We are eager to share the fourteenth episode of The Product Management Leaders Podcast with you! Our aim with this podcast is to connect you with some of the top PM leaders and share their real-world strategies and tactics for building world-class products. In today's episode, Grant Duncan speaks with Bret Tushaus, VP of Product Management at Deltek, an enterprise software company with over 3,000 employees. Bret leads a team of over 35 people and shares openly about his advice and experiences along with his journey of being at Deltek for 11 years now. Let’s jump in.
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Grant Duncan (00:05):
This is the Product Management Leaders Podcast in which you hear from some of the top PM leaders about their real world strategies and tactics for building world class products. It's sponsored by Voximplant, the leading serverless communications platform and no code drag and drop contact center solution. Voximplant enables product leaders and developers to integrate communications into their products, such as embedding voice, video, SMS, in app chat and natural language processing. Join over 30,000 businesses trusting Voximplant. Now let's jump into the show.
Grant Duncan (00:41):
What's up, folks? This is Grant Duncan. This episode is with Bret Tushaus, VP of Product Management at Deltek, an enterprise software company with over 3,000 employees. Bret leads a team of over 35 people and shares openly about his advice and experiences, along with his journey of being at Deltek for 11 years now. Let's jump in.
Grant Duncan (01:07):
Hey, Bret. It's so exciting to have you on the Product Management Leaders Podcast today. To give everyone a quick background about yourself, can you share about your role and the company you work for?
Bret Tushaus (01:19):
Yeah, absolutely, Grant. Glad to be here. Happy to have been invited. I work for Deltek, Inc. We are an ERP software provider primarily. We have a fairly diverse product portfolio, but ERP is sort of really our flagship product space.
Bret Tushaus (01:35):
We serve several industries. If you were to look at what our tagline is, we focus on what we call project-focused businesses, and that's made up of a number of different industries. Some of our primary industries include government contracting, architecture, engineering, construction, management consulting, IT consulting, and medical research, along with sort of the agency and creative space. We bleed into some other industries as well, but those are sort of the primary industries we focus on when it comes to sort of, like I said, what we call project-focused businesses.
Bret Tushaus (02:07):
From a product perspective, like I said, our primary focus is ERP solutions. We have four to five what we would call flagship ERP offerings for those industries. But then we have a number of complementary products that focus on things like document management, human capital management, business intelligence, and data visualization and things like that. So at the core, an ERP software provider, but again, we have some complementary products around those core ERP solutions.
Bret Tushaus (02:37):
We have sort of two primary business domains in Deltek. We have one sort of the domain that serves government contracting businesses, and then another domain that serves what we call professional services, but really what that means sort of in Deltek speak is everything that's not government contracting. My role is leading up the product management teams for that professional services space. So for all the products that serve the non-government contracting industries that we serve, I lead up the product management teams for those products, along with a centralized UX team that serves the entire Deltek company. So it ends up being probably about 12 different products that I lead up the product management teams for.
Grant Duncan (03:22):
And is UX reporting into you as well?
Bret Tushaus (03:25):
Yes, UX reports into me as well, but it's for the entire Deltek product portfolio, not just the products I manage. We have some centralized services like that as well.
Grant Duncan (03:35):
Yeah, that makes sense. Having a consistent UX is probably a good idea.
Bret Tushaus (03:40):
Grant Duncan (03:42):
Can you break down a little bit what your team looks like, how many people, and the kinds of roles you have, et cetera?
Bret Tushaus (03:50):
Yeah, absolutely. There's 39 people on the team that I manage. Five of those are my direct reports. So the way the team is structured is those five direct reports, one of those leads up the UX team and then the other four are product leads across the products that I'm responsible for. And then we have teams sort of underneath those four direct reports within the product areas.
Bret Tushaus (04:13):
The product, sort of the way things break down, are primarily industry-focused. So we have a number of products, for example, that serve architecture, engineering, and construction, so I have a product lead in that area. We have a number of products that serve the agency and creative space, so we have a product lead in that area. So that's sort of how it loosely breaks down a product lead for industry, and then the products that fall within that space.
Grant Duncan (04:38):
Has that always been the structure you've had, or was that a change from a previous time?
