People In Product feat. Elizabeth Rumsey

We had a great in-depth chat with Elizabeth Rumsey about her career in Product Management, her experiences and thoughts on all things Product. Elizabeth is Senior Global Product Manager at Vodafone Business, part of the Vodafone Group, they help businesses of every size to embrace positive change through digital communications technologies.

We gather stories, career journeys, as well as advice and wisdom, all to give you a glimpse into the experiences and perspectives of individuals working in the Product world, and help you gain a deeper understanding of this exciting industry.

Fran @ ADLIB: In a nutshell, what has been your career journey so far, leading you to where you are right now?

Elizabeth: I think that what led me into product management is the passion for problem-solving and working with people. I started my career on a graduate scheme in an investment bank, where I worked in mergers and acquisitions for five years. This experience provided me with a strategic perspective that has been invaluable in my current role as a product manager.

Seeking a transition from the advisory world into industry, I spent two years in private equity / venture capital at Virgin Management as an investment manager for various Virgin Group companies. Subsequently, I moved into a more operational role at Virgin, where I led the finance team for Virgin Galactic, which was at that time still a start-up. It was during this period that my fascination with technology deepened.  Working closely with engineers developing cutting-edge prototypes for spacecraft and vehicles in the Mojave Desert, California, was an incredibly exciting experience. I would visit them once a month, immersing myself in their work. Witnessing the growth of the business from approximately 12 to 200-300 people over 4 years was an incredible experience.

My journey then led me to Vodafone, where I initially took on a commercial role focused on creating contracts for multinational corporations’ telecom services. This decision was influenced by personal factors, as it was my first role back after maternity leave and wanted a role that provided room for growth while offering a sense of predictability and a culture of flexible working that supported my work-life balance. Vodafone has been an amazing place for that, I’ve had the opportunity to explore various functions such as HR, pricing, and bid management. This diverse background has proven beneficial in my role as a product manager, as it has enabled me to excel in cross-functional environments. The ability to work collaboratively and tackle a wide range of problems is crucial in product management.

As I led a special project focused on optimising the win rate for one of our connectivity products, my passion for the product management function grew. Through building relationships and gaining experience, I received an offer to transition into product management. Over the past 3.5 years, I have managed different products, including Edge Computing and a Big Data Analytics Platform that leverages data from Vodafone’s public mobile networks, and most recently, Mobile Private Networks. Despite the relatively short timeframe, I have gained a wealth of experience and embraced the diverse challenges that product management offers.

Fran @ ADLIB: Which product has been your favourite so far?

Elizabeth: I love MPN (Mobile Private Networks) partly because it has the largest community associated with it. The reason I was assigned to this specific product was due to my successful launch of Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC), which is a complex product, across multiple markets. One of the aspects I truly love about my role at Vodafone is the global reach we have. It’s not just about the markets where we operate, but also our partner markets. I find myself actively engaged with various projects in partner markets across the globe, and I am currently involved with 4-5 European markets simultaneously for my core product. Working with multinational teams and getting to know individuals from different backgrounds and areas of expertise has been incredibly fulfilling. MPN has given me the opportunity to operate on a scale that I hadn’t experienced before with other products.

Fran @ ADLIB: What are the top 4 skills you think are required to be successful in Product?

Elizabeth: First is having a strategic mindset. In a product space, you rarely would start your career as a product manager. You often gain experience in different functional areas before entering the role. As a product manager, it’s crucial to think like a business owner and have a cross-functional view.

Secondly, strong communication skills because you are engaging with people a lot. It’s not enough to have a vision for your product; you need to effectively communicate that vision to others and demonstrate how it brings value across the entire organization.

The third skill for me is stakeholder management and collaboration. I am sure it’s different for various product managers, but regardless of the scale or context of product management, the ability to manage stakeholders and collaborate with various teams is crucial. As a product manager, you often own the business case for your product and need to secure investments or venture capital in some cases.

