PSHE: A career growth framework

Lisa Huang
7 min readJan 5, 2021

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Career growth: PSHE framework

The first Monday in the dawn of a New Year is always exciting!

In the pre-covid days, you may bump into your colleagues near the espresso machine. You will exchange new year cheers and holiday stories, from heartwarming (or funny) family memories to exotic vacation surprises (fireworks launched from Letna Gardens with Prague Castle in the backdrop, anyone?)

The first Monday of 2021 was slightly different. I grabbed my cuppa tea (very strong earl grey for the extra caffeine boost 🍵) and settled down at my desk, attempted to exchange new year cheers on Slack but couldn’t - opted to start clearing my inbox instead and found a flurry of “New hires! Welcome onboard ______ 🎉 ” welcome emails.

Research from ZipRecruiter reports that job postings typically increase by 15% from December to January — and the number of job seekers spikes at the beginning of the year!

Dilbert cartoon: New year, new you, new hire?
New year, new you, new hire?

As an experienced “pivoteur” with five career pivots under my belt, I shared three lessons learned from Planet’s satellite commissioning team at a Girl Geek X event last September. Since then, people often reached out to me to bounce ideas and get some advice on career pivots.

I received this question from an early career Product manager recently:

“What should I optimize for as I look for a new job? I am afraid of making the wrong choice, which might slow my career growth?”

This got me thinking, is there a framework or mental model I can share to help make job change decisions?

Honestly, I think product managers love frameworks because they are shorthand for “here’s a structured way to analyze ___ problem, thanks!”

(I know, it’s a professional hazard 🤣)

If you’ve taken my Career Pivots: Product Management Masterclass, you’ve seen the Problem, Solution, How, Execution (PSHE) framework in action:

Problem, Solution, How, Execution (PSHE) Framework

Shishir Mehrotra is the Founder & CEO of Coda.io, the flexible all-in-one doc & workflow app! In 2008, Shishir was the Director of Product for Youtube Monetization at Google and decided to adopt the PSHE framework for his Product org’s career ladder.

🤓 I am going to use the field of Product Management for my example. But this can be applied broadly across functions.

Let’s start on the LEFT of the X-axis

PSHE framework: X-axis (scope)
Start on the LEFT of X-axis: SCOPE

Most early-career Product managers rely on the SCOPE of work as the rubric of growth. From owning a single feature ➡️ product sub-area ➡️ product line.

However, what differentiates senior candidates is not in the JOB they do, but HOW they do the job.

Let’s move to the BOTTOM of the Y-axis:

PSHE framework: focus on Y-Axis (PSHE)
Start on the BOTTOM of Y-axis: E for Execution

🅴 For junior PMs, you are often given a defined problem space; a fleshed-out solution; and instructions on “how” to execute. Your focus is to become an EXECUTION Powerhouse:

  • Write product design/requirements at the right level for engineers to implement
  • Run effective meetings with agenda and invite appropriate audience; keep the right people in the loop during development, launch, and iteration
  • Anticipate edge-cases, last-minute blockers, platform integrations, etc

🅷 As you become more senior (e.g. senior or group PM), you are given defined problem space and a rough solution. Now, you must figure out “HOW” to execute and get the job done:

  • Drive decision-making, prioritization and rally the team to meet your goals
  • Given a set of tasks, you can assemble the right cross-functional team, construct the right division of work and responsibilities, and set the cadence for execution
  • Have proven ability to influence and resolve contentious issues for varying levels of seniority, manage risks and dependencies across diverse functions, etc

🆂 Onwards and upwards! As a Director or Principal Product Manager, you are given an ambiguous problem. Now, you must design a SOLUTION, figure out how to execute it, and get the job done with the support of your team:

  • Take an unscoped area and “figure it out”
  • Design great, insightful products and solutions to ambiguous problems
  • Come up with an unexpected idea or technical insight
  • Proven success in changing the thinking of a large group (i.e. influence and champion change)

🅿 Finally, the most senior product leaders (Senior Director, VP of Product, Head of Product). As a visionary leader, you are given an ambiguous space and asked to identify and prioritize PROBLEMS to focus on, design solutions, …., and so forth.