Bret Tushaus (04:44):
It's interesting. It's evolved a little bit. Deltek has grown a lot through acquisition. So when we would acquire a company, typically we'd sort of leave the product management team as intact as possible for some period of time to get through sort of the transition and the settling in phase. And they would sort of stand alone, but then as that settling in would take place, they would merge into the industry where that made sense. So since I've been a part of Deltek, it's always been sort of a product or industry focus. But again, as we acquire companies, that changes and then those merge into those core teams that I'm responsible for.
Grant Duncan (05:27):
So I imagine you've probably gone through a lot of build versus buy versus partner decisions. Tell me about that.
Bret Tushaus (05:35):
Yes, definitely. It's interesting. When we talk about the build versus buy, primarily we often have the conversation, who's out there that would bring this functionality or this industry or this customer base to Deltek, if you will, and could we build from scratch, and what would be the most economical way. I would say in my experience, there's been maybe one or two instances since I've been at Deltek, and I've been here for just over 11 years now, where we've sort of gone the build versus buy. But we often will look to the buy first, because getting that technology, getting that customer base in a much quicker way and then sort of merging that into our product portfolio has always, or more often than not, not always, but more often than not, proven to be the more lucrative and the more manageable route, if you will. As much as I'd love to have greenfield products all the time and start from scratch, sometimes the economics and timeline just don't work out that way.
Grant Duncan (06:42):
And I am guessing that you and your team are remote. Is that right?
Bret Tushaus (06:50):
Yeah, I would say 85% of my team is remote. We were remote even before the pandemic, so there's really only one of my teams that reports to an office. One of the products based in the UK, in Nottingham, I still have four or five people that go to an office on a regular basis. But everybody else across the different product teams that I'm responsible for are remote. Pretty much the US, the UK, and Europe spread out pretty wide.
Grant Duncan (07:19):
And being a PM takes a lot of communication and collaboration with people. Do you have any strategies for doing that when being remote?
Bret Tushaus (07:28):
Yeah, it's interesting. Like I said, I've been remote since I joined Deltek, as has most of my team, so we've had a lot of time to settle in. And I'll admit, before I came to Deltek, I was just a regular office worker, went into an office every single day. So it was an interesting transition for me and for a lot of people that I've brought on to the team, or that were already here when I joined. It was a transition. Deltek has always had sort of a fairly large contingent of remote workers. So it's been something that's been part of the Deltek culture since I've joined, which has really helped.
Bret Tushaus (08:04):
I think in terms of strategy or tools or techniques that I employ across our teams, it may sound cliche, but I've always pushed video hard. I think video meetings and being able to look somebody in the eye, even if it is over a camera, is important. And then I think the other thing that I try to practice myself and also try to make a good example of with the team, is not to rely on IM and not to rely on email. Just pick up the phone, communicate with people. It's so much easier most of the time. And oftentimes, it's more constructive and more effective in terms of maintaining those relationships. So those may seem a little bit cliche and a little bit obvious, but I do think those two things are one of the most important things when it comes to working remote and sort of maintaining that collaboration.
Bret Tushaus (08:57):
I think if I were to sort of point out a tertiary thing to those two items, the other thing that I try to make sure I do on a regular basis, is get together with the broader team. Obviously, we have sort of team meetings within each of the smaller groups and each of the different products, but I think it's important, because we're remote, to make sure that the broader group feels a part of a bigger team and a bigger group and the broader company. So getting together and sharing what this product is doing versus what this product is doing and hopefully lessons learned and that sharing of information across the bigger team, I think, is important as well, because, like I said, it makes people feel like they're part of something bigger than just their product, which is, I think, important.
Grant Duncan (09:48):
Yeah, totally. Do you ever do in-person meetups as well, like on a quarterly, annual kind of thing? Or, I mean, obviously, COVID has probably made that look a little different, but...
Bret Tushaus (10:01):
Yeah, COVID's definitely made that different, and quite frankly, we're very anxious to start doing it again. But yeah, Deltek's headquartered in Herndon, Virginia, just outside of DC, and depending on the team, we get together three, four, five times a year most of the time in our headquarters. But, for example, we have an office, like I said before, in Nottingham in the UK, so we'll get the team that's in that area together. We also have an office in Denmark, so we get that team together on a regular basis as well.
