When I joined Shift in June 2018, the company and its products looked very different. I joined as VP Product to not only drive Shift’s product strategy, but also build out the Product Management function. At the time, we were known for our fraud detection solution and were developing our claims automation capabilities.
Today, we offer a suite of products designed to apply AI-driven decision automation and optimization to multiple processes across the policy lifecycle. It’s been quite a journey!
At the same time, the journey has only just begun, which makes Shift a fascinating place to do product work. Here’s some of what makes Product Management special at Shift:
- Building technology for the enterprise means building technology for a variety of stakeholders: Insurance companies are the epitome of an enterprise and Shift builds products for insurance companies. We don’t build for a single user, we build for many: the end user; the end user’s manager; the IT team; the security team; and so forth. For a product manager, it’s not only important to develop a product that solves the user’s problem as well as possible, but also one that takes into account the constraints of the other stakeholders within the company. If you can’t do that, your product will not be successful.
- Every insurance company is different and has very specific needs: When you sell technology to insurance companies, you necessarily have few, large clients. Each client has specific needs, and your product needs to adapt to their specific circumstances, client base, organizational setup and even naming conventions (is it a claim number or a claim ID?). This means the products you build must be both highly, and easily, customizable. This is a very interesting product (and UX) challenge.
- Insurers have long-standing IT systems: Insurers have been building up their IT infrastructure over decades. That represents a lot of technical debt with which you’ll need to coexist. You are never coming into a blank space. You will always be replacing or integrating with an existing system. As a product manager, you need to understand not just your competitors, but all the systems that surround your product in an insurer’s IT environment: their capabilities, their integration points, their limitations, and so on. It’s all very well to have a great product, but if it doesn’t play well with others, it will never be deployed; and maximum impact may require being part of a workflow (or data flow) that crosses several tools.
- AI is like having an additional team member: We build products using AI and we find it quite effective to think and talk about our products as though we are bringing another team member into the insurer’s team - a kind of super-intern who is very good at certain tasks. This helps us convey what our product does to our users, who are generally not technical, but it also helps us to frame our thinking about product features in our users’ terms, ensuring that we are solving real problems. It’s cool to think that you’re developing a super-intern to solve specific challenges within an insurer’s processes.
- AI is not like having an additional team member: At the same time, AI has different strengths and limitations when compared to human employees. In our product development efforts we continue to put a lot of energy into perfecting the interaction between our products and the team members that use them. For example, when the AI makes a decision, we must be able to explain the decision and put it into context, especially in those cases where the rest of the process may be handled by a human being. Defining this AI-human interaction is an important part of the product role.
These are a few of the aspects that make Product Management at Shift special, but of course there are more - Product Management in a fast-growing start-up with a global footprint is naturally an exciting challenge! We’d love to hear from you if you think you’re up to the challenge.