Lastly, I’d say having a passion for the product! Whether it’s a passion for customer experience, people, or a genuine care for the impact your product can make, this drive is what motivates product managers to overcome challenges. It sets great product managers apart.

Fran @ ADLIB: What challenges have you faced in your Product career?

Elizabeth: The top one is the imposter syndrome. With such a diverse variety of product features and knowledge, it’s impossible to be an expert in everything. I experienced this particularly when I entered the product field just a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and lockdowns began. During the first Christmas of 2020, I felt somewhat down on myself. However, I stumbled upon online resources provided by product management associations and their training materials. I came across a blog discussing imposter syndrome in product management, which reassured me that it is a common experience. It made me realize that I shouldn’t be too hard on myself and that it’s okay not to know everything. Although it has helped me, I still face occasional struggles with imposter syndrome. As a product manager, people often turn to you for answers, and you do your best to provide them with a fantastic experience. However, one of the inherent challenges of product management is that nothing is ever perfect. You are constantly making trade-offs and managing expectations.

Fran @ ADLIB: How have your past experiences, skills, and interests shaped your approach to Product Management and influenced the way you work with teams and stakeholders?

Elizabeth: I’m arguably not a typical product manager, and the definition of product management can vary across companies. There are some companies where I may not have had the opportunity to be a product manager because I am not an engineer and never will be one. However, I have leveraged my natural strengths in my approach to product management. With my financial and commercial background, I have been able to contribute to discussions in areas such as investment governance. My technology team often praises my input in those areas, and I acknowledge that it aligns with my expertise. On the other hand, I embrace the opportunity to learn from my team in areas outside of my comfort zone. I believe this approach is influenced by my past experiences and skills. However, it’s important to note that each product manager’s background and approach can be different. Some product managers may have a natural inclination towards engineering and enjoy understanding how things work and how to build something, while financial strategies may not come as naturally to them.

Fran @ ADLIB: When you are hiring for your Product team, what skills are you looking for?

Elizabeth: It depends on the shape of the team at the time. I prioritize diversity and a mix of backgrounds. I am a huge believer that having a variety of perspectives leads to better outcomes. For example, I have hired someone with a finance background, which initially made me hesitant because I didn’t want to hire someone too similar to myself. However, she has proven to be a fantastic addition to the team.

I think it varies; I like to have team members who can understand the technical aspects of the product as well as those who are more sales orientated. In terms of the attitude, curiosity is crucial, as team members should be eager to learn about the market, understand how the product fits within it, and how to make it better. Drive and tenacity are also essential qualities. Product management often involves navigating ambiguity and being proactive in getting things done.

Furthermore, learning to say no is something we emphasize within the team. We have a tendency to take on too much, so it’s important to help each other navigate the organization and hold ourselves and others accountable.

Fran @ ADLIB: What would you like to see more of in the Product space?

Elizabeth: I think product management is a function that particularly benefits from diverse talent. I am privileged to work in a team with strong cultural and gender diversity, and we also come from a relatively broad set of professional backgrounds.  I work for a woman, and I think she attracts female talent because she’s such a role model. When I worked on Edge Computing one of our partners even called out ‘Oh my gosh! Where do you get all these women from? They are all really good too!’ Having a diverse team brings different perspectives and experiences, which can lead to better product outcomes.

However, when I look at product teams in the wider tech industry, I think we could do more. It’s important to address this issue because research has shown that products and technologies can have biases built into them when they are designed predominantly by a certain group. For example, medical or product safety research that is primarily designed by men may have unconscious biases that impact the product for female users.

In the field of AI, there is currently a significant discussion about the importance of diversity in the design process. Without diverse perspectives and mindsets represented in the development of AI systems, there is a risk of perpetuating biases or limitations. Overall, I believe that increasing diversity in the technical product space, both in terms of gender, culture, and other aspects, is essential for creating more inclusive and effective products.

Written by

Head of Product

Product & Agile Delivery

View profile

Francesca Macmillan