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Creating Balance between Product Managers & Engineers



Vidya Nagarajan shares her story from the experience she gained in her 19 years of working in the Tech industry. She talks about the lessons she learned along the way, what she wished she had known and how she used various techniques from her toolkit to keep everything in balance.


Vidya Nagarajan heads product management for Google’s Identity-as-a-service product in Google Cloud. She was responsible for consolidating Google's leadership with Chromebooks in the Education vertical through online assessments. She founded the area of embedded ChromeOS platform with kiosk mode that powers dedicated/purpose-built devices such as kiosks, meeting room hardware and digital signs.

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Nagarajan: I hope you will be inspired by some of the stories that I'm hoping to share with you today, along with the lessons that I have learned along the way in my journey. I'll also be going over some tools that you can possibly consider incorporating as you work within your own teams. I also want to throw out this disclaimer that all views are my own and they are not representative of any organization.

Please raise your hands if this looks kind of familiar. I think all of us are going through this in our everyday lives as we go to work. This constant tug of war eventually results in a breakage in the bond within the teams and really has an impact on the type of outcomes that you want to achieve as you go about work and you go about achieving meaning in your life.

On April 1st, 2004, Gmail was launched, and the world thought it was an April Fools' Day prank. Users absolutely were delighted by this service. In 2006, a small team within Google thought that users absolutely loved services like Gmail, Calendar, Docs, and they thought, "How wonderful it would be if we could actually bring all these services together and we can package it and make it available for schools?" Thus arose the concept of the product which we called then as Google Apps for your domain.

Around this time, in 2007, there was another company in the Bay Area called Genentech, and Genentech was going through their own internal struggles and challenges with their own internal calendaring system. They approached Google with the concept, "Can we bring the consumer Google Calendar product that you have to the large enterprise?" Thus began Genentech's journey into the cloud and Google's foray to bring their productivity and collaboration suite of tools into the enterprise.

Genentech was an early adopter of Google Apps, and if you actually look at the two companies, Genentech and Google, they have very similar cultures. Both are rooted in innovation, they have growth mindsets, and so, now, Genentech and Google, they really collaborated together. We worked really closely together to understand the problem space, to understand what were their challenges, to understand their specific and unique requirements and how those unique requirements can be integrated into the Google Calendar product. We also worked really closely to determine if they were migration best practices as well as change management methodologies, because we're now actually migrating users from an old system into a new system and a new way of working. There was a lot of tight partnership and collaboration going on.

Let's Understand What Happened Here

Everything looks good so far. However, it was not that easy. Back in 2007, Google was primarily a consumer company, and the engineers were focused on strengthening the core consumer product. They were working on building features to augment Google Calendar as end users and consumers would use it. Even though Genentech was highly attracted to Google Calendar because of the fact that users loved it, it was a cloud-based technology, users could access Google Calendar from anywhere and from any device, there were gaps. The early product really catered to schools and small/medium businesses, but there were gaps related to making the adoption of the product to every user segment and user group within the organization difficult.

Here, I was a deployment manager at the time, and my job was to work with the engineers, to work with the customer, and to work with different cross-functional teams to influence change, to prioritize these as tasks, and in general, to make it all happen. We had the engineers working on the consumer features and we had to prioritize specific tasks like getting features related to the admin assistant user group who wanted to make sure they can easily delegate access to Google Calendar for their executives. It was a huge challenge to prioritize those type of use cases and asks.

In hindsight, thinking about this journey, it could have been easier. However, we never really had any established frameworks or processes for defining how conflict management happens, how prioritization happens, or how decision-making happens. It was all missing. In the end, all turned out well, but it really, indeed, felt like we had won an Olympic after Genentech migrated all their 17,000 users over to Google Calendar over a weekend, and they even deployed fun Google guides to make this process easy for them.

I want to talk about a second scenario. This was the year 2013. Around this time, ChromeOS had already been launched, and it was used by schools and it was used by consumers. Users loved Chromebox for their speed, simplicity, and security. Users also loved Hangouts at this time. It seemed that the time was right and it was a great opportunity to bring two products, ChromeOS as well as Hangouts, together and to democratize access to video conferencing technology for anybody so that anybody can have access to this at a low price point.

