Pivot Stories

How to Break into Product Operations With Alana Levy from Flatiron Health

Alana Levy
Product Operations Manager @ Flatiron Health
Sales to Product Operations

Alana Levy is a skilled Product Operations Manager who pivoted into Ops from an eclectic background in sales and business development. Starting her career as a Sales Consultant at Oscar Health Insurance, she soon expanded her skillset at a health tech startup where her responsibilities ranged from managing a team of offshore engineers to fundraising from Venture Capitalists. Building off her deep experience in healthcare, she joined Flatiron Health where she has pivoted internally in a number of different roles such as Sales Operations, Sales, Program Manager, and now, on the Product Operations team.

Zeit invited Alana to speak with our cohort of aspiring PMMs about her path to Product Marketing. Read some highlights or watch the full video below.

Positioning Transferable Skills

One of the interesting things about Product Operations is how many different pieces there are to it and how many different things you can bring. 

You can spike in one area and maybe need to develop in another but that doesn't preclude you from doing really well in the role.

Often, you're working on multiple projects in multiple different rollouts that require different strengths at different times. You can build on one thing while you're working on something else so, having some customer facing background was important. I had worked with customers directly in the past while on the sales team so, when I needed to talk to customers and demo new products for them, I was able to easily develop and build relationships. Additionally, I had a sense for process development and process improvement from my role on the Sales Operations team. Since, Product Operations was not fully defined yet here, to work in ambiguous settings and pull a plan together was helpful for me.

Addressing Skills Gap

At first, I was really nervous about using the new software. Product teams work in a number of different types of software like JIRA and Confluence.

I had never used JIRA and Confluence before to track projects. One thing they were doing was writing out tickets and prioritizing in the backlog. I knew all of those things existed, but I had never written a ticket or tracked projects that way. I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to figure out what everybody was working on.

One time, somebody asked me to write a ticket. I just started doing it and hoped I was doing it right. I am a learn by trial and error kind of person.

In addition to that, I had never worked with such a large group of stakeholders and worked so cross functionally. Product Ops sits in the middle of several different people in the organization at Flatiron. In my core working group, I'll work with a Product Manager, two people from the Customer Success team, someone from support and an account manager, a product marketer, and someone on the training ops team. 

There are so many different stakeholders to balance. You are communicating up to leadership on the status of various projects and also communicating with the team. And I, sometimes, work with third parties and with customers.

Making the Pivot into Product Operations

I was lucky to be transferred internally and I already knew we have 280 oncology practices that use our software. We have customer conferences so I knew the types of stakeholders I was working with and what was important to them. I also had used our products before which can be complicated because they are medical tools that an outsider wouldn’t necessarily understand.

Breaking Down the Day-to-day

When we launch a new software integration with a third party to send orders for genomic sequencing tests, I focus on being smart with the features and the launch tactics. Reading the product requirements document on what this feature actually did. Then brainstorm about the beta customers and the most efficient way to work with this third party. Along the way I would jot down the details and start building a checklist of potential things that I could do.

Lightning Round

What about your personality makes Product Operations a good fit for you?

I am always curious about how to do more. Product Ops is so varied that you are jumping from working with different teams and different projects. It really satisfies my need to constantly learn new things. Plus, there's a lot of planning involved and I love to get into the weeds.

What are the top 3 qualities one needs to possess to be a successful Product Manager?

Communication, organization, and analytical capabilities.

Don't go into Product Operations if...

You don't like getting into the details. In Product Ops, you need to understand things like your customers and product to a T. If you aren't excited about that, Product Ops might not be the best fit for you.

What advice do you have for someone looking to break into Product Management? 

You need to keep trying. I had an entirely different role in that interim period of time between that first application and getting this job. I remember thinking "I'm the same person. I learned a little bit, I've done some things differently, but I wish you had hired me the first time." Don’t give up and apply to a number of different companies. As I moved through different roles at Flatiron, I was always trying to work on projects that I thought would build on my skills and make me more attractive for some of these other roles. I would just take on little side projects and develop relationships with the folks that ran these teams.

It’s about showing customer empathy, being able to show organizational skills, project management, being able to communicate, and having those skills rather than necessarily having had a specific role in the past.
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