Bret Tushaus (10:34):
It's been tough, I would say that, since the pandemic started, but we would have that two, three times a year for the non-US group to get together and a little bit more often within the US. And then we also do an annual meeting of the entire product strategy team within Deltek, which includes product management, product marketing, UX, and some of our engineering leads. The engineering leads aren't part of the project strategy team, but they are part of this annual, what we call an, innovation summit, that we do every year in January after our sales kickoff event, to get the really big team together and talk about sort of global company-wide initiatives as well.
Grant Duncan (11:20):
Deltek's a public company, right?
Bret Tushaus (11:20):
Deltek is owned by Roper, which is a public company, yes.
Grant Duncan (11:25):
Yeah, okay. That's right. Do you feel like that plays in any dynamics compared to if you weren't owned by them and them being public?
Bret Tushaus (11:39):
Yeah, interesting question. I say it's interesting, because since I've joined Deltek, we've gone from... I've got to remember the sequence of events, but we've gone between public and private a couple times. So I've had the experience of working sort of in both worlds. I would say that there are some compliance things and some sort of rules of engagements and protocols that I need to keep in mind and think about when communicating with the market and just some of the operational things. But I wouldn't say by any stretch that I feel more constrained or limited as a result of us being publicly held versus when we were privately held. It doesn't impact my area of function and whatnot as much as some people might think.
Grant Duncan (12:32):
We're in late October right now, and I imagine you're probably starting to think about 2022. Talk me through that process.
Bret Tushaus (12:43):
Yeah, so we go through an annual planning process. Right now we're in the throes of it. For us, from a product strategy perspective, probably the best way to describe it is a syncing up between the product strategy team and our sales team in terms of this is what we're committing to delivering in 2022, these are the timelines around that, this is the value proposition, if you will, around the stuff that we want to deliver, the releases that we're focused on, the features and functionalities that we're focused on, so that our sales team can then sort of build their, what we call, sales plays for the year ahead, in terms of what we're going to focus on this segment of customers, we're going to focus on this segment of customers for perhaps add-ons, or really, really hard in this industry because we've got this great new feature or this great new release coming out and that's really going to help this industry.
Bret Tushaus (13:42):
So it's a matter of looking at the capacity that we have from an engineering perspective, building the roadmap around, "Okay, this is what we feel like we can deliver in 2022, and this is the timeline," and then sharing that with sales. And as I think every product manager would agree, that becomes a little bit of a negotiation and they have some things that they would like us to prioritize. So it's a fairly involved and long-running prioritization discussion, but eventually, we come to an agreement of what's possible or what we're all comfortable committing to, and then we go from there in terms of building out what that plan looks like for 2022 or for the year ahead.
Grant Duncan (14:25):
Yeah. Can you share about a time that, say, you and a sales leader were disagreeing about something in the roadmap and how you came to a conclusion?
Bret Tushaus (14:40):
That never happens. I wish I could say that was the case. It's interesting, especially, like I said, we're in the throes of this whole process right now. So there are certainly some-
Grant Duncan (14:52):
Yeah, same with us.
Bret Tushaus (14:54):
Yeah. There's some disagreements on the table. I focus a lot on data-driven decisions, and one of the things I dislike most about being a product manager, and I think most product managers can relate to this, is having to say no at times, and having to say no to things that I may think are really cool. And yes, I'd really like to do that and that sort of thing, but if I look at the data and I look at what doing this is going to mean, versus what doing this is going to mean from whether it be revenue, whether it be customer retention, whether it be new sales and improving our win rate, whatever the case may be, I've got to go off that because I think we all know if we let emotion get too much into it and subjectivity, we're probably not going to make the right or the best decision.
Bret Tushaus (15:49):
And the other thing I would say is, like I said before, with sales, it is a bit of a negotiation and is there a compromise, is there a happy medium that might not be the full blown of what sales is asking for? In other words, "Well, I can't deliver it in the middle of the year, but what if I could deliver it in Q4? Or what if we scaled this back a little bit? And what are you willing to sacrifice elsewhere to deliver on this specific item?"
Bret Tushaus (16:18):
So there's a lot of that back and forth, and I don't envy our sales team in having to carry numbers and all that. I don't in my position. So I try to emphasize and figure out a way to come up with a compromise and middle ground as well. So I'd say that the compromise slash negotiation combined with the data-driven decisions is how we really come to a point of, "Okay, this is how we're going to move forward on this one."
