Pet Project and Hacks Days: How THE ICONIC’s Director of Product Top Maintains a Motivated Team

Give a little, get a lot, says Zoe Ghani.


“For me, the journey of learning to be a leader really began in my first management role many years ago and will continue for the rest of my life,” Zoe Ghani tells Collective Hub. “It started with knowing myself better, by knowing my own strengths and blind spots as well as my natural preferences so that I was able to understand how I can work best with my team. This is an ongoing process as we are all ever evolving and we are constantly learning how to make ourselves better.”

With early roles in news reporting and in media organisations like News Corp and Yahoo!7, her journey to Director of Product on one of Australia’s biggest e-commerce fashion sites, THE ICONIC, hasn’t exactly been linear. Applying own learnings to her year-old position, Zoe has a fresh, forward-facing approach to team dynamics.

With a 60 person strong in-house tech team that spans aspects of user experience, design, engineering and product management – who Zoe refers to as “passionate”, “entrepreneurial” and, adorably, in “love” with the brand and product – there’s certainly a lot to manage. Regardless, there are a few standout principles that Zoe believes underpins her motivated team.

Here are some of the ways that Zoe inspires her team to be creative, keep their eye on the prize and collaborate like champions.


Using processes to drive (not hinder) creativity

There’s nothing more stifling than having your idea quashed by a long line of bureaucratic box-ticking.

“We eliminate as much superfluous process as we can,” Zoe echoes. “We don’t really do process for the sake of it. We have two key frameworks in the technology teams; agile and product management.”

Creating a clear framework from the outset gives product managers and user experience designers the chance to decide on their own key steps towards problem solving.

“We debate less and focus on testing with real customers more,” she says of the results of this framework. “We conduct A/B testing, interviews, surveys. For small projects where the team needs a quick check-in with customers, they will conduct guerrilla testing by walking over to Pitt Street Mall and talking to people.”


Giving your employees a little freedom  

This isn’t the kind of superficial freedom that comes in unmonitored start times and 65 minute lunch breaks – it’s a deeper, more valuable type of independence.

“We want to make sure that we continue to engage our teams and create space for them to contribute their great ideas, learnings and passion. We believe everyone is a leader – there are no followers,” Zoe explains. “For this reason, we have organised ourselves into largely autonomous cross-functional teams to provide enough freedom in the day-to-day.”

Further to the principle of having processes drive creativity, THE ICONIC removes “dependencies” on hurdle-heavy bureaucracy and by extension, giving team the freedom to focus on solving customer challenges, as opposed to wasting time getting every alteration checked off by management.


(And a little room for fun)

In the same way giving yourself the space to experience other cultures can enhance your creativity at work, Zoe recognises the fundamental impact of giving her staff the additional space to funnel passion into any range of projects.

“Every fortnight we have a Pet Project Day where anyone can work on something they are passionate about. There is only one guideline; work on something that makes our customers’ lives better or work on something that makes your, your team or another team’s working life better,” she explains.

In addition to twice yearly, company-wide Hack Days, where participation is encouraged across departments, Pet Project Day feeds enthusiasm for problem solving and collaboration, creating an internal incubator for fresh, new ideas.

“Although we like to see these ideas make it ‘into the wild’ (as internal system upgrades or customer facing features) the goal is simply to work on what you are passionate about, even if it doesn’t get actioned.”


Checking in on the health of company culture by appreciating differences

Along with applying flexibility for family and individual needs, Zoe’s attitude to individual staff strengths is understandably well received amongst the team.

“I believe everyone has their own ‘super powers’, she tells us. “This sounds cheesy but it’s how I figure out the best way to bring different people’s strengths together into a team. Nobody is going to be perfect at everything and nor should they be expected to.”

The extension of this is the workplace holy grail: a simultaneously productive and happy office.

“When someone’s strengths are recognised, they can be matched to the right responsibility or mission. It’s really great to see someone ‘in the zone’ and really passionate because their superpower is matching their mission.”


Keeping the customer at the core

By using the customer as the touch point for all work, Zoe can keep her team’s eye on the prize, which in turn creates validation for both the customer and team member. What better pat on the back is there than knowing your efforts made a significant, measurable difference to the end user?

“We involve customers in the way we work every day. We validate ideas, concepts and user experience designs,” confirms Zoe.

By constantly testing things like button placement, calls to action and image sizes in all new iterations of user experience, Zoe’s team can be sure that any customer goals they’re kicking go straight through the posts.

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