Product All-Star: 6 questions with Steve Joos
Building products is an adventure. That is what makes it the best job in the world. But this role is not for everyone — true product success requires decisive action, continuous effort, and the relentless pursuit of value.
We have the honor of being connected to companies and product experts who go boldly and bravely. And we are asking folks to share their knowledge with you in the hopes it will inspire you in your own product career.
Steve Joos is the senior vice president of product management at Vanco, an online payments platform serving community organizations. Based in Cincinnati, Ohio, Steve is focused on delivering value for his customers while driving business results. Two of his keys to success are internal stakeholder alignment and a strong process to support the team's daily product development work.
When he is not on the job, Steve is a caretaker for a houseful of animals. He and his partner are also avid travelers and find joy in watching their six-year-old daughter explore the world and learn new things.
What was your first product role?
"Before getting into product, I worked for a textbook publisher. I moved around quite a bit within the company, working in content development and marketing, and I transitioned to a new brand that was very student-focused. We developed product experiences based on the students' study habits rather than exclusively focusing on the desires of the instructors. This process had a customer-first feel and motivated me to attend product management seminars and conferences, studying anything I could get my hands on. A leadership shift within the company paved the way for me to explore product management as a career, which I've been doing ever since.
Many of the companies I have worked with have been going through a transition. In some cases, they were scaling up. Others had stagnated and needed to find a path to growth. In all cases, I had to reaffirm — or redefine — the product vision. I like to root that vision in the original purpose of the business and the cultural values of the company. From that vision, I can define the details of the product strategy and get the whole team aligned. That helps me create a framework to innovate and make sound product decisions.
This is the kind of work I focus on right now at Vanco. I'm talking to people and getting a handle on different value propositions from a product and cultural perspective. I'm also ensuring our investment strategy is aligned and reflects our actual values, and I'm making sure everyone is speaking the same product management language and believes in the same purpose at the end of the day."
How do you rally the team around a shared framework?
"When it comes to implementing product management as a process and a framework, nothing is more important than the leadership team caring."
"Leadership has to be open to what its product team is delivering. We need to align on what matters to the organization, define goals that bring teeth to the vision, and then put a strategy in place to achieve those goals. This process centers around building trust and enabling open dialogue. Once we establish trust, getting buy-in is not an uphill battle when I share new initiatives with the executive team. The team knows what I am trying to do and already believes in it."
When challenges pop up, how do you help the team overcome them?
"When what an organization wants and what it is doing are disconnected, product challenges are inevitable."
"Fixing this requires going back to the basics. And the most fundamental part of any organization should be a shared vision. If one doesn't exist, this is an excellent opportunity to build one together. Then, when new challenges crop up, making decisions that keep you on an established path is easier.
Day to day, I believe in consistent, transparent decision-making and its power to prevent challenges from happening in the first place. For example, if I am pushing for a new feature as a product manager, I'm not just going to press play. I will talk honestly with my stakeholders about the scope and align expectations early. Then, I will check in with users, executives, and cross-functional leaders three or four times to ensure expectations and the current reality are connected. These relevant touchpoints enable strong collaboration and a shared belief in the value of what you are building."
"Make sure information is available to everyone. When there is a knowledge gap, incorrect assumptions happen. Safeguard against this by maintaining clear communication from request to solution."
What would you recommend not to do when starting out in a product career?
"Product managers think they must come into a new role and have all the answers. That's not the case. You do not need to have all the answers. But it would help if you had the right business processes to support your team. Establishing a coherent vision is first, strategy is next, but process has to be there too — that is what fuels your product's development."
What is the most exciting aspect of your current role?
"Before I take any role, I ask myself three questions: Is this an interesting problem to solve? Is the leadership team committed to solving the problem? And will I have the right sphere of influence to make a difference?"
"Vanco is a pretty incredible organization. I'm still in my first year, but I'm already seeing fantastic support from the entire team. We are building a process and framework together. And in my mind, the process is a product too. Because if we get that right, we have a streamlined framework to build solutions that customers love. I am very excited to learn, make connections across teams, and rally everyone around a sound playbook for success."
Read more of the Product All-Star series.
Know an inspiring product builder? Nominate them to be featured in an upcoming post. They simply need to be doing quality work and using Aha! software.