PM Lessons on Mindset and Resilience: AMA with Magali Pelissier

Magali Pelissier (She/Her) is a Senior Product Executive, currently at Cisco (London), with a proven track record of improving the bottom line of over 10 products. With a background in aeronautical engineering and economics, she started her career in analytics. Despite the initial odds (background, different country) and hardly any role models to relate to, she carved a niche for herself in Product management. She takes a holistic approach to the entire customer experience and has been recognized for her ability to bridge the gap between people, process, and technology. Magali is the creator and host of the "Product Perspectives" podcast, where she invites stakeholders to discuss how to collaborate more effectively with product managers. As a former elite artistic swimmer and Channel swimmer, she embodies the values of teamwork, accountability, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. Let's learn more about Magali and her fascinating PM journey.

As we get started and given that you’re a former swimmer, what do you find parallel between Swimlanes in PM and swimming in real life?

The parallel I see is that you need to ride the waves of Product Management, including latest topics like PLG, DEI, AI, AR/VR and so on, if you want to stay ahead! I've collated all the top trends in products in my free ebook, to help product managers assess themselves and their organizations be future-proof.

Would you mind sharing how you were able to land your first PM job?

Sure. I was lucky, is the truth. (By the way, if you search, there are scientific studies that prove that luck is the main factor, before merit, in success). I fell in love with a SaaS platform for modeling and planning when I started using it as a data analyst. I became a super user of the tool, was super engaged in the community, going to all their events. At one point, I worked in the same building as them, so it was easy for me to go to their floor, and complain about a bug, requesting features, telling them about potential improvements... So much so that they invited me for an interview when a PM job became available.

I passed the interviews and got hired, thanks to the hiring manager who believed in me: he saw I knew the product itself, I just needed to learn product management. He put me on a 3-day PM course and a 2-day UX course in my first month, shadowing other PMs, and that's how I learned.

I was lucky that he saw the potential in me, and was ready to invest in me. For that reason, I'm this type of person when I hire people now. Here are my top tips for getting your first job in product:

  1. Write your CV in a product way (don't mention projects or digital transformation, use product words!)
  2. Research product management: learn on your own and be on top of the latest trends
  3. Practice, practice, practice interview questions - get a coach if you need help!
  4. Apply for jobs in an area where you already know the product. Are you a doctor? Look at HealthTech/MedTech. Are you a teacher? Look at e-learning solutions?
  5. Practice the product management craft: build your own product or volunteer for an organization to manage their product

What kind of mindset growth is required to manage 10s of products, what are the key skills one should hone and develop to reach that managerial excellence?

To confirm, I managed 10+ products, not all at once! The maximum I had as an individual contributor is 1 internal API and 5 products, with 3 engineering teams.

  • I think you need to have strong tech leads, and prioritizing skills - otherwise it's easy to be overwhelmed
  • For the manager path, it's not just product management anymore, it's about people skills too.
  • Communication is key, and creating safety for the team, empowering them to perform
  • Here are some of the top skills for the future:

I’ve a few doubts:

1)In between Low effort and low impact, high effort and high impact which one should we consider developing the solutions and what is the deciding factor.

2)What are the factors one should keep in mind while working on root cause analysis(RCA) to stay on the path, especially that we might need to conduct user research and how to stay aligned.

3)What are the books one should go through to have a minimum decisive thinking that's gonna benefit us from the rest of the aspirants.

Thanks for your questions!

  1. It depends and it's probably a mix. Have some frustrated users who have cried for years for something low effort / low impact? Do it. Have a marketing event where you need to show something new? Same. But you need to spend time on the high effort / high impact because that's what's building the future.
  2.  I work with UX people (designers or if you're lucky, researchers) to define an interview document which lists all the questions we want to ask during the user research. That helps us stay focused. 
  3. In terms of books, there are lots of them by Marty Cagan and Melissa Perri in particular. But I'd say they explain the basics. You need to stay on top of the trends, not just product management as it's been defined years ago.

What would you suggest to keep calm and focus when things aren't working and face a lot of rejections for jobs?

The job market is tough at the moment and I'm sorry you're feeling it. There will be lots of rejections, but remember the quote from Thomas Edison: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

  • It's important to take care of yourself and be kind. Get some time to breathe, relax, walk, meet with your closed ones... Life doesn't stop because you're looking for a job, you're still a human who has all those needs.
  • Once you feel calmer, you now have space to think: is there anything you could be doing better? Are there some questions you don't have proper answers to? Is it the case studies that you need to practice more? identify the areas that you need to work on, and get started with those. (prioritization)
  • Get some help from a friend, chatGPT, or a coach to help you get better
  • Just like in product management, it's all about feedback, prioritisation and iterations.