On February 6th, 2014, in less than 8 months, a new product family was launched, and we took it to market. What was really interesting is this is probably one of the most challenging projects that I have been involved in which involved a lot of technical and organizational complexity. It was a project which involved product areas such as communications, ChromeOS, G Suite, and internal Google [inaudible 00:07:03]. All these different teams worked in different geographies, and they have their own priorities. It was most important than ever to make sure that we defined a shared vision and we communicated and rallied the support for this shared vision at multiple levels and across various functions so that everybody had a common understanding of what we intended to do.

We also worked together to establish a prioritization framework. We defined what were the expectations. We managed those expectations. We also specified, "This is what the initial MVP, the minimum viable product, is going to look like, and what features it would encompass." We ensured no scope creep happened, which is very common feature scope creep. Then, in addition to this, it was also important to balance the expectations of our internal and external partners, whether it's go-to-market teams, channels, sales, hardware vendors like Asus and Logitech, and then take care of logistics and supply chain, and then validate the initial product with our external customers to make sure that the MVP product actually worked. In the end, as you can see, it was a really challenging project, but in spite of it all, we were able to get it out to the market on time, with much fanfare, and it met the expectations of our users and customers.

My Journey

Before I talk about specific details related to these two specific scenarios, I wanted us to walk through my own journey. I have been in the tech industry for the last 19, close to 20 years now, and I first started as an engineer. I worked in a startup where I donned multiple hats, played many roles. What I realized is that my real calling was to work with users, customers, people, gather requirements, influence change, and thus feeling very empowered, I moved on to a bigger company, which was a mid-sized company. In this mid-sized company, I took on a role in operations and services. From there on, I moved to a similar function but in a larger company. That was Google. What I was blown away at that point was the extent of innovation and the growth. We soon completely outgrew ourselves, and very soon, we became a really large enterprise. One common thread that you observe, as you look through my journey, is that it has all been around I being the glue which links and connects engineers, customers, users, different cross-functional teams. It is an environment with very high organizational complexity.

Traits of a Product Manager

I want to talk about what are the typical attributes or traits that make a product manager successful. What are the motivations? How do they think? How do they approach problems? I'd like to hear from all of you first, what do you think are some of the traits that possibly make product managers successful?

Participant 1: Open-minded.

Participant 2: Empathy.

Participant 3: They don't just do what's asked of them.

Participant 4: Think out of the box.

Participant 5: Outcome-oriented.

Participant 6: Product vision.

Nagarajan: This is all good ideas. I want to solicit ideas from the group. I want to see if my list matches yours.

Participant 7: How about commercial mentality? Being able to understand some of the commercial benefits.

Nagarajan: You mean the business value. Ok. This is all great and it very closely matches with my list. This is, by no means, an exhaustive list. I've just come up with some of the top strengths that I've seen over the years that can be really effective as you work in teams.

First is a successful product manager is a visionary, somebody who can think the big picture, who can provide clarity as to why this big picture is important, and how you can connect the dots. They need to be a storyteller. You need to be able to tell great stories, and these stories need to be catered to different types of audiences, whether it's talking to leadership, talking to engineers, talking to your partners, talking to external teams. You need to figure out what is the right story you're telling to keep the teams motivated.

Influencer without authority - product managers have no authority, but they need to influence and get things done. Prioritization-driven - they need to be able to define frameworks to prioritize. If you're not able to prioritize, you're never going to launch that product to market. It's got to just be a product that gets launched maybe 10 years later. Data-driven, analytical - everything needs to be backed with data. The more you are able to show data, be metrics-driven, the more you can influence that change that you're looking for. Lastly, I think, in my list, they are the voice of the customers. They need to have that user and customer empathy, what does the customer want so that this will really meet the needs of the product that you are looking to build and launch.

Traits of an Engineer

Similarly, since there are lots of engineers in the room, what do you think are some of the traits of a successful engineer?

Participant 8: Get it done.

