During this week’s Product to Product episode, Amy Chyan, Product to Product podcast producer and host, chatted with Monica Dabaghi, Senior Manager of Product Management at Sony Interactive Entertainment.
Monica works on Sony Interactive Entertainment’s PlayStation product on the Commerce Team. As a leader on the team, Monica develops the team’s strategy and also ensures that it is delivered. Monica shared her team’s delivery framework for implementing a strategy and also shared how she supports other Product Managers within the organization through a mentorship program she helped create.
Monica’s talk is filled with great insights and helpful tips for delivering a strategy and we highly recommend watching the full talk. If you’re tight on time though, we’ve pulled out some highlights below.
(The highlights have been condensed and edited for clarity)
Monica’s journey into product (1:07)
Amy: Monica, can you tell me about yourself and how you got involved with product?
Monica: Yeah, so I have been in product management for about 10 years now. My early career, I was in sales and operations, working for a payments company, while I was in college. I really enjoyed understanding the nuances of how payments worked. This was in a time when websites were really starting to take off and businesses were taking their stores online. Something that I got really passionate about was helping small businesses go online and utilize e-commerce systems. That was something that got me into product. My first job in product was for a medium sized company, iPayment. I was really helping manage online gateways, POS systems, those types of products. It was really, really fun learning a lot about commerce systems and payment platforms.
About five years ago, I joined PlayStation. My key role at PlayStation at the time was to help manage the payment systems within the PlayStation Network platform. If you’re playing a game online, or if you want to buy a digital game from the PlayStation Network, you’re utilizing the PlayStation Store. That store obviously has commerce systems integrated, and those are where I started working. Over time, we kind of grew that platform and grew the functionality so much that we ended up expanding our team, expanding the Scrum teams that we were able to work with and a lot of the development folks in that group.
Monica’s product team (2:47)
Amy: You talked a little bit about expanding your team. What does your team look like right now?
Monica: So right now there’s four of us that work specifically on the payment and fraud platform, and then another group of four folks who work with us on commerce. Within the commerce platform at PlayStation, we have somebody who’s overseeing our subscriptions platforms, that’s helping manage how we bill or manage our PlayStation Plus product or PlayStation Now product. We have somebody who manages our offers platform. The offers platform, that’s how we provide banners and promotions, discounts, and coupon codes in the store for our players. Then we oversee our payment optimization work stream, which is how we add the payment methods our players want to use. PlayStation’s a global brand. We’ve got stores in over 70 countries, and players in all of these countries don’t necessarily use credit cards as their primary payment instrument.
In these different countries, we want to really understand what payment methods make sense and how we can get those integrated into the platform. We also oversee the actual transaction routing. That’s a bit of a deeper layer into commerce where we’re managing all of the data, how we ledger these transactions, recognizing revenue. Then another layer of that is fraud management. When you’re dealing with platforms of this size and scope, especially PlayStation, which is a brand that draws a lot of attention, you have to really manage your risk and exploits that we see in the field. That’s what our team does. It’s pretty fun stuff.
Monica’s delivery framework (6:59)
Amy: In our pre-interview, you mentioned that a chunk of your role is to develop your team strategy and then deliver that strategy. To help your team deliver that strategy, you mentioned you have a delivery framework in place. Can you expand on that framework and how it shapes the way your team works?
Monica: At PlayStation, in product management, we kind of have a philosophy, that we focus on our customers and the customer outcomes that we want to drive with everything that we develop. First, we always think about how we can make our customers’ jobs easier. There’s a great book, I’m going to totally space on the author, Jobs to Be Done, Anthony Ulwick? But yes, a really good book, definitely recommend it. That’s a philosophy that we at PlayStation really like to follow when we’re putting together a strategy for how we deliver products. We’re starting with the customer outcomes in mind. What does the customer want, need? What job are they trying to do that we can make easier? Finding that out is kind of difficult, because you can’t just say, “Hey, customer, what do you want?” If we could do that, all of our jobs would be really easy.
Going through an analysis, research, spending time with our consumers, spending time on the platform, using our product, is something that we all spend a ton of time doing. We pull a bunch of data from the platform and we see like, “Oh, like a lot of people are abandoning their journey here.” We can find places where that happens. What we’ll do is we’ll then start to form a hypothesis. Why are they abandoning their journey here? What is something that I think, as a product manager, from my research or from something that I’ve learned, might be able to help our customer continue that journey or make it through that gap?
We start to think a little bit about impacts. If I was to confirm my hypothesis and say like, “Yes, I can close this gap,” what impact would I have on my customer? It might be, “Oh, I can help reduce 10% abandonment at this stage in the customer journey.” Reducing that abandonment is going to get a customer to the content that they want to play faster or easier. They don’t have to spend as much time waiting for a download, whatever that might be. That’s kind of a really key first step in our framework is understanding and defining the outcomes that we’re trying to drive with a product or a feature. That’s those hypotheses and impacts that we’re predicting.
