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Academy Xi Blog

Why learn Product Management?

By Academy Xi

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So you think you understand Product Management?

Unless you are a product manager, chances are, you’re wrong. It’s not uncommon for confusion to surround the particulars of Product Management. People mix product management with similar professions.

And I don’t blame them! Product Management is not an intuitive name.

You might already be involved in a process, implementing a skill, or overseeing an activity that is an inherent part of Product Management – without even realising it.

To clear things up, we’re interviewing a bona fide product manager and optimisation expert – Holly Joshi. She’ll help us tease out the crucial processes and strategy-based decisions behind the scenes of any good product, service or experience.  

Let’s start at the beginning.

What were some major decisions or checkpoints that have led you to where you are now?

That’s a tough one.  I’ve had a lot of career experience in different industries. Starting in economics and its influence on behaviours, I’ve been in finance, IT, interning at NGOs (the likes of the World Bank and Organisation of American State) and industrial engineering at an automotive company.

None of that seems to fit together right? The thread that runs through here is consistently considering what we are delivering and what goes into an experience.  This is before customer experience became a thing that you can identify, package and sell as a service.

So what is product management exactly?

Where does product management and customer experience sit in relation to each other?

Right next to each other. You need to get your journey map and take any analytics you have and layer them onto one another. You can then start to know where to test. If you see there are friction points or spikes, you should probably check it out. We use this information to frame a problem, or find an opportunity for a new feature. Is there a lot of traffic? Are people continuing on or are they leaving? When you tie analytics and product management together, you can show behaviours, observations and friction points so you know where to make changes.

“My career has always been international. It has always been thinking about how people behave differently or adapt differently to different things. This plays a key role in what product management is.”

So quite a different type of problem solving to industrial engineering? I can see the relation though–understanding a product and bringing it all the way

Yeah definitely, I would say the difference is that time is compressed.  In the automotive industry, creating a new car is a 10 year process – prototyping happens within 5 years.  First, I was thinking about how are you building a car and now it’s how are you building a website. You have to think faster, change faster, identify needs quicker and talk to your customers more.

I think product management overall seems really complicated, but when we really break it down it’s just solving a problem.

From what I understand you fill the gap between engineering, marketing, sales and ultimately the customer. How do you get those different areas to talk to each other?

Communication and Negotiation. Those are the biggest things to consider.  Your key role is being the one in the middle that oversees and orchestrates the entire process. You may not HAVE to make the decisions, but that’s what you end up doing. Your findings, based on observations, research and analytics mean you have a deck of recommendations.  It’s your job to present and justify them and demonstrate tradeoffs for decision-making. You need to understand the communication styles of everyone in the room so you’re already talking to them. CEO’s are a good example, they’re always busy, so you have to put ‘dessert first.’  Explain the key takeaways at the start of your presentation.  But you also need to consider other people in the room, they may need the story and then the key takeaways.  The expertise is in adjusting your presentation of recommendations accordingly.

What are the essential skills in the PM process?

The three key pillars are the communication, negotiation and the trade-off conversation – justifying and convincing people of decisions based on insights. They don’t seem like technical skills, the reality is that if you don’t nail those, nothing that is right for your customer will be developed, or it won’t be developed at the right time. You’re an orchestrator in that sense.

What other roles or professions employ these skills?

Pretty much everybody!  It’s like you’re a mini-ceo; but you may not have the title or salary. You have to understand a little bit of every department to understand how decisions will relate and impact specific people. It’s important to always put numbers behind what you’re creating or the decision you’re making – an important thing that most people don’t think about.

So you would be identifying these problems through analysis of different interactions and then you convince others that these problems are worth fixing?

Yeah and you usually tie numbers to them.  The way you find things out is to REALLY know your customer. In my last job I’d go out with the field team to find out what was happening. I’d wait in line with the customers and watch what they’re doing, see where they have hangups and pretend I don’t know what I’m doing so I can ask them to explain it to me.

These are all general life skills. We don’t realise we A/B test, change behaviours and adapt all the time.

How come you’ve decided to start teaching people about what Product Management is?

Easy, because I see such a need. People do it and don’t even realise that they are doing it. A lot of product managers are undervalued and thus don’t feel empowered.

Teaching others gives this inherent way of operating some structure.  It is also about forcing people to face business fears; using financial modelling or building a business case.  I would just cringe every time someone would ask, “give me the business case for that”. I used to hate numbers.

It takes a bit of time, and it is painful adjusting, but now a whole different world has opened up and I can help people get a little bit less fearful about that kind of thing.

Many shy away from areas like negotiation or justifying decisions, but once you get the tactics and you understand the tools it becomes a lot easier. We all do it in other aspects of our lives – why can’t we do it in this one? Just go for it!

Interested in Product Management? Check out Academy Xi’s Product Management courses here

Academy Xi Blog

What Pitch Nights Can Do for Your Startup

By Academy Xi

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Your elevator pitch can have more beneficial effects than just landing you investment. Even if you’re not ready to take on the responsibility that comes with an investor, in the early days of business there are some things money can’t buy.

For entrepreneur Nicole Buskiewicz, the most important takeaways from pitch nights are validation and confidence. There’s no confidence booster quite like replacing the mirror with a live audience.

“It’s a great opportunity, not just to pitch for potential customers and investors, but also to practice public speaking and calm those nerves,” says Nicole.

