Feb. 16, 2023

Understanding the role of product ops | Christine Itwaru (Pendo)

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Christine Itwaru is a longtime product operations leader at Pendo and more recently has taken on the larger role of Principal Strategist there. Before leading product ops, Christine spent 12 years in product management. In this episode, we delve into the rapidly growing field of product ops and discover how Christine is part of shaping the role industry-wide. She helps us define the role of product operations, what kind of person would be a good fit for the product ops role, when your company would benefit from product ops, and what red flags to look for if you decide to go down this path. 


Where to find Christine Itwaru:

• Twitter: https://twitter.com/christineitwaru

• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/christineitwaru/

• Website: https://theproductheart.com/


Where to find Lenny:

• Newsletter: https://www.lennysnewsletter.com

• Twitter: https://twitter.com/lennysan

• LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lennyrachitsky/



• Ben Williams on Lenny’s Podcast: https://www.podpage.com/lennys-podcast/how-snyk-built-a-product-led-growth-juggernaut-ben-williams-vp-of-product-at-snyk/

• Pendo: https://go.pendo.io/

• Marty Cagan on Lenny’s Podcast: https://www.lennyspodcast.com/the-nature-of-product-marty-cagan-silicon-valley-product-group/

• Salesforce: https://www.salesforce.com/

• Looker: https://www.looker.com/

• Tray: https://tray.io/

• Zapier: https://zapier.com/

• Zendesk: https://www.zendesk.com/

• Casey Winters on Lenny’s Podcast: https://www.lennyspodcast.com/how-to-sell-your-ideas-and-rise-within-your-company-casey-winters-eventbrite/

Inspired: How to Create Tech Products Customers Love: https://www.amazon.com/INSPIRED-Create-Tech-Products-Customers/dp/1119387507/

Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t: https://www.amazon.com/Leaders-Eat-Last-Together-Others/dp/1591848016/

The Product-Led Organization: Drive Growth by Putting Product at the Center of Your Customer Experience: https://www.amazon.com/Product-Led-Organization-Putting-Customer-Experience/dp/1119660874

Product Roadmaps Relaunched: How to Set Direction while Embracing Uncertainty: https://www.amazon.com/Product-Roadmaps-Relaunched-Direction-Uncertainty/dp/149197172X/

The Product Experience podcast: https://www.mindtheproduct.com/the-product-experience/

Matilda the Musical: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3447590/

Rise on Disney+: https://www.disneyplus.com/movies/rise/6Yv1uRnw2uAJ

• Miro: https://miro.com/

• Figma: https://www.figma.com/

• Seismic: https://seismic.com/

• Gong: https://www.gong.io/


In this episode, we cover:

(00:00) Christine’s background

(02:34) How working with Ben Williams led Christine to Lenny’s Podcast

(05:02) The role of product ops in product management

(07:31) How 2019 became “the summer of product ops”

(11:19) The different ways product ops can assist product teams

(15:50) How Pendo used product ops to bring teams together and share data

(18:15) Where user research fits in 

(22:39) How product ops are being utilized—and not exclusively in B2B companies

(24:47) How to convince a product leader that you need product ops

(27:41) Why customer experience is the core of a PM’s role

(29:47) Who is doing the work of the product ops person before that role is created

(31:37) Christine’s response to Casey Winters’s take on ops teams

(37:40) Signs your company could benefit from a product ops team

(30:56) How a lack of transparency led to Pendo adding product ops

(46:11) The line between product ops and product marketing

(47:30) Who might be a good fit for a product ops role

(53:39) Red flags for product ops roles (that apply to any role) 

(54:08) How product teams are structured at Pendo

(57:18) Lightning round


Production and marketing by https://penname.co/. For inquiries about sponsoring the podcast, email podcast@lennyrachitsky.com.

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Christine Itwaru (00:00:00):

Speaking as a former PM, I would not ever give up spending time with customers and watching their pain. That's how I fell in love with product was I saw my internal customer 12 years back now fighting with the keyboard, fighting with the mouse, and I was just like, "Oh, my gosh. What's this guy doing?"

Lenny (00:00:23):

Welcome to Lenny's Podcast where I interview world-class product leaders and growth experts to learn from their hard won experiences building and growing today's most successful products. Today, my guest is Christine Itwaru. Christine is a long-time product ops leader at Pendo, a role that she transitioned into from product management. I've been hearing more and more about the rise of product ops and I've never really understood what the role was until I have this conversation with Christine.


We dig into what product ops people do day to day, where the line is between their role and product management, whether you should consider getting into the role, whether your company would benefit from product ops. We also have an interesting discussion around whether ops roles in general are a sign of inefficiency at your company. I learned a ton from this conversation and Christine is awesome. So, with that, I bring you Christine Itwaru after a short word from our wonderful sponsors.


This episode is brought to you by Amplitude. If you're setting up your analytics stack but not using Amplitude, what are you doing? Anyone can sell you analytics while Amplitude unlocks the power of your product and guides you every step of the way. Get the right data, ask the right questions, get the right answers, and make growth happen. To get started with Amplitude for free, visit amplitude.com. Amplitude, power to your products. Are you hiring or on the flip side, are you looking for a new opportunity? Well, either way, check out lennysjobs.com/talent. If you're a hiring manager, you can sign up and get access to hundreds of hand curated people who are open to new opportunities.


Thousands of people apply to join this collective and I personally review and accept just about 10% of them. You won't find a better place to hire product managers and growth leaders. Join almost 100 other companies who are actively hiring through this collective. if you're looking around for a newer opportunity, actively or passively, join the collective. It's free. You can be anonymous and you can even hide yourself from specific companies. You can also leave any anytime and you'll only hear from companies that you want to hear from. Check out lennysjobs.com/talent. Christine, welcome to the podcast.

Christine Itwaru (00:02:37):

Thank you. I'm so happy to be here, Lenny.

Lenny (00:02:39):

First of all, I just wanted to give a big thank you to Ben Williams who is a previous guest on this podcast who suggested you join this podcast and who connected us. We were chatting earlier and you said you have a story about Ben. So, what is that?

Christine Itwaru (00:02:51):

I do. Absolute thanks to Ben for connecting us. So, when he made the intro, I was super excited, one because it's you, and two, because I love hearing from Ben. I was like, "Oh, great, he's doing all these wonderful things and whatnot." I just remember in that moment, my first conversation with Ben, which was really early in the days of starting product operations at Pendo and we were going through all these just really crazy things that he was going through and his team was a customer of Pendo at the time. He's sitting there just staring and I was like, "Oh, you're okay?" He was like, "Yeah, I'm fine. I thought that I was just throwing them off at every return."


He said to me, "I bet you I'm not the only person who has these questions and I bet you I'm not the only person that's thinking about all these problems that probably seem very normal and natural." I don't know. All of us are going through this. This is why I'm building product ops here. But what he said and he was just like, "I really think there are a lot more people that you need to talk to about this stuff." It's just full circle. I think he connected us and he was one of the reasons I started to say... One of the best things that my first boss product always told me was, "You have to find a way to give back." When he said that to me, I was like, "I wonder if this is one of the ways that I can start to give back to the product community."

