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Building in Public 4: your burning questions answered – a Q&A with Megan Murphy

A few weeks ago, we put Megan Murphy, the VP of Product at Hotjar, on the spot to answer our users’ burning questions.

In these two videos, Megan covers everything from how to get strategy buy-in to handling loud voices in meetings to whether she’d abandon everything to open a bar on the beach.

So, despite it not being in our usual format for our Building in Public video series, whether you’re an experienced Product Manager or looking to start your product career, there’s something in here for you.

Behind the scenes

Last updated

17 Dec 2021

Question 1: Do you sprint manage your personal life too?

“Wow – we're really going right in with the intense questions!

“Okay, so in my personal life, do I sprint manage? Not necessarily, but I do a couple of things that you might recognize from building products.

“One of these is—and I really hope my partner is okay with me saying this—that we sort of have a relationship retro where we ask ourselves, ‘How did the last couple of weeks go and what could we have done better? And what could we improve and what should we continue doing?’

“I find using the relationship retro as a kind of therapy routine is really helpful.”

Question 2: What does a high-level process look like for building a product strategy that everyone backs up?

“I must say that the most influential book on strategy I've read—at least in terms of a hands-on way to apply it—comes from the book, Good Strategy, Bad Strategy.

“After reading the book, I made a Trello board where I had columns for each of the different building blocks of the product strategy I was working on.

“I think a product strategy that will land with people is one that’s inspiring. If it's a strategy people won’t buy into, it doesn't matter how great it is."

“Another thing is making it really actionable. And this is where the book also comes in. The first thing you need to do is figure out your product vision. This is the elusive north star that you'll probably never reach, but it's the pursuit of doing so that makes it all worthwhile.

“Then, the strategy has to confront the major challenges that your business and product— assuming it's a product-led company—will face along the way.

I'll share an example from Hotjar:

“One of our product strategy pillars is to help users find, sort, and act on truly insightful signals of user behavior. And some of the challenges that we face around this are that people collect a ton of data, not just from Hotjar, but also from other products.

“All these insights make it feel noisy. And that's one of the challenges we face. So, on a tactical note, what do we do next? We put a plan in place to figure out what we're going to do about it.

“We might say, ‘In order to help reduce the noise and increase the signal-to-noise ratio, we want to do these five things’. And then we’d validate those things through further discovery.

“Then, to make it land with people and make it really speak to them, I would say you need to put yourself in the position of the people who will read it.

“At this stage, I’d ask questions like: What does my audience need to hear? How will sales contribute to their mission? How will product marketing contribute? How will engineering solve really complex technical problems?

“If it's all about the product or it's all about the users, and it's not about all of the disciplines that make it real, people won’t think it matters. You need to hook them in and show them that you need them to make this a reality."

"And, I would say, that's how to make it land.”

Question 3: How do you handle strong voices or ‘hippos’?

“I don't believe that a loud voice should be met with another loud voice because then you just get into a battle and nobody wants that. So I wouldn't recommend trying to amp up your volume. Maybe you can try a couple of different things:

“In a meeting setting, you could try sending a preread in your meeting invitation so that folks who might need time to prepare and think ahead of time, can do so. It can help people come more prepared with what they might want to contribute.

“Another thing you can do is practice ‘radical candor’. Kim Scott covers this in her book, Radical Candor. It describes how a healthy, open environment is one where you give people actionable, solid feedback at an opportune moment.

“So, for example, this concept would encourage you to say, ‘Hey, I don't feel heard. I had something to contribute there. And I didn't feel like there was space for me to contribute’.

“Maybe you don’t have to say it out loud, maybe it's written, maybe it's a different format. Maybe you might need some guidance from another colleague who you really trust.

“It's a tough one, but I would say that better relationships are developed through honest, direct, candid feedback from the heart that doesn't come off as attacking the person or their character, but just their behavior in a specific situation.

“Then, it’s also about trying to create the conditions where everybody will be prepared to contribute. I hope these approaches can help!”

Question 4: What are the key inputs leading to a compelling product story?

“Okay, so fun fact. A couple of months ago, I brought a storytelling coach into our Hotjar product team to help us train how to tell better stories. So what I’m about to say leans very much on that – also shout out to Neil Bearden who led that for us.

“One really important part is the medium of telling that story. When you're trying to articulate your product vision and the strategy that supports it, we tend to tell these stories to people in a way that works well for us. For some that might mean writing an internal blog post, for others that might mean making a video or a presentation.

“So, I think that great stories cross a ton of mediums. You might also create infographics to help bring your ideas to life. Or you might create a cartoon or like a little comic book sketch in order to help people find new, engaging ways for your story to land.

“Another part for a compelling product story is to remember an old acronym called ‘WIIFY’, or ‘What's in it for you?’. I think this is often the most simple, but overlooked part of sharing a story or narrative."

“So, for example: if I'm trying to work with my sales colleagues to help us bring a product to market, I'm not going to tell them why this feature is great. I'm going to tell them the customer problems that it solves in what context. That way, they can translate that into a narrative that will better land with their sales leads or in their product marketing materials.”

Question 5: Where a UX designer is absent or shared with multiple teams, how can product managers ensure proper qualitative and quantitative discovery work takes place?

