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Creating a Performance-Driven Culture is Product Management

Owen Williams, Insurance CIO at Everest Reinsurance Group, discusses the importance of an organization’s culture in driving solutions development that wows your customers.

After 25 years focused on technology and insurance, Owen has seen first-hand the industry-wide need for innovation -- as well as the slow evolution to change. Currently focused on commercial insurance at Everest Reinsurance Group, Owen believes teams need two things to build better insurance products:

  1. Quick user feedback
  2. Solid organizational culture

Owen shapes his leadership and product management approach around these two factors, which act in concert with one another.

While building great products requires user feedback, Owen says the first step to creating a feedback loop is understanding an organization’s culture. “How are decisions? Who has the decision rights? Create a strategy around engaging the different constituent groups and speak to them about how you want to involve them in the process. It’s very, very important. You have to engage the user community in the entire process all the time.”

Whether it’s meetings, daily standups or weekly demos, the feedback mechanism you choose isn’t as important as identifying small teams of decision-makers and meeting early and often. Daily even. “I think if you have a less than daily cadence, what happens is that small issues become big issues,” he says.

This constant communication is great for improved and faster product development, but it’s also a critical way to build a rewarding culture and a welcome leadership tactic for teams of local, remote, or offshore employees -- something that Owen’s intimately familiar with at Everest.

As leaders, avoid getting bogged down in the details and the to-do lists, he says. “You’re not building status reports. You’re building software.” Instead, dedicate your energy to helping teams problem solve and aligning teams around a shared mission. “The one thing I’ve found to be very powerful is to talk about purpose. What is it that we’re seeking to do? And the answer is never, ‘We got to meet a release date.’ Nobody’s going to get up in the morning and be motivated by a release date,” says Owen.

Connecting the dots between the product and individual impact empowers employees to make decisions, energizes them about the solutions they’re building, and ensures everyone is working under the same definition of success -- all hallmarks of a great culture. “Culture is the thing that makes the difference between delivering something and delivering something really great,” he says.

In this episode, you’ll learn a lot about user-centric product design, leadership tactics, and building great culture.

Here are the highlights: 

  • The different digital opportunities in the insurance industry (3:01)
  • Why understanding an organization’s decision-making process is the key to user feedback (4:45)
  • What stakeholder management looks like at Everest Reinsurance Group (8:17)
  • As a leader, how to rally your team around a shared mission (10:28)
  • How culture makes a difference between good and great in product development (16:24)

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