Our 15th episode of the Caremind podcast features an engaging conversation with Ali Littman, Head of Engineering at Modern Health. If you’ve been curious about the inner workings of tech leadership, this is an episode you don’t want to miss.
As a respected voice in her field, Ali regularly shares her knowledge and experience in management and leadership at various forums. She stands out for her unique approach, seamlessly combining technical expertise with empathetic leadership, serving as a lighthouse for those finding their way in tech.
But Ali’s role extends beyond her responsibilities at Modern Health. She’s also passionate about nurturing future leaders, offering coaching and mentorship that empowers individuals to set and achieve their career goals, tackle imposter syndrome, and overcome professional obstacles.
In our latest chat, we discuss the multifaceted aspects of coaching, technical product management, and engineering.
The Unconventional Road to Engineering Leadership
Ali Lid’s career path hasn’t been the typical one. It’s characterized by a deep exploration of the healthcare industry and an adept understanding of technology, which has established her as a strategic force within various organizations. This navigation through the sectors helped her accumulate a broad knowledge base, crucial for her to excel in the Technical Product Management (TPM) function and within engineering.
Her responsibilities were diverse, including the design of architecture and organizational strategies. These responsibilities not only drew on her healthcare industry insights but also on her grasp of business operations, fueling the engineering initiatives she spearheaded.
According to Ali:
I definitely have a bit of a nonstandard career path.
As time passed, she was afforded the chance to grow within her roles, gradually taking on tasks that were once the domain of an engineering director. She was entrusted with additional engineering teams, propelling her growth further.
How Technical PMs Can Tackle Career Growth Challenges in Medium & Large Companies
Ali Lid suggests that roles such as technical project managers and technical product managers can often be less defined in many companies, especially if the teams are small. This can lead to rapid early growth, but as structure is introduced into these organizations, they often remain flat, making further growth more challenging to navigate.
Additionally, if the roles are less defined, or a career ladder is introduced later than when you joined the organization, there may be a lack of alignment around the expectations for each level and what growth opportunities could look like. As such, it’s crucial to establish your growth goals early and communicate them with your manager or mentor to plan your career progression effectively.
It’s really important to as early as possible, establish what your growth goals are and communicate them with your manager or mentor, so that you can start planning for your career progression.
However, in these organizations, you might need to work extra hard to demonstrate your value and impact, especially during the startup phase. This can be even more challenging if you don’t have all the necessary tools to demonstrate your impact, such as product analytics.
Strategic Thinking for Self-Promotion: What are the Core Elements?
Ali believes self-promotion is closely tied to understanding how success is measured in terms of business impact. Aligning your work with business goals demonstrates value, and understanding how success is measured relative to your career ladder can help you have more productive conversations with management about your growth.
The way I think about self-promotion has a lot to do with really understanding how success is measured, which I think a lot of it comes down to impact and what the business is trying to do.
Once you understand these concepts, Ali recommends continually identifying instances where you’re adding value and expressing your skills, and sharing these with your managers. This is the first level of self-promotion: letting your managers know the value you’re adding to the business.
The second level of self-promotion, is at the department level. You should make it clear how your work is benefiting your sub-organization or peers, which makes your value and influence more visible to other management members and peers.
The third level of self-promotion is at the company level. Show how your work drives the company forward and seize opportunities to present this to everyone. This gives you more visibility with senior leadership and the chain of leadership that approves promotions, and it can also help you gain sponsorship and feedback to build your case for growth.
However, when it comes to communicating and influencing upper management or stakeholders, it can be challenging to cut through the day-to-day noise. Aligning your communication with company goals and speaking the language of business value that the leadership cares about can help you stand out and promote your work effectively.
HealthTech Success: Why Technical Product Managers are Essential
Technical product managers are very important for health care because it’s a specialized, highly regulated, and rapidly changing industry. There are all these different recurring players in this complex web of relationships and integrations, and there are constantly new players, resources, and rules. Because of that, we really need people in this role to support the foundations of our systems to meet the needs of the industry and the ability for companies to work within it but also disrupt it.
