Interview

How Product Managers Can Level Up

Bob Vickers
Product Director at LendInvest
Bob Vickers is the Product Director at LendInvest, one of the fastest-growing fintechs in the UK. During our chat, we asked him how he got into Product Management and how he made the plunge to Product Director. He shared his advice on how others can make this transition and told us the challenges that come with scaling up a team.


1. What is your current role at LendInvest and what does your daily routine look like?

I'm the Product Director at LendInvest, so I lead the Product and Design teams, splitting my time between several areas. Day to day, I check in with my teams to make sure they’re on track to deliver our priorities; work with senior management on strategic projects that impact the whole business – like how we use data; and collaborate with our VP of Engineering on cross-team initiatives, such as iterating our ways of working. I also spend a lot of time on recruitment, making sure we’ve always got the right people to deliver great products.

2. How did you get into Product Management in the first place?

Like most PMs, I fell into the job. Honestly, I was doing it before I even realised. I started on projects that were very data heavy, trying to find answers to problems and developing solutions. Then I transitioned into other projects, and the next thing I know I’m working with a designer, speaking with customers and getting feedback on what we had delivered. I've always enjoyed solving problems and producing value for customers; once I figured out the role that allowed me to do this, I knew I was in the right place.

“I've always enjoyed solving problems and producing value for customers; once I figured out the role that allowed me to do this, I knew I was in the right place.”


3. Before landing the job as a Product Director, you had several roles as a Product Manager. What did you learn from those past experiences and how was the transition like?

I was always mindful of the roles I picked; I wanted to make sure I learned the most from each experience. Working at Tesco gave me a good grounding in stakeholder management and solving highly complex issues in a huge corporation. JUST EAT allowed me to experience a faster-paced, agile delivery environment, working on iOS, Android and web applications for the UK and international markets.

When I first joined LendInvest, I helped deliver a platform migration. I learned a lot from this experience and seeing a team scale helped me round out my product skills. So when they needed a Product Director, I stepped up. I was doing a good job with product delivery and had a great relationship with the team, so it was quite a smooth transition. But the biggest challenge for me was having to think about the needs and priorities of multiple teams, instead of just one.

“...the biggest challenge for me was having to think about the needs and priorities of multiple teams, instead of just one.”

4. In your current position, you work with designers, engineers, and stakeholders. How do you create empathy between different departments and make sure everyone shares the same enthusiasm for the product as you?

Across the tech department, we see ourselves as one team and try to keep our goals aligned. We plan how the teams sit with each other to work most effectively and try to standardise delivery methods. We’ve built a structure that allows us to meet and work together, while leaving plenty of room for PMs to decide how they build relationships with stakeholders and deliver their projects.

Besides the daily stand-up meetings, we have a weekly stakeholder meeting, where the PM, design lead, tech lead and heads of department sit down to catch up on updates and review priorities, and a monthly session in which PMs and senior management come together to look at the roadmap and get an update on progress.

These meetings give everyone visibility of all current projects and promote collaboration – and mean we are open and transparent with each other! We all want to see the impact of what we do, so it’s important that everyone knows how they’re contributing to delivering a great product.

“We all want to see the impact of what we do, so it’s important that everyone knows how they’re contributing to delivering a great product.”


5. Since you joined LendInvest, your team has gone through some changes. What challenges have you faced with scaling a team?

We’ve been through several scaling cycles over the last couple of years and not all successful. The first time around, we focused on business priorities and hired a lot of people, mostly junior and mid-level positions – we just felt like we had to scale fast! The growth of the team did not last though. We learned a lot from that experience, and since then we started taking a more measured approach. Now, culture is the biggest thing; we have to make sure we hire the right people for the challenges ahead. But this more considered tack takes time. We’ve started experimenting with various on- and nearshore options to speed things up, but it’s all related to the business cycle, so it’s an ongoing challenge.

6. In your opinion, what should be a Product Director’s #1 priority to deliver great products?

It’s hard to pick a #1 priority (beyond releasing value to our customers...), as it’s different for every team. But right now, for me, it’s ensuring each product team has a clear understanding of the vision for their area as from that, everything else can flow in terms of metrics and problem-solving. It’s also important to make sure the team is covering the basics from the start: Are we talking to customers? Are we testing? Are we measuring? Are we communicating? It’s only after this that can we can build an effective backlog, gain stakeholders’ trust and deliver the right products.

7. What advice would you give to someone that has been working as a PM for a while and wants to be promoted to a Product Director position?

I would say to keep working hard, bring value and lead the product team for the most important part of the business. If you deliver them well, then you will naturally be considered for more responsibility. Always try to push things forward and don’t wait to be asked to do things – take the lead! People want Product Managers who take decisions and justify them, rather than asking for permission and reassurance.

“People want Product Managers who take decisions and justify them, rather than asking for permission and reassurance.”

8. What are you working on to become a better Product Director now?

I want to get better at telling the Product story and embedding a Tech culture across our company. So my current priorities are improving how we communicate our product strategy, using more data and challenging the ways we work. I’m also curious about how other teams work together. There are people out there doing amazing things, and I would love to learn from them.

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