Some people fall into product management, but other people have to work their way into it. Diana Nolting, VP of Product at SkuVault, joins us for this episode to share what she's learned from fighting her way into product management.
Diana began her career in journalism, giving her a unique perspective on the world of product. Throughout our conversation, she emphasizes the importance of asking good questions, getting to the "story behind the story," and building relationships with the people you're serving. She shares her tips for successful user interviews, her go-to tool in product management.
We also talk about the importance of bringing everyone together to solve problems cross-functionally. Diana shares an analogy that she uses with her team: we're all rowing together. Continuous conversations and remembering that your team is working toward a unified goal are critical for success in product.
We wrap up with advice from Diana and our co-host, Dave Mathew, for people interested in moving into product management. Dave shares why he believes asking good questions is the key skill for people in product. Diana advises people interested in product to ask questions and be willing to be wrong.
You can find more information about this podcast at sep.com/podcast and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening!
Zac Darnell: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the show. Thank you so much for listening. It really means a lot that you would spend some time out of your day to hear some of these stories. We've got a learning mindset here at SEP, and we even take that approach with this show. We've tried a lot of new things over the past year to see what works best and what doesn't, and as you listen to more shows you'll probably start to notice some of those small changes over time. With this show in particular, we wanted to try a new intro format. Hopefully you like it, and if you've got any kind of feedback for us, you can reach us at podcast @ sep. com, or you can find me on Twitter or LinkedIn, @ zacdarnell, Z- A- C- D- A- R- N- E- L- L. For today's show, I've got a returning cohost, Mr. Dave Mathew. Dave is a Product Leader here at SEP and is incredibly passionate about all things product. Our guest is Diana Nolting. She's the VP of Product for SkuVault. SkuVault is an e- commerce platform focused on the inventory management space. Diana's been in the indie tech scene for about 10 years now. Shares she got her start more in the marketing world at the Indianapolis Indians. I really enjoyed hearing about her journey moving into product and how she brings a journalism approach to learning from her customers. With that, I hope you enjoy the show. Welcome to Behind The Product, a podcast by SEP where we believe it takes more than a great idea to make a great product. We've been around for over 30 years building software that matters more. We've set out to explore the people, practices, and philosophies to try and capture what's behind great software products. Join us on this journey of conversation with the folks that bring ideas to life.
Diana Nolting: My name's Diana Nolting. I'm currently VP of Product at a company called SkuVault. We're a global- based SaaS company and we serve e- commerce retailers. Specifically, we help them track everything that they sell everywhere they sell it, so multi- channel e- commerce retailers. We help them build trust with their buyers by having better transparency of what they have to sell and where they have to sell it. My background getting into product, I feel like people either fall into product or fight their way in. I was a fighter. I fought my way in.
Zac Darnell: Ooh.
Diana Nolting: My background originally is I went to journalism school, so got really good at asking questions and trying to understand the story behind what people were telling you. That's really great for product as we kind of work through this. I went into sports marketing for several years right when technology was getting big, so social media was getting big. Started to love the technology side so much. Wanted to get into that, so I moved into cloud and when I started working at Bluelock, which was a cloud company at the time, I kind of shook their hand and said, " I don't know anything about cloud," and they said, " Neither does anyone buying us, so that's why we needed you to come tell us what this is and what they can do with it." Got to just understand and listen and learn. That's the first time I really learned what product was and really wanted to start to get into it. At the time, a lot of people were saying, " You have to be a coder to get into product." I wasn't, so a lot of people just saying, " Well, just don't worry about that. Just stay in your lane." I spent nights and weekends studying technology so I could understand it better so that I could get into the role and went from marketing to product marketing to product management and crosstalk it's just taken off from there, so-
Zac Darnell: Wow. I love that you kind of described that falling into or fighting.
Diana Nolting: That's what I tend to see, yeah.
Zac Darnell: I don't know that I've ever heard that before. I love that.
Diana Nolting: I tend to see that, yeah, and some people get picked and others-
Zac Darnell: Yeah.
Diana Nolting: ...really have to fight and prove their way in. When I kind of look back on growing up, there's those brand- defining moments. I remember when I was seven and eight I wrote letters to The American Girl Company telling them to expand their product lines-
Zac Darnell: Wow.
Diana Nolting: ...and they would very politely send me back a letter saying they have people who come up with how they should come up with their paper doll lines, but hindsight's 20/20, so
Zac Darnell: Oh, that's cool.