Lenny (00:04:08):

Awesome. Well, here we are, and obviously, we're going to be talking about product ops. You've been in the product ops role for seemingly feels like as long as the role has existed. I'd love to know when you think the role actually and we're going to talk about just when this spurred happened in product ops. I hate this term, but it feels like you're a thought leader in the product ops space. I've never actually worked with anyone in product ops. I've never had a product ops team, so I have a ton of questions. I imagine many people listening also have and are also just curious about this emerging role.


So, what I'm hoping we do with our chat is to help people understand, "Do they need a product ops team? Would that be beneficial to their company? Whether people should be consider moving into product ops, whether they're in PM or something else right now, and then just generally helping people understand this emerging role of product ops." Does that sound good?

Christine Itwaru (00:04:56):

Yes, thank you, number one. That was really kind. Two, yeah, I'm happy to dive in. Yeah.

Lenny (00:05:01):

Okay, sweet. So, I think we have to start with the basics. What's just the simplest way to understand the role of product ops, especially in relation to product management?

Christine Itwaru (00:05:11):

I've had many ways of describing this in the past and it generally centered around the ladder of what I'm going to tell you or the second part of this, but I'm breaking it down now into two simple things. One is it is a thing you do. Product operations for a VP or a head of product or a product manager is the creation of some system that allows you to thrive or allows your team to thrive in product management. The second is what we've seen more of over the last couple years, and it's the more common definition.


The emergence of the role itself is why it's so common. It's a person or the people, the group of individuals who are strong partners to the product manager and then for more mature product ops teams end up people being more strategic advisors to the head of products. So, your CPO or your VP again. When it comes to data, qualitative, quantitative, anything that they feel can help the CPO or the head of product make more strategic decisions and well-informed decisions.

Lenny (00:06:11):

Got it. It feels like there's been this big inflection and emergence of the role in the past couple years, past few years. I'm curious what you think triggered that and if that's true, if it feels like it's just emerged in the last couple years and then just like why do you think that has happened?

Christine Itwaru (00:06:28):

This is interesting, because as a former product manager and product leader, I don't think that things are new. Absolutely. When I go back to the story about Ben, I'm like, "No, none of this stuff feels really interesting and it's just stuff that we had to deal with in product." So, the problems have always been there. I think maybe that is because I have a product background. So, I felt that pain very acutely, but I will say for the majority of people I always speak to who don't have that product background, they're coming from consulting or from technical success or from some other group marketing maybe, it does feel relatively new because they're starting to dive into that space a little bit.


But I will say that for me in particular at Pendo, it was the summer of 2019 that this really picked up and I remember a colleague of mine, shout out to Shannon. He's no longer with us, but he is one of the original people on the Pendo product team. He said, "I think this is the summer of the birth of product ops." I just started laughing and he was like, "I'm telling you, it's everywhere." All of a sudden, everybody's just like, "We need something. We need to make product better." I thought that was awesome because we had already started talking about it.

[NEW_PARAGRAPH]So, it took me a bit to understand what was going on across tech that was making this thing so big. I'm very grateful because we have so many great customers that reach out and say, "Help us understand how you're doing this." I'm like, "Well, help me understand what's going on." So, for me, it went beyond the problems that we would solve as a product team with the Pendo product. It went into, "How can we help you as an organization solve pain that you're feeling within your product team that trickles out to the business?"

Lenny (00:08:07):

That's interesting. That was the summer of product ops. What happened there? Why was there a summer of product ops? Why was everyone starting to get excited and creating product ops teams?

Christine Itwaru (00:08:17):

Yeah, I'll dive in. The customers started to come up and we started to feel it a bit more and I felt like there was this huge need for a voice of customer management and synthesis of both this qualitative and quantitative data as a theme that I saw arising across our customer base or even just folks that were reaching out about this role as they saw Pendo was putting it down. There was a lot of pain around internal alignment in general, transparency to stakeholders up across your revenue team members. Then for a lot of people during this time, growth was a massive propeller of the need for product ops. I remember just sitting here in this office and getting these random...


Every industry almost was like, "Yeah, I'm thinking about doing this and I really need to do this, the pandemic, blah, blah, blah." Because it was growth during the pandemic, especially within industries such as home furnishings and making their living space a whole lot better. All of a sudden, we started to see that rise, but we were all experiencing this massive amount of growth across some of these startups and really rapidly growing companies. We're also moving more towards these product-led tactics, product-led growth. All of these things I feel like made this perfect storm for product operations to come in and start calming things down.


I personally believe there's this natural evolution that happens at any mature function when it starts to grow in an industry and across an organization. So, think about marketing or sales. This just started to happen with product managers. For me, I was sitting there going, "Well, you can appoint a PM to liaise with other ops teams and the business, but at what risk?" Their product portfolio, the growth and adoption of their product, all these goals that they have to hit today in order to build a better tomorrow for their customers. So, I feel like that was the moment to say, "Okay, how do we give them the structure that they needed to thrive?" Because the CPO is in charge of so much more than product people have historically been in charge of, right?


I'll probably talk about Marty Cagan several times here. I really do admire and respect him, and I think one of the things that he always talks about is future teams versus high performing teams and focusing on outcomes. CPOs went from deliver, deliver, deliver to really increased business metrics or just help drive the bottom line versus just really look at the product. You really have to figure out what that means for the product team at large.

Lenny (00:10:45):

Got it. So, the way to think about this role, because I imagine most people haven't ever had a product ops person in their company is there's a slice of the PM role that companies are finding is valuable to put on a different person that has different skillsets that can take this endless load that PMs have. PMs have so many things to do and their job is so full of responsibilities that there's a sliver of stuff that a product ops person can take off. I'd be curious too and feel free to comment on that, but I'm also curious, you mentioned a few specific things that the product ops folks do.


It'd be cool to just go through a bullet list of just those sorts of things, like you said, responsible for voice of the customer, pieces, alignment across stakeholders, whatever. If you could just go through some of those, that makes it really concrete I think for people to understand wow, this person that could have someone do all these for me, that'd be amazing.

Christine Itwaru (00:11:37):

In some ways, I've got this question a lot from product managers who are concerned about the rise of this role or product leaders who are concerned that it was going to create some controversy or friction between product ops people and product managers. The way I've coached people to get around that is really, "What are your people responsible for? What are you holding them accountable to? Are you holding the product manager accountable to elevating these strategic insights so that they are going to elevate it to everyone else and then everyone else is going to go out there and build thing and drive the value or are you holding them accountable to truly understanding the customer in whatever way possible?"


Especially going on and talking to the customer, please don't let anybody ever take that for granted. Really spending time with their engineers and the customers in order to drive a better experience. So, if they've got to spend all this time, which is our most valuable asset with those two entities, everything else still has to give. So, I think that yes, there was a point of friction, but I feel like now it's been a nice change where I'm seeing people in products saying, "No, I want to do product ops now," who was a former product manager. The second part of that, you said, let's go through the list of tactical things. Yes, voice of customer management is definitely one of the things that we're seeing more...


