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The Faceless Success

Nimarta Kaur | Sr. Technical Product Manager in Chicago

Three months back, I got the opportunity to work on an Expedia Group-wide initiative. I have to admit that the last three months of my life as a professional have been one of the most rewarding months in ways I couldn’t have imagined. There has been not just continuous learning but also more continuous unlearning, and so much to share with the wider community.

But for today, I wanted to specifically focus on success criteria, what we think success might look like. In an industry so focused on creating and achieving SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Assignable, Relevant, Time Based) and measuring success based upon tangible deliverables, I want to talk about some of the intangible ways success or failure can look like for programs and projects that we run, lead or get to be a part of.

When I started off with this program initially, I had a very different sense of what my role as a Technical Product Manager/Program Manager on this program is going to be. I had some clear time-bound deliverables due like figure out North Star Architecture, create a working proof of concept, find business use cases where we can start delivering the value, etc. As I have been talking to more people about this program, I have been constantly contemplating what would truly define this program’s success. I couldn’t stop thinking about the intended and unintended culture that gets created as a by-product of this and similar programs.

I am putting these thoughts out here to create my public accountability towards what I am calling “The faceless success”. This is not an exhaustive list, and this will evolve over time as it should. But for now, starting with this wish-list.

  • The devil is in the DETAILS: No, I am not talking about the technical or product requirements, or those edge use cases. I am talking about the way you communicate the vision of your program, or set goals for the teams to achieve those OKRs, and the way you lay out the details of what you need from the engineers, product managers, technical leads, engineering managers, etc. to make this program successful. There, right there in those conversations is the culture your program is creating for tomorrow. As the tangible face to your program – be respectful, be honest and be collaborative. Hold people around you, the leadership, to those standards too.
  • LISTEN to people: How many times have you heard or said: “We need to make people feel heard”. I recently heard/said it and immediately felt very appalled by it. Don’t you think that’s undermining people and their voices? In any healthy organization or culture, there shouldn’t be a pretense to make people feel heard. They should be actually listened to. Create feedback loops from early on to get continuous feedback and enable inclusiveness. It’s very easy to say “please let me know if you have any feedback” vs. actually providing someone a place and way to give that feedback. Make it tangible – create slack channels, start design review forums, host brown-bags, get creative.
  • Stay OPEN: As a technology company, it’s quite amazing to look back and see the number of times we go through migrations, legacy deprecations or technology stack changes. Even with these data points, it’s quite ironic to see how we lock down our solutions and technical directions. How many times have you felt that “Damn, this new information/feedback/idea will de-rail our whole plan”? Honestly, I have felt that so many times. But it’s important that we don’t stay stuck there. Stay open to ideas, every program/strategy is forever evolving. It’s better to change directions even it takes longer to reach your goal than reaching a point that isn’t even a goal anymore.
  • Stay TRANSPARENT: I can’t emphasize this enough – staying transparent goes a long way. Starting from something as simple as don’t fudge statuses to make them look good to something as big as ambiguity about the path going forward. Your job as a TPM/PM is not only to figure out how to succeed but also be able to ask for help when need be and call out when things are not going as planned. There won’t be any value delivered if it’s only the weekly statuses that look good, or if you say you know what you are doing when you don’t (Let’s be honest, we are all figuring it out). As leaders, it becomes even more important for us to exemplify this culture. As and when you feel stuck, openly ask for help. Make people understand that asking for help is a good thing.
  • Create ENABLERS: The greatest thing about leaders is that they create more leaders. It can seem much easier and simpler to do things yourself to pick up some pace (or so we think). Shouldn’t creating more enablers be an equally big and important part of every single program that we run? Even if it slows you down in the short term, you will be surprised to see the returns in the long term.
  • CELEBRATE smaller successes: The fun and not-so-fun facts about north star visions are that you never get there. It keeps changing/evolving as you make progress. So how do we create a sense of accomplishment within our teams? We all seem to be in a hurry to jump from one milestone to another. But as professionals, we all need the feeling of accomplishment as a fuel to our future motivation. Create a culture to acknowledge and celebrate those small successes explicitly. Send celebratory messages in slack channels, shout outs in EG wide channels, reflect that milestone celebration in your conversations and body language. As one of my peers gave me his priceless advice, “Even a decision to start moving in a direction is a success, take the time to acknowledge and celebrate it”.

I feel it’s an illusion when we think success is about achieving “what” or a destination. I am starting to believe it is actually defined by “how” or simply speaking – the journey.

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