Grant Duncan (16:44):
How are you navigating that with engineering as well? Because that's sort of the backside to it, right? You have some idea for how long things might take, but if in the moment sales is asking you to deliver X in Y time, you might need to validate that with your engineering counterparts first.
Bret Tushaus (17:09):
Yeah, and I'll use the word there too, negotiation. It's the same thing with engineering. It's interesting, as you and I sort of prepared for this podcast, one of the things we talked about was if you could change one thing, and believe me, I wish I could change all kinds of things, but certainly one of the things that came to mind for me when it comes to sort of if I could change one thing in my role from a product management perspective, is getting better at estimation. It's one of the most difficult things. It's not a criticism of engineering. It's not a criticism of product managers involved. It's sort of the reality we live in day to day for certain reasons, some of which are out of control, some of which we can improve on and we're always working to get better at.
Bret Tushaus (17:58):
But when you're talking about negotiating with sales in terms of, "Well, we can't deliver it here, but we could deliver it here," there is a negotiation with engineering in terms of, "Okay, what can we do? How can we be creative? Where's the middle ground there in terms of..." As much as I don't like using the minimally viable moniker for things, is there... "Engineering, you tell us what things could we adjust, what things could we modify, what lever do we have to pull with this particular feature or user story that might get us to a place a little bit sooner, but still deliver enough feature and functionality that it's going to serve the need." So again, a negotiation with engineering. Hopefully, we all sort of want to get to the same end, obviously, but it's the negotiating with sales on one side, negotiating with engineering on the other, and figuring out where that sort of merges together.
Grant Duncan (18:56):
Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. And I think in this case, because you're controlling UX, that's kind of under one roof, but if that was maybe elsewhere, then that might be a component in here as well in navigating that.
Bret Tushaus (19:13):
Yeah, that's definitely true. I mean, having UX... For us, I mean, UX is as much part of product management as product managers are. I mean, we all sort of work together in the same way. So it is nice having that all under one roof. Absolutely.
Grant Duncan (19:30):
Can you share one of the toughest product decisions you've had to make before? I think people like to hear the specifics, and maybe they can glean some insights from it.
Bret Tushaus (19:43):
One of the toughest product decisions. I'm going to answer the question sort of in hindsight, because I think it represents something that I know that I come across still today. But like a lot of software companies over the past five to eight years, we've had to do a little bit of replatforming in some of our products, moving from legacy technology, legacy interface to more modern interfaces and things like that. I think we've had to make some decisions along the way, where do we lock ourselves, so to speak, in a room for three years and rebuild, re-platform, whatever you want to call it, and then release? Or do we do this incrementally? In other words, sort of let our customers see the incremental progress with releases along the way? That's going to get us to a destination that we've defined, yes. But again, it's sort of incremental along the way.
Bret Tushaus (20:44):
I would say picking one or the other, because I've been in situations where we've done one and a situation where we've done the other, and that is an incredibly difficult decision in my opinion, because there's a lot of unknowns when you're making that decision and what might seem like the most optimal way to do it at the time certainly could end up being very, very wrong. And the risk around that is significant, because you could potentially put customers through an experience that is less than enjoyable at times. And then there's the risk around customers' attrition, and happiness, and loyalty, and all that type of thing.
Bret Tushaus (21:27):
So I think the replatforming decision and whether or not to do it in a big bang theory or a more sort of incremental way, is probably some of the tougher decisions that I've had to make, at least in my time here at Deltek.
Grant Duncan (21:43):
Yeah, that's a great point. Those are definitely tough decisions. I remember in a past life, we even had what we called classic and then there was a new product line, and we were trying to migrate customers from the old to the new while signing up new customers on the new one. Because of the complications, new features were mostly just being released on the new platform. So you're kind of showing these new shiny objects to people, and then your existing customers, you have to kind of mitigate, like, "You'll get this soon." So-
Bret Tushaus (22:22):
Yeah, I'm living that exact scenario right now myself. I think back to when we, the collective we, me, engineering, whatnot, made the decision to take the approach. I'm kicking myself a little bit. Obviously, like I said, hindsight's 20-20. We could have had challenges had we taken the other route, but like I said, I'm living that exact scenario right now and questioning some of the decisions we made. Learning experience, absolutely, but still questioning some of the decisions.
Grant Duncan (22:52):
Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it's a super tough kind of decision to make like that, so I empathize with that. That's a-
Bret Tushaus (22:58):
Grant Duncan (22:58):
... big one.
