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Product Hero: Jacquelle Amankonah

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Product Hero Jacquelle Amankonah
Product Hero is our bi-weekly series to highlight outstanding members of the product management community. These industry leaders share tips on processes, team building, how to be a better product manager, and who they are outside of their careers. This week our product hero is Jacquelle Amankonah, Product Manager at YouTube.

C. Todd: I am here with Jacquelle Amankonah from YouTube. Thank you for joining us, Jacquelle.

Jacquelle: Of course. Thank you for having me.

C. Todd: Could you tell us about your role as a Product Manager at YouTube and how you got there?

Jacquelle: Sure thing. I’ll start with my education. After earning an Entertainment Business degree during my undergrad at USC, I also wanted to pursue something that would allow me to demonstrate strong critical thinking and logic skills. I had always found those in particular to be very valuable in business early on. I ended up receiving a Master’s in law and philosophy, which, when combined with the business acumen I had made it so that when I encountered any situation that called me to prove something or build a compelling argument, I would have the logic skills and effective persuasion skills to do so. I have to say it actually has come quite in handy, as I leverage many different aspects of this day to day.

I also went to law school to learn more of the intricacies around the legal side of the entertainment business, which comes up a lot in my work. Not only do I find it incredibly interesting, it has equipped me with the ability to help guide others through certain restrictions and limitations within our work to navigate tricky areas.

C. Todd: Having the ability to hear and deconstruct arguments is very useful in product. Can you give an example of how those skills have helped you in the product world?

Jacquelle: Yes, as a product manager you have to prove your case for why we should make a certain decision or not. If you don’t back up your idea with facts and data, and only rely on intuition, most people will not take your argument seriously, and I’ve witnessed a few instances of that. Once was when we were prioritizing a set of features in a new product we were launching. We had packaged together some features based on intuition but then realized another use case started bubbling up as a top priority in the industry. So we were wondering if we should de-prioritize some of those packaged features and instead answer this new user need. Enabling that was the win, and the industry and usage data completely backed up our eye and presumption. Without this data, it could’ve been seen as an unsubstantiated call.

Without us understanding how we need to actually break down the assumptions that we were making and validate or invalidate them by speaking directly with YouTube creators and viewers to understand if and how they’d use the new feature and observe in practice, I’d say we wouldn’t have ended up at the right choice. This was a very distinct situation that utilized in the logical skills that I’d earned.

C. Todd: I love how everyone at YouTube talks about creators and viewers and you don’t talk about them all as users. Tell me more about that mindset at YouTube.

Jacquelle: They’re completely distinct audiences. Of course, most creators also watch YouTube. However, the intentions of the viewer and the creator are different and, more importantly, the needs that a viewer has versus the needs the creator has are completely different. Of course we have an eye for the entire scope of things, but we have teams that focuses on creator research, viewer research, and community engagement – all of the different aspects that we are hitting impact both groups very distinctly.

C. Todd: I’m curious, how do you measure the success of your products in light of those two different user types?

Jacquelle: In a few different ways. On the creator side, what’s very important to us is their satisfaction. We have something called CSAT, meaning creator satisfaction. We aim to make that metric high as possible. Creators are the lifeblood of the product. We measure our success by how satisfied creators are with their ability to get done what they need to on YouTube, such as building a community, making money, expressing themselves creatively, managing their brand, and more. Are we giving them the tools that they need to proceed? Are we clearly articulating strategies that they can use in order to grow on YouTube? That’s a big metric for us on the creator side.

On the viewer side, we track usage, daily active viewers, how much engagement we see, among more. Another key one, particularly as a video platform, is watch time – which is how many hours of video are viewers watching on any given day, week, month, year etc? We also make sure creators are aware that this metric is important to us. Of course, people are trying to have subscribers and views to be as high as possible when they are working on their channel since that’s what they’re being judged on by their community. Though we make it a key point to share with creators the importance of optimizing watch time for their channel growth and to keep viewers watching and returning.

C. Todd: I’m curious, for our readers, the CSAT score. What are the mechanics of that, is that a simple survey? Tell us a little bit more about how you actually go measure satisfaction?

