What do puzzles, priorities, and horses have to do with each other? They're three themes in Ellen van de Beek's career. She had worked in various positions at Rabobank when her manager asked her to take on the role of product owner.
“As a student I had a part-time job at Rabobank and, when I finished that, they asked me to stay on. The same is true of almost every position I’ve had after that, too. It’s been a natural progression: whenever I was ready for something new, there was always an interesting position I was asked to apply for. The same goes for my current role of product owner.
“I am product owner at Business Intelligence & Analytics (BI&A) for a team responsible for a number of information factories: ETL services running in the cloud. The data in the information factories originates from many different sources, for instance, the front office systems of traders doing transactions on the exchange, or from the balance sheets, profit, and loss accounts and risk systems within the bank.”
“We make sure these systems are functioning properly; we make the data secure and accessible in dashboards in Power BI. Recently, for example, we converted an outdated dashboard for Special Asset Management into a solid, cloud-based information factory. It can be used to look up all kinds of client activity: we can see when a payment was stopped, how long that lasted, and what actions were taken. It makes client management a lot clearer.”
“We get requests from our stakeholders to help them make sense of certain data sets. A product owner weighs the interests between the various stakeholders and determines which requests we will execute and when. That can be quite hectic, but I’m pretty calm by nature; I don’t let people drive me crazy,” Ellen laughed. “Yes, that is a quality you need to have as a product owner.”
Puzzling with priorities
“My role is to make complex information understandable to stakeholders through clear timelines. Not everything can be done at the same time though, which is sometimes a difficult message to have to deliver. I find that challenging. It’s a big puzzle of priorities. My job is to solve that puzzle while communicating clearly with the stakeholders.”
“We also solve complex puzzles as a team: the amount of data we have is enormous and comes from many different sources. We investigate where certain data comes from and how it is all related. I really enjoy doing that, diving into something, asking questions, and discovering causes. And when you end up with a beautiful end result, it gives you a sense of pride.”
Growing in your work
“Before I started this position, I received training on data modeling. I was a data analyst first, so I know how to tackle problems with data. But as a product owner, you also need technical knowledge and to know how developers work. I want to understand how things work. With this training course and by talking to technical colleagues, I’ve been able to develop in this area.”
Is this an unusual career development path at Rabobank? Ellen replied, “No, it is plain to see that the organization is committed to retaining good employees and offers them extensive opportunities for personal development. You are encouraged to look ahead and develop yourself. My ambition is to grow into a management role. I’m already in a similar position now, but I don’t have any HR duties and I would like to take those on eventually.”
Holding the reins
Rabobank is flexible when it comes to where, how, and with whom you work. That works well for Ellen, because in addition to her family with two young children, she takes care of six horses and several ponies. “I am active in show jumping and I train a number of horses for competitions. Yes, it’s a lot of hard work in addition to my job at Rabobank.”
“For example, I train a horse in the morning before I start work. I might go for a ride after an intensive meeting, clear my head, and then return to work refreshed. The freedom to manage your own time at Rabobank is ideal!”