One misconception about product management mentoring is that it is only relevant and valuable if you feel stuck at work and can’t seem to get further in your career.
Tara and Noam are here to prove that idea wrong.
Mentoring can come in handy even if everything is excellent and you love your job. “I love my company, so I needed someone who would help me grow in my current role and not necessarily push me to leave,” shares Tara.
An Exercise in Career Confidence
“I sort of stumbled into becoming a PM, and have absolutely loved it! I’ve been able to learn so much (about myself, tech, startups, education, etc.) working on a product I’m really passionate about,” Tara says. “I love that no two days are ever the same, that there are continual opportunities for improvement and learning, and that every project is uniquely challenging. But I wanted to get some outside perspective! I hadn’t really talked with anyone outside my company about product management before and was really interested in getting advice/perspective from someone else. And then I met Noam, my mentor!”
This is the League success story of Tara, a mentee from San Francisco, USA, and her mentor Noam, from New York, USA.
“I first heard about Product League from an email sent by Women in Product,” says Tara. “The autumn 2020 batch was actually my first time with the League and I’d never had a formal mentor before! So that was a bit intimidating — I wasn’t sure what to talk about. But luckily for me, Noam knew exactly what to do.”
“This was my fourth batch with Product League,” Noam says. “I am not sure exactly how and when, but a long time ago, I was approached by Moriya Kassis (Product League’s founder and GM) herself to take part. I believe it was batch #1 and I have been in most batches ever since.
“And although each mentoring relationship is different, the key to success is always the same:
Pay attention to the mentee and their needs. Just as you wouldn’t approach a user with a solution, don’t approach a mentee with discussion topics before you’ve identified what the focus should be. Let it happen organically. Only if that fails should you turn to more ‘mainstream’ topics.”
“And that’s how we started: with determining what Tara wanted to concentrate on and doing my best to ask more questions than I answered,” she says.
Choosing the Right Goal
“I followed Noam’s advice and tried to come up with some concrete outcomes and topics for discussion. What did I really want to get out of this? It was a unique opportunity for me to have a formal mentor who was there to help only me,” Tara says. “We used the first meeting to get to know each other and establish some possible goals, and then the discussions really flowed from there.”
“We got paired up, reached out to each other, and were off to the races. The most difficult part was setting up a regular time to meet,” Noam says.
“Tara came into the first session with the feeling that she wasn’t very experienced with building a product strategy and was only good at execution. I was on a mission to prove her wrong, so I presented three options we could work on:
- Building a strategy for a product she was leading
- Creating a new strategy for a familiar product (Spotify, Google Maps, etc.)
- Coming up with a brand-new product from scratch
“I’m really happy Tara chose the third option because the problem she wanted to solve was pretty meaningful. By the end of the program, she had a POC ready and a pretty great strategy!
I was just along for the ride,” shares Noam.
“You did way more than that,” says Tara, laughing. “Noam helped me come up with a really concrete goal: to go through the motions of actually starting a company. I said that I wanted to learn how to be a better strategic thinker, and she had the perfect thought experiment for how to do that.
We came up with ‘to-dos’ at each meeting, and I made sure I spent time working on them between sessions (which wasn’t hard, since I’m really passionate about this idea). Every meeting was extremely helpful. I got to hear a lot more about Noam’s experience and what Product Management looks like at much larger companies.”
“When I prototyped my idea, I already felt that I was in the right place with this Product Management mentoring program! It was great to see everything come together, even during the prototype phase,” Tara says.
“There were lots of other small moments, too, when I felt like I had someone to help me make decisions, lead me to the right questions, or consider career choices. It’s amazing to have someone like that who isn’t also involved in your day-to-day work.”
The Importance of Self-Awareness
When asked about the process and how they achieved so much during their mentorship sessions, Noam mentions identifying Tara’s strengths and weaknesses.
“During the first month, we worked on defining the problem that Tara wanted to solve and quantifying that it was indeed an important issue to address. We also worked on determining what Tara’s strengths were and what kind of people would work best alongside her to fill her gaps.”
“My belief,” shares Noam, “is that self-awareness is really important, and identifying your own weaknesses makes you less blind to them and encourages you to find the right people to work with.”
“In the second month, once we identified the problem, it was time to start creating some solutions. The first half of the session was a presentation on the progress made and the second part was a discussion around it. This included additional drill-downs into parts of the issue, identifying specific user types, and coming up with potential solutions.”
“We met every two weeks, and by the third month, we could really concentrate on implementation. We focused on what user testing might look like and what assumptions needed to be verified. After that, we worked on more practical next steps, and on keeping the product simple until she’d gathered enough user feedback.”
Setting the Foundation for Future Endeavors
“I was at a really good place when I started the program. But at the end of it, I had more confidence in my abilities to be a strategic and independent product leader. To me, that was priceless,” shares Tara. “And now, I’m going to keep working on the project I started with Noam, and continue working (and growing) as a Product Manager. This journey does not end here.”
“This is why, to me, Product League is the right solution over other alternatives,” says Noam. “What motivated me the most here were the personal accomplishments (which are so subjective). Teaching a product course on whatever topic isn’t the same. More often than not, the challenges my mentees have faced are the emotional/psychological struggles of the job. The best part of my job is mentorship and coaching, so I wanted to expand that beyond my own team members.”
“I typically mentor at the end of the day. There have been some draining days at work when it felt like my battery was at 5% and right after the sessions, I’m back to 90%. It’s really something I look forward to,” she says.
“I choose to only mentor female PMs because I think the mental hurdles women have in front of them are unique, and I feel like I can help. I have an infinite amount of gratitude that I keep getting to do this and for the unbelievably talented women, I’ve met. This is the best benefit here,” shares Noam.
“By the end of this batch, Tara was well on her way and I hope this process helps her with the strategy of the product she manages at work.”
When asked what’s next for her, Noam replies, “Another batch, please! I can’t wait.”