I don't want to say mature because then I feel like I'm seeing mature of your peak, but the ones who have matured a bit, I feel like they are focusing more on the voice of customer elements. So, quantitative analysis, qualitative, bringing all of these different inputs that would traditionally be handled by product manager through looking across the aisle at their PM or looking at different data sources to the surface when they're going through their product development lifecycle planning, and really figuring out too what that balance is. I think there's an art. You can do voice of customer in two ways.


You can do it one in this process way where you're feeding it to a really mature longstanding product team who has switchboard product or you have this voice of customer thing that you have to do for teams that are actually building something new. They're really trying to move fast, so how do you really get them what they need in order to experiment and iterate on the next thing that they're doing? That's one aspect. Another one is tooling. We see this more for folks who don't yet have tools under control in their product org. I'm not saying everybody has this, right? We had someone at one point handle whatever tools connected to Pendo and make sure that those systems are set up for maximum outcomes for the product manager.


So, Pendo's connected to Salesforce. We're connected to Looker. We're connected to all these different. So, what does the product manager need to achieve out of all those things that ultimately drives our experience for Pendo ourselves? We get very meta here. That person was responsible for that. That's all also a part of the data component. The other things that we're seeing are more of along the lines of content strategy and being really intentional about making content and education a part of the product process and the delivery process. So, taking a look at how they maximize the outcomes from the outcome that the product manager is driving so that they can help increase retention, growth, and all of that good stuff for the product.


So, those are some of the things that we're seeing. Then there's also this component that happens or this piece of it that happens in the beginning when you're standing a product ops for a product team that does not have much process in and that's the process piece. That's the bit that's a bit controversial, because folks are like, "Is this just program management? Is this just a different flavor of agile?"


So, what we're seeing is this, what are these folks doing? Are they managing and facilitating the product development lifecycle? Are they doing things with the rest of the organization? So I feel like this one's a little bit up in the air. Some are actually agile facilitators as well, but I am seeing emergence of some companies that have the program management team under the product's umbrella to help with this massive amount of things that they have to manage across the board.

Lenny (00:15:49):

Oh, that's a really interesting point on the last piece. I want to dig in on that a little bit just to summarize what you shared. So, some of the key roles of a product ops person, there's this voice of customer element and just to understand what you mean by that. The team is aggregating feedback from customers and feedback from the customer support and sales and things like that and sharing it with the product manager to give them clear conclusions and takeaways so that the PM doesn't have to sit there and filter their data. Is that a way to think about it?

Christine Itwaru (00:16:19):

That's one part of it. We actually developed this really cool way of doing it here at Pendo, which is the transparency is a word that we love here. What we found that there was just not this need for the revenue org to be transparent and say, "Hey, this is what we're hearing. Product people, please listen," or vice versa. Here's what we're doing for your customer. There was this interesting moment where we realized that our sales team was screaming for something and our success team was screaming for something else, but [inaudible 00:16:46] looking at something else. So, they're all wonderful relevant things that our customers wanted, but we were like, "What if they're aware that they've got all these amazing things and they're talking about it separately?"


Our PMs, they would get the whole readout with us, but we brought those folks in a room together. It was really cool because I think our head of professional services team at one point was like, "Whoa, this could truly impact what we do from an onboarding perspective and now we have this data. Then how do we then strengthen this area and the product?" So, it wasn't just about the components. So, I don't know if other companies are doing it like that, but I was very proud of the way we ended up doing that here. But the PM got risk data, high-priority deals, feedback from our feedback product. What are we hearing from prospects versus paying customers. What segments are saying what?


All that stuff got fed over to the PM and then validated through our research team or disputed through our research team, which was really cool. This is a really good partnership with our research team. But on the other side, what was really nice too was we were able to educate our revenue team on behalf of the product team and say, "Guys, not everything requires a product change." So if you're saying there's customers that have friction around this one area of this product, maybe it's enabling. Maybe it's something that we need to help you guys understand a little bit better so that you can make their experience better or maybe we need to help update. It's just very simple things like that that just ended up coming up this voice of customer process.

Lenny (00:18:15):

So essentially, it's just finding ways to make the PM more focused and allow them to focus on the things they want to focus on and reduce workload. On the user research piece, so it feels like there's user research coming in. PMs are involved, user research. There's a research team. Where does the product ops team fit in there or is it focused on internal alignment, stakeholder feedback more versus external customer feedback?

Christine Itwaru (00:18:41):

Yeah. Again, I'll say these probably several times. Every company's doing it in their own little bit of flavor. I'll tell you that here and from a couple companies that I'm seeing outside of Pendo, our user research team sits with our UX team. They report into our head of UX and they are responsible for proactive research and making sure that we are aligning to our strategy and saying, "Okay, here's what our folks are saying. Here's why we're going after this market or this new thing that we're doing. Let's start going out there and validating or checking with some of these key personas and what we need to do." Then they are also a part of the ongoing development process or product development process.


So, testing stuff out, making sure that they're doing user interviews, and all that good stuff. So, they sit as a partner to us. We work very closely together. Again, I'll give you that example of voice of customer, which is we have all of this input coming in from our customer success or post-sales teams and we know we're about to invest in our guides area of the product. We have all of these. What do we do with it? Well, we couple that with I'm personal responsible for NPS or I was for a very long time. I'm seeing a lot of noise around guides.


So, I take all of that, we pull it all together, and we give it to our head of research and say, "All right. Let's all make sense of all this together. Is this something that is in line with the direction that the product team is going, the guides team, or is this something that we're going to need to dig a little bit more into to see if their efforts right now where they're growing are not where there should be going?"

Lenny (00:20:10):

The other two bullet points, just to make sure I totally understand, you help with tooling. The product ops teams help, just optimize the tooling to build product. Is that a simple way to think about it, just make sure the product development process is efficient?

Christine Itwaru (00:20:24):

Yeah, we partner with the program management team and the tools that they use for product development stuff. I would say it's more, "What are the things that the product manager needs in order to be successful?" So, we look at Pendo, right? We do use our own product like I mentioned quite a lot. Salesforce is another thing, so how does that all plug into our own product and what data are we looking to get out of there? So, our PMs have a complete picture in Pendo. Tray is another one I mentioned. Zapier was another one that we had used. So, it's more about the PM's tool stack versus the PM's planning tool stack if you want to draw that distinction.

Lenny (00:20:59):

Got it. Okay. That is helpful. Then content strategy, by that, you mean internal documentation to train sales and customer support or is there also help the product team build out product marketing content and things like that?

Christine Itwaru (00:21:13):

Neither or a bit. I guess what we have done is fed into both of those technical documentation. We use Zendesk as another tool, so we use Zendesk as another part of our tool stack to support our customers. So, a brand new feature comes out. Natural thing to do, let's write up this thing in Zendesk, but it's also about how we weave education into the product and we use Pendo again. Sorry, that's all right. It's actually really good tool. So, we do use Pendo guides and we just release our NPS themes. So, a pain in my team's butt has been manual labor around NPS themes and qualitative data. So, we designed this experience for customers who are in this beta. So, that they can in the product understand what it is.


