Ensuring Alignment As You Navigate The Unknown


Ensuring Alignment As You Navigate The Unknown

Product Direction

They say change is inevitable; but change during an unprecedented period in history - no one can prepare for that. So as a product leader how can you ensure forward momentum for your organisation and provide alignment at this time?
In this talk, Deepika will talk through her learnings as she built a team charged with tackling the shifting requirements of supply chains platforms and eCommerce in this ever changing environment. She talk through her best practices on:

  • Leading with a tech mindset for traditional business models
  • The importance of communication; and
  • How to intentionally create a team that is adaptable to change and process oriented
Deepika Yerragunta

Deepika Yerragunta, Head of Platform Products,PepsiCo

I'll be the last speaker for the last day. So hang in there hopefully won't make it terribly boring. So the topic today was given to me was ensuring alignment as you navigate the unknown. And I think that with COVID, the last few years, all of us have navigated the unknown quite effectively. And we've learned some tools along the way. Some of these I think we have to carry for as we go through the next few years as well, I don't think it's going to go away. And what I did for this talk was abstract away some of the concepts of what made us successful at PepsiCo, and I wanted to talk about the concepts themselves. You know, it was really great listening to the last panel, I think a lot of these good issues were touched upon there.

But this is going to be almost like a case study getting a little bit deeper into an actual live example on how some of these tactics actually worked. So a little bit about me, why am I standing here and talking about this versus somebody else? I have got 20 years of experience, and I've also been a founder previously, and you know, I have a Master's in Computer Science and an MBA from Wharton. Not that any of this gives me a lot of credibility, I think doing is what probably gives me credibility. I've launched a lot of b2b products, b2c products, b2b, b2c products, in a variety of industries, my ADD has lent itself naturally into product management for different industries.

So what happened at PepsiCo, right? So I think a lot of you will relate to what was going on, I just wanted to kind of present some background on the problem itself that we were faced with, right? So I joined Pepsi about a year and a half ago. And the team at Pepsi that I joined was called the PepsiCo engineering team, which is almost like a start-up within Pepsi. And keep in mind that this team was built sort of an adjunct to the traditional IT within PepsiCo itself, right. And this is something that I've noticed fairly common to lots of East Coast companies where large businesses are supported by tech functions. And I use the word supported by very carefully here, because they are not used to tech leading them, right? And that's sort of a cultural change and mindset that Pepsi has invested in realizing that as consumers shift more and more online, we lead a new culture here of trying to lead the organization with the help of..... a successful case in point has been Amazon, right?

Amazon built its strength by selling, you know, basically books first and then moved into other categories, then built a logistics infrastructure then went on to build services. And so it became a $2 trillion tech company from being just another ecommerce platform and got some of the ambition that we have here at Pepsi, right now. So the three things that we faced were retail was shifting rapidly online, we knew this already. But the growth almost doubled. And by 2025, we're expecting it to really take over some of our physical retail, right? Which means that technology starts to play a huge role. Second, is COVID lead into a lot of supply chain constraints. We know a lot of this has to do with personnel being absent and so on, right, but what does that got to do with technology meant that we had to understand what were the constraints? And how could tech actually help solve some of these problems. And then the last was, people are used to doing certain things a certain way. And I can come here and drum roll and talk about product management as if it's the next best thing and nobody cares, right? These are executives in the company who know on how to sell their bread and butter businesses. And those are the ones that are actually turning the wheels. So they don't really think of tech as a huge investments. That meant that we had to build some thought leadership and conviction with these guys, to partner with them to understand them better, and then eventually make them understand why what we're saying this, right?