Could you share some of the trends that PMs and aspirants should keep an eye upon?

There are two major trends in the market:

  • Specialisation of PM (it's more difficult to move from B2B to B2C, between domains)
  • More emphasis on ethical, DEI and environmental topics

I think it's worth considering learning more about environment-friendly tech (ClimateTech), because it's growing and lots of start-ups are looking for PMs in this role. It's a future-proof domain of expertise!

Would you be able to share how your current role and domain looks like, in a big company like Cisco? Is it like a business PM or platform?

Right, so about the org: Cisco has 80,000 employees. They grow through acquisitions, that's why they have multiple sub-brands like Cisco Meraki, ThousandEyes, Webex... My company has been acquired as part of ThousandEyes, which is a division of 1,000 employees. The product org is ~30 people, including UX, PM, technical writers, analysts, and product specialists. I'm one of the product leaders there, with a team of two. If you consider the PM classification from below, I'm a core PM. But I've done 0-1 PM in my previous role, as well as being the first PM.

Just wanted to know how and where we can use the new AI tools(such as GPT) to optimize the day to day tasks of a PM?

There are lots of opportunities. I use it to:

  • Write product documentations
  • Write release notes
  • Do some research about the domain and competitors
  • Write customer emails
  • Saying "no" to people in a kind way
  • Summarising a document
  • Generating images to attract people's attention in my communication

‘Saying "no" to people in a kind way’ is my favorite. And what are the different tools that you use?

Yeah - especially since English isn't my first language, at some point I run out of ideas for how to say it kindly. By the way, for people like me who have to work in English, tools like ChatGPT improve the communication skills.

  • I mostly use ChatGPT because it's so versatile. Cisco has the OpenAI Entreprise version so we're also allowed to use it for work.
  • I've tested Bard too. 

I like Canva text-to-image tools for image generation.

And this is why everyone should start using AI in their job. I actually used AI to write the book and for the images, the ideas are all mine but AI has helped to make it a nice reading experience. If you read the disclaimer, you'll see I've mentioned it

What would be your top skills in this market?

Curiosity - and it's hard to teach!

Realistically, there's a lot of uncertainty around the skills that professionals will need going forward.

For those top ones , you can refer to an earlier response with top 10 skills above. Emotional intelligence includes empathy. If AI is going to be more present in our life, we need to thrive on what makes us human.

Could you throw some light on communications, learning language, podcasting, and branding? For PMs, these skills, though often classified as soft skills, are important to stand out.

I think soft skills are going to become even more important. They're hard to learn actually! I find that the best way to learn is a mix of passive (how many times did I read a book, listen to a podcast and had that Aha! moment) and active (practice with friends, do the thing...). Podcasting for me is one way to practice my oral communication. Writing the ebook was a way to work on my written one. There are lots of tips to practice your communication which I covered in this episode (link here) and I left the recording feeling super inspired.

How do you maintain a balance between work life and personal life? And any special tips for managing time better?

Good question. I have made personal choices which mean that I don't have a lot of responsibilities outside of work, so I can't imagine how hard it must be for other people.

  • Not having your emails/slack on your phone - because just being tempted to check it, or checking it actually creates small amounts of stress
  • If you work across time zones, and if you can, pick one day in which you work early or late, and don't book meetings outside of working hours in other days. Time to recharge is important
  • Taking a break at lunch time: it's easy to forget, but a simple walk helps your brain. And you may even have work ideas when you get back!

For time, being efficient is key: I ditched paper notes a while back for digital notes which are easier to organize and share. I use Notion a lot for task management. And if you're not motivated, a good 25-minute focus time with the Pomodoro technique! And finally: not everything needs to be perfect. When I let go of that and unimportant tasks, I was able to do more of the important things.

A big thanks for being here!! Before we part, is there anything else you would like to share in general?

A final word of hope: the PM market is tough right now, for everyone, across the globe, at all levels of the hierarchy (even CPOs get laid off and are looking!) so be kind to yourself and lean on your friends and this great community to support you and stay on top of the trends. Alternatively, you can reach me out on Linkedin (link here)

Want to join the next conversation? We’ll be having another Product Chat soon, get your invite to our Slack community to get all the details. See you inside.

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