PDM at S4N

Hi all, I'm Andrea Botero. The other day someone asked me what my work was all about and it was a really rewarding experience to reflect on what I have done while working as a Product Delivery Manager (PDM) at S4N for the past 4 years.

As you know sometimes it's not as easy as most people think to try to explain what you do or even why a PDM at S4N is different from a Product Manager at other companies, but honestly the questions they asked helped me come up with the right words to describe my experience.

So if you’ve ever wondered what being a PDM at S4N is like and why it’s such a great company to work for, check out this amazing interview!

What do you really enjoy most about working as a Product Delivery Manager at S4N?

I love the people I get to work with. We have a great culture here at S4N and it's reflected in my coworkers and how we work together. You really feel like you're a part of a team and even though I'm a product delivery "manager", I'm just one piece of the puzzle...I'm not someone's boss. We believe in autonomy and this is reflected in the fact that we don't micromanage our teams, so I don't have to be that "mean" boss constantly asking when is there going to be a PR for that, what task are you working on, etc. We all trust that we'll get our work done, help each other achieve our goals and reach out for help when we need it. That allows me to focus on helping and guiding the team and makes me enjoy my role so much more.

In your experience, what kind of strategic challenges do you face on a daily basis while working with clients?

Politics is probably the biggest challenge we face. It's very important that we keep politics in mind and use that as part of the context when we're looking at what path to take or solution to provide. It's hard because not everyone understands this and it can quickly become frustrating when you have to explain that something can't be done just because of pressure or political games being played. For example, the team can have a great idea to propose but as a PDM you have to very carefully consider who, when and how to propose that idea or it can be ignored without cause. Additionally, you always have to balance the needs and wants of the client with the health and sanity of your team. As PDMs we're protectors of our team, but we also have to keep the client in mind. This can be difficult to balance.

Give us the top 3 lessons you have learned?

  1. Over communicating with the objective of ensuring that everyone has the correct information in a timely fashion is the key to success. When communication starts to break down or assumptions are made that someone already knows something, problems can arise. We've witnessed this many times particularly when we've assumed that information was known by all interested parties. This usually ends up in rework and more time spent in conversations explaining what happened when we could have prevented this by ensuring that everyone was communicated with. PDMs play a big role in the communication by making sure the right information is communicated to the right people and in the right format.

  2. How important it is to have all perspectives when trying to look for solutions. We'll never be successful if we only look at a problem from one angle. As a PDM, it's necessary that we help everyone look at an issue from all points of view... the client's (both business and technical) and the team's. By doing this, we create more well rounded solutions that take into consideration the needs of different stakeholders.

  3. Mistakes are going to be made and that's ok. Learn from those mistakes and make yourself and the team better for having experienced them. This is something that we really emphasize at S4N. We truly believe that mistakes help us grow and are a necessary part of us becoming better at what we do. Having this culture and being there to support the team when mistakes are made is part of what builds trust in our teams and in the end, helps us grow. Usually mistakes are looked at as something horrible and run the risk of getting us fired, but here we rally together to solve the problem, take learnings from what happened and share them with others so we can all learn and grow... it's a very nurturing and supportive environment.

What do you love/appreciate most about working at S4N?

That I have the opportunity to grow and try new things. And I know that if I fail when I try something new, it's not the end of the world or my job. My history with the company shows this really well. I was actually originally hired as an English teacher for S4N. While helping one of the partners practice English for a client presentation, he realized that I had some business experience (prior to moving to Colombia and working as an English teacher, I worked in retail management in Canada). Knowing this, he asked me if I wanted to try being a Product Delivery Manager on one of our projects...I didn't even know what that role was at the time! The option seemed pretty interesting and knowing how they treated the developers, I thought why not? Of course I was scared and I remember asking, what if I don't do well as a PDM, what will happen? I already knew I loved working for S4N and didn't want to lose the opportunity to be a part of the company if I messed up in a new role. The answer the partner gave me was this: "Don't worry, will find something for you if it doesn't work" and that was all I needed to hear. I made the decision to give it a try and with the support of my team, I was able to become a senior PDM at the company.

Based on your experience working at S4N, what advice would you give someone who also wants to be a Product Delivery Manager?

  • Most of the time we don't have a black or white answer or direction. We live in a world of grey in our role and we need to be comfortable with uncertainty and change. This can be difficult for many people, they want that yes or no answer and we rarely get that. Learning how to best navigate these circumstances and embrace change and uncertainty will make your life as a PDM a million times easier.

  • You don't need to have a technical background. PDMs at S4N are to help with communication, relationships, and guiding the team. We are not expected/it is not desired for us to make technical decisions...this is what we have our dev team for.

  • Certifications aren't the end all, be all. Since we like to take the best parts of many different methodologies, being certified doesn't mean that you'll be able to do the role here. What matters most to us is that you show us you have the skills to be able to prioritize, problem solve, team build and communicate strategically.

From your perspective, what are the key questions that every product delivery manager should ask themselves to ensure they are delivering a quality product that the customer wants?

1. Are we truly providing what they asked for or our perception of what they asked for? These can be very different and it should be the first one. To ensure that we're giving them what they need, as PDMs we need to keep the big picture in mind and communicate clearly with the client so there aren't surprises.

2. Are we providing them with the best/most complete options so they can make the best decisions? We don't usually get to make a decision but we are constantly working with our teams to provide options to our clients so they can choose what they want. To give them the best options we need to make sure that we're taking all different perspectives into consideration.

3. Have we called out any potential risks or areas of opportunity for the product? We like to actively participate in our projects which means that if we see a risk or that something can be improved, we bring these concerns up to the client. They might say no or not accept the idea, but at least we know we've put it out there.

*If this sounds like something that would be cool to do, S4N is the place for you! Find out more about our open roles here and challenge yourself to live a great experience.

*Learn more about how S4N can help you build complex software products. Our teams act as an extension of your internal force, addressing the challenges that your company faces in its daily business. Get in touch.