Head of Product
Product & Agile DeliveryView profile
As part of the series ‘People In Product’ we had a chat with Lorraine Marsh, Head of Product. An entrepreneurial product manager with over 15 years’ of software product management/leadership experience within the FinTech industry, specifically retail banking.
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.
I started my career as a management accountant, however whilst working at Virgin I got the opportunity to work on analysing opportunity trade-offs. Strategy development really ignited a fire in me so in the early 2000s I resigned to set about a career change (and a change of weather). I moved to Australia and was fortunate to quickly get into product management through entrepreneurship. One of my first roles was working with a consultant to create a lead generation strategy for a group of 4 banks. This was back at the onset of the Web and we created a digital strategy. The banks loved it and asked if we could find a supplier to implement it. We pitched that we could do it and a digital agency was born.
My role was to work with our clients to understand their business objectives and to develop a digital strategy and solutions to solve them. I was also responsible for recruiting and co-ordinating the Design, Front-end engineering, and Customer Success teams. We got into Agile very hard, very early across the whole business (it made for a great culture) and whilst I held a ‘Director’ title, I found out that what I was doing had a name ’Product Management.’ I went about studying all that I could; I completed a Product Management course; quickly followed by User Experience Design and others. Later as Meetups began forming, I became active in the community, attending product, design, and tech meetups several times a week and hosting on several occasions.
The agency grew organically as one of our early product successes was developing a lead generation tool which resulted in 75 new banking clients in 6 months which we then cross-sold our core products and services. When the iPhone came out, we expanded into mobile app development.
The app caught the attention of a large core banking provider and in 2014 the company was acquired. Post-acquisition I stayed on and formed an internal innovation hub. We developed the next generation of white-label consumer-facing products. We also undertook research and developed business cases for new revenue opportunities.
After a few years the company made the decision to expand into North America and in 2019 I moved to LA with the objective of growing the US operation.
Cut to 1 year later and Covid hits. Returning to the UK unexpectedly with no job during such an uncertain time was challenging. However, at this point my career had been focused solely on the FinTech industry and I was keen to broaden my experience. I have now been fortunate to create product strategies and implement continuous discovery practices across a range of different industries.
Fran @ ADLIB: What are the top 4 skills you think are required to be successful in Product?
Whilst I may have found financial reporting repetitive, studying management accountancy at the start of my career provided me with a deep understanding of the importance of strategic management and business performance measurement. Throughout my career, I’ve always questioned the business impact (in addition to the customer impact) of working on one opportunity over another and kept my eye on the macro environment.
As Bill Gates said “We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.” Technology is changing at an exponential rate and as such consumer expectations are increasingly demanding. As Product professionals we must have a growth mindset and the passion to continually improve. You’ll always find me attending a course or with my head in a book.
We must also be very curious about our target market and want to really understand what they are trying to achieve and how our product fits into their eco-system. Only then can we uncover game-changing opportunities.
It takes a lot of emotional intelligence to do the right thing by your customer, your company, and your team. When we’re trying to solve big problems, different opinions are inevitable and normal as each person looks to solve their part of the problem. In fact, if we take discovery as an example, we actively seek to generate as many ideas as possible (quantity leads to quality).
Whilst I’ve been facilitating for as long as I can remember and really enjoy it, given I’ve been jumping into different industries with different sets of problems, this is an area my curiosity has recently leaned into learning more formally.
I’m also a huge fan of retrospectives. Not only do I truly welcome regular and timely feedback, but I believe it creates a culture of physiological safety and continuous improvement across the organisation.
In Product you must be very good at active listening, story-telling and communicating with various stakeholders all with differing goals and objectives. You need to be adaptable in how you communicate, however, wherever possible I let my customers or team tell the story. Nothing like a video snippet of a customer experiencing a pain point to drive the message home; or an all-company display where the team that has built the solution shows how it solves the problem.
I’ve experienced quite a few personal challenges in my product career: imposter syndrome, taking on too much and allowing myself to fall into 13-hour days/weekends, difficult stakeholders, not thinking big enough, not securing support for sufficient team resources or discovery, lack of proactive career planning and loneliness following my move to Los Angeles.
I often hear Product Managers often talk about imposter syndrome. A couple of ah-ha moments that might be helpful to others:
If we take Sam Kaner’s model ‘The Diamond of Participation,’ we know that we: a) start with a problem/opportunity; then b) diverge as we generate ideas; before c) converging on a solution(s). During the ‘divergence’ stage we are gathering lots of information, but the answers are still not evident. If we recognise we’re in the divergence phase and remain confident that the answers will come, the stress associated with the divergence stage goes away.
I used to listen to conference presentations or read books and think “I/we are not operating like this! I’m not good enough.” Following conferences, I have reached out to some presenters who have been kind enough to meet me for coffee. Those chats lead to me hearing about all the things that went wrong that were not shared. Thankfully, we are starting to see a lot more transparency and authenticity in conference presentations these days, which I believe make them far more interesting and relatable.
Find a community, get a mentor, and mentor others
I have found that joining product communities (Facebook, Slack etc.) has been a great way to give and receive knowledge and learn together.
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?
In a nutshell; always look to promote your team; don’t take credit when things go well; and take all responsibility when things go wrong.
Greater alignment regarding the value of an empowered product function, specific skill gaps, and recruitment requirements would be very welcome. I’ve certainly found when reviewing opportunities that many roles are not what I would personally consider product management (e.g., project management).
Last year myself and other members of the Association of Product Professionals surveyed a large number of product and non-product professionals, and many of them raised the same concerns.