Participant 9: Good communication.

Participant 10: Logical.

Participant 11: Problem solver.

Participant 12: Systems thinking.

Participant 13: Creativity.

Participant 14: Detail-oriented.

Nagarajan: Detail-oriented, I have that in my list, yes. Ok, great. Let me tell you what I have. Again, by no means exhaustive, but the top things that come to my mind are very technical, subject matter expert. You're the expert in your subject. They focus probably on depth rather than breadth. They can go laser-focused in one area. Limited customer visibility probably, they don't have much information about the customer, and therefore, they rely on their counterpart, the product manager, to get more of that visibility to why they're doing what they're doing. Detail-oriented - lot of attention to details. Analytical and data-driven everything is about data. They need to rationalize it, they need to analyze this.

How to Make This Work?

We have seen some great unique strengths that a product manager has and an engineer has. How do we make sure that this partnership really works? Some of the things that I have seen can be very effective when product managers communicate with engineers are, one, the product manager needs to be able to communicate the big vision, the big picture. Why are you doing this? Why does the engineer have to build this feature and make this, build this feature in this certain way for the users to use it?

They need to be able to define a clear prioritization framework. Often, engineers can get into the weeds and they will not be able to assess the risks of the different solutions being proposed. They may just want to say, "I need to close every possible gap in the product before that perfect product can be launched." It's very important to clearly define what that framework and criteria for prioritization is and prioritize.

Third, empower. The product manager needs to provide an environment of safety and empowerment for the engineers so that the engineer has the power to then get things done. Once they are empowered, they will own it and they will get it done. Lastly, everything is backed with data. It's all about data-driven decision-making, because engineers are highly analytical. If, as product managers, we don't provide data to back it up, it's not going to be convincing.

Similarly, engineers can probably be very effective with product managers if they structure their communication along the lines of, one, establishing business value. I think somebody mentioned that in this room. This is extremely important, because oftentimes, engineers can work on certain pieces, like they may refactor code or they may start eliminating technical debt. As part of doing those work streams, if you are not able to communicate to the product manager how does that particular work that you're doing tie in with the larger business value for the organization. If you're not able to communicate that value, you then get lost, because then, there is constant conflict and tug of war between the two sides. That is very important.

Second is ownership and accountability. Once you build a team and once the engineer has been empowered and they have the ownership, they are accountable to make sure that it gets done. There is no micromanagement going on here. They should get it done as a team.

Then user empathy. Engineers typically have limited customer view. However, it's very helpful if engineers can visit customers, meet the users, along with product managers so that you can actually see how the consumers or users of your product are actually using your features. It may kick off your creativity juices in figuring out other ways to make things easier for your users. Again, they are very analytical, so everything is back to data. The more both sides talk to each other with data and metrics, it's going to make things a lot easier.

Cohesive Teams

I want to quickly touch on teamwork. This is a particular model from Tuckman back in 1965, but can be very useful on actually defining how teams go through different stages of evolution. I'll also tie it back to how it touches on the scenarios that I described earlier.

A team gets together, they are formed, and then once they get the different individuals get together, each person has their own unique perspective and their own unique motivations and their own unique agenda. It's very important to encourage diverse perspectives in the team to be more inclusive. This is really the storming phase when people are getting to know each other, understand what they want, what's in it for them.

Quickly, once you get to the storming phase, you now need to define some norms. You now need to define some shared goals, some shared vision. You want to align that, tied back to why this is important for the organization, why is this important for the organization's goals and vision. Then, once you define that operating procedure or operating manual, if you may call it, then the team can really start performing. They get to the performing stage where, you are really working together, you have ownership, you have accountability, you're working in an environment of safety, and you really start performing. You become a high-performance team, and you can actually then launch. Then, once the project ends, you're actually in the final adjourning stage where the team gets disbanded and the members move on.

In the two examples that I gave earlier, the first example with Genentech and Google, we probably never moved beyond the storming phase. We never really defined frameworks for prioritization, so we just got stuck in the storming phase. In the second scenario, we navigated all the phases very effectively. We started and we formed and then we launched this product well within timelines.

