Finding a Job

What It’s Really Like to Be a Product Manager at Samsung NEXT

Dana Nguyen, Principal Product Manager at Samsung NEXT
Dana Nguyen

Name: Dana Nguyen

Title: Principal Product Manager

How long she’s been at Samsung NEXT: 8 months


Q&A


Tell us about your career journey: How did you end up working as a product manager?

It was a bit of a Goldilocks journey. I majored in electrical engineering at Stanford (a bit too technical for my liking), then swung the pendulum to the other side for more creative work (albeit data driven) in the Associate Product Marketing Manager program at Google. After five years in that role, I realized I’m way too opinionated about how I think the product should work to not have a say in feature development, so I ventured off by myself for a bit to build my own products.

I learned the most trying to do my own iOS app—designing, prototype testing, coding. Wearing all the hats was probably the best education in product management and gave me much more appreciation and empathy for all of those roles. I realized the part I loved the most was deeply understanding the user problem and building the strategy around it—which is how I continued into PM roles.


What attracted you to work at Samsung NEXT? How did you know it would be a good fit?

I love the fast pace and thrill of uncertainty in seeking the elusive product-market fit of startups; however, I also realize that there’s a loss of perspective when everyone is in that same boat and same stage of the journey. I often found that talking to people outside my immediate companies would give me lots of great ideas and advice. So, what I found compelling about Samsung NEXT was that the broad product portfolio approach would allow for that same type of diversity of thought when it came to problem-solving and allow me to observe and learn from products in very different industries and life stages.

The opportunity to work at such a venerated company and yet maintain the startup mentality was also a huge draw. There’s decades of success and innovation behind Samsung, so I know there’s so much I can learn from working at their intersection of hardware and software.

I’ve learned that no matter how good an opportunity is on paper, work is always about the people that you spend your days and weeks and months with. I knew it would be a good fit when I met all the people on the team. The mix of hustle, creativity, attitude, and passion for the problem was a sure sign that I’d enjoy spending many hours of Zoom calls collaborating and learning.


What are you responsible for as a product manager at Samsung NEXT?

I’m specifically working on Whisk in the Samsung NEXT product portfolio, focused on launching and growing our family of consumer apps. I consider myself responsible for making sure that the whole team is aligned and has the resources to hit our goals—ranging from usage to retention to revenue.

Alignment is never binary—it’s a constant work in progress. New user data, market conditions, or development surprises can upend pretty much any roadmap or well-crafted strategy. Sometimes it's the goal posts themselves that need to be analyzed and changed. Ultimately, we want our product to be the best in the market, loved and shared and used by lots of people, and there are an infinite number of paths that can get us there. I like to think my job is keeping my ear to the ground, listening across the cross-functional teams and our customers, trying to capture and decode all the available signals that can inform the path we take.


What does a normal day in your job look like?

Most of my development and design team is eight to 12 hours ahead (we’re a fully distributed team), so mornings are usually the best for synchronous meetings like design reviews, backlog grooming, sprint demos, cross-functional team check-ins, etc. It also means I usually wake up to quite a bit of chatter on Slack, so I’ll take time to review and see if there’s anything flagged for my feedback.

We all wear many hats on the Whisk team (#startuplife), so after my run of early meetings, I like to jump into the support queue—seeing what people write in to say is one way I stay grounded in our customer needs!

I spend a lot of time in meetings—while other functions have more concrete deliverables like Figma designs or code or completed test scenarios, my main deliverable is team alignment and strategy. Which generally requires a lot of listening, both in one-on-ones and in smaller groups, and looking for where we have gaps and opportunities to improve. I almost always have multiple Mixpanel tabs open to various things we’re tracking and am obsessively aware of the impact of the work we’re doing towards our goals.

A lot of my non-meeting time is spent in Slack—asking questions, answering questions, and keeping up with what’s happening across other teams (always on alert for how we can support each other!).

I try and keep time open in my afternoons for space to explore some of the bigger strategy questions. Generally it’s time that I think of questions and go searching for answers—sometimes it’s diving deep into data, or it’s more general research, or it’s setting up user interviews or a huddle with some of our other PMs to think through our strategic crossovers.

Near the end of my day, I always try and make sure I’ve documented any questions or feedback for the development team—I want to make sure that as they’re waking up, I’m not a blocker. My final task for the day is to go through all my open windows and close out my open tabs that I don’t need anymore. It’s the closest thing I have to a task list!


What is the product development process at Samsung NEXT?