Jacquelle: We have a number of surveys that we send to creators at various frequencies and with various types of questions. We also make sure that we cross check that data in conversations with creators to uncover more context about ‘the why’ behind some of the things that they’re telling us in there. Then, we dig into any variances we see between different groups or different verticals. Perhaps a music creator feels differently than a gaming creator, why is that? We aim to really dive in with our creators so we can hear in their own words how well we are hitting the mark with them as a platform and where we still have opportunity to support them even more.

C. Todd: I saw you give a talk recently and you mentioned the Creator Voice Report, is there a relationship between that and the CSAT score?

Jacquelle: They go hand in hand, as the Creator Voice Report was aiming to gather all of the things that creators are telling us throughout our external wider forums to make sure that we are doing and prioritizing the right things for the company. We want to make sure that there’s no instance where we’re developing in a vacuum instead of looking at the key needs our creators are voicing to us, so we can make sure we’re building the platform according to that.

Now, by having this report to bring light to this type of feedback, we are able to build features in ways that speak directly to creators’ voiced desires.

The report started as an idea: “Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we just start something that achieves this?” We began with just a doc to gathering some data, now it’s evolved into a report that’s reviewed on a regular basis with our CEO. The main goal is to make sure that we’re all, from the bottom on up, in the loop with the latest pulse of our creators’ needs.

C. Todd: You get a lot of this feedback from your creators and your viewers, but also as a product team you must have some ideas of your own that you want to implement. How do you then pull this together and determine what your product roadmap is, and what does that look like at YouTube? How do you process all of that to determine what goes on it?

Jacquelle: This is a very timely question because my whole day was spent around just this. We cannot do anything or make any decisions without having the perspective of our creators and our viewers. We use that as not only a data point, but as a starting point for us to determine whether we can balance this priority with our business priorities as well. Maybe there are things that we find are hard for creators or viewers to articulate, but we realize that if we act on this certain technology we can solve a need very efficiently for them. We aim to validate that. I often ask: If you could have a magic button to  completely automate any task on YouTube, what would you want that to be?

Then, we build a prioritized list, a roadmap. We have to make sure that everything we want to do, all of these great ideas, are cadenced in the right way. We have, let’s say A-Z that we want to develop, it doesn’t make sense for P and B and Y to come out at the same time. Instead, we need to have P, R, and S come out at the same time. Those are the types of things that we aim to balance so that we have a very clear and cohesive story to the end user. Even if they’re built on different teams, we all have to work together to make sure we are making one choice as YouTube.

In developing a roadmap, all of those nuances have to come into play. What do we have time to do? What can we make time for? How many resources do we have? What are the most pressing needs from our users? How can we make this happen in a technically interesting and innovative way? Then we do all the evaluations and we end up with a cadence of flows that work. If we’re able to deliver an experience smoothly end-to-end within our product, that’s our aim. Then we continue to uplevel the experience and build out other user journeys to make sure it’s just as smooth.

We have to first get the foundation right, then we have the right path to build additional amazing features on top of that.

C. Todd: How often does your team carry out the product roadmapping process? How long does it take to pull a roadmap together?

Jacquelle: We have OKRs, standing for objectives and key results, that we use across Google. Most teams use OKRs quite heavily. We use this to take a step back in our business to understand what went well, where we still aim to grow, and then define specific goals on how we’ll achieve and measure that. Where are we still missing key opportunities? What is the industry going? What big bets do we want to make in the next quarter, next year? Those can be anything from small changes to complete revamps of the team’s product suite.

Let’s say I want to make sure that users can find the best music to upload with their videos. Then we determine, what are the key results of that? I want to make sure that this new feature results in XYZ, such as people using this new feature three times a week or on 80% of their videos. The amount of acquisition that we get, number of creators are using this, or reaching a certain satisfaction goal are all good examples of key results.

The end of the quarter is spent aiming to make sure we achieve those goals. We take a look back and see how we did and we grade ourselves. We set ambitious goals. Even if we hit 70% of what we set out to do that’s actually a big win, but we knew we wanted to be ambitious about it.

We definitely aim to iterate again and ask, now that we’ve achieved that, how can we build on that for the next quarter. In addition, there’s larger roadmaps for over the next two years. How are we going to get from today to the two year north star vision that we have set out? We map those plans from there.

