UX24/7 Product leadership interview with Kush Patel

Paul Blunden: Hello and welcome to another interview in my series with product leaders

In this series I’m exploring how the role and function of product leadership has changed in recent times and learning more about how product teams work.

I’m Paul, Blunden, founder of UX247, and we help organizations that have a strong digital focus deliver high performing products and services.

Today I’ll be speaking with Kush Patel and finding out how he got into the product arena and learning about how he sees the changing landscape.

Hi Kush great to me, you for the benefit of the audience. Can I ask you to introduce yourself?

Kush: Yeah. Hi, Paul, My name is Kush. I am the product. Lead on the women’s health team which is a giant consumer of company previously known as GSK Consumer.

Paul Blunden: cool, and of all the people I’ve interviewed, you are the one. I’ve been most interested to ask this question, because I know your background, and not because I know you personally, but because it’s being introduced and having a look. So how long have you been working in the product arena, and what attracted you into it?

Kush: So I’ve been in products for 5 years now and I think, like most people that I know that do what it’s kind of stumbled into. I’m sure you hear that a lot but I actually started life as a emergency care, doctor. So it’s medical school went to work in the Nhs and realized a couple of things really quickly, one that the number of people that needed care we like was, you know, much greater than we were able to deliver. Anybody that’s been into health care globally, it will have noticed to, the problem is getting worse. Right? We’re getting older and sicker and living longer. And actually, we’re not retaining the talent that we need into the health care service. and through that I wasn’t able to fix that problem treating peace patients one by one in a.

So I was looking around for ways that I could work on the same problem because I’m massively by health care? So if I think about, how do I scale what I was doing? One by one, digital health just having its moment back? Then in London was a natural place for me to go looking, and I joined my first digital health Startup. a company called Babylon Health back then, which basically from them use technology and specifically artificial intelligence to scale the impact that medical expertise could have on health care.

So yeah, that’s how I got into management and then left them county, where I am now working more in the kind of self-care, space empowering the consumer. Because, you know, as you know, health care is delivered, not in the 7 min that you see your GP. But any other 23 and 53 min, 3 h for 3 min outside of that and that’s from the junior being on with the team. for the last 200 years.

Paul Blunden: It’s a really interesting area. And I’m really interested to understand the sort of role of product in that space. could you talk a bit more about that? And I was particularly interested in that. What I’ve been observing is the function seems to have changed quite a lot in an organization, and I wondered whether in the 5 years you’ve been involved. You’ve seen that as well.

Kush: Yeah, I think I probably haven’t been in it. I’ve read more about the change that I might have seen in part of the transition. But I think what’s what it’s very clear is that even in my time working different organizations, there are companies that are doing product management different ways.

I think when I’ve worked Babylon, which is a very products engineering led organization that the designs itself in a very silicon valley style. lots of autonomous to pizza teams. I have a very contradictory product management role. So you know, you’re this kind of servant lead to the. It’s in the middle of a really talented people, and pushes them towards the right goal.

And then I now look in I now work on a small team that has that culture. But in a much larger corporate environment that has a slightly older, maybe perhaps product culture. as interesting contrasting some of the differences. I think the thing that can be often and helpful is that everyone knows that using the web product management is right, but they often use it to mean different things. so yeah, I think I’ve seen I’ve seen some of the range we? You don’t felt the transition to shop, please people that been on a bit longer

Paul Blunden: got you so in your role as product manager, I mean, what is that role? How does it sort of manifest where you are now?

Kush: Yeah. So it’s very much I think it’s an important distinction from the product management that I’m looking to be able to do from some of the products ownership roles that I sometimes see that can be very kind of execution focus. So I guess the 3 big things I’m responsible for this strategy of what we’re doing. So both the product strategy put it on services right? Because often how to agree on what the product is. And but how does the thing that we’re building align with the organization or the business comes that we have

  1. Once we’ve once you’ve aligned on what it is we’re actually trying to achieve. Then executing along. That is kind of the other bucket is, how do I work with the team to deliver and to closer to that goal and then execute on that strategy? And then 3, the leadership elements. So pulling in the right people, building the right culture and making myself useful to push our very talented team towards success.

