Applying Product Management Principles to People Operations

Jun 10, 2024

The desire to change

In the realm of personal and professional development, there often comes a moment when we realize the need for change, a desire to shed old habits and embrace new perspectives. For me, that moment arrived when I acknowledged my tendency to over-engineer thus familiarising myself with product management principles , and more importantly recognized it as a barrier to both personal growth and professional effectiveness.

Throughout my career, I had always disrespected anything resembling “sloppiness”. I was under the belief that before delivering any solution, I needed to be 100% certain about all variables. This mindset left little room for experimentation or testing hypotheses quickly. Instead, I found myself investing amounts of time and energy into perfecting solutions before presenting them. Consequently, I was investing excessive time and effort into refining solutions that may not have even been necessary. 

product management principles

Little did I know that this acknowledgment would mark the beginning of a transformative journey, one that would lead me to embrace the principles of product management and make me want to revamp the way I work.

A mindset shift

First things first, at its core, this journey required a fundamental shift in mindset – treating people operations as the main product and employees as our users. This shift fundamentally altered the way I approached my role as a member of the People Ops team, influencing both my behavior and thought processes in significant ways. Additionally, It meant immersing myself in the language of product management, familiarizing myself with terms like Minimum Viable Product (MVP), iterations, and embracing a user-centric approach in all aspects of my work. 

This shift isn’t just about adopting new practices; it is about cultivating a mindset of continuous improvement and innovation. Something I conscientiously tried to do was to leverage any interaction I had with “product people”, trying to understand how they work, what they prioritize, and what type of language they use. In my free time, I was listening to podcasts, watched YouTube videos and engaged with communities focused on product management. While I couldn’t grasp everything immediately, it was truly fascinating to observe and reflect on how I started becoming comfortable with feeling uncomfortable.

This effort made me quickly realize that I need to work on:

Product management principles: User-Centric Approach

Just like product managers focus on understanding user needs, I started treating needs and aspirations of employees as user stories. Surveys, interviews, and feedback mechanisms now have an advanced value to my mind in the way we gather insights to tailor our HR programs and initiatives accordingly.

Product management principles: Iterative Development

Product management advocates for iterative development cycles to continuously improve products. Fortunately, I was lucky enough because instinctively I always had the need to revisit my work and add new “features” to a service. But, I was very bad at killing products, killing an idea I had invested time and effort into. Essentially, I was very good at falling in love with my solution and not with the problem I was trying to solve and we all know how this goes on. 

Recognizing this as my most significant development opportunity, I jumped into the MVP logic. This entailed creating shorter feedback loops and being prepared to abandon ideas that didn’t gain traction early on. While this approach is straightforward in the realm of product development, it becomes significantly more complex and ambiguous in the people development era. Why? Because people’s development, growth and change take time, often a lot of time; and projects aimed at driving change require patience and perseverance. To make this work, embracing an MVP mindset in the context of people development meant being willing to experiment, take calculated risks, and pivot quickly based on feedback. It meant recognizing that not every initiative will succeed and being prepared to learn from failures and adapt accordingly. This shift in mindset required a willingness to prioritize impact over ego—to be more concerned with solving problems effectively than with preserving my own ideas or solutions.

Product management principles:Data-Informed Decision Making

At Skroutz, we emphasize the importance of being data-informed rather than data-driven, recognizing that data should supplement decision-making rather than dictate it. This is very liberating for me – and I am confident that many People Ops members out there will empathize –  since it allowed me to treat numbers as valuable feedback resources, complementing qualitative insights rather than overshadowing them.

Furthermore, this mindset shift encouraged me to adopt a more holistic approach to data analysis. Rather than fixating on specific metrics or KPIs, I began to consider the broader context and implications of the data. I learned to ask critical questions about the reliability and validity of the data, as well as its relevance to the decision at hand.

Throughout my career, I had always disrespected anything resembling “sloppiness”. I was under the belief that before delivering any solution, I needed to be 100% certain about all variables. This mindset left little room for experimentation or testing hypotheses quickly.

Product management principles:Product Roadmapping

Just as product managers create roadmaps to outline the future direction of a product, I started experimenting and actually sketching on People Growth roadmaps, for instance, to chart the course of our initiatives. These roadmaps provide clarity on our goals, timelines, and resource allocation, ensuring that within our team everyone is aligned and working towards a common vision. By visualizing our HR strategy in a roadmap format, we create a sense of direction and purpose for our team members.

Product management principles:Focus on circle of influence

As it happens in most stories that require change, there were many challenges I had to overcome and there were times that I felt lost and zero progress. Fortunately, belonging to Skroutz means that you will find yourself surrounded by a wealth of resources that empower you to be the owner of your professional growth. By saying resources, I am referring to the “infrastructure” of Skroutz ways of working, the collaborative people and the actual resources, from slack channels and accessible online documents.

The way I experience that is that while I am not an official member of any product team, the transparency of information enabled me to chart my own path toward success and focus on the things I have control over. 

This journey towards embracing product management principles has just begun for me and this post is a reminder to myself to enjoy the ride and not wait till the end of it to share my learnings and experience. 

Elena Markou

Elena holds a BSc in Psychology and an MSc in Strategic Human Resources Management. She is an internal certified coach and has a passion for leadership development and team dynamics. With a focus on talent acquisition and quickly scaling small teams, she started her career in People Operations in the startup arena. Joining Skroutz in 2021, she focuses on building People Growth strategies, Performance Management & Development initiatives trying to influence how people treat their interactions and learning opportunities. 

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