Of course, you go back and things change as new priorities come up – users may feel a different way, there’s this new need in the market….you have to constantly be on the cusp of revising what that is. Without plans and context, it’s hard to take any action.

C. Todd: It sounds like OKRs are essentially what the roadmap is. Does that serve as the roadmap or is there another artifact or output that’s actually created that’s the more detailed roadmap?

Jacquelle: It depends on the team, but I’ve typically seen the OKRs as the first step to building a roadmap. Or, some teams can build a longer roadmap first, then break them down into OKRs. There will be a roadmap that essentially maps out on a project level, here’s how we’re going to get from V0 to V3. From point A to point B. From X to Y metric increase. Etc. Then using OKRs, we define how we’ll stay true to executing this roadmap.

C. Todd: What are some of the top challenges at YouTube that you’re working on right now?

Jacquelle: What I’m thinking about is how we can reimagine the set of tools that we have on YouTube to help creators grow, manage their presence, and build their community in the most effective way possible. We have a number of things on YouTube that speak to this today, and they all come together in a suite of tools to make sure that we are hitting the most critical needs that creator has in their time as a YouTube creator. Are there gaps that we aren’t addressing for a creator where they find themselves having to go somewhere else to perform some long-winded method to get something done? Then we see a need to automate our systems.

We also want to make sure that the teams across YouTube have a strong platform to be able build innovative features that reach these creators. How can we even partner internally to make sure that we’re building a strong foundation for what we can provide to creators? We’re now developing a roadmap to be able to meet those needs in a much more powerful way so that we enable creator growth, to make sure they have the most effective, powerful, easy, and intelligent set of tools to grow their audience on YouTube.

C. Todd: Given that you mentioned working across different teams at YouTube. I’d be curious to know, what’s the makeup of a YouTube product team? How do you interface with different areas, whether it be products, design, engineering, data, etc.? What does that construction and interaction look like for developing new products?

Jacquelle: We are organized by feature area vertically and then horizontally we have product managers, engineers, UX designers, and a number of roles in between to make our product execution come to life. In addition, we have an entire business side of the organization that make sure that our products remain healthy, liked, noticed, and supported. In terms of the vertical, we have a number of core things that focus on growth of the platform, then we have a number of areas that focus on the newest investments, such as our subscription service YouTube Red, Live, VR, Music, Kids, for example.

We also have a creator app, the YouTube Creator Studio App that is meant for YouTube creators to have a place where they can get their priority needs done on the go. As a creator, you make sure that you understand the latest of your channel, can quickly edit your channel needs, engage with your fans consistently, and more. It’s an area that we’re aiming to continue to optimize as well.

C. Todd: When you think about all the conversations out there around product and product management, especially given that you’re in Silicon Valley which is a real hotbed for tech product managers, what’s missing in the conversation for product managers right now?

Jacquelle: I want a more clear way for us to reconcile the qualitative data with the quantitative data. When they are at odds, what do you do? I still think it’s a question that we re-answer every time it comes up. It’s often that your users say something that they want, and then the data shows that they don’t actually behave like that, so why are they telling us that they want it? We have to re-invent how to massage that in a new way every time. I wish there was more conversation around how to approach those situations. What are best practices in those instances? I can imagine everybody deals with that quite often, so I would love for us to come together as a group and talk about that. Again, I just may be missing out on the gossip.

C. Todd: Last question: What advice would you offer for some of our readers who are new product managers or looking to become a product manager?

Jacquelle: The biggest favor you could do for yourself is to execute ruthlessly, and always ask questions of everybody. Not only of your users, but also to your engineers, your designers, fellow product managers, and executives – ask the tough questions. Don’t leave things on the table if you have something on your mind and don’t leave a meeting with unanswered questions without a specific route on how we’ll solve them. You’ve got to get to the bottom of things. I’d say “do the right thing” is a mantra that we always use at Google. Another way to interpret this is you have to make sure you are prioritizing the right things for the right users at the right time. The right thing is making sure your users are growing in happiness, and the rest should follow.

C. Todd: Jacquelle this has been really insightful. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with our readership. You are what we consider a true product hero.

Author C. Todd Lombardo

C. Todd brings his vast experience in design, innovation, and strategic thinking to craft smart, impactful solutions that radically transform our clients’ business strategies.

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