The Commons Digest (08/24/2022)

The COmmons Insider Newsletter

The Commons Weekly Digest

Welcome to our Weekly Digest. Think of it like a TL;DR of the massive group chat that happens in The Commons community every day.

In this week's issue:

  • Meet Nick - Part ✌️: In part two of our chat with Nick, he dives into what it means to be successful in Product Ops
  • Learning at The Commons
  • The September Revenue Growth Sprint is officially full. Reply to this email if you want to secure an early spot in the Winter cohort
  • Core & Strategic Finance Sprint applications are open for September!
  • Your Weekly Level Up
  • ✏️ Practice Interview Question: Tell me about a time when you made a mistake
  • ✅ Community Reccos: Tunes!
  • 💭 Thought Starter: Commons Circles
  • 💡 Brain Teaser
  • 🚀 Community Share: Ultimate Web3 guide for Crypto Curious


Part 2: A conversation with Nick May, Product Sprint mentor and Staff Product Operations Manager at Tonal, on career paths in Product and what it means to be successful in a nascent function

To recap from last week, we sat down with Nick (one of The Commons' Product Sprint mentors) to talk about his pivot from hospitality to Product Ops at Shopify (then Tonal) and why he's passionate about mentorship.

This week, given his experience building Product Ops teams at both Shopify and Tonal, we thought we'd share his views on careers in Product, what success means, and how System and Product thinking plays a role. ⬇️

You spent your early career days in acting and hospitality. What skills were you able to leverage to pivot into a Product Operations role?
I would say in hospitality, especially in hospitality management, you wear a lot of different hats and you're interacting with a lot of different people, whether that be with other peers, coworkers, customers or other stakeholders.

A few of the restaurants I managed operated with a Board of Directors, which meant having an added layer of governance in how we reported on our financials and key deliverables. Knowing how to engage with the board is very different from how you would engage with the Head Chef, or even a customer. So knowing how to flex those different communication styles is an important skill that I took with me. In tech, and Product Ops in particular, you deal with a lot of different stakeholders. Really knowing your audience is incredibly important in gaining trust and being successful in the role.

Given the nascency of the function, how do you determine what it means to be successful in Product Operations?
It's tough when you have a blank slate in front of you. You can throw any sort of paint at it and it's going to look a little bit different, but is that good?

Efficiency is one of the biggest things I lean in to - making sure that our teams are operating at a rhythm that is comfortable for them, but also supporting them with what they need. Really knowing that the Product teams are getting what they need to gain alignment quickly is a way that I help measure my own success. For example, can we remove ambiguity, can we increase awareness of what they’re doing to drive faster alignment and approvals? And do our teams have the right tools to do their job effectively? You essentially want to keep finding ways to ‘out job’ yourself, by making sure the team has the right tools and rituals in front of them to enable them to move quickly. You want to make sure the team members have what they need to get through day one, two, three, etc. Then, you can come back and iterate to make an even stronger system.

And those efficiencies also apply to senior stakeholders as well - success for me also means making sure that audience receives the right level of information at the right times - including being looped in to help support teams through discussion around prioritization and resourcing to unblock and mitigate any potential roadblocks.

Ultimately, I want to make sure teams feel confident and comfortable, and that they're operating efficiently, knowing that unnecessary barriers have been removed.

How might Product Operations teams vary company to company?
When you look across companies, no company builds products in the exact same way. For example, when you take something like an agile framework for building products, nobody follows it exactly. In my experience, people take the best pieces of it and leverage what’s going to work for them in their circumstance. That means we end up with a lot of different perspectives on what the product development process or lifecycle should look like. Helping to codify that process so that there’s one framework that people can approach across the company is really helpful for teams. They can then understand where they fit into the puzzle and how they can help move through that process successfully.

How that ‘codified process’ will look company-to-company will be different based on their expectations, size and scale. Ultimately, Product Ops needs to be agile themselves to make sure that they're helping to fit the needs of the product teams, stakeholders, and ultimately the end-user the product teams are serving as well.