Bret Tushaus (22:58):
Yeah, replatforming exercises in and of themselves are difficult, but then to have to navigate some of that stuff around it as well just amplifies things.
Grant Duncan (23:10):
Yeah, for sure. When you think about prioritizing in your sprints, let's say new feature development, bug fixes, tech ed, et cetera, how do you think about ratios or prioritization of those?
Bret Tushaus (23:27):
I don't want to use this as sort of the same answer for another question, but I think it's important here and the data-driven stuff is crucial. It's a balancing act. Call it a prioritization act, a balancing act. It's probably the same thing. But we look from a sustaining support or defect fixing perspective, we look at where we are on that product from a defect count, the types of defects and whatnot, and we combine that with, "Okay, if we're spending 25% of our time on defect fixes and sustaining engineering type work, what does that leave us for new work and what can we deliver with that percentage?"
Bret Tushaus (24:15):
We sort of use that as a sliding scale to determine, "Okay, if we give a little bit more here, what are we giving up over here? And what does that mean to one, the commitments we've made to sales, two, the commitments we've made to customers, and three, the sort of strategic path that we're on for the product as well?" Sometimes we may dial that back to a much lesser percentage because of where we are from a customer sort of happiness or loyalty at that point in time, and sometimes we may have to scale that the opposite direction and really increase our time on defect fixes, because of where we are with the product and where we are with the customer base. But it's that constant looking at, "If I do this, what does it impact? If I do this, what does it impact?" And finding that best balance, based on commitments we've already made and things we've communicated to our customer base.
Grant Duncan (25:08):
You talked about being data-driven there and mentioned it earlier. Do you have a set of metrics that you focus on when you think about your product strategy?
Bret Tushaus (25:21):
We do, absolutely. It's interesting because some of them are more internally focused for product strategy and engineering, where some of them are more externally focused or more company-wide focused. So when I look at just product engineering and product strategy, the product team, some of the more obvious ones. But honestly, sort of the ones that we look at most significantly are on time and on scope releases.
Bret Tushaus (25:51):
I mentioned earlier that we're going through this planning for 2022 right now, and we're laying out, "What does our roadmap look like? What does it include? What's the timeline?" Once we snap the chalk with that, we're going to measure ourselves against on time, on scope releases as we get through that year. So that is internally speaking, one of the ways we evaluate us, and one of the ways Deltek evaluates the product and engineering team.
Bret Tushaus (26:14):
From a more externally focused, I think we use a lot of the same things that a lot of software companies use, primarily what we call customer loyalty and then NPS scores. Customer loyalty is a big one for us. We try to classify where our customers sit in sort of a four quadrant loyalty score, whether they're truly loyal, accessible, trapped, or high risk. And obviously, we want to get as many customers in that truly loyal spot as possible. And it's not just product, obviously, that contributes to that, but product is absolutely a part of it. If we have a quality issue on a product, that's going to affect customers' loyalty as to how loyal are they really to Deltek. Obviously, our support organization and how good we are at delivering support, our services organization, all that kind of stuff contributes as well. But again, product is a big component of that.
Bret Tushaus (27:09):
That's a metric that Deltek looks at very... We think that's a very important part of our performance as a company, as an organization. That's something we have visibility into across the company and we're tracking constantly and want to make sure that's going in an upward direction. So that's probably the big one.
Bret Tushaus (27:28):
I mean, we also do NPS scores on what we call pulse surveys with our customers. Obviously, that's important too, but again, I think that customer loyalty is probably the biggest metric that we look at from Deltek as a company where product contributes.
Grant Duncan (27:42):
Yeah, that's gold. I love that four quadrant idea. How do you recommend product leaders to deal with failure when it comes about?
Bret Tushaus (27:51):
Oh boy, failure. Maybe I'll use a sports analogy. I think it's a football one maybe. Have a short memory and move on, to a certain extent. I guess, obviously, it depends what type of failure we're talking about. If it's failure that is performance related as an employee, that's very different. If we look at failure through the lens of “This release didn't get out on time”, or “We had to cut this much scope from it for whatever reason”, I think the most important thing and what I sort of try to communicate to my team is, "Okay, this is where we are right now. We can't go back and change it, so what are we going to do from this point forward to get us to a better spot?"