Decision Making and Conflict Resolution Framework

Here is another very important concept as you look at building inclusive teams, and it's this whole notion of how do you define frameworks for decision-making and conflict management. Oftentimes, people look at these three circles of problem-solving, decision-making, and conflict management as separate topics, but they're all highly interrelated. It's very difficult to talk about one in isolation of the other, and the reason being that teams involves people and people are highly complicated human beings where emotions are involved. The reason emotions are involved when something matters to you, emotions are involved. The goal of conflict management is how do you actually bring those emotions under control so that, you take the person from an emotional state to a more rational state. I'll give an example for a situation.

Let's consider we have two parties, again, product manager and engineer. They're now working on a project and they get into this notion of analysis paralysis. They analyze it to depth, and they're now in a gridlock. Neither party is willing to budge, and absolutely, no progress is being made. Typically, in such scenarios, and the example here is the engineer is saying, "Ok, I need to build this platform, but for me to build this platform, I need to know the vision for the next five years." The product manager says, "It is going to be very difficult for me to provide a vision for the next five years, because the market conditions are rapidly changing and new use cases are constantly evolving, and in this rapidly changing world, it's going to be just impossible for us to anticipate every possible use case."

Therefore, as an engineer, you need to build the platform in such a way that it's really agile. We need to have reasonable confidence in the type of solutions that we are proposing for our end users or consumers of the platform and be willing to continually assess the risk of some of the decisions and course-correct as new use cases emerge, but try to course-correct in a way that it's not very expensive." If you think about this, both sides have their own perspectives which are very reasonable. Both sides have very reasonable perspective, and they're looking at it from their own positions. The way I would address this type of a gridlock scenario is by actually considering frameworks and processes for both decision-making and conflict management.

One of the most popular frameworks that I have found very useful is this collaborative style of resolving. In the collaborative style of resolving, all the members of the group get together. As a group, you are brainstorming all possible solutions given the problem space and then you evaluate and assess the pros and cons. If disagreements arise, you resolve it as a group in that room or if it's a very large group, then you probably have to do it in smaller groups, you have to do it one on one. The idea would be is to listen to provide every person an opportunity to feel connected, to express what they're thinking, to incorporate that feedback, adapt, learn, but eventually, you are aligning. You are getting together and aligning. This has been the situation, so it's a very collaborative style.

The second example could be an accommodating approach where you're really emphasizing on agreements, but the items which are at dispute, you decide to put that in the parking lot for and then you revisit it after a certain cooldown period. Then the third approach is one where you are in a compromising approach. In this case, both the parties decide to give up one thing that matters to them so that both parties feel that they are in it or they feel that they won.

The last approach is the forcing or escalation approach where you're not able to make a decision so, therefore, you escalate it to powers above you, and they impose and force down a decision on you.

Each of these approaches have their own merits and demerits, and they're all tools in your toolkit that you can employ depending on the situation. There's no one right or wrong answer. Typically, I prefer the collaborative approach, but you do have to use all these different approaches depending on the situation that you are in.

Some Things to Consider

Just to quickly summarize, some things to consider when you are working together in teams and in both the scenarios that I spoke about earlier. One is invest in building a cohesive and an inclusive team where diverse perspectives are encouraged and respected. It comes from an environment of respect as well as psychological safety.

Once you are forming the team and going through the different stages of the group evolution, define a shared vision, understand mutual interests how it aligns and how it fits in with the larger organization's picture and organization's strategy.

Define rules and responsibilities, what does each person in the group need to focus on, and then focus on ownership. Once you own it, you're accountable to deliver it. Then manage conflicts and disagreements and also define a framework of how you would manage a conflict when it arrives. That's part of your operating procedure or operating manual.

Then set up a process framework for prioritization. That's very important, how will I prioritize, so that you can empower other members of the team to also follow a similar prioritization philosophy. Incorporate feedback. Continually incorporate feedback and make the process better.

