How would you describe your job?
I’m a product lead and product manager for Co-op Digital. We’re the digital division of the Co-op Group, which has a few different businesses: Food, Insurance, Legal Services, Funeralcare and Electrical. We work in multidisciplinary product teams consisting of a product lead, delivery manager, user researcher, interaction designer, content designer and engineers. Those product teams form around problems or opportunities within one of the businesses, and we try to get people from the business involved full time with the team too. We can then combine domain expertise with user centred design to build something really good.
My job is, in a way, to help the team figure out what’s next. Product managers exist in the intersection between users, business and technology. We’re responsible for building a product that meets the needs of users, meets business goals, and doesn’t fall over from a technical perspective. We’re not necessarily experts in all of those things, but we need to have a good enough handle on them all to ensure that we’re building a good product and staying on the right trajectory.
What does a typical working day look like?
On Mondays and Fridays I go for a run then work from home. On Tuesdays I get up early and get on the 7:20am train to Manchester, where Co-op is based. Then I stay in Manchester till Thursday afternoon – I rent a room about a 20 minute bike ride from work. In both places I tend to run a working day of around 8:30 or 9:00 to 5:00 or 5:30. Co-op Digital is the most flexible place I’ve worked since I’ve been working for myself.
We work on one thing at a time, and what the day looks like depends on what phase the product is in – Discovery, Alpha or Beta. Discovery is when we don’t know much, so we go out to try to understand the domain and the problem. That’s a research heavy phase, everything’s pretty woolly, so it involves a lot of team collaboration to try and understand the users, the problems they’re facing and the opportunities we have in front of us.
Alpha stage is when we think we know the problem and try to build something to test our hypotheses. We start designing, building software and testing a product until we’ve built something that meets user needs. It’s still research heavy, but we know a lot more.
Beta is when we’ve decided that what we built in Alpha meets user needs and is viable for the business, so it’s time to start building something that could scale. At the moment I’m working on a couple of products with our Food business in the very early Alpha stage, so there’s lots of research and trips to stores, engagement with people in the rest of the business, and a lot of writing and drawing stuff on whiteboards with other people in the team to try to figure out what we need to do.