Bret Tushaus (28:42):
I think it's the conversations that I'm often involved in inside of Deltek, where we get on a call, a bunch of us cross company, team, get on a call, and the first thing out of whoever's managing that call or leading that call says is, "Hey, we're not going to focus on what got us here. We're going to focus on what we need to do to get us back to a better spot." When I say move on or have a short memory, by no means am I suggesting don't learn from past mistakes or past failures, but it doesn't do anyone any good to dwell on, "Okay, what got us here? We need to figure out how we get ourselves back to a better place." I think that's probably the primary recommendation that I have across my team when it comes to failures like that.
Grant Duncan (29:25):
How do you help take people on your team that are more junior or mid-level and up level their skills and abilities?
Bret Tushaus (29:36):
This is a timely question for me, because we, within our product team, over the past, well, probably eight to 10 months, we sort of went through a retooling of what we call our competency matrix. Because we had some things and tools and guidelines in place, but we've learned in recent years that they probably weren't specific enough to really give, like you said, someone that's junior sort of moving up the ranks a good view into, "Okay, what does it take for me to get to the next level and the next level and the next level?"
Bret Tushaus (30:13):
So we developed two competency matrices for our product team. One that's sort of core competency that applies to all of product strategy. So it's not discipline specific, it's more core competency in terms of communication and how you collaborate and that type of thing. And then on top of that, we have a discipline-specific competency matrix. So we have one for UX, we have one for product management, we have one for product marketing. And within that, like I said, it's much more discipline-specific. So within the product management matrix, there's things around understanding the industry, there's things around understanding the product, there's things around release planning and that type of thing. There's things around building good user stories and agile practices and things like that.
Bret Tushaus (31:04):
So the matrix is sort of divided into the levels that we have within our organization, and each one builds upon the level before it. It gives the people within our organization a really good sort of clear view into, "Hey, these are the competencies that I need to focus on in general, and these are the competencies I need to focus on for the product management discipline to get to that next level." And of course, obviously, the people managers on my team, I encourage them, and we encourage them, to refer back to that and have conversations with your people that are related to those competency matrices. And obviously, this isn't a scorecard type of thing. It is subjective and gut feel at times as well, but it's done a lot to sort of give people managers and give individual contributors an understanding of what that path looks like and what things they need to focus on, again, to get to that next level.
Grant Duncan (32:04):
Yeah. I have a feeling that some companies are now going to try to create their own matrix after listening to this. It's a great framework to think about.
Bret Tushaus (32:14):
Yeah, it was. It has helped a lot. It's given clarity where there probably wasn't clarity before.
Bret Tushaus (32:20):
I would just add one thing to that is obviously, people management and as you said, someone junior moving up, how do you sort of foster that, that's critically important, absolutely. But having a framework like this in place also makes it easier to justify, "Hey, you are not at that level yet, and here's why." In the past, it was more difficult to have some of those conversations, because the employee could say to us, "Well, I didn't know that. How was I supposed to know that?" And now we have, like I said, something a little bit more definitive to be able to rely on.
Grant Duncan (32:55):
Yeah. So how do you tell your family or your friends what you do for a living?
Bret Tushaus (33:02):
I just tell them I'm a product manager, and it's perfectly clear then.
Grant Duncan (33:05):
And then their eyes glaze over and they walk away?
Bret Tushaus (33:09):
Right, yeah. Exactly, exactly. It's an interesting question because I do struggle with describing… When I say I'm a software product manager, what does that mean? What I always try to do, is I try to relate it back to something that that person or they know very, very well. So if it's somebody that uses Microsoft Word to make documents or has an app on their phone, I may reference that and I would say, "Somebody has to sort of sit behind that application that you use and say, 'It should do this, and this is what it should look like, and this is what you have to click on, and this is what the button looks like, and this is the functionality that it creates.' Well, that somebody is a product manager, and me and my team do that on a much broader scale on the type of software that runs businesses."
Bret Tushaus (34:03):
Sometimes that hits, sometimes the glazed over sort of feeling is still there, but more often than not, that sort of starts to make sense that, "Hey, there's somebody behind each one of these pieces of software or these tools that is saying, 'It needs to do this like this, and this is what it needs to look like.'" That probably is the easiest way or the most effective way to describe what I do on a day to day basis.