So yeah, that the kind of the 3 pillars I’ll phrase another way. I guess it’s like, I feel like I’m responsible for describing what we’re building and why? it’s one of the 2 things that I was in my mind of, like what I’m concept, reminding the team of, probably in to the degree that they get very it. But it does, it can. And it just help us make the good decisions. That kind of almost all zoom levels all the time.

Paul Blunden: Okay, that’s really interesting and was quite interested in, do you have product owners working with you? Or are you? Is that role non-existent in your organization.

Kush: So the thing that I work in we don’t have part of it open is we have junior products, managers. And they. And the way that you might split. The difference between those is, I guess when you’re quite a junior product manager, you’re kind of told what problem you’re solving and how you’re going to solve it. And your job is to execute. And I think, as you move up the ladder, you then get to say, Do you want to say, Okay, this is the problem you’re solving, and you can go and figure out how you’d like to solve it.

And then I guess at this most senior level you’re working on, which problems are the ones that we should be solving.

Kush: I think you do a little bit about each stage. You’ll put that in the craft. And I think that’s the journey that product managers are on and thought this process. I’ve definitely meant more traditional product owners inside Helium, who have a very kind of execution roles manager, backlog, execute the manifesto, room scrum, let’s say, which I think is a subsection of what I’ve always considered product management at large. yeah, some differences, I think.

Paul Blunden: Yeah, that’s it. That really interesting. And you mentioned there about sort of problems. I’m building a picture of the key sort of problems and challenges product manager’s face. Can you talk a bit about those? I mean, what? What would your top? 3 sort of things that that keep you awake, and I will keep you busy.

Kush:  Oh, that’s interesting. I think the one that I imagine keeps everyone as manager awake at night is prioritization. I think if you’re doing my senses. If I’m doing my job right. I’m drowning in things to do. Be that data be that fires that are things that could be better because they could be engaged with, I think, being ruthless with prioritizing not only my own time, but also the teams time especially.

Now, for example we’ve just gone by with a new product and as much as the plan and design time can feel busy once you actually live in market, and you’ve got so much, you, your this host, type of information coming your way, figuring out which problems to solve and where to where to do it your time, I think that is one of the big ones for me to say no to stakeholders that often have different perspectives and different goals than you do, and being protecting your team in that time. So the prioritization is maybe the big one

The second one, I think, is been I think a lot of product management is experimentation, and I think fostering an idea of experimenting which inherently means getting stuff wrong. which I think you can get buy into from executives all the way along to actually you making to you, showing them that didn’t work, and what your narrative there is. This is a positive outcome, because we’ve learned early some that won’t work before we spent loads of money building out, and that’s good.

I think often the challenges like building a culture where that’s recognized as valuable and make me feel comfortable with kind of like failing that sale or learning this. And it doesn’t work, which is a good thing and not being and having the kind of courage to and the freedom to innovate, I guess how did you. Well, I said 3 I mean the last one there.

Paul Blunden: I mean that sort of unpacks a whole lot of stuff because it’s a challenge. But I mean what that those barriers off? Do you find that a difficult sort of organizations, culturally on, ready for error making? Because I’m with you? I think it’s the right way. But to I know it’s quite hard to swallow

Kush: Definitely. I think it is a fine balance that you can. You can really lean into feeling like you’re setting big piles of cash on fire if you’re not careful, and I can really see why you get nervous CFO’s and see if you would like. I need to see this return. I think a part of the product manager’s job is to build the right communication, style and channel that shows and can characterize progress, constantly. So even when you’re getting stuff wrong, you can demonstrate why it’s taking you closer to a goal that is closer to them. Certain investment that your stakeholders want to see.

So its a challenge. But I also think it’s one of the best parts of the job. If you can build, you’re lucky enough to either have or build a safe place to play, and you can create psychological safety. So your team is comfortable, taking bigger stabs or more shots on, goal. That’s when you unlock some of that magic, I think.