In March this year, Nicole entered Academy Xi’s Pitch X competition to pitch her very niche business idea: Advoc8. Born from her own frustrations working in the political sector, Nicole came up with the idea of creating a political engagement platform that helps connect advocacy professionals with data and technology.

“There are thousands of people around the country doing this everyday. Until now, they haven’t had any way to keep track of all their calls, meetings and interactions with the government. They’ve been relying on spreadsheets and emails,” explains Nicole.

“Advoc8 was designed as a bespoke advocacy platform to help these teams who are engaging with government work more efficiently.”

In pitching her idea for the first time at the Pitch X competition, Nicole took away first prize, despite her nerves and niche idea.

“This was a really good exercise because I knew I had one minute. I put everything down to one page, tried to memorise it to the greatest extent possible and was able to really think about the pitch quite clearly,” Nicole remembers.

At the time of pitching, Nicole admits her biggest challenge was spreading the word about Advoc8 to the right market. Growth marketing was a large gap in the business that needed to be filled. In winning the Pitch X competition, Nicole received a growth marketing course, which she says is one of the great prizes to come out of the night.

“[Growth Marketing] is one of our ongoing areas for improvement and for myself to understand how we can better our marketing efforts,” says Nicole.

 

Learn more about Academy Xi’s online marketing courses here

 

Advoc8 has now been up and running for 18 months, and has successfully gone from pitch to validation.

There are many ways to validate your startup idea including testing, growing and of course finding product/market fit. Pitch nights like Pitch X help entrepreneurs to understand and articulate what they’re doing and solving. These pitches will need to be perfected and iterated throughout the course of their startups life.

“[Pitch X] gave me enormous validation, not only to be able to stand up in-front of a group of people, but for the business concept itself and the fact that all these amazing judges thought that Avoc8 had legs,” says Nicole.

On a pitch night, you never know who will be in the room: who’s looking to invest, who needs a cofounder or who has the skills to help you grow.

In the meantime, listen to Alex Blumberg, CEO of Gimlet Media, discuss how to not pitch a billionaire in his podcast: StartUp.

 

Academy Xi Blog

Five years into designing the Xi learning experience

By Academy Xi

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Academy Xi Head of Learning and Student Experience Frank Guzman shares his thoughts (and a little bit of storytime!) in designing communities and learning experiences in celebration of our 5-year anniversary. 

Some of you might not know this, others might only know us from where we started, and probably the big majority of people in our community might be wondering what we’ve been up to. Or how we’re doing after an unprecedented 2020.

Here’s a little bit of storytime.

Five years ago, Xi was a dream. It was a few of us wondering how we could change the way relevant and practical skills are learnt in order to transition into a new job. Looking back, I can still remember sitting on a couch and one of the co-founders sending emails from his dining table. We started at a coworking space a couple of days a week, worked from home (before it was cool and mandatory), and had a ute full of foldable chairs and tables. These, along with a suitcase full of stationery to build pop-up classrooms and events on nights and weekends.

Me, first day on the job in 2016, with a similar outfit as the boss: Xi co-founder Charbel Zeaiter.

It wasn’t much, but it was enough to get us up and running and realise the dream. 

After nine months of pure hustle, hard work, meetings with industry leaders (not to mention the countless cups of coffees)—much like a baby, our first campus was born. This not only meant a place to work from, but more importantly, a hub for students, instructors and industry partners to learn, connect, and grow. We were building a community of like-minded individuals all wanting to make a difference. 

Having a place we could call home allowed us to not only grow our community, but to put it at the centre of everything we did. It became our driver and motivation to keep going. Soon after that, it allowed us to expand our course offerings and reach community members outside of the design space and into the business and tech space. 

Setting up the Academy Xi campus in Melbourne.

Fast-forward to 2020 and a pandemic no one saw coming—its impacts and consequences, felt by every other organisation, threw a spanner in the works. . Our community and tribe were challenged, but we rose to the occasion.

Beyond the operational hurdles of running a fully-remote and online school, our biggest concern was “How do we keep this sense of community, connection, and personalisation? This thing that makes us unique. This thing that our students find so valuable and helps them elevate and transform their careers. This thing that is now under different circumstances, as we move into the online education world?”

Online but not alone

Simple: we looked back on what our core is. Rather than designing a space to host our community, we built moments within our students’ journey that encouraged them to connect with each other and helped them drive the community themselves. Acknowledging the hesitations around online education, we embarked upon a new challenge and designed our courses and student experiences with one thing in mind: online but not alone. 

This translated into courses packed with gamification, varied activities, multiple touchpoints and opportunities for support—all hosted in one online learning platform. I call it useful procrastination. Rather than doomscrolling, Xi students can access their course on the go via an app; scroll through discussion forums, videos, quizzes, and message and engage with each other. Just like what they’d do in a physical classroom. 

Our tribe and community are the center of everything that we do at Academy Xi.

We are still on a journey of discovery and improvement. But one thing is for certain: our tribe and community of staff, instructors, mentors and students is still our driving force to be leaders in the online learning space. 

Whether you’re looking to transition into a career in design, tech, marketing or data, become a thought-leader in this space, or are simply curious about how this all works, feel free to reach out. 

Join our tribe or be part of our community of like-minded individuals all wanting to make a difference in the world. 

Talk soon. Always happy to help and up for a chat.

Frank