At Torchlight, we are honored to have staff who not only truly care about people, but who are domain experts in either the caregiving world or their highly technical role. Our Head of Product, Carolyn Romano, J.D., embodies both. Carolyn was recently interviewed by Richard Banfield, CEO of Fresh Tilled Soil, a company focused on the digital transformation of brands and thought leadership around expert product design. Richard’s blog post and related podcast explore Carolyn’s realm of expertise and what it means to be a true product leader in today’s digital age.
McKinsey & Company describe today’s product leaders as “mini CEOs” who are cross-functional experts within their organization, pulling together data, process, and front-of-the-house customer input into their product’s eco-system. During the podcast, as Richard digs into our product team’s use of analytics, roadmaps, sprint planning and integration with our senior leadership team, Carolyn’s true essence as a product leader and mini CEO shines.
Winning Process: A new and a continuously innovative product is built through the collaborative efforts of multiple people. Carolyn and her five-person product team follow SCRUM best practices for the design, innovation, and continuous improvement of the product. During two-week sprints, the team implements the product roadmap which itself is based on customer needs, iteration, and a vision one- to two quarters out. She champions removing obstacles for her team, relying on team-driven performance measures to encourage full collaboration, and liaising with the front of the house.
Laser Focus: To quote entrepreneur Chris Dixon, product managers are a commodity, but excellent product designers and decision-makers are rare. They know the importance of choosing when to say “no” and when to act quickly. And they make the difference between a product team that crafts something which continues to meet and exceed the actual needs of its users (and with minimal resources!) and one that spins a lot of cycles to produce something generic. Carolyn works deliberately with our sales, marketing, and client-strategy teams to ensure that she and the product team are continuously integrating into the product the needs of both our B2B customers and our end users–employees who are also taking care of aging loved ones and/or children who are struggling in some way.
Metrics-Driven Business Vision: Great product leaders understand that customer preferences evolve, making creativity and product “freshness” key. The best ones out there have to combine technical acumen and broad strategic outlook, two skills that aren’t typically associated with each other. This is perhaps the main reason why it’s hard to find great product leaders: they must balance the strategic vision with available human and fiscal resources, market trends, and usability data to delight end users and buyers. Like other great business leaders, Carolyn meticulously crunches a variety of data – both qualitative and quantitative – to improve our product and meet team, individual, and company goals.
Soft Skills: Yet some feel that Carolyn’s most impactful contributions stem from her soft skills which make their presence known daily in the midst of her engineering and business activities. Skills like active listening, compassion, mentoring/coaching, and being a sincere advocate for her team have paid off. Carolyn’s highly skilled team is also loyal, hardworking and happy in their positions, in many ways a direct result of her intentional leadership style. Her soft skills have been honed over the years through her years of advocacy and legal work on behalf of children, families, and schools; her rescue and rehabilitation work with animals with trauma histories; and her role as founder and holistic practitioner at BLISS Healing Arts, where she offers mind-body medicine, self-care planning, and shamanic coaching to organizations and individuals, most recently emerging women leaders.
We’ve outlined here just a few of the factors that make a true Product Leader excel and why these “mini CEOs” are rare. Not everyone can bring together the necessary technical and process skills, strategic and data-driven mindset, and soft skills to bear in implementing a company’s vision. Fortunately for Torchlight, Carolyn does. We are honored to call her our Head of Product and a real leader in the SaaS space. We are equally honored to call her our teammate, colleague, and friend.