Becoming a parent gives Parentaly product management leader a chance to see the big picture
Imagine having the opportunity to build products made to support new and expecting parents - all while going through your own pregnancy and postpartum journey?
This was the reality for Mansi Kothari, who spent a few years working on Maven Clinic’s telehealth product team before joining Parentaly as VP of Product and Operations, where she’s currently helping create an even stronger parental leave experience for our users.
As she settled into her new role as a working parent a year and a half ago, Mansi recalls parental leave actually helped her become a better product manager. Instead of diving right back into execution mode, she explored user data and feedback, saw the product with fresh eyes and centered on the biggest user problems to develop her product strategy.
This doesn’t mean she didn’t experience some unique challenges in mastering boundaries as a product management leader. Especially because product managers are often connecting the dots between many different departments within an organization.
To ensure she continued to excel professionally without sacrificing time with her family, Mansi found several ways to balance the two - and still practices these habits today. For example:
She declines meetings she isn’t actually needed for - and says “no” to tasks that are too far outside of her expected responsibilities (a practice that didn’t come easily to her). This prioritization exercise helps free up her time so she can focus on the most impactful work during her work day.
Mansi also plans at least several months ahead of her design and engineering counterparts, to avoid the stress that comes with last-minute ideation and development.
Even though Mansi has a good rhythm at home now, she knows that work/life balance is constantly evolving - and thinks re-evaluating every few months is a good practice for parents to easily identify what’s working (and what isn’t!) as situations shift.
Read Mansi’s full Q&A below to learn more about her biggest challenges as a new parent in product management - and how she addressed them to become a stronger product manager
What was the most challenging part of taking parental leave?
“I was really nervous to take parental leave because I thought it would slow down my career progression, especially at a time when my company was growing and changing really fast. I’m also very Type A, so it was hard to let go of some of the exciting projects I was working on and hand them over to other team members.”
Did you prepare for your parental leave in a way to set yourself up for longer-term career success? If yes, how? If no, why not/what were your roadblocks?
“Prior to going on leave, I had my regular performance review cycle and mapped out career goals for my return-to-work period with my manager. I also built a very comprehensive coverage plan with a ton of documentation for my team while I was gone. I had everything ready to hand off a few weeks prior to my leave, and I was lucky to have a very supportive manager and an unlimited PTO policy that allowed me to take two weeks of PTO prior to my actual due date. I was really hesitant to take off early, but it turns out this period was absolutely necessary to unwind and relax after a very busy few years in my career before the baby arrived (and more chaos ensued!).”
What parental leave mistakes did you make? Are there things you wish you had done differently before, during or after your parental leave?
“I wish I had built a more explicit communication plan that defined the types of decisions I wanted to be involved in while I was on leave. I went on leave at the end of the year, right before important decisions about hiring, budget, company strategy and annual goals were made. With more involvement in these decisions, I would have been set up for success better when I was back.”
What did your manager or company do that was really helpful to your success transitioning back to work?
“I was able to work from home after I returned to work, which made it a lot easier emotionally to get back into the swing of things while still being able to see my kid. I also continued to breastfeed for a full year after birth because I had the freedom to block off time on my calendar or, in the case where this time was scheduled over for an important meeting, turn off my video to feed as needed.”
What is one professional achievement that you’re most proud of since becoming a parent and why?
“At Maven Clinic, I developed a really clear and compelling 18-month product vision for our patient telehealth experience that I believed truly could (a) advance our mission to transform women’s and family health and (b) inspire the teams I worked with to execute against it.”
If you had to name one thing (something you do, something you buy, something you have) that has had the greatest impact on your ability to manage working parenthood, what would it be?
“Finding opportunities to outsource certain household tasks (inclusive of and beyond childcare) has helped a lot. Real and ongoing conversations with my partner about division of household responsibilities has helped, too.”
What boundaries do you maintain as it relates to work/home? How have these boundaries shifted over time?
“When I first got back to work, I had a hard cutoff at 6 pm on weekdays and stopped working on weekends. Now that I have a good rhythm at home, I do work on weeknights occasionally but I maintain the weekends as strictly personal time. I think it’s 100% true that work/life balance is constantly evolving. It’s a good practice to re-evaluate every three-to-six months.”
What tips and tricks do you have specifically for parents in product management as they navigate parental leave? What makes taking leave as a product manager so unique?
“As a product manager, you can get so caught up in execution mode that you don’t always get time to step back and see the bigger picture. Coming back to work after taking a long leave is a great opportunity to dive into user data and feedback, see your product with a fresh pair of eyes and revise your product strategy to stay laser-focused on the biggest user problems.”
Something we often hear from product managers is that it’s a tough job to have as a parent because it’s hard to draw boundaries. You’re working on interesting projects and need to focus on those solutions—which doesn’t fit nicely into a 9-to-5. How have you managed this after having children?
“I think there are three unique challenges with product management as it relates to work-life balance:
- Product managers are inherently cross-functional, often working at the intersection of business stakeholders and technical teams. As a result, they get added to lots of meetings. For returning parents who are product managers, I recommend taking a hard look at all the meetings you’re a part of, especially recurring meetings, and ask yourself if you really need to be there. Try freeing up your time during the day so you’re not scrambling to work at night.
- Product management is a notoriously nebulous function, so it can become a catch-all for all types of responsibilities. Some skills I’ve been practicing to avoid overworking are: (a) saying ‘no’ more, (b) delegating tasks to other people and (c) holding others responsible for their work.
- Product managers set the priorities and requirements for designers and engineers, and their work can become highly reactive to things that go wrong during the product development lifecycle or in the live product. I compensate by over planning (thinking at least three-to-six months out from my design and engineering counterparts) and setting up good operational processes to help minimize fire drills.”
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