Then if they really need more, they can go out to the technical documentation, but it's about the education for the customer. I mentioned earlier treating content is a part of the development lifecycle process. You really want to treat it as a part of definition of done. When you think about product-led growth and the emergence of that in particular over the last couple years, it's all about creating that experience and keeps people in and helps them upgrade. So, they work alongside product marketing to develop these playbooks for what they're doing in app to create less friction and drive more engagement.

Lenny (00:22:36):

Got it. Okay, that makes a lot more sense. Would it be safe to say that product ops is essentially for B2B companies where there's all these internal stakeholders, sales, customer support, marketing, things like that and that's the work that you can take off the product manager's plate?

Christine Itwaru (00:22:53):

My personal experience and I think a lot of people would agree with me has led me to believe that's not accurate. It's emerged a lot more in B2B or I think we've seen it a lot more in B2B or at least people talking about it. I'm curious as to why and I wonder if it's because we're sharing because we're all trying to go through this thing together serving each other and then the other is serving the customer. So, it's not like, "Hey, you helped me figure this thing out." I understand I was so lucky and I still am so lucky to work with so many people in my network, in our customer base to help them understand the role or determine whether they even needed this thing or not.


Without calling out names, there were some really big companies in retail and finance and some industries that you would not expect who are B2C, larger, well established companies who we all know and love and maybe not even love. Maybe the experience is bad for us. So, they also do have a lot more cross-functional engagement internally than we would even think of. So, I don't know if it's because we're used to this world and we haven't thought about that side of it, but it's really interesting. I think the common thread is the cross-functional transparency and then transparency out to the customer.


So, I mentioned transparency is a big word for us, but readiness is another one and so readiness means a lot. You have your teams you need to get ready internally, but you really need to get customers ready for something new as well and everybody needs to feel aligned. So, it plays a massive part in what the product manager and the product team needs to consider, advocate for, deliver, and communicate about, I feel like no matter the size or industry.

Lenny (00:24:28):

I imagine a lot of PMs listening to this have this two minded view right now of on the one hand, somebody could take all his work off my plate. That's awesome. On the other, it's like, "Oh, okay, there's another stakeholder that have loop into every meeting and they're going to be doing this work that's cool and important that I'm not going to get to do anymore." That's weird. What have you found is the best way to convince a PM to this is like, "Wow, this would make your life so much better"?

Christine Itwaru (00:24:54):

Yeah, I go back to that question that I have asked leaders when helping them stand this up, which is what are you looking at your PMs to drive and how are you measuring their success? That generally just helps everybody get on the same page really quickly. I've had customers or I've had folks come to me in the product community that say, "I've tried this and it's just not going anywhere." There's resistance to the role because they feel like it's stepping on too many toes and whatnot. Generally, I will tell you it's because they still have a bit of buying in the top to get done.


I'm seeing that the most successful ones that are drawing the lines and showing that this role is valuable are the people that have their buy-in from their CEO or CPO at that level or their head of product and saying, "Hey, this is what this role means for you." So, I don't want to say it needs to be directive. I do want to say that you need to be able to articulate the value to somebody who's heading up essentially businesses and saying, "Here's what this role is going to drive for you at the end of the day." The very mature product ops end up having people that are strategic advisors too, a product leader. So, once you can show that this is what you'll also get as a result of me and this other person or me and this team doing this, it ends up being an easier conversation.

Lenny (00:26:17):

What are a couple bullet points that are most effective to convince a product leader product op is going to make a big impact and benefit you and then just an ICPM who's like, "I don't want this person on my team"? What actually works there to get buy-in?

Christine Itwaru (00:26:31):

Yeah. Number one, do you want your PMs to constantly be fielding questions from your revenue team when they could be spending time with customers? Yeah, you're shaking your head. That one seems to be the one.

Lenny (00:26:43):

Yeah. Yeah, that's a good one.

Christine Itwaru (00:26:44):

Yeah, I can count on one hand the companies who have blocked their product managers from speaking to customers and those companies are not product companies. I mean they do not believe in product management. They might say they do, but they don't. So, that's number one. Number two is how are you measuring your outcomes and where are you making this all transparent? Is this happening consistently across the board? So, one probably seeing product teams across so many different places is you might have somebody who's really passionate and really good at doing this stuff for their own vertical and then it doesn't scale.


So, how are you doing this at scale so that your stakeholders are building this trust in you and making sure that they get the best out of the product team at any given turn? I say those are the two bullet points that seem to stick the most is that quality time, giving the PM what they need, which is their time to be able to drive the outcomes for the customer.

Lenny (00:27:41):

What is it that you think a PM will never offload, if that makes sense? In your perspective, what's like the core of a PM's role versus maybe product ops for now and then maybe potentially other roles that take off some of the stuff on their plate?

Christine Itwaru (00:27:57):

Speaking as a former PM, I would not ever give up spending time with customers and watching their pain. That sounds really bad to customers. I'm sorry. That's how I fell in love with product was I saw my internal customer 10, 12 years back now fighting with the keyboard, fighting with the mouse. I was just like, "Oh, my gosh. What's this guy doing?"


I think it was an experience that some people might say, "Oh, I never want to be in that situation again because it made me feel very uncomfortable that my product is not doing for this person what it needs to," but for me, it was, "How do I make this thing do what it needs to for this gentleman? How do I make this thing better?" I cannot see product managers saying, "I don't want to be a part of that conversation." Then you know what? I'm going to say it then don't be in product.

Lenny (00:28:50):

Love it. Yeah. I'm so curious what parts of the role get sliced off over time because I love that. That's the core of it is just build great products that your customers want and use and want to pay for. Then what else can people help you with along the side? Because yeah, PM role is just crazy. There's so many things going on.

Christine Itwaru (00:29:06):

It's crazy how this article that I wrote, I dug into the history of product management and it's like 100 years old not in its current form, but it's about 100 years old and just the evolution of what product managers have historically been responsible for. Then if you think about just really sit down and think about what the world has turned into today and how much noise we have coming at us. We talked about put yourself onto not disturb mode and I learned a long time ago, put myself onto disturb mode. So, imagine having a partner that helps you filter that noise.

Lenny (00:29:44):

Yeah, quite useful. Along those lines, I was going to go in a different direction, but as you mentioned that, there's all these roles adjacent to PM. There's program managers, project managers, agile product owners, and all and then now product ops. I guess before team has product ops, let me just ask this one straightforward question. Which of those roles generally does the thing that product ops can do for you? Is it the PM or is it one of these other roles?

Christine Itwaru (00:30:11):

It's a PM. It's PM. Yeah, it's a PM and then I would say, because what I'm seeing in less mature product orgs who first bring in product ops, the first thing they ask them to do is streamline the planning process. So, I would say it's a PM and maybe the agile. That's probably what it is today. I feel like program management and agile are starting to get a little bit close to each other in what they do. So, it's most of the PM stuff because we're doing elements of their job that they have off to the side versus being able to focus on. But again, in lesser mature orgs, the first thing is, "How do I actually just get the people to plan the same way and give me the thing that they're planning and doing?"