Diana Nolting: ...had I have known, I might have tried to go straight into product, but it took me a while to find out what this was. A perfect merging of all of the skill sets and things that I love to do.
Zac Darnell: Okay, so we haven't even talked about this. You just opened up a whole line of questioning for me. First of all, I'm a little intimidated that you have a journalism background and I feel like I'm about to get graded on how good of an interviewer I am here, even though I'm not a journalist.
Diana Nolting: Not at all.
Zac Darnell: We're going to have fun here.
Diana Nolting: Not at all, yeah.
Zac Darnell: Yep, I hope.
Diana Nolting: It's all about the conversation.
Zac Darnell: That's right.
Diana Nolting: You need people to open up, right?
Zac Darnell: Yes.
Diana Nolting: That's what you-
Zac Darnell: Okay.
Zac Darnell: You
Zac Darnell: fought your way into product management. I kind of want to kick into, what did you learn through that? How do you think that compares to other people that you are maybe peers with now that kind of fell in?
Diana Nolting: Yeah, I think ultimately success in product that I've seen has to do with curiosity and really seeking to disprove what you think you already know. If you have that innate ability and mindset, then that really helps you try to keep learning and that's ultimately part of it. Part of trying to fight my way into product was learning every other aspect of the business and trying to understand how that fits together and what that looks like. I think so long as somebody who's picked and plucked in the product management has that curiosity and willingness to learn, what does finance care about? What does marketing care about? Ultimately, what does our customers finance team care about? What does our customers sales team care about? That's how you help to get the story behind the story a little bit as well.
Zac Darnell: I love that. Okay, looking back over a little bit of your career, so you've led product at companies like Anvl, 120Water, most recently here SkuVault. SkuVault?
Diana Nolting: SkuVault, yep.
Zac Darnell: There we go. When you walk in, kind of day one, have you kind of maybe a... I don't know, assess isn't the right word, but figure out kind of how to lead that product development group? How do you build a strategy around that?
Diana Nolting: Yeah, absolutely. The first thing I try to do is the same thing that any product person would try to do is just understand the context of the problem, not just the problem in isolation, but, what's the context that we're trying to solve for? What are all of the pieces that come into that? When you're looking at leading a team versus just a feature or a product line, I think that has to deal with, where does the company want to go? Who are we trying to serve today? Who are we trying to serve in the future? How might that change? What are we really trying to accomplish as a business? I spend a lot of time trying to understand the business itself and all of the other leaders. The case of Anvl, I joined as employee number three. We were still working on paper, so there wasn't a lot of history. I mean, there was some good problems that we were founded to solve, but that's different than coming into SkuVault, which has been around for 10 years.
Zac Darnell: Yeah.
Diana Nolting: There's a lot to understand about the transition and really what's changed over the years and how has what they've incentivized and motivated and how has their client base changed over the years? Trying to just really understand the problem. What's working well? That's one of the questions I always try to understand is, " What should we not touch right now? What's working really well? What are the things we can make an impact on?" Digital transformation's a buzzword, but it's really about understanding, how can we work together to build these cross- functional teams to find little successes and build on those and start to motivate people in different ways?
Zac Darnell: That's really interesting talking about how long a company's been around and having that be a huge factor. You know, I've been with SEP for just under three years. We've been around for a little over 33 years and-
Diana Nolting: So much must have changed in-
Zac Darnell: Oh-
Diana Nolting: ... thattime-
Zac Darnell: ...a lot, right-
Diana Nolting: ... decades anddecades, yeah.
Zac Darnell: ... andin the back of my mind half the time it's, " Okay, how can maybe I suggest something that might be different or maybe new?" Although there's not much original thought, so it's not only that can I claim new anymore, but while honoring and understanding where we came from. You feel like you kind of had a similar balance to strike?
Diana Nolting: Absolutely, absolutely, and because there's so much, too, that comes along with bringing new people in and it's a new blend of a recipe as we bring that together. You mentioned there's nothing new, that's very true, but I think it's also about different adjacencies, so when cloud was just coming out and we studied a lot of the banking industry because people used to have to trust their money to institutions just like they had to trust their data to the cloud for the first time-
Zac Darnell: Yeah-
Diana Nolting: ...so crosstalk how can we learn from the banking industry for the cloud? That's what we look at a lot right now. These shouldn't be new problems, but there's also not a way to copy/ paste to find a solution, so let's bring that in. I think that's why a lot of value comes from having different experiences and backgrounds as well.
