Guest Post by: Magdaline Derosena (Mentee, Session 9, The Product Mentor) [Paired with Mentor, Andrew Hsu]
Transitioning from a young college student to an entry level Business Analyst , the top lesson I learned was how to problem solve effectively. I discovered that I must research and understand the entire system and process, problem solve with my team, and share lessons learned. The four memorable moments below taught me, and continue to teach me these lessons.
My career started at Hewitt Associates which was a human capital and management consulting firm that operated 500 offices in 120 countries. We provided consulting, insurance brokerage, information technology and business process outsourcing services.
At Hewitt, I was a Business Analyst on the TWA (Trans World Airlines) and Nalco Team. My team serviced retirement plans and employee stock plans for two clients, TWA Pilots and Nalco Chemical Company (now called Nalco Water). I worked in conjunction with call center representatives to process payments from their retirement accounts. When the stock market would close at a high there would be a 50% increase in calls to request fund transfers. The retirement accounts were their livelihood and the majority of each of these accounts were in excess of over two million dollars. So, you can imagine how irate clients would become when payments were not processed. My main responsibilities were processing contribution payments, processing loans, withdrawals, IRA transfers, calculating and processing payments, and establishing beneficiary’s accounts.
In my first year, thousands of incorrectly processed transactions happened daily. The list of errors were more than 50 pages long and my team and I had to resolve them. I investigated each problem’s source, corrected the dollar amount, which cleared the transactions to be reprocessed overnight. All transactions, including transactions from the current day, were pending until 10pm after which the money would post to the client’s account. I assumed all the errors were corrected since I completed a thorough investigation. However, on multiple occasions the transaction would error a second time. This was due to incorrect contribution amounts, the system not finding an account, or invalid employer data. As a result, my backlog doubled, clients’ frustrations increased, and multiple management meetings resulted. Needless to say, a process that was supposed to be resolved with a one-day turnaround time was extended by two or three days. The pressure of meeting my deadlines while maintaining my daily tasks became daunting.
After researching the problem with my team, we came up with a solution. We prioritize our day so that correcting these transactions was the first items on our list. After correcting the amount of the transaction, it would be verified by another team member for accuracy and therefore ready to post next day. Within two weeks, the team decreased our workload by 60 percent and I decreased my error turn around time from 4 days to 2 days. This method was so successful that other lines of business implemented it and I was also able to move on to more high level projects within the organization.
After Hewitt, I became a Program Assistant of Northwestern University Center for Talent Development for Gifted Kids where I managed the application process for four different programs: preschool, elementary, junior high, and high school. Every quarter there were thousands of online and paper applications.
Once again, accuracy was an issue. The team was making errors in processing student applications and enrollments. More than half of the applications were processed incorrectly. These system errors increased our backlog and costs, and delayed enrollments. I noticed parallels to the problems I experienced at Hewitt and realized that my problem solving method could apply in this situation.
I reminded myself to explore the system, problem solve with the team, and share the new approach and lessons learned. First, I spoke with team members and my development team to assess the problem. I found that there wasn’t a protocol for online payments, check processing, or the enrollments process.. I developed and implemented a standards process to address each problem which included user guides and one-on-one training for each team member. In the end, the new process and training increased completed online applications by 60%, increased enrollments and enabled checks to be processed nightly.
Ex. 3 – transition, state the problem, reiterate the thesis, and then tell the story
After working at Northwestern University, I became a consultant and was responsible for servicing one of the largest banking institutions in the nation. Due to recent changes to the bank’s business goals, 20,000 accounts were deemed unserviceable and I was given the task to remove 20,000 accounts from the system.
Taking a cue from past problem solving, I started by completing an an in-depth analysis of the problem with my team. We found that the top three account errors were duplicate accounts, errors in annuity payments, and incorrect personal data.I used federal and state government data as a source of truth and thus confirm personal data and remove duplicate accounts. As a result, our backlog decreased by 50%. Once the project was complete, my team and I discussed the lessons learned.
I remained in the consulting industry for a few years before I gaining an opportunity in the start-up industry. As Product Manager for a scrappy startup, I led agile sprints, collaborated with leadership and engineers, created user stories, and managed Jira. The largest problem I faced was an outsourced development team which did not have a set process and was slow to resolve bugs and issues on our platform. As I explored their backlog and process, and spoke with the team, I discovered fifty outstanding tickets, over sixty days old. Knowing we needed to get these issues resolved ASAP, I organized the bugs by theme and spoke with the team to determine blockers, concerns, and the best way to sequence the bugs. After re-prioritizing the backlog, I created a new process where at the end of each sprint, the team would present a demo, and we would test and close the JIRA tickets together. The new prioritization and process worked well and we were able to resolve the large backlog efficiently. Finally, I helped set up team retrospectives where they discussed what happened during the sprint and identified areas of improvement.
In my career, the lesson that I learned and continue to learn was how to problem solve effectively. I continue to use and iterate upon the four step strategy of: explore the system, problem solve with the team, share new approaches, and share lessons learned. These steps have enabled me to solve client paints points in a timely manner while maximizing resource usage.
Magdaline is an Enterprise Product Manager who has played a key role in major electronic communication & collaboration initiatives. Magdaline has fifteen years’ consulting in startups, health care, and financial services with clients such as JPMorgan Chase, Capital One, and Wells Fargo. She has co-facilitated and led Agile training sessions for students in Master of Engineering in Silicon Valley.
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