Lenny (00:30:56):

That's interesting, what you said there, that maybe often a wedge to a product ops person joining their company maybe as a first product ops person is the planning, helping with the planning process. Is that what you find?

Christine Itwaru (00:31:07):

It could be. The only thing that distinguishes product operations folks from program managers and agile is that product operations people know, understand the product, the customer, and the inner workings of the business.

Lenny (00:31:20):

Cool. Yeah, Marty Cagan has some hot takes there about how product owners are never going to be great product managers. They don't really understand the customer needs and building product in any way. That's a whole other topic. I want to talk about the career path, but before we get there, I want to go in a spicy direction. So, Casey Winners, he is a guest on this podcast at one point. He wrote this hot take many years ago about this premise that operations in general often is a Band-Aid for inefficiency at a company.


Companies often hire a bunch of ops people to just solve a problem and often they're much better ways to solve that problem. For example, tooling or a new process. His take is a person doing the thing often should be the last resort or it's a temporary gap and then over time you should strive to find a more efficient way to solve that problem than people. I don't think he's saying ops people in general or not necessary. It's an easy default. So, I'm curious what you think of that take. Generally, do you think product ops is this long term we're going to need more and more of this or is there a different path that's solving the problem that product ops? Spicy take warning.

Christine Itwaru (00:32:41):

Yes, I remember this. I'll address that inefficiency comment first, right? I mentioned a little bit earlier as roles in any industry or I guess any role matures like marketing or sales, this ops thing ends up being this natural progression. It's not just because the role itself is maturing. It's also because the org is maturing. So, what I found and what I'm finding with customers is that ops alignment across companies is what often ends up keeping the companies moving and keeping everybody aligned. So, to say ops teams are generally a sign of inefficiency or the need for them is a sign of inefficiency is not always accurate, it's generally a sign of growth and opportunity.


People are really just trying to stay in aligned and do the best for the people that are doing the thing, the product managing, the marketing, the selling within that org. Overall though, I will say I will agree with his points about getting in and maybe giving it off and using humans for other things. I wrote something recently and I highlighted something that he mentions here in this article and what he mentioned on your podcast, which is we as product ops want to and should be standing up whatever processes or systems are needed and then get out of the way so we can focus on driving more strategic value.


I keep mentioning that more mature product ops folks end up being a very good strategic advisor to leaders in product and to the product teams and that continues to be my belief. From day one, this has been my own personal goal for myself and for my team. I myself recently switched roles here at Pendo because I did what I said I was going to do, which was stand up the system, stand up the things that we knew we needed to do that were going to either be given off to another team or automated and then get the rest of the humans that are here to do the other strategic things for the product team.


Some of those are, "How do we increase retention? Like I mentioned, how do we focus on growth in this one area? How do we make the experience better in app? How do we do a better voice of customer management?" My energy now at Pendo is I'm able to now go towards more impactful things for not just the product team and the product community, but for our customers at large. So, I'm basically saying, "Look, I did what I needed to do and I'm ready to go."


So I think that's something though that people need to be very, very comfortable with, very comfortable with. If you change course and change your tune two, three years into doing this and you built this team, you're like, "Here's what you're doing, manage this process," people are going to lose their mind. Change is constant, but telling someone, "I no longer need you to do that," it makes them a little bit nervous. So, for years when I was interviewing folks from my team, I made that one point abundantly clear to them, get into this role if you're comfortable letting go of things and moving on to something that is well worth your time. The company's going to change.


Our process is going to need to be tweaked. The company is going to change. Something's going to need to be automated. We're going to need to cut something else. Maybe ChatGPT is going to make things very clear that humans are not always going to be doing the same things and we need to focus our energy elsewhere, but people do need to get comfortable with that role.

Lenny (00:35:54):

I love that take. Generally, I think it aligns with what Casey's saying. What I'm hearing is you may be a product person today doing a bunch of stuff. Your job in a sense should be to automate as much of that as you can and find more strategic higher level things you could be doing instead of sitting there connecting Salesforce to Zendesk and maintaining that. It'd be great in customer feedback in theory. That could be a tool that could do that for you. That's part of the job. Is that roughly what you're saying?

Christine Itwaru (00:35:54):

That's exactly what I'm saying.

Lenny (00:36:24):

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Zooming out a little bit and building on the stuff we've been just talking about, what would you say are just signs that your company would benefit from a product ops team and that you're a fit for building a product ops team?

Christine Itwaru (00:37:51):

I touched on this quite a bit, but that lack of transparency in many directions across, down. Sometimes people are on very transparent about, "Hey, this came up in planning and here's what we need to do." So it's relevant for stakeholder management, getting stuck out to customers, internal teams, and making sure they're aligned, revenue teams in particular.


That was the first thing we focused on at Pendo was really aligning our success org and our sales org to the product team. We monitored success just within... I think a quarter was the time-bound space that we had it in on quality of inbound to the product team. So, that was really cool. It was just more thematic questions around tell us what you guys do because our customers would benefit from this versus teach me how to do this thing.

Lenny (00:38:36):

I wanted to dig into the transparency piece. Is that the same point as the transparency piece or are those two different heuristics?

Christine Itwaru (00:38:42):

That's transparency. Yeah, so what happened was we realized that we share this story actually quite openly and I'll share it here again, which is one of the things that kicked off products for us was we had a really bad launch, a really, really bad launch. It was a moment in company history where we realized that there was not transparency across the aisle and there was this lack of readiness across the organization and out to customers for what was coming. It wasn't this piece that folks say, "Oh, well, they didn't know this was coming." Well, there's two things. There's the knowing something's coming and then there's the knowing what to do with it.


You can use just some status keeping thing to say, "This is coming in Q4 and as we get closer, here's the date," but it's what to do with it and how to position it and how to talk about it and all the things that was missing from it. It was really bad and it was my fifth week here. It was a moment of, "Well, I promised myself I'm going to let this happen." That was one of the things where I said, "I'm going to start to focus a little bit more on product ops within this director position I had just as director of product." Then I spun off and I think we need to do this thing and make it a bit more formal.

Lenny (00:39:53):

Just to dig it on a story a little bit, so I didn't know this, so you were a product manager at Pendo. There was this bad launch and you recognize there's this gap that maybe I could fill, that somebody needs to fill and that you want to take that on. Can you talk a bit more about that? It's really interesting.

Christine Itwaru (00:40:12):

Yeah. They brought me in as their first director level. So, I was doing a bit of director plus a little bit of IC stuff because we were starting to build up our product team. Yes, that launch happened and the product area was under development for about eight months from what I can remember. I came in with the assumption and also knowing fully well that I'm a brand new leader in this product team and product people want ownership. They crave autonomy, they crave trust, and all of that good stuff. I know that firsthand. I did not want to jump in and say, "Have you done X, Y, and Z?", especially in the first four weeks of me being there. Yeah, it did not go very well.