Zac Darnell: Yeah, I could go... We could talk about this for hours I feel like. Do you feel like it's challenging? Or maybe I'll ask you, just how do you typically try to align I'll say product strategy to business strategy? That tends to be very messy and hard. How do you kind of go about that?
Diana Nolting: Yeah, absolutely. It's messy and I think exciting. That's why probably why I like being in product.
Zac Darnell: Yeah.
Diana Nolting: Not everybody does, though, so you got to find the right ways to have those conversations because it does take the same way I look at product saying, " How do we continue to disprove what we think we know? Or continue to validate it again and again in an iterative fashion?" That's hard to do with business strategy because we like to say, " But we've solved it, right? This is what we're going to do and nothing should change." Everything changes around you, so it's continuing to have those conversations and work with people in the way they want to have those conversations. Some leaders say stack rank might be the right way to go. Other leaders, it's about, " Okay, help me understand if we were to do this. Let's put it on paper. Now, let's understand the impact that that might make." It has to be a hundred percent cross- functional. Anytime we've tried to do it without, something breaks along the way because you have to have everybody... It's one boat we're rowing. It's not a fleet of boats. We say that a lot, so if somebody's dragging their oar on one side, this is a problem for all of us. It's not, " Well, we can lose a boat along the way." My team's going to laugh if they hear this because I say this like once a week. It's one boat and we're all rowing together, so let's help everyone row faster and understand which island we're going to because if we all think we're going to a different island, we're just going to go in circles, so-
Zac Darnell: Yeah. Oh, I love the analogies. The visuals always help me.
Diana Nolting: I speak in analogies, so that's-
Zac Darnell: It helps me.
Diana Nolting: ...that is the product way.
Zac Darnell: As a visual learner, it helps me.
Dave Mathew: Yeah, it reminds me. I use the analogy sometimes of vectors, so like in physics if you're adding vectors together, you get so much from each side, so that's kind of the same thing. You all want to be aligned in one direction to get the maximum benefit. Otherwise, you're not really adding together and in an optimal way.
Diana Nolting: Exactly, and you're just... Yeah, so it's about painting that common picture and vision. I think that's... I've heard a lot in recently in articles, and I'm sure you guys, too, and I'm sure we'll touch on those is the difference between the business and engineering or the business and product. We're a software company personally, so the business is the technology-
Zac Darnell: Yeah.
Diana Nolting: ...so we start to try to have those conversations about it's not a magic business. It's software. We are a technology business, so-
Dave Mathew: Yeah.
Zac Darnell: Yeah. That's a really good way of thinking about it.
Dave Mathew: I think that makes a big difference from what I've seen on whether the company treats software or technology as the product or as an integral part of their product offering, or if it's just kind of a cost center, it's something we have to have to help us out, I kind of think makes a key distinction between two ways of thinking about things.
Diana Nolting: It took me a long way to evolve my understanding to get there, too. I think we're taught that coming right in is like, " No, just tell us what the business wants," and then you go track down the mythical business. I think the more experience you get, the more you understand, " Hold on, there is no magic answer. I thought there was. I went looking for it and it's really about just having all of those conversations continuously and communication."
Zac Darnell: You touched a little bit on kind of the larger community, maybe some of the trends that are kind of emerging around product. Product thinking is a hot topic I feel like these days. I'm kind of curious, what are your thoughts around the idea or definition of product thinking?
Diana Nolting: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, everybody has a different definition for everything and product's different at every company, but what's interesting to me is when we look at product thinking and the ultimate emphasis on understanding the context of who you're solving for and really shrinking that kind of gap between the business and the user and how we're actually solutioning for them, it's the same thing that stands out to me with jobs to be done. It's the same thing that stands out with design thinking. It's the same thing and it's just continuing to really understand the business of your user and not taking what they're asking for at face value, right?
