Time flies when you’re innovating, and doing so at the intersection of user (customer) experience, business and (emerging) technology. Integrating into the system of product management is more than processes, data and advanced technologies, it’s the people that essentially ensure that there’s strategy for elimination decisions, de-risking and development for new products. And I’ve been fortunate to do this in an environment that is, as we’ve termed in the Labs, “inno-positive” for all this innovation to take place.
I joined the company as a contractor, specifically in the innovation and enterprise space. When I came on board, I did so as a project manager, the first one being the Land Hackathon that looked at how we can use emerging technology to create transparency with land administration and digitization of processes. The successful outcome of this project lead me to take on one of the biggest projects I’ve ever done, which was to lead the launch of the Thomson Reuters Labs™ - Cape Town in October 2016 with an incredible team and the support from our other global network of Labs. With the growth of the Labs, meant that so did the work, relationships, content and responsibility, and so did my role.
I then transitioned into the role of Innovation Programme Manager which leveraged on my experience in working with startups, being a dot connector with the network of the business to the data and innovation Labs and ensuring that we have a community that we can collaborate with when a particular customer-led opportunity came along, this across sub-Sahara Africa.
My expansive role now as Ecosystem Manager requires me to manage and build relationships that we have with customers, partners, ecosystem stakeholders and startups; being the connective tissue in engaging the business with Africa’s startup and technology and innovation ecosystem. With these relationships, comes the architecture of business innovation strategies that'll engage the work that we do, this externally and internally. Once these relationships are forged and the excitement of kickstarting to build a new product gets underway, it’s at times easy to get lost in the enthusiasm of it all.
Scope and Defining at High Level
Coming up with an idea can take a few minutes, days or hours of light bulb moments, connecting opportunities and challenges to existing products or product development is where product management begins. From the conversations, the idea needs to be defined, and usually organisations want a high level overview of the deliverables without scoping the project’s life cycle, but understandably, because cost and schedule for stakeholders involved is on the line. To work from this point of perspective (high level to granular) has usually worked in most cases, but each case is as unique as the innovation.
With the unique positioning of the Labs being to develop products that are customer led, engaging and gathering the voice of the customer is part and parcel of what drives impactful and creative business solutions. Corporate innovation requires a high frequency of customer centricity so as to experience and determining the feasibility of the product being worked on. Once the right customer representative is brought into the conversation and ideas are birthed, engaging them in (every) step of the process is ideal to having a successful proof-of-concepts proven.
Evangelise within the Company
The one thing that I’ve learnt with corporate innovation and working inside a large company, is that you cannot do it alone, especially in a network that’s over 45000 strong, globally. You need to know which departments, executive sponsors and in my case, Labs buddies (connecting with someone in other Thomson Reuters Labs across the work) to network and connect to. You cannot do it alone!
Product management is a team effort. It takes a corporate innovation village in order to ensure that we’re connected to the right markets, holding conversations with the right customer departments, partnering with the right internal teams, and so much more. It’s been an awesome year in product management, one with a couple of successes paired with failures that you learn to do very fast and pick yourself up again.
Here’s another year of innovation!
My time is currently being seduced by Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, the ultimate feminist intelligence-backed and manifesto for women in the world (who are fortunate enough to access this kind of resource) engaging their will in lead in the workplace and outside of it. The book is authored on the foundation of not only Sandberg and her experiences, but the data that supports the reality of feminism as much as it exposes the world’s commitment to keeping feminism as a promise, and nothing else. The reality is that in the workplace and outside, women’s voices are not heard equally, and the rallying cry of this book, is calling women (and men) to lean in.
It’s no secret that the space of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is a white, male dominated space, and in every capital technology city and corporate one encounters. This is why I’m obsessed with being a Mentor and Sponsor advocate – so many young women professionals need this knowledge sharing. A 2012 McKinsey report surveying more than 4000 employees of leading companies found that 36% of men wanted to reach the C-suite level of jobs compared to only 18% of women. Admittedly, I cringed when I came across this finding. Granted, not every woman aspires to be a CEO of a company, but for young ambitious women like me who would, representation matters, and we need more of them to be there and so that we can lean in. And, because of having such representation in my network, I ended up hacking my first lean in.
I had just penned my first resignation from a digital agency and wanted to immerse myself into a job and career with more of STEM and startup focus, not knowing that a responsibility of two months would lead me to it. Immediately after my resignation, I had an advisory meeting with my mentor, where I expressed to her my current state of thinking and the direction that I wanted my life to take. A few days later she told me about an opportunity to assist her at coordinating a hackathon for “a company, you’ll see it when we get to the meeting, but I know it’s right up your alley”, and indeed it was, also the company turned out to be Thomson Reuters (no biggie, right?). A week later my mentor received a call that she needed to be in London for about 5 weeks with Mozilla, and told me that she and my current boss had decided that they’re entrusting me to be capable enough to handle being the project manager of the hackathon. The first thing that went through my mind was nothing, because my insecurities arrested my mind, and secondly, it was a Thomson Reuters hackathon, were these two women insane? The fact that they, whom together have almost 45 years in the technology, product development, digital and innovation industries entrusted my capabilities to execute this job was eclipsed by my insecurity. You’d think with the experience they bring to the table, I’d trust their decision to trust me, and whatever potential they saw in me. I didn’t feel deserving, as though they were doing me a favour as opposed to deciding on merit. Sound familiar? I wanted to pay a penalty for my potential with doubt. I wanted to silence myself, even though I wanted to lead with ambition. The job I was entrusted with couldn’t house both feelings, something had to give.
It was the latter that I gave up. I ended up working with an incredible team of women (with one man on the team) who hacked my insecurities and enabled an environment of thriving and leaning in. The execution of the hackathon was a success and my nervousness to fail that was on cue, lost its way to my expectations of the two day event. Through the hackathon we managed to mine some great ideas about land transparency through ICT, trended on social media on both days and enriched both civil, private and public sectors through knowledge sharing and engaging with creative business solutions.
The opportunity was mine to lose. And to be honest with you, spending time with these two women in the two weeks we had before the mentors’ London trip, and hearing their vision for young, black women in STEM and the private sector, their discussions were the answers to what I would do if I wasn’t afraid. It was knowing that there had to be more to life than stereotype threats, and having the confidence and humility to know that the women who invited me to the table, entrusted me to lean in and lead. This is why I’ve created this platform, so that I could lean in, by sharing my experiences, thoughts and conversations as a young woman in STEM on the continent, we need more of us in this space, a more normalised picture of women leading in this industry.
I was 21, and orchestrated my first life hack(athon). It was the audition that opened the door to the job that I enjoy doing the most, being an Innovation Project Manager with an opportunity to engage with private and public sector, together with startups to innovate with the mission to add business value and create social impact.
Hack it till you feel it, and believe it. Then embody it, and run away with the will to lead, and to feel deservingly have your mark made.