Coffee with Jess King

This week, we’re getting coffee with Jess King. Jess is a PM at Unruly — the leading platform for social video advertising.

I was recently in London and took the opportunity to grab coffee with Jess while I was there!

How did you get into product management?

It was a very organic process — it wasn’t something I set out to do.

I joined Unruly, starting in a broad project management-type role. No one had had that role before so it was very much mine to mould into what I wanted. I was given a mission to explore the areas of the business that were most important. It has felt very natural that that role has developed into a product management role — I now head up a product that is one arm of our business.

Having the flexibility to mould my role was a huge advantage — I was able to gain exposure into a number of roles and from there, focus down on product management. If I hadn’t have had that opportunity — and in a tech company — I wouldn’t have been exposed to what product managers did or what it would have been like to have that role.

It’s good to learn in the beginning to take time to plan.

What advice do you have for first time PMs?

I always try to stay as organized as possible. I’m very much a believer that you should be calm at work, especially when you’re leading team, and one way to remain calm is to stay organized.

Take time to plan — don’t dive into things. When you have a new project or feature, allow yourself the time to plan. Take a moment to think about what you’re going to do before you dive in and get started. In the beginning, I made a lot of mistakes because I didn’t take the time to think about what I was doing before I did it. Luckily, I was in a position where I was able to make those mistakes. As you grow and start to take on bigger projects, there’s less room for those mistakes. It’s good to learn in the beginning to take time to plan.

Trust your judgement. If you’re the lead and you don’t have a direct peer or manager (because they’re not that involved in what you’re doing) to bounce ideas off, trusting your own judgement and your own ideas is critical. Have the confidence to do that and take charge.

I’m a big believer that everything starts with your mental attitude — what you think is how you feel and how you feel is how you act.

What does your planning process look like?

A tool that’s been helping me recently is the Bullet Journal. It’s a particular way of scheduling the tasks you need to do. At the beginning of the month, you write a list of everything you want to do in that month, then every week you write a list of things for that week, then every day a list of tasks for the day. The monthly tasks feed the weekly tasks, which feed the daily tasks. If I have a new project, I’ll list out all the things I need to do, then note down what I need to do today, tomorrow, next week etc.

If a project comes in that I need more clarity on in order to plan effectively, I’ll ask more questions. I’ll really take the time to understand exactly what we need, what resources are available, how long we have to execute etc.

What books have been formative for you?

I’m reading a book at the moment called The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. It’s about how we live our lives in and around so much clutter, and how if we were to remove that clutter and leave ourselves with only the things that we truly love, that would have such an impact on our mental attitude. I’m a big believer that everything starts with your mental attitude — what you think is how you feel and how you feel is how you act.

What do you consider the traits of a great PM?

  • Organized — taking the time to plan, staying on top of things, and having a solid grip on the task at hand.
  • Level-headed — remaining calm and confident in the midst of what can be a stressful, high pressure role.
  • Approachable — as a PM you have to speak to everyone in the business. In my role, I need to feel confident that people will come to me with questions, feedback or concerns.

What books do you recommend to PMs?

I’ve found these books have helped me become a better PM — although they aren’t specifically about product management — by informing the way I act and the decisions I make.

Jess inspired me to make more time for planning. It’s tempting to dive into “doing” when you’re excited about a new project, and easy to forget that taking the time to plan — even if you feel you’ve got everything covered — is crucial. Thanks for grabbing coffee, Jess!

I started ‘Coffee with’ to learn from badass product managers and share those learnings with you. If you enjoyed this interview, please share it with others that might too :).

Looking for more? Check out the ‘Coffee with’ publication.