October 10th, 2013 NYTech Council: Bridging The Communication Gap


On Thursday, October 10, 2013, OLC attended New York Tech Council’s event, Bridging the Communication Gap Between Product Managers and Stakeholders featuring Gilt Groupe’s Senior Business Systems Manager, Susan Thomas. Thomas has more than 10 years experience in engineering and she is a graduate of Seton Hall, where she studied computer information systems. Thomas joined Gilt in 2012 and has managed software and led designs sessions and architecture around business needs.


Susan Thomas: I started in the computer age with the internet. I decided to be an engineer—I started out as one here at Gilt. I always struggled with the decision between being an engineer and being part of the business. I worked on a project for two years, which ended up being a major failure. I had a choice: stay at Gilt as an engineer or in business. I stayed because I was passionate about the balance between an engineer and business.

I drew inspiration from a hot dog stand. Without a good hot dog, the hot dog stand is no good. So why did our project fail? I had no idea, so I was inspired to understand Gilt’s hot dog: luxury ecommerce. Gilt’s hot dog is made with trust, autonomy, decentralization with emerging centralization.

We have a lot of things to do. Gilt constantly evolves and business things are hard to manage. Two years is too long for a project, and for the business, the model changed and so did the problem. The things we tried were: Projects organized by demand and unpredictable SWAG-athons. But it got to be hard to manage because it didn’t solve our problems. Now we see PMOs as the brain. We’re trying to make it so that PMO is where all of our ideas are located.

For GILT, PMOs are SMEs, which means Subject Matter Experts. They are also tech partners, analyzers, drivers and questions the product (long-term solution). To define the hot dog, you need to understand the problem you’re really trying to solve. You need to question the way you’re going to solve it. Even drawing out the problem helps. Definite it again and define what it’s not. Finally, socialize it. Communication is important. No project plans, but road maps are okay. With KPIs, measure things that we want to solve because it provides transparency and ultimately, it builds trust.

Focusing on the objective means to have something tangible to work with. Don’t focus on something so big and lofty and don’t focus on the details too much. Confrontation is necessary to move forward—otherwise, it slows things down.

You need to fail fast and fail often. Focus on agile. Build an MVP. Gather what you need and iterate as fast as possible. The feedback you get is instrumental in developing your final product.