Zac Darnell: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Diana Nolting: Particularly if you're building for ongoing software and you're truly trying to build for... If Netflix called me and asked me what to build, it would probably not look very much like what they've built, but I love it and I'm going to use it all of the time because they've built that in a scalable way, which is different than custom software development, which has its absolutely place, but those are different things and we have to recognize that. I think what stands out to me about product thinking is just that continued emphasis on, do you understand the pain that the person that is solving for? They probably don't know how ask for that. You just have to understand their business. When I was at Anvl, we were a mobile solution for frontline workers. They're not typically thought of as the most... They're not given the best software. They're not given the best devices. They're just kind of given enterprise software and they have to use that. We were designing the software for mobile apps. We were designing it for mobile devices they didn't have yet. As we were kind of walking through, they said, " You have to put it on a laptop. You have to put it on these giant 30- pound laptops. This is the only way it can work." Well, they're up 20- foot ladders and they're under crosstalk-
Dave Mathew: Gosh-
Diana Nolting: ...buses and they're-
Dave Mathew: ...wow.
Diana Nolting: ...we have to understand the working conditions that they... and so spending time with them and walking in their shoes. Then, we deliver the mobile device and suddenly all of their apps work on the mobile device, too. " Oh, this is how they work and it's different." That's kind of as we think through, that ultimately to me is just getting really curious and getting to know and building a relationship with people who need it because you're going to have the domain expertise. You see hundreds of thousands of clients. They know their world really well, so understand how we can solve problems that they may not see because they didn't know there was a way to do it better-
Zac Darnell: That's right.
Diana Nolting: ...but we can find those and help them solve that.
Zac Darnell: I've had customers and clients over the years that kind of have this... It's like the, " I'll know it when I see it," feeling of need. I have tried a number of things over the years. I've read about it. It's always, I don't know, kind of a gnarly problem to solve of helping to fill in the puzzle pieces over time before they finally get to this, " Oh, yes, this is what I meant." How have you kind of worked through some of that?
Diana Nolting: Iteration. Just continuous like, " What's a problem we can solve together? How can we learn from that?" We're probably not going to get it right, so I think it's again something that happens over time to come to the table and say, " I want us to fail. The faster we fail, I'm thrilled." That's the goal, which is very up against, I think, how other people like, " What you mean you want to build it to fail?" Well, that means we're going to learn faster, so I don't want to ship something that could hurt people, but I want to find the right place where we can test and iterate and the right people to test it with so that we can learn from that so that we can ship the next thing better and we can ship the next thing better and better. I think that's about really just testing and continuing to take in the feedback and not throwing things over the wall. Ultimately, everybody should be happy with more context and more understanding because we can only know what we know. It might be right today and I'm sure whatever was developed and launched in February of 2020 probably is a very different set of contexts-
Zac Darnell: Probably crosstalk-
Dave Mathew: Yeah.
Diana Nolting: ...going out today. We learned from that and we have to adjust to the conditions that are in front of us.
Zac Darnell: Something that's kind of percolating in my brain as you've been talking so far, this idea that there's not some magical business sitting somewhere on a cloud that you have to go seek out, and some of the maybe recent publications around product thinking and this right mindset across the company. Oftentimes, I feel like there's tension between user testing, validation and the market, and business demands for, " No, we just need to deliver these things. I know these things are right and they're based on a lot of assumptions." Can you talk a little bit about how you tackle some of the... I don't know, I feel like that's more influence and people issues around making great products?
Diana Nolting: Yeah, absolutely, and one of the things that we're trying to do because the company's been around 10 years at SkuVault and we have incredibly talented people who have a lot of great ideas and a lot of great understanding of the market is building a culture of experimentation and testing and really saying, " I love that idea. You live with our clients every day. Let's test it. Let's ask them what they think. Let's validate that." We're not coming to them with a blank piece of paper, but let's validate that and then say, " Who is that, the right tip, for?" It may be different across the board. I think trying to build that culture of testing and experimentation isn't necessarily natural to a lot of risk- averse businesses, particularly those who have been around a long time. If you've been around a long time, you've built those systems to help your business stay afloat. Continuing to build that culture of testing and experimentation. How will we know if we're doing well? How will we know if we should double down? That's a question, too, right? Like maybe-
Zac Darnell: Right.
Diana Nolting: ...this is going better than we thought and we should double the resources that we're applying to it. If you don't know that, then you're going to fail a different way than you would otherwise than, " Okay, maybe we pivot because this was not what we thought it was," or something has changed. It's that practice and that discipline of continuing to push that cross- functionally, which is we'll continue to say all day long, but I think what's really interesting to me is product serving as the network of the business and helping people see differently. Driving influence without authority is the world of product, which is, I men, you get really good at storytelling and you talk in a lot of analogies and you make sure everybody feels heard. All of that translates to ultimately who you're serving, which is the stories from the boots on the ground, the stories from the market, the stories from people who don't even know they need you yet.