  • Think broadly about where to focus and decide which problems to solve
  • Be the heart and soul of the direction of the team, or be very near to the top of the list
  • Enable others to solve problems, instead of always solving them yourself
Dilbert cartoon about frameworks
Is it a framework? A process? A mental model?

🧐 How can you apply the PSHE framework to your career growth? Especially when you are making a job change or career transition decision?

🅴 IF you are an early career candidate or making a transition into a new field/industry: focus on EXECUTION. Apply to jobs that will enable you to build solid foundational skills and execute near-flawlessly!

✏️ Early in my career, I build a foundation in data analytics, digital marketing, and product management skills through internships and my first employer, Morningstar, inc. My focus on execution and consistent results eventually led to my first stretch assignment, where I relocated to South Africa to head up our Sub-Saharan Africa Data Ops team.

🅷 As you grow within your field/industry: focus on the HOW. Keep building your execution track record with consistent results. Start developing your storytelling and communication skills to rally teams and align your stakeholders. Take on stretch assignments, or apply to jobs that help you round out your skills.

✏️ In 2011, I joined Toastmasters to improve my communication and public speaking skills — which accelerated my personal and professional growth.

In 2014, my startup received the World Design Capital: SUSTAINABILITY award; I won the District 74 Evaluation contest (up against Toastmasters from 9 countries), and presented a TEDx talk on Entrepreneurship!

Generation entrepreneur: Lisa Huang at TEDxTableMountain

🅿 & 🆂 Depending on your preference to remain as an individual contributor (IC) or take on people management responsibilities, your path may diverge next.

As an IC: develop deep technical expertise, domain knowledge, and business know-how. Chances are you will excel in one area over others, and that’s ok. As the solution designer, you should have deep knowledge of your industry and/or problem space, or have the drive to learn & absorb knowledge QUICKLY to design effective solutions. Leverage continuous education (e.g. getting an MBA or Masters) and upskill (e.g. certifications, MOOC courses) to stay competitive!

✏️ In 2018, I completed the Flatiron School software engineering program — an intensive program where I learned full-stack development with both Ruby on Rails and Javascript (React & Redux). This gave me the skills and experience to work with agile engineering teams; discuss tradeoffs in scalability and reliability; understand the complexities of a large-scale global platform; translate product needs to technology and more.

As a manager: develop your leadership skills and ability to coach a high-performance team.

In today’s workplace, the role of a manager is shifting away from a “command and control” type boss to more of a performance coach. By providing actionable feedback, skill-building opportunities (remember those stretch assignments?), and clear directions forward, you will amplify your impact with your team. I highly recommend these books:

✏️ I became a first-time people manager in 2010 and led a team of 15 data analysts and engineers co-located in our Africa, China, and India office. It was a challenge to shift my mindset from an IC to Manager, and there were much room for improvement…

Since then, I took on both formal and informal team leadership opportunities to develop my skills . As a founder, I coached junior team members and mentored interns. As a senior consultant, I led project teams and built partnerships across international offices.

In my current role as a Product lead, I coach early career product and program managers and serve as a founding member for Planet’s D&I Belonging Taskforce.

I hope the PSHE framework will help you chart your career growth roadmap!

The next time you find yourself asking these questions:

“What should I optimize for as I look for a new job? I am afraid of making the wrong choice, which might slow my career growth?”

… you can map your career journey and determine your next step with confidence and clarity!

👋🏻 I’d love to hear about your go-to resources, frameworks, or mental models for career growth! Share them in the comments below, or reach out to me on LinkedIn 📩

Check out my thoughts on the intersection of Product Management, Technology, and Social Impact in my newsletter 📬

Image of Lisa’s substack newsletter

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Lisa Huang

Product Lead at Planet | 2x Founder, dabbling in TypeScript | My @TEDx talk: bit.ly/LisaHuangTEDx