Aishwarya Natarajan and Dana Li, both Stanford University graduates, spent the summer of 2016 training with the PayPal Online Payment Product team as Product Management interns. They are coming back as full-time PayPal employees in Product Management in 2017, having successfully completed their Masters degrees in Management Science and Engineering from Stanford University. Below they discuss their experiences on the PayPal Online Payment Product team.
“You’re a Product Manager? Great. So what do you actually do?”
One of the great challenges of product management (PM) is explaining the elusive profession to those outside the tech world.
Product managers wear a number of hats, making it difficult to summarize the role succinctly—though the ability to do so is a core PM skill (notice what we did right there?). When we joined PayPal as PM interns last summer, we were both thrilled with the opportunity to learn and work with some of the best in industry.
Over the course of our twelve weeks with the Hermes Checkout team, we worked with product managers, engineers, and designers on product visions, executions, competitive analyses, and more. We each took on a primary strategy project. Aish conducted user interviews to identify ways PayPal can capture the millennial segment, and Dana worked on a strategic vision and roadmap projected for Pay with Venmo. We also supported other Checkout PMs with major features like PayPal One Touch and Consumer Choice, and volunteered with the Checkout Innovations booth at PayPal’s internal Tech Expo.
Traditionally, interns learn skills of the trade from their teams and mentors, and we did plenty of that. But as we headed into the second half of the summer, we also had the rare opportunity to teach our colleagues.
The Democratization of Innovation
Our director, Desmond Chan, is a huge enthusiast of design thinking, a methodology that is widely taught at Stanford. It is essentially a process, applicable to any industry or facet of life, to creatively solve problems and generate innovative ideas. Desmond wanted to bring design thinking to the ground floor of PayPal, informally coining his vision “the democratization of innovation.” Given our experience with it in classes at Stanford, he asked us to facilitate a few workshops for scrum teams and product managers.
The design thinking framework. Source: https://valuechaingeneration.com/2011/12/
After planning, refining, and creating content alongside Desmond and UED and Engineering leads, we pulled off three design thinking workshops with the Guest Checkout scrum team, the Checkout PMs, and the Marketplaces team.
Though it was sometimes tricky translating classroom material to a company setting (we had to use “design thinking” on our design thinking workshops!) we loved the challenge. At Stanford, we learned design thinking in the context of large-scale issues: How might we make death less of a taboo subject? How might we close the gender gap in financial investing? And so on.
At PayPal, we aimed to bring the same level of innovation and ideation to specific products and create actionable steps: How might we use other sources of data in Guest checkout? How might we convert more guests to members?
Big Brainstorms and Birthday Hats
The focus of our workshops was less talking and more doing. We took the teams through a one hour, hands-on crash course in design thinking via the Wallet Project. Participants paired off, and through interviews, distilling insights, and brainstorming, they prototyped an ideal wallet for their partner. We saw solutions that were traditional, futuristic, and not wallets at all.
After a (very brief) introduction to developing user point of view statements, “how might we…” questions, and brainstorming best practices, we challenged teams to redesign the ground experience at the local airport. In one session, our awesome, engaged teams generated 50+ ideas in 20 minutes.
This all happened before lunch. After our chocolate-fueled, non-stop initiation into design thinking, we spent the rest of the workshops focused on the teams’ specific product.
Integrating data and insights from UED, Analytics and Product Marketing, we worked with the teams to distill all the information and create problem statements they could ideate on. By the end of the workshops, we had 10-20 potential problem statements, close to 100 potential solutions for a few of them, and rapid prototypes of 1-2 ideas.
Version 2.0? In the spirit of design thinking, we actively sought feedback after each session. We, like our teams, were “prototyping” the workshops, learning what worked well and what didn’t so we could improve the next iteration.
We experienced the best of both in feedback we received: many loved the material and wanted to keep regular brainstorming sessions throughout the year, and many gave us constructive recommendations for improving the workshops.
Desmond’s vision of democratizing innovation was easy to get behind. Great ideas come from all levels of an organization, and it was a blast to be part of this new venture. We certainly hope to see some of those ideas, hastily scribbled on pink and green sticky notes in a conference room, become integral parts of PayPal’s product offering. Even more, we hope that design thinking further fuels the thriving culture of innovation here and sticks around for a long time.
Many thanks to Desmond Chan and Horace Lee for taking us in this summer and giving us these opportunities. Also thanks to Irene Yen, Jeff Harrell, Sunita Jasti, Debbie Bluestone, and Teddy Toms for being great teammates and supporting us!