Because all of the products at Samsung NEXT are at different levels of maturity, we tend to find what process works best for the team based on its own trajectory. I’m on a fairly large team within Whisk supporting four platforms across all the functions, so we needed a bit more structure and coordination. We run in a “Tribes” and “Squads” model—with myself, design, engineering, and marketing represented as tribe leads. Our current cycle is closest to scrum, with pockets of lean, in two-week sprints.

The product process is constantly evolving, and I’d say there are two sides of how we decide what to build. On one side, it’s about vision and metrics: From a three-year vision (primarily outcome based), we have outlined annual goals, and from there, we’re setting quarterly Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) that will help us toward that annual goal. The tribe leads get together to set (and grade) those OKRs and share them with the squads for additional input.

The other side is the features themselves. One exercise I do is user story mapping—laying out the entire user journey in terms of “activities” and “tasks” (informed by qualitative and quantitative research) and building our backlog of ideas in that format. In that journey, it can then be helpful to visualize where in the journey we have better coverage and where it’s “thin.” It’s not quite straightforward—our vision may also direct us to be more robust in some areas than others. We also map customer feedback to the different ideas as another signal to evaluate priority. With all those ideas and our metrics and goals in mind, I like to identify the “themes” of features (usually specific areas in the user story map) we’ll want to focus on for the quarter that will move the needle on our goals. It still breaks my heart to push out features because we’ve determined it will have a low impact.

From those themes, we transition into more tactical features, beginning a cycle of problem definition and design exploration. We are still experimenting with the right length of time to dedicate to this—we’ve done design sprints and longer explorations. Generally there are a few feedback loops before we’ve finalized the experience and scope and pass along complete epics/stories and scenarios to developers. It’s not a “perfect” scrum—the two-week sprint is more about development and QA, with design running a bit ahead, but it does help us scope things to be more lean (how can we ship something small and measure to see if this is validating our hypothesis). That said, all rules are made to be broken and we’re currently in a cycle that is a larger feature spanning two sprints.

We have biweekly demos where different members of the team present work that has been complete, and when the release is live roughly every two weeks for mobile, we publish notes to a Slack channel (with copious Slackmojis to celebrate).


How is the product team structured?

We have a pretty flat reporting structure, which is far more about being aligned and collaborative than a single decision point. I report into the Head of Whisk, as do the other product managers at Whisk. We have a program manager for all of Whisk who is part scrum master, part product/engineering facilitator for retros, process, and even design sprints and who generally keeps information flowing across all the teams.

The Samsung NEXT product portfolio structure is a bit unique, as there are functional roles that span across products and there’s benefit for having support functionally as well as for the product. So while the org chart may not have product and performance marketing reporting into product, there is frequent collaboration (as marketing is one of our assigned tribe leads). We have a fantastic research team that supports many products at NEXT to help set up, interpret, and coach qualitative and quantitative research.


What other stakeholders, teams, or types of people do you interact with on a regular basis?

I work very closely with my tribe and squad leads (across engineering, design, marketing, QA) as well as the other product managers and tech leads at Whisk. I have weekly touchpoints with the broader NEXT product, sales, engineering, and design leadership for digging into some higher-level strategic decisions.

And more casually, there’s lots of cross-product portfolio support from the broader Samsung NEXT family on Slack!


What skills are essential to succeeding as a product manager at Samsung NEXT?

Comfort with ambiguity and change, communicating complex ideas in a simple framework or story, documentation (essential for distributed teams!), collaboration, and a more general “hustle” to figure out how to get things done.


What are you working on right now that excites or inspires you?

We’re almost four months into having our mobile apps out in the world and it’s been incredibly exciting to see the positive responses come in from users, whether through NPS surveys, app store reviews, or even our support queue. Hearing how we are genuinely helping will always pump me up and inspire me to do even better.

More specifically, I’m excited about the opportunity to bring people together. Food is an inherently shared experience and thinking of ways to incorporate that essence into Whisk is challenging and incredibly exciting.


What do you value most about Samsung NEXT’s company culture? What sets it apart from other places you’ve worked?

This is the first fully distributed team I’ve worked on, and I’m incredibly impressed with how dedicated Samsung NEXT is to finding ways to make that successful, across time zones and continents. That dedication pays off in terms of the team that they’ve built—after working primarily in California (the Bay Area and LA), having such a culturally diverse team has been refreshing both personally (I’m learning about all sorts of interesting holidays and history!) as well as professionally (their backgrounds and experiences are beyond the usual SF/LA stories).

I also think that despite being part of a large, successful company, Samsung NEXT values agility and speed and experimentation—which can be hard to hold on to as companies grow.


What advice do you have for product managers applying to jobs at Samsung NEXT?

I would be sure to demonstrate your approach to creative problem solving and how you frame uncertainty. Examples of when you had to pivot, how you navigated data and customer feedback to develop a strategy.