So, we recognized that we had more opportunity that we should have grabbed onto to test more with customers, to find feedback loops that were going to be healthy for the team and for our customers, to stand up ways for us to measure changes and impact of changes that this thing was making to our customers. This was the biggest launch in our company history since the launch of the product. So, it was a moment where we all sat down very openly and shared with each other what we all could have done better. It wasn't just the product team.


So, I truly believe with a really healthy product operations person or team, you have that ability to impact change across the company. So, yes, we look at that story. I remember us sitting there and being, "One day, we're going to look back at this story and we're going to say, 'Oh, yeah, I remember that.'" We do now four years later or four and a half years later, but yes, I felt really passionate about making sure that that didn't happen.

Lenny (00:41:48):

The gaps you found are there's just like this lack of internal alignment. Sales didn't know what was going on. Customer support didn't know what was going on. That felt like that's where the gap was because that's what led to this product ops opportunity, right?

Christine Itwaru (00:42:00):

Yes. There was a lack of alignment across again, they knew it was coming, they just didn't know the extent of what to expect and how to prepare customers or prospects or the change the way that we should have. There was definitely training. There was stuff being done. It just could have been a whole lot better. So, there were gaps there. One more point was the piece after that was I love people. I love managing people. I love healthy team environment and dynamics.


As a product person, it means a lot to have that, because if you have direct reports, you obviously want them to be happy and healthy, but as a product person, you have this system around you even if you're not having people that report into you where you feel ownership to make sure these people are healthy. I remember even in my early days of being a PM, I wanted my engineers to be super happy. I wanted them to be proud of work that they were doing and I wanted them to be comfortable letting go of things that we no longer needed.


I remember that moment looking around and looking at our engineers and seeing that they were like, "Hold on. What? Where do we go now? What do we do right now?" We wanted to take that moment and make it less about firefighting and more about being responsible and really customer obsessed. So, that was our moment or one of our moments for thinking about, "Okay, we might need product operations formalized here."

Lenny (00:43:24):

It's interesting that your mind went to product ops, because I think most companies would be like, "Oh, the product manager of this product screwed up. They didn't communicate enough to ensure sales. They didn't set up the marketing material well." It often falls on the product team and the product manager. What made you realize, "Oh, this is a product ops role and I need to move into that role versus here we are"?

Christine Itwaru (00:43:46):

Yeah, I didn't say in that moment we need a product ops role. All I said in that moment was we need to create a system so that this doesn't happen again. That goes back to my definition of what product ops is. It's a thing and it is also a person or a group of people. It could be one or the other. So, I want to make sure we decouple that. It does not have to be humans. It can be that there's a system being created that is from a strong product person who knows how to get this team to be healthy.

Lenny (00:44:12):

That's a really good way of thinking about it. That clarifies it in a big way. Thank you. You were talking about transparency and just like a sign that maybe you need product ops. I think the thing that stuck with me there is just the quality of questions the product team gets from sales, right?

Christine Itwaru (00:44:27):

Yeah. I get a lot of questions around, "I'm investing in this. How do I measure the effectiveness of the team, all of these things?" It's really not easy to measure this in a quantitative measure just yet. Maybe one day, right? Actually, yes. Now one day, I feel like it might be coming sooner than we think. So, what we did was we looked at that transparency problem. We sent out this survey across both product managers and the sales and success teams and we said, "Where's your time going, PMs? How much time are you giving on average to the revenue team to firefight? How much time do you with customers that's quality time."

[NEW_PARAGRAPH]Then on the flip side to the revenue team, how many times do you find yourself asking questions? We gave all of these one to five and blah, blah, blah, those sorts of things, so that we can figure out where to place our energy. We came up with this, "Okay, well, it seems like there's a lack of transparency across the two groups. Let's start with getting data out or information out to the revenue team from the product org." We created this product digest. It's like today and it's matured quite a bit, but I go back to this whole people can know when they're coming, but they need to know what it is they need to do with it. So, this thing was less about this thing's coming next quarter, go tell your customers.


It's more about here's how you get ready for it, here's how you get jazzed about, and then the handoff, which is probably the question you're going to have at some point, which is, "What's your line between PMM and products?" The handoff is that we don't teach them to sell. We don't teach them to position, but we know that the product intimately enough to help them understand the new value, to help them understand how to use the thing and to make sure that they're hitting the ground.

Lenny (00:46:08):

Let's ask that question. If there's anything more, what is that line between product ops and product marketing?

Christine Itwaru (00:46:13):

Yeah, I always say this and it and it's worked. I haven't seen anybody dispute it yet, but product marketing positions help the revenue team sell their lead gen for all of the outbound and the campaigns that they're running. They are marketing. They're helping you at the end of the day make this thing sound amazing and do the right things with it. For us, it's about educating and it's about helping our internal folks, our internal revenue team understand, "What is the added value? How do you now do this thing? How does this impact your role?"


We focus a bit on the customer success persona, for example, on Pendo. Customer success managers can go in. They can see their account health and what's going on and blah, blah, blah. How does this impact you as a customer success rep and how do you then help your customers understand the value? Not hey, can you help us upsell this thing and here's how you do it.

Lenny (00:47:06):

Great answer. Makes a lot of sense to me. Final topic, the career path of a product ops person. A lot of people listening to this podcast are either PMs today or I want to be PMs or thinking about becoming product manager, because PM can mean a lot of things. It's interesting, there's this new path that people can explore, product ops. I'm curious who you think might be a fit for the product ops role versus the product manager role. Someone deciding, "Oh, man, maybe I should go down this other route." What do you think are just signs that maybe you'd be a better fit where you enjoy that route better?

Christine Itwaru (00:47:41):

Yeah, I love that question because it makes me feel that this role has become embraced a bit more. What I hear questions like in the past, it was, "Do we need this role and how do we help get the buy-in?" Now it's more the acceptance from a product manager to maybe want to even become this. I'm seeing more PMs, like I said, go into the space. So, it's no longer being seen so much as a threat. It's being seen as this partner. So, just one, I'll say that I think if you're someone like me who absolutely loves and I mentioned the story about the engineers and the team health and stuff, if you love creating that healthy team environment and one where there's cross-functional collaboration and it fuels you to empower the team more, it's a wonderful fit for you.


Again, I was a PM for years and I felt that pain so much and how much we had to do in order to make this small change and then figure out whether it's valuable. I knew that there had to be a better way to get better outcomes to happen, but I also know that better outcomes don't just mean for the product. It means better outcomes for the entire product team, for the customer experience at large, and ultimately for the business. So, I think that that's one thing. If you're curious and you really want to learn more about that side of the house, one of the beautiful things I saw was one of my products managers fall more in love with understanding the business as she was starting to assure in her product ops career. I thought that was really cool.


She had already had product background and she was like, "I want to understand the inner workings here so that I know how to help these people." So the other thing is if you're a PM having issues with the role that you're currently in, I think you need to remember that you are there to solve problems. That's a very simple thing that we talked about. What are the things that PMs won't shed and shouldn't shed and that go and talk to customers? We get to talk to customers in order to solve the problems, figure out the right problems to solve. You do that in product ops as well. You don't have to go out to customers externally, but my customers and the people I speak to are internally. They are helping me understand the pain that the product team is tied to.