This requires a lot of focus on ensuring that our systems can integrate with and scale alongside or operate meaningfully differently but still play by the rules. Technical product managers play a crucial role in that, and that’s where you end up getting that same marriage of the techno-functional side of things as well as the health care expertise needing to be well understood. They coordinate across all the different engineering teams and external partners to ensure that our systems operate in a way that scales and makes sense.
Talking about the importance of doing due diligence before going into a new company, career-wise, Ali suggests the following for immersing oneself in the business context:
- The company’s financing situation
- The market and strategic moment the company is in
- Whether the company has achieved product-market fit
- The company’s profitability
- Whether the company has an opportunity or has cornered the market or is in a highly competitive space
- If the company is going through hyper-growth
- The state of the economy in which the company operates
Factors that Shape Our Choices: Constraints, Values, and More
It’s essential not to overlook the financial aspect of the business you’re involved in. If you’re not familiar with the basics of finance, it’s well worth your time to get up to speed. Start by learning about the customers – who they are and how they contribute to the business’s revenue. Understand how the business earns money and what factors can affect this income.
Make sure to look into the return on investment (ROI) for different business decisions. Identify the areas that consistently bring in money (cash cows) and the ones that seem to drain resources. Get a handle on the company’s budget and runway – or how long the company can keep running at its current burn rate.
When it comes to scaling technical product management teams and engineering teams, combining technology and operations is crucial. The top three components for technology include:
- Deciding what you want to be core to your business and what your team should spend time on.
- Finding technological ways to make development more efficient, such as standardized assets or service templates.
- Standardization across platforms, standards, and processes to ensure consistency and avoid technical debt.
On the operations side, the top three components for scale include:
- Strong people management, including scaling your hiring function, onboarding, and performance management.
- Communication flows to ensure that information is shared effectively as the organization grows.
- Decision-making strategies that allow for distributed decision-making while still maintaining clear accountability and shared processes for cross-functional resolutions.
How Management Principles Impact Personal Growth
The question of what to optimize for in life is indeed a profound one. It’s important to recognize that work and personal life don’t exist in isolation; they merge together to form the totality of one’s experience.
I don’t view work as entirely separate from my personal life. It’s a happy blend of the two that make up the entirety of my existence.
Through self-reflection and life coaching, you can identify the key values, objectives, and emotions that you wish to prioritize in your life. It’s beneficial to embrace emotions in the workplace, as many of our aspirations are linked to the feelings we desire to cultivate.
This approach can be applied to both professional and personal goals, aiming for specific experiences. For instance, if mentoring and fostering growth in others brings you joy, seek a job that allows you to do this regularly. Outside work, engage in activities that you love, such as rollerblading, which may also provide mentorship opportunities.
By employing the same frameworks to your work and personal life goals, you can devise an optimal plan to become the person you aspire to be.
Below are 3 takeaways from speaking with Ali:
- Non-Traditional Career Paths and Leadership Roles: Ali advocates for the importance of defining growth goals early on, especially for roles like technical project managers and product managers where role definitions may be less clear in smaller companies.
- Strategic Self-Promotion: Self-promotion should occur at three levels – with managers, at the department level, and at the company level. Effective self-promotion allows for more visibility, sponsorship, and feedback, all of which are essential for career growth.
- The Importance of Technical Product Managers in HealthTech: In a specialized, regulated, and rapidly changing industry like healthcare, technical product managers play a crucial role. They support the foundations of the system, ensure it can integrate with and scale alongside others, and help the company operate within industry rules.
The APP Solutions launched a podcast, CareMinds, where you can hear from respected experts in healthcare and Health Tech.
Who is a successful product manager in the healthcare domain? Which skills and qualities are crucial? How important is this role in moving a successful business to new achievements? Responsibilities and KPIs?
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