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Q&A with Melissa Perri

Product Management and UX Consultant

I’m Melissa. I am a Product Management and UX Consultant, and the founder of Produx Labs. I live in New York City. Lately I am training teams on how to do Product Management better. I’m building a school for Product Managers at Product Institute. I also occasionally work with clients on UX projects too, although I’ve been pretty busy with the Product Management side lately. I like to work with teams to answer the question “What should we build?” and “Why?”  The most rewarding thing for me is to see teams scrap bad products and start learning about their users.

Did you start your career from a junior position?

I learned how to be a Product Manager and UX Designer through an internship. I was struggling at the time, trying to figure out what I wanted to do when I left college. I studied Operations Research Engineering at Cornell, but I really didn’t like most of the options coming out of that. At the time, I also designed materials for the Cornell Marketing team and was working on a team with Kodak to create a new product. I loved all of those things, but I didn’t think they could be a real job. My friend was circulating a recruitment posting for development interns at his software company, and I said, “I can code… but I don’t really want to.” He put me in touch with the hiring manager, and they said, “Oh, with your background you can be a Product Manager!” That was it!

What was the turning point in your professional path?

The turning point was when I joined the startup OpenSky. The CTO of the first software company where I interned became CTO there and he asked me if I wanted to join. I was at an investment bank as a developer (I had to try it) and I HATED it. I sprinted over to join them at OpenSky. I learned more there in a year than I would have in 10 years at the investment bank.

A few years into that job, my boss suggested I attend a Lean Startup Machine workshop. I instantly fell in love with the concept, and brought it back to my job as a Product Manager and UXer. Others started asking me to teach it to them, and I began a Skillshare class in Lean Product Management. I got invited to speak at conferences, and then eventually, to come in and teach workshops to other companies. That’s really where the career path I’m on started.

How do you master your skills in UX design and product management? Hard work, courses, workshops, exchange of experience with colleagues?

I think the best way to master your skills is to keep practicing them. I like to learn new things from people who are smarter than me. I really believe in the whole “If you are the smartest person in the room, find another room,” motto. When I was starting out, I would observe more senior people, and try what they were doing until I mastered it. I still do that now, although a lot of what I am trying to master has to do with business development and consulting these days. That’s a whole different animal.

I also like learning new things at conferences. I speak at about 8-10 conferences a year, and the best part is listening to the other speakers. When I hear a new technique or framework, I’ll follow up with the speaker afterwards to learn more. Then I’ll research it like crazy and look for opportunities to use it myself. I have learned so much through conferences, and talking with others who are pushing the envelope in the UX and Product fields.

I also take on projects that seem like a challenge. I’ll do 1-2 big UX projects a year to keep those skills fresh, and give my brain a different problem. I will also go in house with clients and work on their product teams for a while, usually when they’re struggling with a particularly difficult issue. I want to make sure that I keep practicing my skills, even if a lot of my work now is teaching.

What UX design books are a must for every designer?

I would highly recommend Lean UX, The Design of Everyday Things, and Badass: Making User’s Awesome.

What helps you to keep things fresh and the creative process invigorating?

The most important thing for me is to keep facing new problems. I enjoy consulting because it allows me to work on a bunch of different projects every year. Every one of those projects comes with a new challenge. It keeps things interesting.

In those situations, you not only learn about Product and UX, but also people. Teams are all different, and how they work together affects the final product. I like to figure out how to make great teams, which I believe is a critical piece of building a great product. When you have great leadership, the right people on the team, a framework, and trust, you can push the boundaries of your UX and product work. That’s where the cool, innovative ideas lay.