So, if you don't love solving problems through building brand new features and building a product, then how can you help contribute to solving other ones? If you're a true problem solver, think about whether you want to do that. So, if you know the pain, what can you do to build a better experience overall? You can ultimately impact your business.

Lenny (00:50:03):

Do you find most product ops people, at least at this point, are former product managers? What would be the pie chart of last job was product manager versus not of existing product ops people?

Christine Itwaru (00:50:13):

I got to put on a new survey. I do. I really have to put on a new survey. Initially, I saw a lot more folks moving in from management consulting, from customer success, from technical success. I haven't seen anyone from sales move in yet, and I have seen a couple PMs. Now, that's the day-to-day product ops manager. I will tell you that the people who are standing up the product ops orgs and being the first product ops hire at the leadership level are former product people.


I strongly advocate for product ops leaders to have done that role, to have actually had hands-on product experience building and understanding customer problems and feeling that pain, because you very quickly realize where to place your efforts and where your team's efforts should go. That helps you from an efficiency perspective and the business knows you're not just dilly-dallying.

Lenny (00:51:11):

That's really interesting. That makes a lot of sense. Just the roles you named again, where product op people come from. You said customer success. What are the others again?

Christine Itwaru (00:51:19):

I have seen technical success. I've seen management consulting. The management consulting piece makes a ton of sense to me. I think there's that data piece that they really like to lean into and advisory, and then the leadership ones coming in from product to leader roles. That's been a happy change too, seeing a director say, "I now want to move into a position to coach the teams and to help build a stronger product team overall. I don't feel like building product."

Lenny (00:51:46):

Fascinating. For someone that's like, "Wow, I want to do this job. This sounds rad," what advice would you give for people to pursue this role and get a gig in product ops?

Christine Itwaru (00:51:58):

Well, one, it's a good thing that there's no shortage of these roles. I would say that there are a lot of these roles open out in the industry. Be intentional about what you want to do, because right now, it's still in a bit of, "Well, what are we doing in product operations as a product management community?" There's no consistency industry to industry, size to size, team to team. It is very different. So, really think about your strengths. Do you love data? Are you a person who thrives on being able to make beauty out of this mess that you're seeing and advise people and help them understand maybe this is a direction that we should be going in?


Are you technical where you're like, "No, I actually really enjoy doing the quantitative side of things," and you truly enjoy working with data science teams and you really like to bring that data aspect to the product teams? You could probably find a mix of both. There are people who do like doing both of those things. Generally, I mentioned this and I keep saying it, standing up that system because you know that if you had it, you would've been a better PM.


I think that that's a big thing there. If people realize that there's a better way to do it and they no longer have to do it all but they can do a slice of it in order to drive efficiency for the organization, then start thinking about going out there and doing it. The other thing too is look at those roles and make sure that you fine-tooth comb those job descriptions. Some of them are very vague because they're trying to figure it out on their own as well. So, the more you know what you want to do as a product person, the more you know what to lead out from these roles.

Lenny (00:53:36):

Are there red flags when you're looking at a product job description of, "Hmm, this isn't really the role you want"?

Christine Itwaru (00:53:43):

I think this is a red flag for any role. I mentioned that it's really hard right now to put a number to the success of the role or on the success of the role, but if there's no, "This is how you will be measured or this is what we're looking at as a successful outcome for this person in this role," I would say that's probably a red flag. That's table stakes people need to have on their job descriptions.

Lenny (00:54:06):

Final question. Something I try to get to with people from new companies that I haven't talked to before is just to get a general sense of how the product org is structured at the company. Just because people are always curious, how do you structure product teams? So I guess broadly I'd love to hear just how is the Pendo team product team structured? What are the buckets? Then also, is their product ops person integrated into each cross-functional product team?

Christine Itwaru (00:54:31):

Yeah, I too love to learn about this. We're broken into major areas of the business or revenue streams and we have general managers over those. The GMs actually sit in the product team, which is nice. All have PM background, all really, really experienced and incredible. We also have a head of growth, so there's that component to it as well. Then you've generally got the senior directors. There are teams of product managers who are responsible for different areas in the product. So, we've got one product that's our core product and very mature, broken down into different components there. We have a newer product where that's just one straight product team versus having many different directors.


We do have a product ops person integrated into these teams. I'd say probably all of them at this point, but the key thing here is they share themselves across two or three teams. Something going through listeners' minds right now is, "Christine, is there a ratio of product ops people to the team?" I would say that at one point, I felt like there might have been and I don't think that's the case anymore. Again, based on my experience and what I'm learning, we operate pretty lean and a lot of people are having to operate very lean right now. So, every few quarters, we look at our goals. We determine who or what goals need a product ops person and for what reason. We're really intentional about it.


As an example, I use this saying respect the hustle with my team a little bit for the newer product that's still finding its way. The last thing you want to do as a product, which for somebody who I had a legacy product in my last job, one that I was building from the ground up and one that I was just responsible for getting out the door, sun setting at some point, you don't want anyone stifling creativity with any process or some time bound this or anything like that. So, the last thing you want to do is introduce something in there that feels like that you want them to hit the ground running.


So, we don't over-index on things like a certain planning process or you need to get this to us because the other teams have. We need to know this thing by this timeframe. We'll do what we need to do from there. That's it. We're also quicker with the data. Voice of customer stuff takes a little bit longer for a more mature product team or this is more like, "What are we learning right now and how quickly can we communicate this over to that team so they can iterate really quickly?"

Lenny (00:56:47):

Awesome. To come back to the structure just briefly, so you have GMs, business units. Within the business units, you have directors of product that report up to the GM within each and the directors or product have cross-functional product team that they operate that builds specific features and elements of the larger product. Then there's a product ops person supporting some of these teams and they're shared across teams. Got it.

Christine Itwaru (00:57:14):

You've got everybody rolls up to a CPO. CPO's got all of this.

Lenny (00:57:15):

Christine, with that, we've reached our very exciting lightning round. I've got six questions for you. I'm going to just fire them away. Does that sound good?

Christine Itwaru (00:57:23):

Yes, let's do it.

Lenny (00:57:24):

Let's do it. Two or three books that you recommend most to other people.

Christine Itwaru (00:57:28):

Classic is Inspired by Marty Cagan. It's one of the reasons I really fell in love with the product. It's inspirational. Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek. I really like that book too. That's more leadership style and making sure you putting in your team first, which is something I strongly believe in. This is a plug, but I also really like the book and it's very practical so it falls in that category, which is the Product-Led Organization by our CEO Todd Olsen. Really good book for right now, especially with people really going through this transformation.


There's an old book that I have that's sitting on that shelf. It's Product Roadmaps Relaunched. It is really old. I mean I don't want to date myself, but it's almost 20 years old when I was in college. But it's really, really valuable and I can reference it just for a quick yeah, I forgot about that from a communication perspective for a roadmap. This is really cool.

Lenny (00:58:21):

Favorite other podcast?