More storytelling - I can't stress enough about storytelling. Storytelling is very powerful. The more you can tell your story and you keep reiterating the vision at different levels continually, the more support you are going to get for your project down the road across all levels of audiences. Try to have more FaceTime. That also helps a lot in creating a bond. Celebrate all wins. No win is small enough. All wins, small or large, celebrate them. Have more customer and field stories, and pass that along to share an increased user empathy for the products that you are building.

While each one of you is looking to embrace the unique strengths of being a product manager or an engineer, it's equally important to invest in your own personal growth and look at that as a means to help you with your mind and your body so that you can amplify positive team dynamics and also strengthen the bond, especially in environments when you might have a lot of uncertainty and change. This is, perhaps, one of my favorite lines from Warren Buffett: "The best investment you can make is in yourself."

The Human Brain

I want to give a little primer about the science of the human brain and how it works. This is the human brain, and the human brain contains many parts. One of the parts is the frontal lobe, and the frontal lobe contains something called the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is actually located in your forehead. It's above your eyebrows. This is probably the most powerful part of your brain. In fact, if you actually look at studies that show how the human brain looks, the prefrontal cortex occupies more than 40% of your brain. It probably is one of the primary distinguishing factors which distinguishes you from other mammals.

A lot of neurons, which we call the gray matter typically, are located in the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is the one that controls your behaviors, your emotions, your ability to rationalize, your ability to regulate your emotions, and most important, to be self-aware. Self-awareness is so important, especially as you look at team dynamics. In some sense, I would say, your prefrontal cortex is your control theme. It's your control panel for your body and your emotions and your mind.

It's very interesting that there's a lot of research happening in the field of mind and body and talking about the benefits linking the two. There is this researcher from Stanford, Dr. Kelly McGonigal, and she spoke about how the prefrontal cortex actually controls your willpower instinct. She spoke about a very interesting phenomenon which is called the willpower challenge. The willpower challenge is one where there is a competition between two sides of your brain. The prefrontal cortex is actually divided into three regions here, as you can see. The first region does a job which is called as the "I won't" job, the second region does the "I will" job, and the third one is the "I want" power. Let me talk about what it means.

The "I will" region is actually responsible for you performing and starting very difficult tasks. As an example, when you're working in a team and if you're going through a very difficult situation with your engineer or with your product manager, it is the "I will" part of the brain that actually makes it happen. The "I won't" part of the brain is the one that actually holds you back from succumbing to your cravings and temptations.

As an example, you have the "I won't" part of the brain, to thank when you don't make a snarky comment in a particularly tense moment during a meeting, and you actually stay quiet, you hold back. That's because of that region of your brain.

Then, you have the "I want" region of the brain that actually keeps track of all your goals and all your desires. If you have a lot of temptation to send that snarky email without thinking through the consequences, the "I want" brain is actually keeping track of what is really your long-term desire. The "I want" brain, the more the brain cells, the neurons, get fired and activated, that helps you take action, resolve things, implement things, and not to succumb to your cravings and temptations. It was very fascinating to me, personally, reading the science behind all of this.

One of the intervention methods that was suggested as part of building your willpower instinct is very simple – sleep. For the longest time, I would never sleep enough. I used to actually survive with four hours of sleep, and I would think, "That's totally enough, I can manage it. I'm this superwoman, I can handle it." After I actually found the effects reading through the science and actually sleeping enough, it was very interesting to see the correlation and the pattern of how the more sleep you get, the more rested your brain is, the more your prefrontal cortex is able to operate, and you're able to regulate your emotions and your behaviors and how you react to certain situations. You become more self-aware.

A lot of research is being done, and researchers like to run MRI reports. In this MRI study they first of all defined a person being sleep-deprived if they've got less than six hours of sleep. If you've got less than six hours of sleep, you're considered sleep-deprived. Even though many of you here in the room may be operating under far less than that, but you're actually considered to be operating in far sub-optimal conditions. The regions in this chart here which are yellow are the regions which are underactivated. When it's underactivated, the neurons there are not operating well, and so, therefore, your brain or your prefrontal cortex is not doing what it should be doing. The regions that are red are the ones that are overactivated. They're actually the mid-functions of the brain which control your basic instincts and impulses and cravings. Therefore, the more you sleep, the more can the "I will", "I won't", and "I want" regions of the brain operate in full capacity, and they can help amplify and produce the best versions of yourself.

