This week on Product Love, I sat down with Lisa Reeves, the chief product officer at Zenefits. Zenefits is a people operations platform that makes it easy to manage employee documents, HR, benefits, payroll, time, and attendance. Before Zenefits, Lisa spent the majority of her career at SAP, Citrix, and Workday. Oh, and did I mention she’s also been a VC, board member, and founder of her own startup? She’s an amazing software executive who has dabbled in all areas of the business.
Lisa’s journey into product actually started at SAP. Her early days there were already quite product-focused, and their culture was largely engineering-driven. Their commitment to building great products led her down the path of product management. In this week’s episode, we talk a lot about why it’s so good to be in product these days, and why it’s truly a rich intersection between business, product, and design. We also discuss how to best communicate with stakeholders, as well as how to build high-growth teams.
Communication with stakeholders
In some respects, a product manager could also be called a people manager. It’s a role that requires constant, high-level communication with different parts of the company, and it’s not easy to keep up with each department.
So, how does Lisa tackle all of these stakeholders? Zenefits has a large product council that presents twice per quarter. These meetings involve reviewing the last quarter’s roadmap and the current one. Then, the team discusses the product strategy for the near future. In addition, they do a deep dive into one or two topics and share all readily-available information with each department.
They also partner closely with customer success. Product usage and retention are two extremely important metrics for both departments, so customer success is a crucial partner for product managers. The Zenefits product team even runs a Voice of Customer program with CS, where selected customers provide feedback on new features.
At Zenefits, there’s also a program management team that helps manage stakeholders and keeps them aligned to the right priorities.
Lisa’s had significant experience in building high-growth teams. From enterprise powerhouses like SAP and Workday to her own personal startup and the ever-evolving Zenefits, how has she been so successful? Lisa credits this to having really diverse teams in terms of experiences, ages, and backgrounds. She calls it “magical” when they’re able to reach this level of diversity in perspectives.
It’s no surprise that some teams can suffer from having blinders on to what’s occurring outside of their own department. However, Lisa has a solution. Their product team does rotations of cross-functional teams on a temporary basis. This allows their product managers to get a view into other areas of the business and gain a cursory understanding of how they can contribute. They also open up their explorations to the broader market and industry landscape. What are the trends and emerging technologies? What acquisitions are occurring? When they think about high-growth areas, they figure out where they fit into that picture. It helps them construct their strategy, and by extension, their product.
If you want to learn more about how Lisa tackles metrics, or how her VC days influence the way she sees product, listen to the episode above.