So this is sort of the problem that I walked into. But before that, I have to say, I knew nothing about supply chain. I knew nothing about the domains that I was going to work in, right? The curiosity of wanting to solve problems. And being sort of in this position of again, questioning the challenging the status quo really motivated me to be here. And I built my foundations and saying, Wow, I know nothing about the space and none of my team does either right? We just hired people who want to solve problems. And then we had to learn about the problem. And see it was such a new lens and bring that back to the team. So some of the things that I'm going to walk you today are, you know, lessons that you will see that we learnt along the way. Right? So the first step was, of course, building influence, right? This is one of the topics that I think is the most powerful topic for anybody in any capacity in an organization, right? Not just going to talk about product, product is a thankless job, right? We are, somebody had a tweet recently, where the salt in recipe of the salt is missing, then you know, something is wrong, you know. And I think that kind of sums it up appropriately, engineering can build things, at least they're adding some value. design reduces the time to build things, they're also adding value, product you know, it's kind of a bit of a loose definition. But I think when you really think about influence, influence is probably the foundation of good product management, but also important for everybody else.

So I do want you to walk away from here, thinking about some of the things I'm talking about. So the first thing that we really think about when you're thinking about product is building the social capital has effect on decisions, right? So it's important to start cultivating networks within the organization, because all of us have been hammered down continuously with the concept of let's talk about, you know, how data is important, how research is important, and so on. But nobody's addressing the value of the people that you're talking to also, right. And this is where empathy comes along. We've all heard about customer obsession, you know, empathy towards users, and so on. But what about you, when you're talking to the salesperson? What about when you're talking to the executive in the company that's going to sponsor your project? Right?

Who is the person who's going to influence that person? What is your social network look like? Right? And that's why it's important to start cultivating social capital within a company itself. Managers can now exploit those opportunities that the social capital brings up, right? Because you're here to solve problems, where do the problems exist? Somewhere in the back of the mind of somebody who was doing their day job has an idea or an insight, but he's never going to think, oh, let me go talk to this product manager, that's never going to happen. Right? So it's up to use to cultivate those sources, almost like your own little spy network that you have to build within the company. Right? So social capital goes a really long way. And I think it's vastly underestimated when it comes to building effective products. I use the Kardashians here as a example, because I think that the largest influence, where we have seen them be effective is by actually making their presence felt, right?

Authenticity and putting yourself out there will help continuously build some value in terms of you know who your networks are, you want to start pointing out to people within the organization who have a pivotal role to play, and cultivate them as your resources and encourage each of your counterparts to actually build that influence for themselves. Right? A lot of times, networking has such a bad name, you know, but it comes with such a connotation of, oh, this person is such a networker. It's such a negative thing, right? It's almost like spoken condescendingly and whispered tones. But I'll tell you, I went to Wharton, one of the key classes that I ever took. And if I still remember anything from my Wharton days is this class called influence.

It largely came down to literally teaching me how to play politics with a science, right? And it's important, right? You can't always rely on the merit of your idea. You can have the loudest voice, you can have the perfect amount of data. But if you can't convince somebody to implement your ideas, then you are actually lost. So some of these tools that I talked about today was about that, right? That's all not forget that influence is emotional. Right? So applying logos, which is lots of data, rely on quantitative data. Let's do research. Let's do a survey. Let's get quantitative and qualitative data on one end is irrelevant. But we talked about in the last panel, right? You can take data and make it sound like anything you want. You can you can have hypothesis, you can figure out some facts that actually support your data and you can talk about it. But the true value of how you influence somebody comes down to ethos and pathos as well. One is having ethos and pathos towards your customers. All right, perhaps they, you know, they know something that you don't even know. Or maybe, you know, something they don't even know, right? Let's I always call this the X Factor, right? So imagine the days when iPads came out, right?

We knew that we needed computers, we knew that we needed an iPhone, which had a large screen. But if you ever ask the user, hey, do you want a larger device with a larger screen? People can't even imagine that, right? Until the product manager was probably in charge of the iPad, or let's just, maybe it Steve Jobs, right? Whoever came out with that design sort of had this insight that here's something that could add value. That's not something that you could have ever gotten directly from a user. Right? So advocating and building that builds your gut and product intuition. So don't always have to rely on data, right? Building that gut and intuition and being able to talk to somebody because, hey, maybe you guys got drunk in a bar one day, or maybe you had coffee. And you know, we have less of those cooler conversations now, but the remote work being more ubiquitous, but you can build rapport, which has nothing to do with how you work, right. And that provides you the foundation to actually build ethos and pathos, and also have a conviction and passion for telling your story.