“I think there are a couple of things we can do. First, we need to make sure the role of the product keeps a balance that feels natural, allowing you to constantly do discovery and delivery at the same time. This is popularized by Teresa Torres in all of her work around ‘continuous discovery’, which inspires what I share with you here.

“For me, discovery isn’t optional. Learning which problems to solve and making sure you carve out space to go understand those problems through user interviews, card sorting exercises, prototyping, or whatever flavor of discovery it might be, is what being a Product Manager is all about. That's half of what I expect from the product managers on my team.

“Something we do at Hotjar can help you too. Every quarter, we talk about objectives and key results. This kind of process will be familiar to many of you, with many objectives and results being really output-focused.

“At Hotjar, we also set discovery objectives. So, the expectation is that discovery won’t be sacrificed if the pressure's on and the clock is ticking toward the end of the quarter or month. You have to deliver because actually you're expected to make space for that discovery.

“So, I would encourage you to try to think of your own discovery objectives and the key questions you want to answer so you can discover enough to go deliver on them later.

“Another thing I would encourage—speaking from my own experience as a Product Manager before I moved into leadership roles—is that I never personally thought it was the responsibility for a UX Designer or a Researcher to do discovery. I considered that my own priority as a Product Manager.

“And so, despite having no formal training, I just started to find ways to answer questions that I had about discovery, I would look at subreddits on very specific topics to see what the discourse was. I would find people to interview myself and I did plenty of awful interviews where I'm sure I obeyed no good practices at all!

“But I never let my own naivety block me from trying to learn. I took ownership and accountability of my own discovery work because I thought that's what I had to do to get the job done. I can think of an example to explain it too...

“When I was at Skyscanner on the car hire team, I didn't really understand the offline component of a specific problem we were thinking about with renting cars. So I spent a week at the airport at the car rental desk, watching people.

“I didn't have to find any Researcher or UX Designer to go and do some interviews. I just went to our car hire partners, asked them to sit at the desk, and took notes all day. It helped me so much that I ended up bringing our engineering and design team there as well.

“So, I would say my most personal advice to you is to just get scrappy. It's the thing that helped me learn so much.”

Question 6: Was there ever a time where the product was going in one direction and the customer was going in another? How did you discover the drift and adjust course?

“I used to work at Skyscanner where I led our car hire business. Eventually, that also included airport transfers under this kind of ‘ground transportation’ umbrella.

“If I'm honest with you, car hire was not paying the bills. Like, it's called ‘Skyscanner’ and not ‘Streetscanner’ for a reason! But I loved working on the underdog product, and working in ground transportation gave me a ton of room to take more risk and to do some bolder experiments that might've been too sensitive for something like flights.

“So, coming from that background where I had room to take a risk with my product, I noticed that the way that people got around in cities when they were on holiday was changing toward micro-mobility, right? People were renting bikes. I live in Barcelona where we have these different scooter brands popping up that you can reserve on an app.

“I noticed that the way that people were moving around on their actual holidays was changing. So I wanted to really move into the micro-mobility and car-sharing direction. But what I recognized was that the core product and kind of the legacy at Skyscanner was that cars are an add-on to a flight. So it's not the inner city trips that you want to focus on.

“So, I saw this divide and we did some experiments around inner-city movement and mobility, and actually I was proven wrong. So my hunch about how people moved around in an urban environment and the fact that we should kind of pursue partnerships with more micro-mobility and car-sharing partners was just wrong.

“My instincts were off the perception of what was actually happening. So, if you feel like the product is moving one way and the customer is moving in another, go out there and do more discovery."

“Hopefully you don't overinvest in the beginning and you've run some lean and inexpensive experiments to validate if you're moving in the right direction or not. And hopefully, you learn faster than I did!”

Question 7: How would your mom describe what you do?

“I'm debating how personal to get here. So, I was raised by a single father and I don't have a Mom, so I'm going to replace the word ‘Mom’ with ‘Dad’. So, how would he describe what I do? Let's see...

“Until a couple of years ago, my Dad would probably say I do tech support to help fix laptops and confuse what I do with Apple’s Genius appointments. But maybe without the appointment part... like if people could call me any time.

“So, yeah, until recently I would say tech support. These days he would probably describe me as running a bigger team that does tech support.”

Question 8: What's the long-term product vision of Hotjar?

“With almost 1 million active sites, I'm sure there’s a long list of new initiatives going on. Let's see how much I can share with you here – that Hotjar would be proud of me for sharing in the spirit of transparency, but not necessarily like telling you everything so that there's no room for surprise when it happens.

“I would say that the long-term vision for Hotjar’s product is to move from a set of siloed tools into one collective experience that transforms user insights into business outcomes.

“For a long time, we've operated under the guise of seeing how people are really experiencing your product. But I would argue that we have to double down, not just on that, but also seeing how people feel when they experience your product.

“Over the years, we’ve learned that a combination of insights on behavior and emotion is what our customers are really looking for. So, we’re thinking about how to create a more cohesive experience that's less tool-specific and better encapsulates how people feel as they use your products, before sharing it in a way for people to easily build compelling evidence-based stories.

“We have a million sites using Hotjar and we’re collecting tons of insights. But all of that is just evidence for a product team to make a decision, to make their product better.

“So, giving you all of those ingredients in a way that you can put a great narrative together and sell your ideas in a way that’s clear and easy to convince those around you – that's where we're going."