Zac Darnell: One thing I'm also kind of curious about, do you have a tool box? Do you have like... I love Jobs to Be Done or I love Marty Cagan's definition of product management, kind of walking a bit of philosophy. Do you kind of have that tool box? Or are you more... I'm sorry, that tool? Or are you more of the tool box side of things where right tool for the right job?
Diana Nolting: Yeah, definitely. I feel like I'm definitely a tool box kind of mindset because I have yet to see two companies that look exactly the same inside of it, but I think with that, I do tend to have a philosophy which is informed by kind of the first formal training I got with pragmatic marketing, which is focus on those market problems. Ultimately, because of my background in journalism school, it's interviewing, so that's one of the first things I do is try to interview as many people as possible everywhere we interview. This is something I've been doing ever since I've been in product many, many years ago. We interview people who will never be our clients, so we understand what we shouldn't build. We try to interview people who are our clients. We interview people who have left us. We interview people who are in adjacent markets. Let's try to really triangulate where should we be going and where we should not be going so we don't get distracted either on that, so interviewing across the business, up, down, sideways, and then everywhere we can and just try to pull all of that information. If there was one tool that tends to be one- size- fits- all, it's just interviewing and trying to learn and try to make those adjacencies understood, but-
Zac Darnell: Yeah, because it's more a philosophy than it is a tool.
Diana Nolting: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Well, and I think that's all of the philosophies tend to have similar veins, right? Like-
Zac Darnell: Sure.
Diana Nolting: ...just different approaches, so-
Dave Mathew: It's interesting because one of the things I really found is asking questions is really the key to doing really good product work. It's simple. I think it's oversimplified a lot of times because everyone asks questions, but how do you ask a good question? Do you have any advice either when you're interviewing just doing customer interviews? Or maybe even when you're testing some of these ideas out, how do you ask good questions to get past the surface level like, " Yeah, that looks good, yeah, I would use that?" Do you have any kind of a tactic or a tool box you use from your journalism background to help with that?
Diana Nolting: Yeah. I think there's a couple of things you can make sure you do, which one thing I've fallen short of sometimes is like making sure I have enough time to clear my head and not rush through it, and then time enough after to let the conversation flow naturally, which is always important. Then, it's about building a connection with the individual, so when I've interviewed different clients in different parts of the world, building relationships is different with different cultures-
Dave Mathew: Yep, absolutely.
Diana Nolting: ...and different communication styles. It's different, so it's trying to find that one- on- one connection through talking about families or through talking about what they did over the weekend or through talking about whatever it might be so that you start to build that trust because if you just airdrop in, ask a couple of questions and airdrop out, you heard what you wanted to hear. It's really about starting to build that relationship and unpack and just try to be as human as possible, which I think is a very generalistic approach to, " Help me understand the story behind the story." If I'm just airdropping in to figure out the weather, then that's a different conversation, then. When I interview somebody in the UK, that's a very different kind of cultural how we build a relationship and rapport together than it might be the same day a couple of years ago I had an interview with somebody in the UK and somebody in Louisiana. Those are very different cultures and very different like... One went very long and one we're... Okay, we're still trying to peel the onion and sometimes you have to set another call. Sometimes you have to just kind of let them unpack what may be months or years worth of baggage and feedback before you can get to the next piece. It's about treating each one as an individual conversation and trying to go from there.
Dave Mathew: Do you do any kind of timeboxing? Or how would you plan doing interviews with people to kind of allow for that natural flow of conversation?
Diana Nolting: I've had to start kind of limiting, " Okay if only one thing gets discussed, what will that be?" Then, setting that expectation like, well, you know... When I go in an interview, I say, " You're probably going to be doing the bulk of the talking here and I just want to understand." Especially if we were interviewing frontline workers who aren't used to having this level of access to the software developers, they would say things like, " Well, you guys are smarter than I, so you can solve this." "No, no, you guys are smarter because you do the job every single day, so help me understand. Show me. Walk me through it and I'm just here to learn. Teach me and I'm here to learn and take it in and I'm going to ask questions, but let's just go there together and here's the goal that we're trying to accomplish. I just want to understand and I'm probably going to have more questions." The expectation that we'll be continuously talking and things will change and we want to build that relationship, so particularly with those individuals when we're walking the front lines, we would send them handwritten thank- you cards after and we'd come back the next time and see them taped up on their tool boxes, which just shows that you're kind of building that rapport because then they can reach out, too, if something's not working the way they expected it to. You get a different level of feedback than when it's just they're airdropping over something else.