Can you talk about Systems and Product thinking and how those are important skills in Product Ops?
System Thinking: Having a really good sense of system thinking is an important piece of getting into Product Operations. That means understanding how an overall system works, how you can influence it and help change it, to make sure that you’re constantly iterating and making it better. But you also need to understand how it all fits into a bigger, broader system. It's easy to say ‘this is a process that we're going to implement’, but you also need to know how that process fits into the other systems. There will be other ways of working that are happening across the org, so it’s like trying to put together the perfect puzzle. It's not always going to be clean. And sometimes you're going to have to do things that are a bit piecemeal to get there. But having an end state in mind where one process or system flows into another is an important way to think about the work itself.

It's really easy to tackle really specific problems, but if you're only thinking about going really deep on something, you're not thinking about the broader picture all the time.

Product Thinking: Having a really good understanding of product thinking and how product itself works is important. Product Operations needs to understand Product Management. The two can’t work in isolation; they need to be joined at the hip to make sure that Product Operations is helping to support the needs of Product teams rather than just implementing change. Product Thinking helps to maximize the impact of Operations-focused teams. A friend of mine mentioned in a LinkedIn post that the best internal teams (Ops, Talent, Marketing teams, etc.) think and act like Product teams, which really resonates with me. For example:

  • They are clear on "why" they need to build or create something. They discover and diagnose issues and root causes.
  • They design out solutions and they think about user experience and the best way for their ‘product’ to be used.
  • They test and iterate. They get feedback to understand what works.
  • They are clear about what "success" of their solution looks like and they measure the performance of its ‘launch’
  • They iterate and adapt their "products" regularly

Lastly, what’s the difference between Product Management and Product Operations and what’s your take on the landscape for Product Ops roles?

Product Management needs to go really deep in their area of focus. They need to understand the way that product works inside and out. In contrast, Product Operations needs to be able to take a step back to understand the 10,000 foot view of the company, who all of the different stakeholders are, and what people across the company are doing. Their goal is to be a force multiplier and to do that, they need to connect the dots in order for everyone to have clear visibility into the path ahead.

This is a really exciting time for Product Operations. There are a lot of companies that are starting to hire for this role and there are a lot of companies that don't really know what they need out of it, but they've heard of it or have seen Product Ops people be successful in supporting the growth or optimization within a company. That means there’s tons of opportunity to step into these types of roles and choose your own path in terms of where you put your energy and how you can have an impact. For those ‘choose your own adventure’ type people, it’s a great path to be on because there's nothing but an upwards trajectory in terms of what type of value you can bring to a role like this.

Check out the full discussion with Nick here.

➡️ Missed out on our summer Product Sprint? Apply early to the October cohort to make sure you get a spot. You'll be able to tap into the community as soon as you join (even ahead of your Sprint). Apply here.

🪂 What's happening at The Commons

Upcoming events at The Commons:

  • Recruiting Round Table: Advice for Job-Seekers Going Through a Recruiting Cycle | Tuesday, September 6 @ 7PM ET | Community only - stay tuned to sign up in #general
  • NYC Tech Mixer: New Friends in Business & Tech - Hosted by The Commons & mentor Andrew Yeung | Wednesday, September 21 6-9PM | Open to all - Sign up here

Recent past events - community members, you can access recordings to virtual events on the platform:

  • NYC Mentor Dinner
  • The Commons Office Hours: Designing the Ideal Community Onboarding
  • Community Chat: Making the Move from Ops to Product with Tobin, Head of Growth & Product at Purified News

🚨Application Deadline Alert! 🚨

Looking to join The Commons? Your way in is through a Sprint. Apply to secure your seat below. As soon as you enrol, you'll be welcomed into the community (even ahead of your Sprint).We're currently reviewing applications for the following Sprints. Apply below.

  • 🚀 Core - kickoff is the week of September 19th

Sold out Sprints:

  • 🖥 Product - The summer cohort has officially kicked off. Secure your seat for the October Sprint now, ahead of our official Sprint drop.
  • 📈 Revenue Growth - The September cohort is officially filled. Reply to this email if you want to secure your seat early for the winter Sprint.