The other very important intervention that has been discovered is meditation. Researchers have actually examined how the prefrontal cortex looks in the brains of meditators and in the brains of people who don't meditate. They found that the prefrontal cortex of meditators is relatively thicker than the ones amongst the nonmeditators. In addition, meditation helps prevent shrinking of the prefrontal cortex which happens over age. It also strengthens the bond of the prefrontal cortex with other parts of the brain like the amygdala, which is the stress center. That helps regulate all your emotions and your behaviors. Lastly, meditation controls the left side of the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with happiness. If you encounter meditators, the more you meditate, the more happy you can be.

In addition, a lot of our thoughts and our actions are actually controlled by communication between the neurons and the nerve cells in your brain and the prefrontal cortex. When this communication happens, what happens is brainwaves are produced. Interestingly, these brainwaves all vibrate at different frequencies. The brainwaves change depending on how you are feeling and what you're doing. When your, for instance, low-frequency brainwaves dominate when you're in a state of sleep or you're actually in a dreamy state, and high-frequency brainwaves dominate when you're hyper-wired and alert. Probably, many of you are hyper-wired and alert right now. You have higher frequency brainwaves dominating.

Researches indicated that, interestingly - I'd like you to pay attention to this brainwave called a theta brainwave - theta brainwave is the brainwave that exists when people are in very deep meditation close to sleep. You're actually hovering between sleep and deep meditation. When you're in a state of very deep meditation, you can get into the theta wave state, and when you are in theta, that is the gateway to your memory, learning, and intuition. You can actually clear a lot of blockages that happen with those gateways and pathways. It can facilitate powerful healings. You can also rewire a lot of your limiting beliefs and the way things work. Research has shown that you can actually get into a theta brainwave state instantly through various meditation practices.

At the cherry of all of this we spoke about sleep, we spoke about meditation, is this whole notion of visualization and positive affirmations. The more you actually have a positive approach and you positively affirm when you are waking up in the morning, this can actually create a very nurturing and a nourishing both to yourself and to your surroundings. You become more self-aware.

Let's Do a Simple Meditation

Enough with all the talking, I want to actually take every one of you through a very simple meditation. This will just be for five minutes, but I want to take you through a very quick visualization practice so that you can actually see how it all works. You might find this helpful. Many of you might be skeptical. You might find it interesting. I hope you'd find it interesting at least. Please bear with me.

Close your eyes. I'd like you to be comfortable in your chair and relax. Take a deep breath and place your feet flat on the floor, really feeling your feet in contact with the ground underneath you. Just take a few more deep breaths. Breathe in. Breathe out. I'd like you to start by focusing on your toes. Scrunch them up and then release. Relax your ankles, calf muscles, knees, and thigh muscles. Remember, let any thoughts you may have float up and away from you in an air bubble. Relax your pelvic area and begin to notice any tension you may have in your back. Breathe deeply in. As you breathe out, slowly relax and release any tension you may have in your back. Now, your shoulders. Lift them up and then release completely. Wonderful. It's time to relax your neck and jaw muscles. Take a deep breath in. As you breathe out, let go of any tension you're holding in your neck and jaw. Finally, the top of your head. I'd like you to hunch your shoulders up one last time. As you release your shoulders, any remaining tension can sink down and flow out of you.

You are now in a state of complete relaxation. It's time to enjoy a guided journey to an inner place of serenity and bliss. As I speak, just allow images to form in your mind naturally in your own time. Let go of all your expectations and allow yourself to experience this guided journey in whatever way comes naturally to you. Imagine that you are standing in a beautiful grassy field. You can feel the warmth of the sun on your face and body. You can feel the lush green grass soft beneath your bare feet. You can hear the sounds of nature around you. You're very much at home in this peaceful place. You have all the time in the world. You feel safe and happy here. Wonderful. Take a few more deep breaths and enjoy this feeling of relaxation and calm for a little while longer.