Grant Duncan (34:26):
I like how it's very relatable to a lot of people. That makes sense. Especially apps. Everyone knows like-
Bret Tushaus (34:33):
Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Grant Duncan (34:33):
... "Here's an app."
Bret Tushaus (34:34):
Right, right. That's the easiest thing for... Everybody's using something.
Grant Duncan (34:39):
Is there any advice, before we wrap up here, any advice you would give to, let's say, an early product management leader or early in their career?
Bret Tushaus (34:51):
Earlier in their career today, I guess maybe there's a few things. It's interesting, my sort of background, I'm not a product manager by training. I actually was a customer of Deltek for 12 years. I'm actually an architect by training, but I worked for an architecture firm using Deltek software, and I then eventually joined Deltek to manage some of the products that I was using as a customer and expanded that to other products as well. So I don't have sort of that product management upbringing or sort of formal training from an education perspective. So when I think about that question, I think about it more in the context of my path.
Bret Tushaus (35:32):
And I think as cliche or sort of easy as this answer might sound, being aware of what's going on in agile, and scrum, and whatnot, I think, is important, and good product managers should have that skill and that sort of foundational knowledge coming into a product management role. Like I said, I think that's very important from a foundational perspective.
Bret Tushaus (35:53):
Beyond that, when I talk to... Say I'm interviewing someone for a role or things like that, I think the thing that I like to focus on is I really look at there's three components primarily to product management, at least in the world that I'm in. One is the most obvious part of it, which is the sort of defining the product, what the product needs to do, and working with engineering and delivering on that. The second thing is more what I would call sort of release management and all of the business around getting a release out the door. And then the third is sort of the customer-focused side of things, whether that be speaking at a conference or talking to a disgruntled customer.
Bret Tushaus (36:35):
So with those three things, when I talk to someone that's interested in becoming a product manager, I encourage them for the second item in terms of the release management side of things is understanding how to work with people, understanding how to communicate with people, understanding how to influence people over which you have no authority. Understanding how to manage tasks and take a problem and get it to a point where you have a well-defined solution and you know how to execute on that solution.
Bret Tushaus (37:04):
And then I think from a customer-facing perspective, I don't know that I have a recommendation in terms of training or education or whatnot there, but my guidance to at least people on my team is to just dive in and start doing it. There's no better way to get good at presenting or speaking with customers and things like that than to do it. Obviously, there's tools that can be used around that, but that's sort of where I try to push and recommend and guide people from a product management perspective.
Bret Tushaus (37:35):
I don't know if that entirely answers the question, but that's sort of where my focus is when it comes to recommendations for product managers up and coming.
Grant Duncan (37:44):
Yeah, great advice. Last question here. Your insights have been super helpful. I think lots of real practical examples that people can take away and think about for their own work. But last question. Is there someone else that you think we should bring on the show to keep the great insights coming?
Bret Tushaus (38:06):
Geez. Nobody comes to mind on that one. I'm a huge fan of the Silicon Valley Product Group. The likes of Marty Cagan. I know that whenever I hire a product manager to my team, the first thing I say is, "I'm going to send you a book," and I send them Inspired by Marty Cagan.
Grant Duncan (38:26):
Bret Tushaus (38:27):
So somebody from that group, I think, would be very helpful or valuable on a podcast like this.
Grant Duncan (38:36):
Yeah. Marty, we'd love to get you on.
Bret Tushaus (38:39):
Yeah, exactly. The other thing I think about is yes, this is a product management podcast and I'm a product manager, but a lot of what I do is manage people. I spend a lot of time on one-on-ones. I spend a lot of time managing people and managing the team. I'm a huge fan of Radical Candor. I know that's not a product management specific discipline or anything like that, but I love the message that they're putting out there and there's definitely product software components to that as well. Those are probably the two things that come to mind when you ask that question.
Grant Duncan (39:12):
Yeah, cool. Well, thanks so much for coming on, Bret. Really appreciate it. Have a good day.
Bret Tushaus (39:17):
All right. Thank you, Grant.
Grant Duncan (39:20):
Thanks for listening to today's podcast, and thanks to our sponsor, Voximplant, as well. If you are looking into how to improve your communication and customer engagement, check them out. Lastly, if you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a review and tell your friends so that others can find it more easily. Have a great day and feel free to reach out to me, Grant Duncan, if you have any questions you want asked in our next episode.