We’re spotlighting Lei Liang, Head of Product at DCS (NSW Department of Customer Service).
Lei heads up the e.Regulation program, and clearly has a passion for using his PM skills to make the world a better place.
Hi Lei! So first up, tell us a bit about yourself and your background.
I started my career in IT consulting in the mid 2000s, and I have a background in software engineering. I was able to put on my engineer hat but also did a bit of project management and eventually business analysis (BA). After a few years I moved on to a BA role within Equifax and worked on the various data as a service, consumer and b2b products. After that, most of my product experience is in financial services – I spent about eight years at Iress, UBank and Westpac working on various wealth management and consumer lending products. A few years ago, I decided to pivot away from financial services. I led the digital product team at Australian Red Cross for a year and then in the last two years, I’ve been with DCS where I’m currently the Head of Product for the e.Regulation program.
How did you end up in product, what drew you to it?
I’ve always been quite curious and interested in problem solving. That's probably why I fell into business analysis before product roles existed. The sense of adventure and curiosity eventually led me into product management.
Albert Einstein’s quote about problem solving really resonates with me. He says that if you have one hour to spend solving a problem, you should spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem, and then five minutes thinking about the solution. I relish the chance to understand, empathise, bring clarity to complex problems and work with others towards meaningful outcomes in solving these problems.
PMs are often driven by value, so I am often reflecting on ‘what impact does my product bring?’ and what might motivate me to realise this impact. Most products I’ve worked on seeks to benefit customers and in a way which works for the business. Often value is expressed as revenue targets or growth. As I progressed in my product management journey, I’ve come to realise that value could also have a deeper meaning. As an example, at the Australian Red Cross, the increase in engagement on our products may result in an increase in donations but the deeper value lies in the real social and people impact which the donations can bring.
Similarly, in my current role as Head of Product for the e.Regulation program; our 10 product teams are determined to improve the customer experience while ensuring the best regulation and safety outcomes. Our customers are individuals and those representing businesses of various sizes when interacting with the government. Innovation in our product is all about our ability to serve our customers in a new way which can adds value. As a recent example, our product teams achieved a major milestone – the goal of returning $10M to the economy, based on the time we’ve saved customers in getting licences. We’ve done this by removing friction and red tape for the small business owner or tradesperson when interacting with government.
What do you love most about working in product?
I love the opportunities to explore small, complex, and interconnected problem spaces. No day is ever the same. Whether it’s the end-to-end process for Luna Park to purchase and install a new amusement ride over an 18-month period, why someone might fundraise for a charity in their community, or how we might advocate for product-mindset and incremental delivery of value in a structured environment.
Those are exciting challenges that we, as product managers, get to tackle – being able to bring clarity to and translate a complex idea in meaningful way – ultimately to add value. That's what I love!
What are your ‘product passions’ – the things you love to do?
A key area of interest for me now is the ability to drive alignment across 10 product teams in a complex organisation environment experiencing rapid growth. Beyond the product vision, it’s easy for our teams to become siloed feature factories and diverge from the common goal.
Most recently, to encourage alignment, I established OKRs with a common set of five key product metrics for the product teams when framing their opportunities ahead of a product increment. By framing the potential investment of each product team’s time and using the DVF (desirability, viability, and feasibility) prioritisation framework, the teams were able to plan together and make decisions on which opportunities to pursue next.
Building on this, I’m hoping to include continuous discovery as part of the ongoing opportunity evaluation. Leveraging our customer research and other insights to better inform decision-making in future.
What made you decide to join APP, and what do you value most about being a member?
When I found out about APP, I was like ‘oh, finally!’ – a professional association like this has been missing for such a long time. Our discipline has been fragmented and siloed in some cases, and it is about time we have representation to align, promote and advocate product management through APP.
APP’s leadership will go a long way in changing the industry and allow product management to be globally accepted by organisations.
I am appreciative of some of the tools and resources that we can access through APP – I love the assessment tool for the APP Product Proficiency Framework. It has allowed me to not only highlight my strengths but help identify gaps in my skill set. This has helped me to think about how I can further develop as a product manager and product leader, based on the set of recommendations from the framework.
APP also gives me access to like-minded product peers and a community of awesome product people – that's pretty awesome too!
What advice would you give to someone thinking about a role in the product?
If you are considering a role in product, perhaps without knowing, you have already applied product skills in your current role. It might be problem solving, effective communication or collaboration – you probably have the solid foundation to transition into product. After all, that’s how most product managers, including myself, got into product – through some sort of transition. No one is ever born into product roles so don’t let the absence of a title stop you!
And if you are serious – go and talk to a product manager or join APP to get access to the resources and the product professionals’ community. You’ll find product people are the loveliest and most generous people, so I’m sure they’ll be more than willing to help you on your journey. (Interviewer’s Note: 11/10 can confirm!)
What’s one thing — product-related or not — you learned in the last month?
I’m a massive LOTR fan, and I’ve been enjoying watching The Rings of Power on Amazon recently. There is a bit of wisdom shared with the character Nori in the final episode of season one about the uncertainty that comes with setting off on an adventure: “When in doubt, Elanor Brandyfoot, always follow your nose.”
This is good advice when it comes to product management – to have a sense of wonder, mystery and adventure; to trust your instincts and follow your nose.
A big thanks to Lei for being part of the Member Spotlight series!