The next part of the framework is what we call research and analysis. This is where we’re doing proof of concepts. We’re talking to our engineering folks, our partners that are going to help us understand feasibility level of efforts. How much would it take for us to test this hypothesis? How can we try to understand if those impacts are accurate or if we’re on the right track with those impacts that we’ve put forward. We hopefully have some indication from a proof of concept. We love to do proof of concepts, because that’s something we can prototype really quickly, get it out there and see how our players are actually interacting with whatever the feature might be. There’s some cases, especially in commerce systems, where you can’t, because if we’re dealing with payments, there’s tax and legal kind of parts of these systems that you just kind of have to send it out there, make sure it works and let it go, but most of the time we’re testing our hypotheses and we’re doing kind of rapid prototyping.
Once we have the results from our POCs, from our LOE discussions with our engineering partners, we go into the kind of the last part of this framework, which we call solutioning. Solutioning is where we’re putting together a full plan of key deliverables, when we think those are going to go out. That’s when we’re talking to our legal, our PR teams if we’re going to be releasing a major feature to the platform, and then we get a release timeline kind of solid. That’s it. It seems like a lot, but depending on the scope of the feature, that framework can go really quickly, so something that you could get done in like a month, or if it’s something massive, it could take a year, more than one year, but yeah, that’s pretty much the framework we use for almost everything.
Creating a growth environment for product managers (14:20)
Amy: Also in our pre-interview we learned that one of your passions is helping other product managers. At Sony Interactive Entertainment, you’ve helped create a framework for growth in the product management career. Can you share what you’ve done to create this growth environment? How do you provide mentorship as well?
Monica: Yeah, so something that has been super important for me and for folks on my team is that when you move into product management, I mean, 100% of us I think, are coming from various backgrounds that are not product management. We went to business school, we got degrees in finance or marketing. There’s not really a product management degree that people are giving. Folks come into product management from a lot of different places, sales and operations, I’ve got some folks on my team that came from engineering, some folks on my team that came from data science, so these various backgrounds. Product management as a craft is something that I think can be really easily taught. That’s something that I’ve taken up, especially within my team, as something that we do and we spend time on every year. It’s one of our key goals every year is that something should be around the development of your craft of product management.
I’m going to shout out a couple. Again, that Jobs to Be Done book, really a good book that we evangelize at PlayStation, especially within my team. Some folks within PlayStation and myself, we get together and do like product type TED talks. We have a product camp that we like to do. Product camp is something that I think is super fun. It’s with a lot of other product managers. What you’ll do is you’ll take a feature idea or a business case that you want to try to kind of get moving and present it to other product managers first. Maybe before you take it to your stakeholder group before you take it up to executives. You’re shooting it out with other product managers to get their input, to get maybe some ideas that you didn’t think about.
I encourage some folks on my team to go take some courses with Pragmatic Marketing. Really they do really great courses. I think they are moving them now virtually, so it might be even easier to take some of their courses, but they’ve got really great product to product learning and development courses about different parts of product management. How are you gathering requirements from various stakeholders? How do you negotiate priorities, competing priorities with stakeholders? Some of the key challenges that I think product managers have across every industry, every company, is how can you really manage not just the strategy of what you’re going to do for your work stream or for your product, but how can you manage the expectations that your stakeholders have, that your leadership has? Those are some of the things that we spend a lot of time on, and it’s something that I think is super important, especially because again, none of us came from a background of product. We all come from something else.
Audience Q&A period
(17:45) One of our questions says, how do you track voice of customer/their feedback and the requests that come in through internal employees and stakeholders? Do you offer a view to those who submit feedback so they can see where the request is in the pipeline or the roadmap?
(22:29) Would you say you spend more time in the problem space and hypothesis of your framework or less time on the solution phase or vice versa or the opposite?
(24:04) Besides the products at PlayStation and Sony, what are your favorite products?
A product leader with a belief in outcome driven innovation, and the importance of diverse teams in delivering amazing products. Over 10 years of experience practicing the craft of Product Management, and leading teams of product managers; from small fintech startups, to one of the world’s largest brands. Together we successfully introduce new products, features, and services that bring joy to over 100M customers worldwide.
Amy’s a Content Marketing Specialist at Roadmunk on the Marketing team. She produces Recess, the Product to Product podcast and video content. Prior to Roadmunk, Amy worked as a journalist in various Canadian newsrooms and wrote for publications like NBC, CBC, Vice and more.