Paul Blunden: Yeah. And you talk that about sort of internal stakeholders and dealing with those. How important is it in your view, involving the customer in in your sort of product process

Kush:  paramount. I’d say, I think I you very much your early question around the kind of changes in the product management field. I think anyone that’s born into the like latest, the new way of product management doesn’t think in any other way. Then customer centricity and stopping the consumers problems and make sure that your business goals, you know you know your products, and you can see it goes aligned nicely to the. And that’s you know, that’s so well talked about now on, on anyone’s Linkedin page. And you read any of the medium posts that you almost forget. There are companies that they don’t necessarily work that way, and I’ve gotten to know, you know. I think all companies on their journey towards being more customer-centric, and I’m seeing I feel lucky to be part of the team that is helping a massive.

You know, one of the biggest companies on the planet do that. someone that is used to being incredibly far away, both in personal relationships and data from the consumer. Because they sell you know, products through a third party, and being like, you know you can deliver much more value and develop much more value of propositions. If you build really type relations with your consumers and you involve them in your product discovery and delivery process? So yeah, I think paramount.

Paul Blunden: And when you talk about customer centricity, what does that mean in an organization, it is about the data, the research, you know what what’s going on there that makes a brand or a business customer centric?

Kush: Yeah. I think for me. It’s an ability to tie all of your decisions, both you as an individual, you as a team, the individuals on your team around a clear understanding of what it would, what it will mean to at least your consumer as well as to your business and that you can really look in, you know. Look any trade-offs you’re making in the face.

I think you do that in in the ways that you describe, you do that through data. If you if you have a port, live through analytics, for you know what you can. You can gather that way. for research as a primary or secondary. I love developing personas, cause they’re one. They’re very useful, for it’s really it’s much easy to tell a story about a single person that you can then refine over time, build buying with your team and with your executive actually

And it’s much easier for me to put myself in a person who I can names shoes whenever I’m deciding, be that why should this button go, or should this feature even exist? Or do we even need digital tunnel for this for this proposition, you know all, all, all the different kind of zoom levels, I think, being having being remembered, really reminded of who the person is yourself, and for the people you’re solving for the companies is pretty helpful.

Paul Blunden: Yeah, I think that’s really helpful, because I’ve been interviewing researchers prior to this. And I’ve obviously been working in research for 20 odd years although I’m not a researcher myself. But I find talking to researchers is their view on how customer centric brands is completely different to how customer product managers views are. And I do wonder whether it’s because researchers view it as. But if they’re not doing much research, they can’t be customer centric, but it feels like for product managers, customer centricity goes way beyond just carrying out some research. It’s really cultural in some ways.

Kush: I think so. I think it very much is a mindset. And that mindset is one that the organization needs to engender, and is reflecting people, that it highest, and then into the tools that employees, and then the work that it does. So I think it does filter all the way down.

That being, said I, you know where it’s in places that really don’t know how to really get the most value of their researchers. And I really feel, for whenever I meet specialists who just isn’t, they’re not quite letting them fly? No, they need to. So I think, is that combination of the quality in the corner of the what’s happening and why you do need. You do need both. And I think it’s why we do need reaches people on teams on every level.

Paul Blunden: And what are the I mean? You mentioned this one of the areas I’d love to explore is when brands don’t do research, or the researchers get frustrated. What do you think is causing that

Kush: I think a lot of people have not had the luxury of coming across someone that who is, who has been used to research. And as someone who’s only watching companies from the beginning where that was someone on my team that I learned an awful lot from. And his principles, you know, imbued in me. And then I was able to do that for a long time on my team when I didn’t have a user research not.

So not anywhere near the standard that they that those guys can in the way that they think. But I think you can really see the difference of the level of insight that you can bring, and the how you, how well you can tie your decisions to, actual pieces of real world information? and how in and how many things, or how many efforts to experiments succeed versus fail. But you to build this kind of bank of in that really quickly.

whereas I think it’s easy to present yourself as someone that is quite you can. You, you, you know, user centric or customer centric. But often when you come to deliver, you come to personally. Now you learn how we got, we actually got this a bit wrong and then back examining why and how you can, how can you? How we can use research better?

Paul Blunden: And research obviously, is just one of the tools product managers have that they dispose. I mean, what does the tool kit look like these days?