Zac Darnell: One thing that I know that you're very much involved in, and going back to the falling versus fighting in, you kind of co- manage a product, I think. Is that a meetup? It's a meetup here in town, yes?
Diana Nolting: Yeah, so ProductTank is a local meetup. It's in a lot of different cities. It's a group of local individuals who are product people who host free product meetups around the world by... Mind the Product is the group that's-
Zac Darnell: Oh, yeah-
Zac Darnell: ... yeah, yeah,yeah.
Diana Nolting: ...which
Diana Nolting: is really great because I think when we're looking at learning and how to get better, you only see... We don't have the domain expertise of product typically if we're-
Zac Darnell: Sure.
Diana Nolting: ...only working in our company, so that was one of the best ways that I learned from product is trying to get involved in communities of other people who are doing things differently. Particularly when I was getting into product, I was one of the only product people at the company at the time. There wasn't a lot of females in product in the area, either. I could probably name the 10 or 20 at the time, so I joined a lot of coastal product groups, particularly for women in product, and tried to understand how they were solving different problems at their companies. Then, ProductTank was another group that was starting up here from two individuals who... One of them is still helping run our group, and the other one moved to another city, but they just said, " Product can be a lonely job and we want to bring all of these product people together to help socialize how you saw this problem and what have you seen," which I think is really great to build that community because you'll only the product perspective from the companies you've worked for. That allows us to socialize and share ideas. David and I have tried to bring some good conversations to the forefront and socialize what people want to talk about and see what we can do at least locally in the community. We welcome anybody who's interested in product and wants to learn about product and wants to be closer to product and just have those conversations.
Zac Darnell: Well, okay. Then, I'm going to pose this to both of you. Somebody who might be fighting their way into kind of a product role. What's the 101- level advice or book or person to follow that you guys would maybe point them towards?
Dave Mathew: No, no. It's a... I guess product is interesting because it is like the first thing today. People come from lots of different backgrounds, like engineering, design, journalism, all kinds of different things. I know Craig calls it like we're the Big Tent Group, so lots of different disciplines that come into the group, so it's I guess don't feel like you have to be specifically a product person to become a product person or that that's not your tribe necessarily. I think a lot of people that are in product that don't know it yet, maybe a designer or an engineer or somebody else that they feel maybe like slightly out of place in their craft at the time, and maybe product is the right fit for what they're trying to do. If you're the person that asks lots of questions and isn't dissatisfied with just doing the work, you got to know more context and things like that, I think you'll feel more at home. The product people and, I guess, you're asking about a specific piece of advice or something like that. Really, I think the journalism thing is a big deal with that. To me, the key skill of a product person is asking really good questions and being able to ask them for people from different groups and disciplines. You have to be able to talk to a customer, a frontline person. You have to be able to talk to a CEO or company owner, a finance person, or your developers or your engineers or your marketing people or your designers. You have to be able to kind of talk to all of those people to make things work. Questions and context is what glues all of that together.
Diana Nolting: I'll add to that and say and be really comfortable with not knowing the answer most of the time.
Zac Darnell: Yeah crosstalk yeah-
Diana Nolting: ... fit in with that.That's actually when I talk to people who are like, " I'm trying. Should I move into product?" From whatever background or discipline. That's one thing that I always say is, " Well, I know this really well. I know CS really well or I know marketing really well or I know coding really well." I don't know how anything else works, and so that's one thing I usually say is, " Well, sit down and talk to them and see. Maybe you can start building those bridges in advance because none of us know all of the things when we come into product." I came from a marketing background. I had to learn all of the other things and I'm still learning all of the other things. I think most product people... When I hire, I look for curiosity and a willingness to be wrong and a willingness to try to find out if you're wrong and disprove that because you might be right today, and it's entirely possible in two weeks something has wildly changed and you'll not be. If you take that for granted, then product's probably not the right fit for you if you don't like being right.
Dave Mathew: Yeah.
Diana Nolting: It's just more about that curiosity and the willingness to keep learning and keep asking questions and get to the fifth level of why and then keep going.