Christine Itwaru (00:58:22):

The Product Experience Podcast from Mind the Product. I really like that one. A little bit similar to this other favorite one I'm on right now, but lots of really good product people and just very practical advice too. For leadership, I like HBR IdeaCast. Again, I like to balance the business side and the people side of leaderships.

Lenny (00:58:44):

Favorite recent movie or TV show?

Christine Itwaru (00:58:46):

Because I have kids, my brain is flooded generally with kid shows. I would say this year, it was between the new Matilda movie, which is based on the Broadway production, which was based on the old Matilda movie, but it's really, really good. Really well done. Then there's this movie. I think it's called Rise. Have you seen it? It's about the Giannis... I cannot say, forgive me, his last name, but he's on the Milwaukee Bucks, basketball player. It's about overcoming adversity and just struggle and really pushing through and giving it your all. I think that one is really good. Add it to your list if you haven't. It's called RISE. TV, I have Food. I don't have a favorite TV show. I've just finished watching White Lotus if that's qualified.

Lenny (00:59:33):

It's the most popular mentioned TV show on this podcast.

Christine Itwaru (00:59:40):

Yeah, I would say for TV in general, you give me anything food. I love cooking. I'll cook an entire massive meal, three course, whatever, sit down, and eat it while I'm watching. Yeah.

Lenny (00:59:53):

Yum. Favorite interview question that you like to ask when you're interviewing people?

Christine Itwaru (00:59:58):

If you could choose any career outside of what you're doing, what would it be and why?

Lenny (01:00:04):

What do you look for in an answer there that tells you that this is a strong candidate versus not?

Christine Itwaru (01:00:08):

There are skills that are a part of that other role that I would lean into. So, if somebody were to ask me that question, I would tell you a chef. It's about experience and it's about constantly refining your craft and it's about constantly looking to delight. I think that speaks to my love for product. It's all about that end state for the customer. So, I always ask that question and I look to see, "What is it? Are they looking for fame? Are they looking for the temporary role?" It's really telling. You dig into the qualities of what makes a good candidate for the other thing. You can figure out a lot.

Lenny (01:00:47):

Fascinating. If they're watching this and learning the secret, that's a good sign too. They're doing the research.

Christine Itwaru (01:00:52):


Lenny (01:00:53):

Top five SaaS products that you love, use at work other than Pendo.

Christine Itwaru (01:00:53):

I got to say Pendo.

Lenny (01:00:59):

We already know. We already know that's on the list.

Christine Itwaru (01:01:01):

Yeah, I love Miro. I love Miro so much. During the pandemic, this became an essential tool for so many teams. I brought it into our company and I was a big advocate, part of my last one as well, just the collaboration and connection. Figma along the same lines, I think Figma is really great at that for our design team and the rest of products. So, that one's been really good. Seismic is one that I really like as well. That's the content management system for our go-to-market teams. So, it really plays well into how do we make sure we give them what they need and the tool that they need to be in.


Gong is another one. I think Gong's really great. I've watched them go from the early days and I think we were an early customer or we were using it early on. I think they've pivoted at some point or they've definitely updated messaging on the coaching for their teams and us being able to dig into the qualitative insights that we get on those calls of people is really good too. So, yeah.

Lenny (01:02:01):

Great list. Ones that people haven't mentioned before, so that's always fun. Final question, what's something relatively minor that you've changed in Pendo's product development process that has had a tremendous impact on the way that you build product?

Christine Itwaru (01:02:15):

This one's going to sound really elementary or for some people really elementary, but for some people, they're going to be like, "Uh-huh, I totally feel that." Early on, we started bringing in engineers to customer meetings more and more and you don't want to typecast or profile an engineer, but generally, they're not raising their hand and being like, "Yeah, I'm going to come and join, blah, blah, blah." They want to make sure they're doing their job and building the experience, but it's so simple and it's so effective. When we started doing it, the response from the engineering team was great and then also it helped us dig into a different side of the customer while we were on call sometimes. Some of them were flies on the walls.


Some of them were actually engaging with the engineers and help them increase their confidence in speaking to customers. So, I don't know. I feel like that just ended up changing a lot of the way that we started planning and making sure that their voice had a certain amount of weight or even more weight than it did before in the product development lifecycle. We respect their time. I remember some were very nervous and be like, "Oh, I got to do all this other stuff," but they're like, "Okay, I'll try it."


Then all of a sudden, they're like, "Whoa, I really want to do this more and more." But it's just really being able to see that pain for them firsthand from a customer or the delight and frustration was very impactful. So, that's my answer and I feel like if you're not doing that as a product manager or product leader, then you better get on that train real fast because it's life changing for the entire team.

Lenny (01:03:42):

That is an awesome answer. This is the first time I've asked this question. I think I'm going to make it a standard question now because I feel like we're going to get all kinds of cool nuggets. So, thank you for starting it off with a bang. Christine, thank you so much for joining me. I learned more about product ops in an hour than I've learned in years and years of reading about it online.

Christine Itwaru (01:04:02):

Thank you.

Lenny (01:04:02):

So, thanks for making the time. Thanks for sharing all your wisdom. Two final questions. Where can folks find you online if they want to reach out, learn more, maybe ask you some questions about product ops and then how can listeners be useful to you?

Christine Itwaru (01:04:13):

They can connect with me on LinkedIn. You'll put that up, I'm sure. Twitter, same. I've got my own site, so the productcraft.com. I started posting on product management products. I'm going to start doing some stuff on careers, all that good stuff. How can they be useful? So don't laugh at me, people. I needed a Twitter reset and so I had that for 13 years and then I no longer did and now I took it. So, just help me rebuild over there and just get back on that site. That's more immediate, but I would say help me understand what's going on in product and product ops. I will continue to do things like this and share more about what I'm learning, but I need to learn more from other people as well. That's an amazing, incredible part of my job that I'm about to do.


There's just like a lot of pain right now all around us in the tech industry. I think about today and probably the next year or so. For people who are really questioning their next steps in their product careers, whether they stay in it, whether they move into something adjacent or relevant, they're looking to sharpen their skills, maybe make a site pivot to ops, whatever it is. I'm really interested to just gather more data on this and see how it all plays out while also trying to see if I can make some connections. So, I've been able to do that. Full circle back to Ben, Ben did this for me and you. I think that it's really important that the product community is smaller than we think. It's large and it feels expansive, but it's smaller than we think.


I think we're all facing an interesting time where people may be, again, questioning that next move or struggling. It would just be amazing for us to share. So, cheesy as it may sound, product ops for me was an easy way to be able to connect the dot and be that partner, right? Talk about the transparency and alignment. If there's a way that this community can help empower me to do more of that for all of you, I think that that would be incredibly helpful.

Lenny (01:06:06):

What a beautiful way to end it. Christine, thank you again for being here.

Christine Itwaru (01:06:10):

Thank you. This was so fun.

Lenny (01:06:12):

So much fun. Bye, everyone. Thank you so much for listening. If you found this valuable, you can subscribe to the show on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or your favorite podcast app. Also, please consider giving us a rating or leaving review as that really helps other listeners find the podcast. You can find all past episodes or learn more about the show at lennyspodcast.com. See you in the next episode.