Kush: Wow! I guess it depends what we’re trying to do. I think I’m very lucky right now. on the next team at. Because as I kind of said that we have. We? You know, we’ve been given the autonomy to build our own culture around research and around customers interested broadly. And then the right people with the right mindset and them to.

And I guess we’ve been very good at being innovative. And when we’ve been doing 0 to 1 stuff and testing out new ideas for the scrappy off the shelf tools. We can use that, let us, you know, put a square space with a type form to get a quick understanding of what I can see as I, and where the demand is, and throw a smoke, test up and learn before we build out something slightly more mature.

And then being able to really quickly process that with something like a sigma, and I mean the number of low code. No call platforms out that can get you like a pretty scrappy Mvp. Pretty quickly, just to answer your big assumptions, the big questions, and let you then go away and say to somebody, Hey, here’s the is! The robust insights that I’ve got the validate, the direction I want to take is in. I now need this investment for me to come and do that.

So yeah, I think it’s we’ve been lucky that we can put together our own toolkit. But it does definitely change, depending on what stage of the life cycle we’re in?

Paul Blunden: And you mentioned, I think, that your product is using AI But in our sort of side of the industry generative AI is getting talked about a lot in terms of his role in research. And I wonder whether you had a view on how generative AI would affect product management, perhaps.

Kush: Wow, yeah, this is so interesting. I think the, I guess there are two big ways I think they will affect. That’s part of management if I have to like two big buckets. Still, quite the one the job itself. I’ve been if that’s like, what’s your any question the first challenge of for the man is is knowing how much to keep your head above the wall, looking at what’s happening in the market, and what texts are managing, and I which you had done, and get me what’s in front of the I think I wrestled with that with the other Them hype cycle that we’re still very early in at the moment.

I think what will change is the job will change around this, as it will do for marketers and people that write, copy and or make content. I think the quicker that we learned to familiarize ourselves with it. And you know, I’m sure I, like many people, have been using it as like a very smart assistant, essentially, to help me. Brainstorm ideas improve my emails right? Accessing copy through to get me recipes. And I’m within the party. So I think, being in the process, it is important, and it will. The job will change around us as new generations of Pm. And the teams we work on in by or taking a of them into their workflow, which I think is already happening. and then to the actual propositions that we built and the context in which our propositions live will be vastly different. Right? If no one.

Let’s take a crazy example and say, no one ever uses search ever again, and the whole world experience through conversational chat. Then if I’m someone that that acquires us to Google ads, and I’m saying the platform has content on it. Then the context of my proposition is completely changed. So yeah, I think we’re, I think, as has been describing many people that we’re about to see a shift quite similar to the printing press being invented. and we have no idea all the ways in which things will change we very early. There’s loads of ways in which I think the current technology is yet to evolve, and we have to figure out how to regulate and all kinds of interesting stuff. Yeah, I think product management. because, we are technologists that need to be innovative with how we deliver value solve problems for people that can then the values of businesses. I think it’s going to be a massive shift.

Paul Blunden: Oh, okay, so you have. Well, let me move on a little bit from that. Then. I wanted to ask you about, say, a product related success, perhaps, that you’re particularly proud of maybe that you and your team have sort of worked on or over the years.

Kush: Yeah. I mean, I can stick with the I’ll stay with the. As for now I think one of the one of the challenges we’ve been working with the team on around consumer health care is that The foundation around which good health, care, or self care is built is education. And right.

Now, if I take my example to my mom, she lives in the web, which is a bunch of questions. Can’t go and see her. Doctor has a lot of time Googling, to get answers to questions on menopause and her healthy aging, and there’s a lot of misinformation. She doesn’t know what to buy, what to try. And so we were building this proposition or figure out, how do we? How do we enable the self-care journey? And how do we build up? Maybe a platform that can, that can be a source of education?

Let’s say and then this big, this moment, this momentous occasion last Christmas, without them being born. And you see how the world might change in what the context that proposition is evolving, and we put, I put a bit of a business case together to say why we should be it. Why will we be a tiny team in a company that doesn’t really do any. AI should be spending any energy running experiments, using other lens just to live with the technologies capable of and how we might operate in that space.