Why did the origins matter? Is it like, how do you think about this particular product having a larger influence? Convincing somebody means that you need to have those little techniques, right? Have the meeting before the meeting, don't go into the meeting with this big announcement and scare everyone, right? Give people some time to like, process, what you're talking about, cultivate some of those questions for themselves, and come back to you with more questions. And perhaps you resolve all of it before you actually even arrive at a meeting. Right? That's one of the most key techniques on how you can actually build your power within an organization. But by using a lot of the techniques that I talked about here.

I'll talk about, you know, what happened at PepsiCo, right? Credibility is based on performance, right? So we walked in, and we are these, this new organization, New Kids on the Block lots of energy, right, and we have our supply chain team struggling, okay, they're working day in and day out, they have. Just to give you an idea, we did X billion dollars just on the platform last year. So X million, our tiny team did that much number in like one year. And the capacity to deliver on these orders was on like, five people. And they were working day in and day out to make sure that those orders were right. And you know, when you think about ecommerce, right, or any kind of order management is relatively straightforward, you receive an order, you try to figure out if you can fill it, if you can you sell it out, and you get paid. If you can't do it, let them know that you can't. Right? That's it.

That's basically the premise here. But there's so many little complications that actually build up. So now we're doing stakeholder interviews, user research, shadowing, and having multiple questions, does this prototype work? Can we actually using all the product management techniques that we're all familiar with, right? Little low fidelity, wireframes, etc, etc.

18 different meetings in one week with the same you know, five people meanwhile, they're already struggling with whatever they're delivering on. So the executive sponsor comes to me and says, Deepika, we have to shut this down. I understand what you're building, but it's not really going to add any value if you keep disrupting my people. And very quickly, I realized that she was one of the key power holders, I needed to win her over to actually have any legs for my project. And we'd have nothing to base offering on we are starting brand new. And we needed them to help us with domain expertise and insights. I know nothing about supply chain I'm relying on the first thing that we did was identify two big quick wins, right? And we said these wins will be delivered very, very quickly. This is something a lesson that I learned very early in my career that the first 100 days, when you have a new boss, a new job, a new product, the first 100 days matter, right? Delivering on two quick wins that you can give them gives them a lot of confidence that you're actually going to give them something of value. So we focused on that, right?

So we wanted to build two big things. We said, okay, here's what we can do for the order management platform. So this is the iterative process, keeping it very agile, but providing very quick value as quickly as we could to the users. So we made sure that we kept our promise we had sort of an idea of when we would deliver until what phase we would deliver, we communicated that very clearly. And we said, everything else is going to be phase two. But here's phase one, and we can give it to you by me. Right? We did that. We did it for one customer, one of our largest, you could think of it the largest retailer, there is ecommerce. And then the followed it up immediately by adding to other customers. And we had a working platform that was working beautifully. And we had an iterative process once a week, we would continue to release features were never stopped, we would work with them, in a true close partnership, that that thrash that I was telling you guys about the 18 different meetings, that was cut down to like literally 130 minute call every week to check in with the users.

And also like ask them questions, or have them ask us questions. And immediately the response was fantastic, right? It was, wow, she listens first, right? Contrary to my personality, which is, you know, kind of dominating. And then they said, Okay, she listens, feedback has taken the actually respond very quickly. Most importantly, we gave them something of value. Immediately, they were results, right? And that helped us build some solid grounding in terms of credibility. So that's something that I think is really important to take away. If there's one thing you want to take away from the stock, I think the fact that credibility is based in performance is the most important thing to value. The next thing I want to talk about is how you talk about how you think about looking back, right?

So in this particular case, we needed a lot of looking back because we were learning, we were learning the foundations of the business, people delivering on things the business had told us, but truly where is the value, where is thought leadership of Product Management. If I know nothing about the domain, I've learned something now. Now's the time for me to start thinking about what could be done in the future. Right? And this is where I think our retro cultural help, right? My design leader on my team calls retros group therapy sessions, right? Literally, it's a place where we went. We talk about, you know, what went well, what didn't go well. What can we do better? What did we do that went better that we need to replicate again? And all of us are there in these calls? And retros are pretty exemplary, right? It's a very democratic process. Everybody has a voice. But also, there's a lot of nothing is swept under the carpet, we actually make sure that the voices are heard and issues are addressed right then and there. Right? And sometimes our rituals are like an hour long. And it really, really makes a big difference.