Dave Mathew: That reminds me of something we tell to our new hires when you first start at SEP. We tell people like, " As soon as soon as you get stock to talk to somebody, don't sit there and spin your wheels trying to figure it out. Just ask." It's the same thing when you're building things, too. Don't try to get things perfect or have the perfect answer. Just ask, have the conversation, get to the story because you're probably going to be wrong. You're probably going to learn something, so the sooner you ask the questions the faster you're going to get to that learning.
Diana Nolting: Exactly, and if you can get people telling stories, then that's the magic, right?
Dave Mathew: Yeah, yeah.
Diana Nolting: There's so much wrapped in those stories and you can get to so much farther than, " Just make it purple." Well, help me understand why. Tell me the story of why purple.
Zac Darnell: It's a great color. I mean-
Diana Nolting: There you go crosstalk.
Zac Darnell: Okay, so I would like you to try to read your crystal ball. We can play with this for a second. Obviously, software has been growing and evolving, I almost want to say exponentially, but okay, maybe that's a little bit of a reach. Very, very quickly over the last 20 years. In the next five to 10, specifically in your tent of product, what do you think the next big thing or next evolution of product, product management, product thinking is going to come down? What do you think?
Diana Nolting: Yeah, that's a great question. Man, if we did have that crystal ball.
Zac Darnell: I know, right?
Diana Nolting: The things that I see picking up, and I'm thrilled that they're picking up, is this cross- functional approach to serving our clients. I hope that that continues to double down and I hope that the deeper we get involved in our clients' businesses the better we are able to help them act as a partner to them and a coach to them in their time of need. Particularly, I think it's been a trend for a while that software should be serving the individual user and not just, " Well, that person bought it and they'll figure out how to use it."
Zac Darnell: Yeah.
Diana Nolting: The speed to usability and the speed to just building a partnership, I hope that those double down and go more in just the coaching element. I think that's what I've been looking at for a little while and continue to look at as digital transformation continues throughout. It's really about working differently together more so than anything else, and that has to be delivered through the software, which is hard. I think hopefully that that ability to coach individuals in their jobs and the ability to coach with technology differently is really where we're headed through a number of different things. We'll have better computing power because we continue to have better computing power, so we can deliver better, more tailored insights and we can help them in different jobs. I love software that's built for people who don't traditionally sit at a desk because I think that we have to think about it differently, and so they're problems differently and in a way that they're used to kind of used of bad software normally-
Zac Darnell: Sure.
Diana Nolting: ...so I love new ways to serve them in an approachable way because I don't think that's always a given. I hope that we get more approachable technologies for all individuals, not just those who sit with really giant screens at their desk all day long.
Zac Darnell: That's true. Well, yeah, and you think about the last 18 months with this pandemic. I mean, that has opened up a huge number of opportunities in tech and the way that we're going to continue to evolve through this just working doing our jobs day to day and a number of different industries. I'm kind of excited to see what new things... Can we just do hybrid meetings better? Please, somebody fix the AV. It's all I'm looking for.
Diana Nolting: Communication better and different places and across the world and time zones and all of that. I think I've been so lucky to have been at SkuVault for the eight months that I've been here and ideally years and years going forward because e- commerce has seen so much change over the past-
Zac Darnell: Yeah.
Diana Nolting: ...pandemic as well. I think about even in my life when I see family members who would have not been buying things online prior and now are personally adept at having a ship shopper go pick out exactly the inaudible that they want at the store, so it is changing how everybody communicates and that software is being pushed in a different way. I love when we can empower e- commerce businesses, particularly small businesses to compete because we see ourselves impacting local economies in different ways, which is really cool. As connectivity gets better and we can really drive that forward, I think it's going to be cool. I think we're in a different place than we were in the past and I think I'm excited to see where we can take it.
Zac Darnell: Well, I appreciate you sharing some of these thoughts and insights with us. We'll see if your crystal ball reading is right. I'm pretty sure you're-
Diana Nolting: I'm interested crosstalk in everybody else's crosstalk-
Diana Nolting: ...crystal
Diana Nolting: ball, yeah.
Zac Darnell: Yeah.
Diana Nolting: I'm interested to see what everybody else's predictions are, too, because I'm sure a bunch of smart people you've had on the podcast, we can triangulate a future.
Zac Darnell: I think we can. Maybe we can throw a little poll out and see if folks wouldn't mind sharing their crystal ball reading.
Diana Nolting: We love our research, right? Like-
Zac Darnell: That's true.
Diana Nolting: ...let's see what that tells us ahead, so yeah.
