7 Years Of Brainmates With Adrienne Tan

The lovely Rebekah Lambert from Unashamedly Creative decided to interview me for Brainmates 7th birthday. Thanks Bek!

What led you to first get into Product Management?

My first role after University was at On Australia. On Australia was a joint venture between Microsoft and Telstra, one of the first Internet Service Providers in Australia.

On Australia was essentially in start up mode and I was fortunate to be able to help define the (now BigPond) product. It seemed natural to move into Product Management. After my role at On Australia as the Billing and Credit and Collections Manager, I moved into Product Management at AUSTAR, a regional Subscription Television provider.

I think Product Management is about being excited about the product and having a desire to deliver an exceptional experience to customers. I have been that way since my time at On Australia and have always adopted that approach to work.

Why did you decide to start Brainmates?

I didn’t intentionally decide to start Brainmates. I left my job at AUSTAR as really I wanted to explore what life was really about. For me, life was not about sitting behind a desk 9 to 5 every day at one company. So I left full time work to see what options I had. I guess small business was something I always had considered. Somehow it transpired Nick and I started Brainmates through discussions, through a cup of coffee, people wanting us to do some work for them. All those sort of machinations and the universe led us to Brainmates.

Where is Brainmates heading?

I think ultimately Brainmates is a boutique consultancy offering very solid thinking and advice on product strategy, design and assistance with product implementation. As we help organisations to develop more and more products, we see a greater need for the kinds of services we offer. As competition in the market place is fierce, it’s beneficial for a third party such as Brainmates to cast a professional eye on what the companies are doing.

I don’t see us growing into an Accenture as that is not our personality. Our personality is about small teams, its about being effective, it is about good thinking and discussion, and about passion and excitement. We may not be able to deliver that sort of work environment if we grow too big.

We’ve always been profitable and we will always make tough decisions about profitability. That’s where we want to be from a business point of view.

Everyone learns from mistakes. Describe a mistake you have made and what you learnt from it, and how it made you a better Product Manager.

Gosh, I have made lots of mistakes! I have 2 roles. I am not only a Product Manager or a Product Management consultant but I am also a business owner. So I have made lots of mistakes in my business life from simple things such as how we go about invoicing, to how we go about delivering final product to our customers. Like any mistake you pick yourself up and you make sure the next time you do it you find a more efficient, better, simpler way to get the job done

From a Product Management perspective, I think it would be around stakeholder management. I cannot think of one instance in particular but I think overall we need to be very mindful before we start building product about who is at play, who your stakeholders are and making sure you address their needs throughout the whole process. . We’re very good at thinking about the customer because that’s our job and thinking about the market and the trends. But a Product Manager has to not only look at the outside market factors but also internal factors as well and make sure both work well during the whole product delivery process.

What is your least favourite task when it comes to Product Management and how do you motivate yourself to tackle it?

My least is favourite task would have to be user acceptance testing. It’s great to see the finished product, I love that bit. I love it when there is something completed and something to see at the end. But user acceptance testing requires a lot of detailed work. But I know that it’s a job that has to be completed. I am a very task driven person and it’s just my personal attributes that would make me go through that process to complete it. I have done a lot of user acceptance testing on weekends, at nights, to bring through finished products and it would have to be my biggest challenge. It’s very hard to keep me excited. But you know you have to finish your job. I motivate myself through having a commitment to my customer. So I will make sure that I deliver on that commitment because I don’t want to break on my promise.

If you could take the Product Manager you were aside and give them some advice, what would it be?

I think 7 years ago I was a very different Product Manager. I would say ‘learn to tell stories’. I think we are so wedded to detail, so wedded to process that we forget to step back and look at the big picture and learn to tell the story. I’m still going through that process now, but I think as a Product Manager you must have the vision and you need to be able to articulate that vision and tell compelling stories to the market as well as your stakeholders. If you can be a great story teller, I think you’re on your way to being a decent Product Manager.

What is your favourite task?

My favourite thing is building Business Cases. Yes, I know! Because it’s about synthesizing all your market information, all your customer information into something that is quite constructive and meaningful. The Business Case tells us who the customer is, why you should aim for them, what problems and needs your customer has and why your product can deliver and fulfill on that need. And it translates all of that into financial numbers and I think that’s a very powerful way to demonstrate the product’s potential success. I really enjoy doing that- I know I am a bit of a weirdo! But it’s really good story telling- it’s a mix of storytelling and logical, factual thinking. So you are bringing your left brain and your right brain to get to all the numbers but the numbers have to tell a story so you have got to be creative.

What do you see as the single biggest influence on Product Managers in the last 7 years?

In Australia social media has made it possible for Product Management to have a platform and a voice. I think ultimately that has been very beneficial to the Australian Product Management profession because we have got an opportunity to talk to others, to learn from others through social media. Previously you wouldn’t have even known who the Product Managers were in the USA and in Europe but now you do. It’s given everybody a voice- a voice to debate and chat and to continue that discussion so we can better the work we do and the professional aspects of Product Management.

Where would you like (to see) Brainmates to be in another 7 years?

I would like to see Brainmates amped up! We’re a small team now of ten so it would be really good to see the business double its size yet still maintain the core values of being teamy and trustworthy, honest and fun, and clever, but also continue to work in very interesting industries. We have been very fortunate really in that we can work across multiple industries from biomedical to telecommunications and financial services but for us it would be really fantastic to work on really ground breaking products such as energy, health, things that make a difference to society really. I see Brainmates as the centre of good product strategy, good product design and good product implementation. I want to see Brainmates as the centre of good product experiences in Australia.