensure we are building what is right for the user. We already have a strong focus on users and their experience. Staying close to the user would be essential for every member of the product team and our processes will always reflect that.

Culture - Finally, a great product comes from people who are always ready to learn, grow, and challenge themselves. We have a strong learning culture at Bright and the product team will always keep pace with it.”

What is your advice to young engineers or analysts who want to build a career in product?

Product management is one of the most ill-defined roles in the tech industry. It can mean different things to different people, companies and industries. That is the best and the worst part of the job.

This means that to succeed as a product manager, you should be good at many things. Sometimes that gets translated into not knowing what to be good at, and not being good at anything! A few tips to avoid getting into that state:

Good problem solving is a cross-functional skill. It always helps and as a product manager it is invaluable. Cultivate that. Learn how to break down the problems to solvable chunks.

As a related skill, work on understanding data and analysis. These are indispensable in today’s data-driven world.

Creativity is great to have in a product role. But creativity is not the answer to every problem statement you deal with. So, don’t just rely on that.

If you naturally have broad interests, then cultivate them. Acquire different skills, learn about different industries, different consumers and cultures, and create a habit of going broad, but also sufficiently deep.

If you have interest in specific industries, then connect with people in that industry and try to learn what drives success there.

Be very good at at least one of these - tech/coding, data/analytics, design/UX, and have some understanding of the others. Be King-of-one, Jack-of-all-others!

Find a professional mentor, network, and look for companies that give you the opportunities to learn.

Varun Modi
Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder

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