Shyvee Shi on becoming a top PM, driving needle-moving work, and suspending self-disbelief
Product State Q&A
EC: Like many PMs, you had a non-linear path into the role. What motivated you to move into and stay in product management?
SS: It took me a while to get a conviction for product management. I had limited exposure to what product management was. There were very few PM role models around me during college.
I started working as a management consultant in Hong Kong as a starting point to explore different career options. I did a few digital transformation projects, designing apps and crafting digital strategies for over 12 clients in 6 different industries. When I relocated from Hong Kong to the US to pursue my Master’s degree at Northwestern University with Kellogg School management and McCormick School of Engineering, I got more interested in product management.
But I didn’t think I would be qualified to be a PM. I doubted my ability because I didn't have a computer science background. Imposter syndrome showed up and I talked myself down.
After graduation, instead of pursuing PM, I continued to operate in a strategist role with a different consulting firm. Gradually and steadily, I realized I love talking to the users, digging deep to uncover user needs, and coming up with solutions.
I transitioned from Consulting to Tech and found a role at LinkedIn back in 2018. I first started as a PM for internal tools. My focus was to build tools to help streamline our sales processes and help our sales reps sell better to our customers. This experience allowed me to work closely with engineers and designers and built up my confidence to pursue a career in product. After two years, I transitioned internally into LinkedIn Learning.
I stay in product management because I love that I could help millions of people up-skill and upscale with our learning and jobs products. My role evolved a few times within and outside of LinkedIn Learning in the past few years: I started with a platform-focused role, and then transitioned to search and discovery, working with AI/ML technology, and to a strategy-focused role exploring how to help more experts share learning content on LinkedIn. Most recently, I started a new role with our Jobs team to help small businesses hire.
EC: You’ve helped others level up their PM skills and careers. What distinguishes top PMs at top companies?
SS: I think three traits distinguishes top PMs from good PMs — at an early stage of the PM career:
Understand a problem space deeply. I love the PSHE framework (the Problem, Solution, How, and Execution) from Shishir Mehrotra, the co-founder & CEO of Coda. At an early stage of their career, a PM is handed a Problem, a Solution, and a How (i.e. a set of instructions on what to do). They are expected to follow the How and manage the Execution of the given project. As a PM gets more senior, they are given a Problem and a Solution, and they need to figure out the How. As they rise even further in their careers, PMs are given a Problem, and they have to figure out a Solution. Finally, very senior PMs are handed a Space, and they have to determine the Problems that need to be solved. The earlier a PM can develop a strong product sense knowing what’s the right problem to solve, the more leverage they will have in their career.
Build strong relationships and elevate others. Top PMs invest the time to build strong relationships with their stakeholders; they don’t wait till they need help to build that relationship. Top PMs get to know their stakeholders: their goals, hopes, priorities, strengths, needs, and concerns, and they work their way up the trust hierarchy by showing that they care and by creating a psychologically safe environment for people to share. They listen really well, understand everyone’s POV and pay attention to the quiet voices in the room, and represent them accurately. They communicate early and often, acknowledge the complexities, and bring transparency to the decision making process. Top PMs also earn their permission to lead through servant leadership. They celebrate the small wins and give kudos to elevate their teams and partners.
Make time for strategy work and focus on needle-moving work.
Top PMs invest as much as 30% of their time for strategy work. They adopt a mindset of ‘I’m a great PM for my whole company’ vs. ‘I’m a great PM for my team.’ They understand the truth about execution work: it will always expand to fit the amount of time you give it. Top PMs can also zoom out effectively and find needle-moving work vs. incremental improvements. There are always more customer requests to satisfy and more features to build. They understand the importance of zooming out from time to time to find a new direction that would deliver significantly more impact.
EC: What should brand new PMs who have leadership and executive aspirations start doing sooner than later?
SS: As mentioned above, building strong relationships and elevating others is a great first step towards leadership roles.
The second tip is to be clear on your goal and make your manager and your cross-functional team be part of your growth team. Tell them your aspirations, and get early feedback specifically targeted on promotion to put yourself in the best position to realize those aspirations.
The final tip is to never stop learning and taking actions. Observe how other strong leaders lead at work, and read books about leadership and find opportunities to put the theories and case studies into practice.
'“Develop strong self-awareness to constantly reflect on strengths and improvement areas. Suspend self-disbelief and embark on the journey of personal growth.”
- Shyvee Shi
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