What the community is talking about...

Discussions in The Commons are prolific. Here’s a top one from this past week: evaluating runway at a startup 🛫

Community Ask: I have an interview tomorrow at a fairly small/new start-up that has financial runway for 2 years. I am seeing it as a bit of a red flag. How many years of runway does a start-up typically have?

Community Responses:
Tl;Dr: The general consensus was that 2 years of runway is generally pretty strong.

"I work in early stage investing, and for seed companies usually we'd see 12-18 months as generally healthy. 2 years of runway is pretty healthy imo and I'd feel comfort around the number especially with some signs of economic downturn. Curious as to why you're seeing it as a red flag? Lmk if you have any other questions :)" - Sarah

"2 years at their current burn rate, or 2 years including the additional cost of expected hiring growth? The later would be a very healthy metric IMHO." - Michael

"Big +1 to Michael's point. Raw burn rate also could be misleading. I have grown fond of the burn multiple, esp for early stage startups. Here is a good primer on it." - Saumil

"Outside of making sure this is 'normal', it's also a worthwhile exercise to see how it sits with you and to understand if it jives with your risk tolerance. It's such a personal decision that touches on so many factors in your life including just personal risk appetite, family considerations, etc. Always happy to be a sounding board!" - Loren

Missed the discussion? Community members, hop into Slack (below) to weigh in on the conversation.

Join the discussion

Your weekly level up ⏫

✏️ Practice Interview Question

Type: Behavioral
Question: What would you do if you received a last minute request, on top of your existing deliverables?
What They're Testing For: How you handle pressure, time management and prioritization.

🌟 Tips:

  • Don't just say - I'd stay up late and get everything done! That likely isn't realistic. While it might be good to show some grit (and a get-it-done attitude), be sure to balance that with how you'd prioritize (this will demonstrate that you'll not only grind it out, but you'll do so effectively). They're hopefully looking for smart workers, not just hard workers.
  • Be clear about how you prioritize - what factors do you weigh? How do you make a final decision of what's important to get done now vs. later? Be specific so that they can understand how this might translate into the role.

✅ Community Reccos

This week, with so many community members who WFH and thanks to a prompt from Laura, we're talking tunes 🎵

Here's a roundup of some highlights👇Pop into this thread for the full list!

💭 Thought Starter

Have you joined the #commons-circles channel yet? Two things are important to us: learning together + building relationships. We combined those elements and recently launched new learning experiences: The Commons Circles.What is a Commons Circle? A Circle is a small, interactive group of 8-20 community members with a common interest in a topic who meet on a set cadence (eg. 1X / week or every other week) to dive into that topic together. Think of them like book clubs but for career topics. You get to learn, connect with others on a deeper level and explore new topics and skills.Topics might include ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ skills like SQL practice; overcoming imposter syndrome; practicing case interviews or your product sense; moving from IC to manager or learning Python. Each Circle is facilitated by a lead, but each member is meant to contribute. Your lead will help curate resources to guide learning and discussion (eg. articles, podcasts or case studies).How to Join:

  • New Circles and open seats will be dropped in the #commons-circles Slack channel.
  • They’re small groups, so if you snooze you will lose!
  • If you see a Circle you want to join, put your name on the waitlist.
  • Currently, Circles are free to members of the community

How to Lead: If you want to create a Circle (open to mentors & mentees alike), DM Laura & Loren with your idea and we discuss together!

🧠 Brain Teaser

At exactly noon each day a scientist puts a bacteria in a petri dish. Every minute the bacteria divides in two. When it's at 1pm, the dish is full. What was the time when the dish was half full?Check here for the answer!

💡Community Share

The Commons community is filled with tidbits of advice and interesting shares, including a whole channel dedicated to our furry friends (because what's better than that?!). In case you missed it, here's a popular share from this week 👀

Link to article.

Thanks for leveling up with us!

If you want to chat about The Commons, text us at +1-416-619-9042 or jump on a call HERE.

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