I'd like you to now slowly bring your attention back to the room. Begin noticing the sounds around you. When you are ready, open your eyes.

How are you all feeling? Good? Awesome. Thank you for going through the experience with me, and I'm happy that many of you found it refreshing. One more thing, how many of you think stress is harmful and stress is bad for you? Ok. How many of you think, just the reverse, stress is good for me? Ok. You do have a few people think that way too. That's awesome.


Interestingly, when you think about stress, you actually give stress the definition for anything that you do not want to experience in your life. Either you're stuck in traffic or you're going through a really bad relationship at home or at work, and you think of all of this as stress. The downside of this conventional definition of stress is that it results in an unconscious belief that you are powerless to influence stress and the effects that it can have on you. The result is that you try to manage stress either through avoidance or distractions or denial. There's a lot of interesting research again happening in this field. In particular, researchers like, again, Dr. Kelly McGonigal from Stanford and Dr. Elizabeth Stanley from Harvard have provided a lot of interesting data which shows how you can actually make and develop an empowered relationship with stress. Stress can actually become your friend and can help you if you choose to do so.

How does this work? Imagine you are in a stressful situation. A meeting has suddenly cropped up in your calendar, you need to have a sudden presentation down to your leadership team, and the presentation is about securing resources. All of us are always short of resources to get our projects done. You need to secure resources as part of headcount task and planning for the year 2020. Since this meeting happens suddenly, you feel that you're not prepared enough, you're very nervous. What are the first effects when you get nervous? You find that you get sweaty, your hands get clammy, your heart is pounding. What happens is, typically, when you look at all these signs of stress, this can actually be very harmful for you, because it actually affects your blood vessels.

However, if you retrain your belief that this stress response that your body is producing is something that is good for you, and by that, I mean when your heart is pounding, if you instead think that "I can handle this. I'm actually preparing my body to meet this challenge head-on. I can do it. I've done this before in the past and I have been successful." In some sense, you're conditioning the stress response of your body to have a similar profile in moments of joy and courage. This essentially makes all the difference. What happens is, in the body, the pituitary gland, when you are in a stressful situation, produces this stress hormone called oxytocin, which is also called the cuddle hormone.

The primary goal of oxytocin is to protect your cardiovascular system and to protect your blood vessels. Because it's also a very social hormone, when you're in a stressful situation, you tend to reach out to others, you seek for help, or you offer support when they're also going through a stressful situation. This creates an effect that the body produces more oxytocin. When more oxytocin is produced, this, in turn, keeps your blood vessels protected and safe and strong. Generally, by having and thinking of the stress response of your body to be healthy, you can actually keep your body resilient.

I wanted to just bring this all together. Very quickly tying it all together. As a product manager or an engineer, you have your own unique strengths, which make you what you are. You can amplify the strengths by investing in yourself, investing in your own personal growth. Those effects can be further amplified in building a strong inclusive team where diverse perspectives are encouraged, diverse perspectives are respected, and you have a clear framework for prioritization, conflict management, and decision-making when all of that happens. All of this, in turn, helps you ship a great product which meets the needs of your users and customers.

There are 5 things I wanted to show you that you should try for the next 21 days. The reason we call out 21 days, it is a magic number. What the magic number is, it's usually said that when you try something for 21 days, it then becomes a habit. When you make it a habit, it can actually become a change in your lifestyle, and it sticks on. Five things I'd like you to try is, number one, invest in yourself, sleep more, try some simple meditation if possible, and affirm. Any kind of small positive thinking and affirmation helps you in your team dynamics. Build a cohesive inclusive team. Embrace each other's strengths. Every one of us are unique, and we have a lot to offer. Embrace it. Define roles, responsibilities, ownership. Think about effective decision-making and what that means to your team. Think about effective decision-making and conflict management. Ultimately, align, commit, and implement. Don't get into a gridlock situation where you're not making any progress. Lastly, stress, indeed, can be your friend. Try to embrace it, and there are many tools to make that happen and make that possible.


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Recorded at:

Mar 23, 2020

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