And a very small team was very scrappy use open source. LMM technology added in like a knowledge base, and basically says, How do we make this? Then answer questions in a way that it doesn’t hallucinate as much as it might do at the moment. So it delivers some very fine information, and just built same. That experiment up and getting to an architecture, that my work and some simple requirements is like a really fun projects. I think we like a lot by just doing. And even though from the outside, looking in like an executive like, why we spend any money doing that? We’re not. We’re not going to be that company anytime soon, you know. It’s not, you know, super high on the roadmap, and I that the kind of conversations that you that are pretty fun. There’s a lot of that. We have to be ahead of some of this stuff and learning by doing so. I’m been super proud of that. What we’ve been doing. this is really interesting. And it changes every week because of the rate of change of that technology.

Paul Blunden: yeah, that’s really fascinating, isn’t it? there’s so many people I speak to who are trying to do some sort of experiment with AI just to see what it can do, whether it can change And you know there’s differing degrees of success. But it’s important, I think that we do experiment in your I mean in your sector. It feels like it could be absolutely transformational.

Kush: Definitely, it definitely could. And I think of One of my favorite books that I got many years ago, when I first joined I was working on AI for health care. This book called life 3.0, and it characterizes the kind of it says the AI is basically this rising tide. And the things that it can accomplish is this kind of valley They like the the bottom of the valley of things like surprisingly playing chess and doing simply doing massive calculations. And then the top of the valley is like creating subjective. Our and health care is up here just because it’s like really high risk,  quite new on the times.

So I think you’re right. It will be very transformative, especially in health care, especially the problem that describes about scaling access to information and help people change behavior. But the risk is so high. So it’s a journey will all be on, I think, at pace. I’m excited to see.

Paul Blunden: As we’re all consumers and health care, of course, so I think we’re all excited to see it, too.

And then finally, Kush maybe I could ask you about your biggest learning since you started working in the product area?

Kush: Oh.  yes, okay, I. The thing was been. It was. It’s a it’s a personal one to me. I think that lots of project management is sitting in ambiguity. I’m not being comfortable sitting on the you see, as a doctor in a and a you know. Paul comes in chest paying sweating heart rate. So my whole game is to like quickly get to an answer and figure out what you have and starts to which kind of runs counter to B.

How a good product management works, which is, needs to be comfortable sitting in the like in the in the problem space for a bit and looking at everything that’s out there and then back in the solution space and look at all the ways that you might solve it, and it’s tempting to like reach early for a solution and just go, but actually like being comfortable with an ambiguity and letting the people around you your design as your engineers, your R&D experts feed it and tinker with an idea. And I think that is, when actually the magic happens.

But it’s been hard to me to. You know, it’s been a development goal of mind to get more comfortable in that transition of being okay with good enough and with ambiguity rather than kind of perfection. And the same qualification. So it’s very big for me.


Paul Blunden: It’s a great learning, I mean. I think it all benefit from that. Such a human thing to leap for solutions, isn’t it? When there’s a problem facing you, and to sort of exist, as you say, an ambiguity. That’s pretty tricky.

Kush: tough one

Paul Blunden: good stuff. Kush, thanks so much for your time. It’s been really interesting to hear your views. and how, even in the of 5, 6 years, you’ve been in product that you know, things have changed. And your view of product management is, yeah, really fascinating. And yeah, thank you very much for your time. Really appreciate it.

Kush: thanks

Paul Blunden: What an interesting conversation with Kush! Great to speak to somebody who’s come from the health care world and become a product manager in health care bring a really interesting perspective, and of course they join the industry at a time of great change. And you have really refreshing views on that and also on generative AI, which, was a really unique perspective.


Anyway, that was Another interview in my series with product leaders. and do 10 check out the Channel to find the others.

I’m Paul Blunden, founder of UX24/7. And we help product people, designers and people who do research deliver high performing products and services.

You can find out more about what we do by visiting our website. That’s ux247.com. Or find me on Linkedin and message me there. And, better still, subscribe to this channel, and there’ll be another interview coming along soon.

Paul Blunden: Thanks for watching.