‘Product management didn’t even exist as a profession when I got started’

22 Sep 2020

Amy Bunszel. Image: Autodesk

Autodesk’s Amy Bunszel discusses how she became a product management exec, how cloud-based tech has gone from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have’, and why feedback is a gift.

As senior vice-president of design and creation products at Autodesk, Amy Bunszel manages product strategy and execution for the software company’s 3D design and creation portfolio. This includes the AutoCAD family, 3ds Max, Inventor, Revit, Maya and more.

Bunszel has more than 20 years’ experience in enterprise software products and now leads a global team of more than 1,000 people. She co-founded design software company Linius Technologies in 1996 and it was acquired by Autodesk in 2003.

‘The rapid digitisation of the architecture, engineering and construction industry is a huge opportunity for Autodesk’

Describe your role and what you do.

I’m the senior vice-president of our design and creation products group. I’m responsible for product management and strategy, user experience, software development, DevOps and analytics for our portfolio of Windows, Mac, web and mobile design authoring products. I’ve been involved with everything from AutoCAD to some of our newest SaaS products.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I am a planner – my schedule is planned out months in advance so I can protect time for important activities such as CEO staff meetings, my own staff meetings, customer visits and time to dedicate to specific projects.

Now with Covid-19, I also block out time to go for a walk mid-day whenever possible to break up the monotony and clear my head. I also delegate quite a bit and make sure I’m really needed when I’m included in a meeting. And then I find myself also making sure I’m spending my time on what is most important – often asking myself if something is urgent and important and if I’m the best person to be working on it. If not, I find the person that is and give them the necessary authority.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

With Covid-19, the need for remote work has accelerated and adapting to this new way of working, and working off-site, has been a significant challenge for the sector. Businesses had to quickly adjust to new working models and software such as cloud-based collaboration went from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have’.

For the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry, Building Information Modelling (BIM) has played a foundational role in enabling improved coordination and productivity. As BIM policies and standards have become more prominent, so has the need to connect designers, contractors and owners with better collaboration and project controls.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

The rapid digitisation of the AEC industry is a huge opportunity for Autodesk. This spans all aspects of an AEC project, from conceptual design through to construction and ultimately hand-off to the owner.

There are two opportunities we are very excited about here – the shift from traditional methods of design and construction to a convergence of design and manufacturing, which is another area that’s accelerating digitisation.

Digitisation will also help us create more sustainable buildings and infrastructure. The need to reduce carbon growth has driven the industry to discover new ways to make the built environment more sustainable. And now, with the world facing a global pandemic, companies are accelerating their digitisation processes to help them.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

Product management didn’t even exist as a profession when I got started. For the first 10 years of my career, I was in heavy experimentation mode. I started as an electrical engineer and I changed jobs about every two years— sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. With each new role, I learned more and more about what I liked doing.

Over time, I moved closer to software. Turns out I loved working with customers and understanding their challenges and figuring out if software could help them. This eventually led me to start a company and focus on product management.

When I joined Autodesk, it was through an acquisition. In 1996, I co-founded Linius Technologies, a computer-aided design (CAD) company, and we were acquired by Autodesk in 2003. I came in as an individual contributor product manager. And for me that was great because while I enjoyed start-up life, I was doing a thousand different jobs, and this was my first chance to really think about developing a product. There were lots of people at Autodesk to learn from and I moved up the ranks.

What was your biggest mistake and what did you learn from it?

Earlier in my career, I thought that if I was unhappy, I just had to leave the company. But now I believe that if you’re unhappy, the first thing you should do is talk to your current employer.

If you don’t ask and you just leave, you don’t know whether there could have been another opportunity. You’ve lost all the capital that you’ve accumulated, and you have to start all over again.

How do you get the best out of your team?

I build high-trust teams. I do this by setting clear expectations, continuously improving our operating model and holding people accountable. One way we build trust is by collaborating on joint projects that are of critical importance to the entire organisation. This builds connections across people and organisations that serve you well when things get tough.

Over the years I’ve managed some people who don’t like being dependent on their peers and would rather work in a silo – we usually don’t last long together.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

The short answer is yes – tech is notoriously not diverse enough. Despite numerous studies showing a direct correlation between diversity and improved business results, technology companies are only very slowly moving the needle. Clearly we need to employ some new practices.

At Autodesk we are working to eliminate bias and ensure equity in all our talent practices. But it’s not just about hiring, we also need to do a better job with inclusion and belonging. You can’t diversify your workforce if you have high turnover in those underrepresented groups. So the problem must be worked in multiple directions at the same time with an eye on long-term goals and not just quick fixes.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?

Early in my career, when I was a software applications engineer, I had a mentor named Howard Colton. We went on thousands of sales calls together and Howard always gave me feedback afterwards.

That in-the-moment feedback is so much easier to contextualise and respond to and work with, whether it’s positive or constructive. So I learned that from Howard, and it’s something I always try to model. Even if the feedback doesn’t always feel good, it pays off in the end. There is some truth to the saying that feedback is a gift. And if you aren’t getting any, go ask for some.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

Anything from Patrick Lencioni— these are team leadership books. The first book I read was Death by Meeting – it’s told as a parable and outlines a meeting model that makes teams more productive. Then I enjoyed The Five Dysfunctions of a Team – with a practical, effective model for building high-trust, high-results teams.

I’ve used these models with many teams and one thing I’ve observed is that it’s so much easier to onboard new teams and leaders when you have a clear operating model – it enables you to scale so much more easily.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

I set boundaries for myself and respect those of others. For me that means making time to exercise every morning (typically on my Peloton bike) and being fully present for dinner. It’s a bit easier now that I don’t have a commute for the time being.

I’m also an inbox zero person. I use a to-do list tracker and if I can dispense with something in less than a few minutes I just take care of it.

At Autodesk, we are big Office 365 users. I’m also a huge fan of Slack and, for now, I spend most of my day on Zoom.

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