Superhumans: Talent Development in Product Management

Can you product-ize happiness? At ATB, we work everyday to maintain our focus on customers — and one of the biggest realizations we’ve uncovered over the past few years of Transformation is that being customer obsessed means we need to invest in product management leadership. 

Among our already superhuman Transformers, we need a cohort of superhuman Product Managers: leaders who are both data-driven and empathetic. Innovators who have business acumen and technical skills. Team members who can drive customer obsession by deeply understanding customer needs. Not to mention, they need to be natural communicators and confident decision-makers. Easy right?

Over the past decade, Product Managers have become a hot commodity in software and technology-focused organizations. They play a critical role as a growth-driver, working with cross-functional teams to navigate through shifting waters towards an end goal. The role itself isn’t new, however. Product managers have been on warehouse floors and rallying teams on assembly lines since the 1940s. But as critical a role as it is, product management in tech has only really started to solidify as a necessity - one that executives need to invest in.

When ATB committed to transforming into an agile organization, not only did properly defining what product management meant become a core focus, but also its role within and across project teams, the capabilities these roles require and their relationship to project management.

One Product Manager at ATB might have upwards of 75 stakeholders on a project. How do they balance every stakeholder’s varying perspectives and priorities? Distill and digest information to define the product roadmap? Collaborate with design and technical teams? Communicate progress to leadership? Balance business goals? Put the customer first? It’s a dizzying role - moreso if there isn’t a Playbook in place to guide them, and even worse if team members don’t fully understand the role.

This is what Product Managers at ATB are up against. So we rolled up our sleeves to look both inward and outward to develop a community and tools to grow leadership in this field among our own employees, as well as across Alberta.

Two Roads to Developing Product Management Leadership:

Building an Internal Community of Practice: 
We started by engaging Product Managers (100+) in simple ways - from Lunch and Learns where they’d share their own experiences, to online community chat rooms for one-off questions and peer-to-peer support. To date, product managers from various squad and team have shared their methods, hits and misses, and chronicled their processes… all in the name of collaboration and continuous improvement.

While enabling these team members to collaborate and share organically, we’ve also invited them to participate in the co-creation of a more robust internal training and education program to support their own professional development (and as a mechanism to ensure a consistent training and integration process for new talent).

By the end of Q1 2020, we aim to have developed a Product Management Governance Framework as well agreed upon principles and tools specific to project teams within ATB. 

And a key part of this framework is crystal clear role definitions for team members and stakeholders, encouraging efficiencies and effective teams that  are united in shared outcomes.

Supporting a Groundswell of External Talent: 
ATB hasn’t been the only employer in Alberta struggling to find product management talent. Historically, the pool here hasn’t been very big. To build up product management leadership talent in our own backyard, we all need to open our doors.

Together with Product Calgary (a community meetup group) and companies like Benevity, Solium, Getty Images, Clio and smaller tech startups like Bootkik, we’ve collectively built APM, a 20-week associate Product Manager training program modelled after similar programs in Silicon Valley. 

Product Calgary APM strives to unlock a community of leaders to share broad perspectives, with each participating company tasked with hosting three training sessions. Unlike our own internal program, which is being developed with ATB’s own culture, opportunities and constraints in mind — this broad community-focused program exposes participants to insight from product management experts from a spectrum of diverse project environments and focuses. 

So, we can’t product-ize happiness, but we can ensure we deliver it to customers, by creating collaborative healthy product teams and healthy ecosystems. In a world of human X machine, supporting tech talent and leadership development is just one of the many ways we’re putting humans at the heart of our transformation.

Interested in product management or APM? Follow along with us by scrolling to the bottom of the page.

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