Lily Smith tells us about her career journey through Product, from starting out with Harry Potter (literally) to trying 12 things in 10 years to gain the experience to now be a leader in her field. This story shows that there is no straight line when looking at your career, but persistence does pay off.

Starting out and not dwelling on dreams:

Lily’s career first started in the film industry, Hollywood and glamour is the backdrop to this article then? Well maybe not Hollywood, but Lily has worked on the biggest movie and book franchises in the world, so sit tight and hold onto your wand for this one.

Lily worked on the set for the Harry Potter film and although film had been something she always wanted to get into, Lily realised that the long-winded hours and the unsocial nature of the role was not something she had expected or wanted.  Lily then relocated back to Bath, where by her own admission she jumped into the first job she could find and ended up working as a Personal Assistant (PA).

Before we go any further, this we should say is, why we love what we do at Digital 51. Why we love Product at Product 51. As this is the role which led to Lily finding out she loved the digital world and embarking on her career in Product. From films to filing, it does not matter where you start, and Lily’s journey really shows that.

In per role as PA Lily found that her boss was very self-sufficient so, threw herself into helping on the tech side of the business. This is where Lily began to learn all about technical products and the processes. Her learning was long-winded, but the progress she could see was not; this got her excited and Lily’s learning got faster and faster. The journey into Product had started in earnest.

From this point on the story does not jump to Lily landing the perfect Product role and living happily ever after. No. Lily’s career is a great example of the work, opportunities and variation that takes place as part of someone’s career journey. From that first role as a PA where Lily fell in love with Product, she has gone on to be a Project Manager, a freelancer at times, a programme manager, the head of innovation, a VP of product and a product director. All being told Lily has been through 12 different experiences in the past 10 years to reach the point where she is now the Product Manager at a leading purpose driven e-commerce business and hosts her own product podcast.

What has the journey shown Lily?

A career in product is hard, way harder than people on the outside think. It’s a popular career, with lots of opportunity. It often gets stated that being a product manager is the most in-demand job in 2021 (LinkedIn), but it’s much harder than people think.

Why is this?

There are many different variants as to why product management is hard but one of the hardest aspects of the role is trying to align many different people, making sure everyone is on the same page. This is because as a product manager you collaborate with so many different departments and create alignment between them.

As the working world and our education evolves, people can learn about ‘product management’ in so many ways, but there is always more to learn. What is great is there is always something new to learn, but again this adds to the complexity of the role. With this continual learning and experience comes the challenge of the Product Manager: to create the most impactful Products. The craving for creativity for knowing what to create and how to achieve this can be draining.

Everyone needs a hug sometimes:

In the product community, Lily feels that there can be a lack of confidence from people. Some seem to question if they’re good enough or if the route being taken is correct. Lily’s answer? “I think we all just need a hug sometimes” says Lily.

This lack of confidence stems from the uncertainty within product managers to know how successful a product is, this only becomes clear once a product is launched, and only then can they access data on how people are using it.

How can business help?

Lily believes the only way things will get easier for those working in product is if the leadership within a business are open to new and better processes. Many businesses have a certain way in their processes but the more open they learn to be, the easier it will be for those in product.

Get by with a little help from your friends:

So, if product can be both rewarding, but challenging, how does Lily cope and tackle those days that we all have sometimes when things don’t go well?

Lily likes to rely on her network and says that confiding in people who are also working in product is definitely comforting (because they actually know what she’s talking about). Getting advice from them, whether it be good or bad helps a lot.

Another stress relief is just getting it all out on to paper. Either thought dumping or just mapping everything out to get a better understanding of it all.


“If you don’t launch this on time –is anyone actually going to die?” (Unless you are working on products which are vital to people’s health.)


This is advice Lily received in the middle of her launch and now this is advice she gives to you. Sometimes all you need is to just take a step back. Product is hard but it doesn’t need to be the cause of your burnout. (It is also super fun, so just enjoy it.)

So, is the struggle really worth it?

Absolutely! Of course, like anything if you want to be the best at it, work within the best businesses and face the best challenges, it’s going to be hard. However, product is such a reward career the pros certainly outweigh any cons. Lily says what makes all the hard work seem worthwhile is the progress, both personally and professionally she has made so far. To come up with a hypothesis, do the research behind the hypothesis and then see a product all the way through to launch; seeing the progress through all of that is what makes all the hard work so worth-while.

This article was based on the recent interview completed with Lily Smith, a Product Manager and professional who shared with Adrienne Howlett her journey through her Product career to date and why Product is harder than people think. Take a listen to the episode in full on the Product 51 page here.