We take specific issue retro sometimes, or we'll just do a weekly retro for the all the parts together. And that has ensured that there's a clear like conversation happening all the time. And if there's Mia culpa, does Mia culpa, right, we are to blame. And we'll, we'll take it head on. As a leader of the organization, me and my counterpart in engineering, consistently strive for that, right, we want to give a lot of autonomy to everybody on the team, because we truly believe that we hire the best. And once we hire them, we don't want to be in their way, right, we really do want to empower them to make the right decisions. But we also set the tone of being very vocal and self critical in these meetings, so looking back often has helped us really understand what our flaws are, but also what our strengths are, and more importantly, cultivated a feeling of trust, especially when we're navigating so many changes, right? Our team has tripled in one year.

And we're continuously adding people and as your team's scale, how do you make sure that everybody is getting to say what they need to say and some folks are introverts, some folks are extroverts, the extroverts naturally, speak up, but there lots of value in turning around and taking a minute and say, hey, John, I haven't heard from you, what do you think? Right? And just giving them the space to actually speak up right. And sometimes these meetings get so large that they can be fairly intimidating as well. So we try to break it up into smaller pods and have you know, in pod discussions as well.

So, the next topic that I do want to talk about is communicating often, right? So I think what we have done really well is, internally we communicate, my team's work pretty well, in terms of communication. What we have realized is within the company itself, nobody knows who we are, right? So we have to constantly communicate outward. It's a little uncomfortable, I'll admit, right? But it helps a lot. We have sales teams we need to communicate with we have, because they're coming to us with priorities, with sales teams, everything needs to be done yesterday, and their customers are most important customer, and why should they wait for anything, right? So we understand the value of that, but showing them, hey, here's the roadmap, here are the OKRs that we've taken from a large organizational goal and broken it down. And making sure that those artifacts are available to them at any given point in a consistent manner, has helped us because then when they come to us with like a request that sergeant, we have to tell them, hey, here's a framework that we're trying to implement against, right? Everything is urgent, but we have constraints.

In a utopian world, if we didn't have any resource constraints, or no money constraints, we would do everything. But here's the framework that we use, and it's loosely you know, effort versus impact. Impact could be strategic or monetary, revenues, pretty straightforward for us. And then strategic is important because we live in a world where suddenly everyone wants 15 minute grocery delivery, right? And how do you adapt your current existing warehouses and distribution channels to be able to respond to those needs. So some of these businesses are burgeoning. They're all VC backed. So we don't know what's actually going to survive. So we don't know whether to invest in rapidly responding to all of them. But we want to strike a good balance, right? We want to support innovation, and we want to keep the needle moving forward. But at the same time, we want to be very considerate of our constraints.

So the effective communication channels for exactly these items, right? Roadmaps, alignment meetings, and process really helps, right? I used to resent a lot of process because I don't want to sit in one more bureaucratic meeting. But I've realized that if you done right, clear agenda, clear notes, who needs to be there. And please don't drag out meetings, right? If he had done in two minutes, I want to be done, right. And most of my conversations are like that, if they're about a 40 minute meeting, and I'm done making my point in five minutes, and everyone understood what we're trying to talk about, we hang up, right. And that kind of respect has really helped us fuel and keep an open door for conversations.

And I think these are my last few slides. So it does take a village. Right, so product is your baby. And we're all trying to collectively raise this child. And it's not like one person's job to actually launch something successfully. Right? When I was with Alexa, I remember, anytime we launched a product, I would get so many congratulatory messages from my friends. And I was responsible for it. And I'm, I'm like, there are 10,000 people in this org, right? But for some reason people hone in and say, Oh, congrats, I saw that you launched this like, okay. But, you know, the same goes for like the fault of it. Right? If something breaks, am I going to say oh, yeah, something broken? Alexa, I'm the one to blame for it. No, right. So it goes back to that same statement. So when I talk about how do you build relationships with this village, right? Some techniques that have helped be very generous, right, which is, don't wait for you to actually, you know, get something from somebody before you actually return the favor.