Zac Darnell: I love it. Diana, thank you so much for joining us. Dave, thank you for being a cohost, bud.
Dave Mathew: Yeah.
Diana Nolting: Thank you guys for having me. It's been a great conversation.
Zac Darnell: All right, Dave, we just wrapped up talking to Diana Nolting about just her experience, insights, and all of her analogies. I-
Dave Mathew: Yeah.
Zac Darnell: ...love the visuals. They really helped some concepts and philosophies that she kind of subscribes to and has learned over her career sink in. What did you think of our conversation, bud?
Dave Mathew: I thought it was a really fun and interesting conversation. I like her kind of background being a little different than other people that many think of coming into product. I think journalism is great for-
Zac Darnell: Yeah.
Dave Mathew: ...asking questions. She used the phrase, " The story behind the story," which I thought really tells the story of what doing product work is really like because it's not just one thing. It's kind of weaving all of the things together in a way that is coherent and makes sense and that you can kind of get everyone behind.
Zac Darnell: Yeah. That's so true. You know, I think she's the first person I've ever really met I think in my career in the tech world, especially the product management world, coming from journalism. I never really thought about that, but it's kind of a really cool background and a very powerful set of skills to have in kind of that product world. I enjoyed that as well. I also loved the way that she described falling or fighting into product management or into a product crosstalk-
Dave Mathew: Yeah.
Zac Darnell: A lot of fun this idea that, can you get chosen? Or did you happen to kind of get into the role and have a trajectory into product management? Or did you kind of have to fight and claw your way into it? Go to take some classes on the side and learn about things on nights and weekends and eventually convince somebody that, " Hey, yes, I'm able to do this job." That was kind of a fun way to think about it.
Dave Mathew: Yeah. You know, one of the phrases she used that I thought was interesting is that a product is kind of building the network for the business, which it really kind of gets to that story behind the story thing again of like, how do you link everything together in a way that makes sense? You're talking internal folks, you're talking to people that are your customers, various types of customers, so you really are kind of that networking muscle so to speak
Zac Darnell: Oh yeah.
Dave Mathew: ...for whatever company you're working for if you're doing that work.
Zac Darnell: Kind of the connective tissue.
Dave Mathew: Yeah, yeah. I mean, how do you get information? How do you know what to build? How do you kind of take different paths? What kind of information do you need to make those types of decisions? A lot of that stuff happens in that product space.
Zac Darnell: Well, again, there's been a lot of people talking about changing your mindset, digital transformation, lots of buzzwords and things that people could argue are not well- defined. I loved how she talked about the magical, mythical business, this group of people that sit on a cloud somewhere that you have to seek after in a technology company because you've got to meet the business where they're at. How there's no magical rainbow road that you're going to get to. They're part of the engine that then makes products at a software company, so kind of demystifying this idea of business and just integrating everybody that has a stake in the success of that product in the conversation. I thought that was great. What were your thoughts on this idea that through this interviewing and hopefully hearing stories and narratives from your customers, but also being careful to not take customer feedback at face value? Being careful to balance some of what you hear?
Dave Mathew: Yeah. I think that that's really key. It's not just knowing how to ask good questions, but also to get to the meaning behind what people are saying. That's one of the things I really like about kind of just learning about Jobs to Be Done, the people who talk about that. It's really about, how do you get at the root cause? How do you kind of know what people are talking about? People like to talk in the language that they know, so existing products that they use or what life is like for them now. They don't always know what the capabilities are that you have and it really takes that conversation to hear their story and then learn how you as a product builder can take your expertise and try to kind of fill in the gaps or offer them things that they want but they don't really know that they exist. Well, one other thing that resonated with me was her approach to when she's doing interviews is that... I think a lot of times we have a big list of questions to get to and it's really about, what is the main thing that you're trying to learn? Then, just kind of relaxing and focusing on that. I liked that she just tried to kind of clear her head-
Zac Darnell: Oh yeah.
Dave Mathew: ... beforeand afterwards and just let the conversation flow. Make sure that you're targeting the primary thing, but don't get so hung up on your checklist of questions that you need to answer. Just focus on, how can you get things out and getting people to tell a story? I thought that was a really good thing as well.
Zac Darnell: That's awesome, man. Well, Dave, I appreciate you so much for joining me on the show. I guess we'll talk to you next time.
Dave Mathew: Yeah. Thanks for having me today, too.