Last week, Product School hosted Vasudha Mithal, Senior Director of Product at Headspace Health for an #AskMeAnything session. Vasudha talks about the importance of putting the user first, putting the problem before the product, and pivoting into product.

If you’re not part of the Product Community Launch!, we strongly recommend you join to connect with more awesome Product People like Vasudha.

Meet Vasudha

Vasudha Mithal, Senior Director of Product at Headspace Health

Vasudha loves building products and working with teams that maintain high customer empathy and appreciate diversity. Her foundations are rooted in Computer Science nurtured with consulting experience and now creating an impact with product, business, and operational leadership.

Can you share more about what your role at HH encompasses?

I belong to the healthcare side of the business. Headspace and Ginger merged in Oct ’21 to form Headspace Health. I belong to the prior Ginger org. My team is responsible for building our care platforms. This includes:

  1. The systems used by our care teams (coaches, clinicians) to deliver care
  2. Operational tooling to run clinical operations
  3. Healthcare billing, and
  4. Integrations with large healthcare systems such as Kaiser and Cigna.

In this role, the prioritization discussion encompasses a cross-prioritization across several functions at our company. While there are several standard prioritization frameworks (e.g. RICE), ultimately it boils down to what are the biggest problems that your company is trying to solve at the moment.

Are we driving the right member outcomes (e.g. are we reducing their depression and anxiety scores)? Are we retaining and keeping our care teams happy and growing our network? Are we operationally efficient to keep our business viable? Do we have the infrastructure to unlock commercial deals and reach more people?

You measure these, build a deep product and business sense for what is critical right now for your company’s success and prioritize. It is crucial to communicate with all stakeholders to keep a tab on pain points (not the solutions or features they request but the problems they are dealing with).

When it came to your prior work at Ginger, how did you 1) decide on which metrics were most important, and 2) what tools and systems did you create to keep track of those metrics?

I’ve seen that metrics really shift the entire mindsets of Product Teams – so this indeed is a very important topic. My metrics thinking has always been guided by our company’s mission. Our company really focuses on delivering mental health outcomes for our members. We discuss ‘good churn.’ Of course, user engagement is an important KPI but we care more about getting people better so they don’t need a coaching or clinical service anymore. On the provider side, it is really about provider retention, happiness and workflow efficiency. There are some standard healthcare metrics for billing system health (e.g. AR, claim denials, etc.), What is most important really depends on the state of the business!

We’ve primarily used Looker and Amplitude for our metrics.

It’s hard for me to answer the prompt, “show me example of where I have worked with engineering to come up with an alternate way to solve something or to redefine the scope to make sure it fits timeline or architecture.” Any advice?

A way to think about these questions is “What is the core skill my interviewer is trying to assess me on?” This one is most likely looking for creative thinking, technical acumen and hard prioritization. A sample articulation is: “When we looked at the LoE for the entirety of a multi-quarter project, we were way over a reasonable timeline. Sat down with R&D partners to take a deep look at what were the most expensive sections and how critical were they to a project’s success. Expensive UX, a highly ambitious technical system (e.g. spinning up a new/modern security infra or authentication service) or fancy features. These are all areas to consider trimming down after weighing pros/cons.

Interviews are always a tricky time and require much mindfulness and presence. It is so common to feel a little stressed. I hope I provided a little help. Wish you all the best in your journey!

What is the best way to handle new opportunities that hint at potentially high user value but may not currently be a high priority for business? How often should one revisit/reassess such opportunities?

That indeed is a tricky one. Ideally, you’d imagine that the business has some high priority that is tied to the user value. Those are relatively easier to prioritize. At the same time, there are several intuitive initiatives that enhance usability or some other element that is not necessarily delivering a business outcome. A way to stay ahead of those is to keep some carveout in your QTRly plan to deliver user value based on your product sense. It is very similar to how you might tackle tech debt. In the long-run, you should still assign these initiatives measurable value to get a better sense of prioritization later.

I come from a Data/BI background. Do you have any advice for me on transitioning into a Product Role? What kind of skills stand out on CV to hiring managers?

Generally, where I’ve seen people best succeed in transitioning is when you change one dimension at a time. So, either change your company, role or industry. Trying to move across several things is hard (not impossible). In that context, the best shot is at trying for a product role within your existing company. Build relationships, try to stick around product work (e.g. exploratory analysis to help product teams prioritize, understand usage, measure impact, etc.) and ask mentors to let you drive some work (usually there is SO MUCH work everywhere that people are happy to get support! There are Data related product roles too (e.g. building data platforms). In the CV, anything you can highlight to indicate prioritization, analytics, strategy is useful too as that’s pretty central to a product role.

Career transitions are both an exciting and challenging phase. 

As someone who is product curious and looking to make a pivot from operations over to Product, what sort of advice can you share?

I have a rockstar PM on my team who switched from operations to product. While she was in Ops, she reflected so much structured thinking, and business sense that it was a no-brainer to get her on the Product Team when she expressed an interest. She was already partnering with product to get several operational problems resolved that she got exposure to design and engineering (never hand waved saying this is not my area).

For someone starting in a product role, my experience was that it is useful to get exposure to a structured organization (to experience roadmapping, annual/QTRly planning, end-to-end GTM planning). No organization will be perfect but at least you’d know some example processes and figure out what works best for me. Then when you move to a smaller organization, you can replicate the process that you love.

I hope it helps!

Any final advice?

My one simple advice is to “love the problem you are working on more than you love the product.” It is truly important to stay attached to your problem (users, business and their pain-points) and not get too attached to your product. Your job is to fix the problem, which might involve tough decisions like even deprecating a product that you built.

Another thing is – there is a lot of stress that comes with this role. Make yourself and your mental health a priority!

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