Do something for people announce their wins, make them part of your wins, right? And you know, engender a culture of trust, assuming that hey, I'm, you know, this is the culture that I'm part of, I'd like you to be part of my village too. And this has gone a long way in establishing loyalty with people, outside of our org inside of our org. And I think Pepsi, frankly, amongst all the companies I've worked for is a very, really fun culture. Lots of collaborative effort. Of course, collaboration comes with its own challenges, right? No decisions getting made sometimes. And so that can be frustrating. But usually Pepsi is a very, very fun culture where there's a lot of open communication, lots of trust being built in the way we interact. with each other, as everyone gives you the chance to win. So you start with giving people you know, a star on their forehead, right? And if they fail you, then you have the conversation on how what can they do to regain your trust back. But our goal is always to keep marching towards, you know, a shared vision and communicating that vision sharing success, sharing failures, I think, all is part of building that reciprocity and loyalty. So I do want to talk about looking at the future, right?

So what are some of the things that we can think about? As we build all of this and where does product management play a big value, right? While everyone's heads down developing what's important right now for the business, there's so many changes happening in the market that somebody has to keep an eye on it, right? Competitive friends, you can borrow ideas from other fields, you can think about what your company, you know, competition itself is doing. You can think about, you know, even in your own business, right, Pepsi's business is very unique, we have a lot of our own strengths built, which I can't imagine other companies have right now. And what we're trying to do is super innovative, right? Like we're trying to merge new start-up ideas into what we're trying to do and change the way Logistics is done completely. And that's, I think, very unique to our value proposition. So innovating from within the organization means questioning certain things and being bold about it and saying, Hey, I don't know what I'm talking about. But can you help me answer this question?

And I've noticed that when you admit that you don't know what you're talking about, but you're giving them the respect to saying, you know, you've been in this business for years? Can I ask you this dumb question, but turns out, you're now giving them a fresh lens of how you're viewing certain problems, right? So that's, I think, the last thing I want to leave you guys with executing relentlessly and then announcing your wins, right? Again, as I said before, it's very uncomfortable to brag, right, and you don't want to continuously brag, but when we're in this remote zoom environment, if you're not repeatedly stating what you've done, and how you've done it, and what your vision is repeatedly, right? In meetings and conversations and having the same consistent language towards it, you're not registering, right? Like my attention span is of a five year old right?

Now, if you don't get to the point in the first five minutes, you've already lost me, right? And in that case, repetition helps or having something to look at helps, and saying, Hey, I had a vent here. And here are all the people responsible for that when matters, right? We have internal recognition tools, which help a lot in this case, but just putting it out there in the form of an email or a Slack message, having a group channel where you can celebrate each other's wins. But also make sure that other people know what you're up to, right? What is your team working on, really helps when navigating this gigantic, cross functional organization.

The second thing is, yeah, focus on strategic wins, right? Strategic wins help with moving the product forward in a way that you didn't imagine that it could happen. And you're now helping your leadership start to think about, hey, these are the wins that we could have, that we didn't even think about. Again, that's I think, strength of Product Management.

And last one is really focus on your organizational goals, right? Our leadership is responsible for certain p&l, there is money to be made here. And if you're not making money, you don't want to be a strategic organization. Because come recession and you know, your organization is the one that's going to get caught. So think about what the organizational goals are. And make sure that you're hitting those right, you're doing everything in your capacity to hit those along with it. You have to hit these other things that I talked about.

So yeah, lastly, I think, you know, we are hiring so please ping me and I write a sub stack which I have not been writing, but you know, please contact me there. And I'm available on all social media pretty much with that handlebar Deepika. I want to pause here. And if you have any questions, please feel free to ask now or like we'll find some time after. Thank you.

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