The state of emergency has finally been lifted! For the first time in a long while—a year, in fact—we, the PayPay Inside-Out Editorial Team, came to the office for an interview and photoshoot. For this edition of Professionals, we had the chance to get up close with Shota Kameyama and Kazumasa Shoji of the PMO (Project Management Office) Department in the PayPay Product Team to talk about their work and why they enjoy it.
Senior Manager, PMO Department, Product Division
After graduation, he got a full-time job at a cram school where he worked part-time for four years while in university. After working as a classroom manager for two years, he moved to the information system department within the company. Feeling that his growth would be limited if he remained in the education industry as an engineer, he joined Yahoo! JAPAN. There, he worked for the first few years as an engineer, and then gradually shifted to a planning position, eventually becoming the service manager of the Yahoo! JAPAN and Yahoo! JAPAN News apps. He came into contact with PayPay when he was assigned to a team of about 10 people from Yahoo! JAPAN to make PayPay available on the Yahoo! JAPAN app, and worked alongside PayPay members during the launch. Realizing how PayPay was creating a new era by reading both the market and users while looking at the big picture, as well as making decisions quickly and taking action, he transferred to PayPay.
PMO Department, Product Division
After graduating from university, he worked as an actor for the Shiki Theatre Company, experiencing 500-600 stages in three years. He trained himself both physically and mentally in an environment where people can easily get fired without warning. After retiring from the theatre company, he joined an IT company and became the CTO through leading global projects in the Asia-Pacific, Europe, and Latin America, as well as establishing overseas subsidiaries. After being invited to a bar by a government official met at a stretching class and being asked to work for a UN conference, he changed jobs to work for the UN. He worked for four years at the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, where he systematically studied project management while earning his MBA. He was elected as Global PMO for his work on projects in the Asia-Pacific region and was the winner of the 2019 UN Kudos Award. He returned to Japan to relearn various things and strategies in depth in his native language, then joined PayPay, fascinated by the company’s speed of growth. The organization’s liveliness continues to fascinate him every day. He is also attending school for his second master’s degree.
Architects of Order in a Chaotic Environment
What kind of team is the PMO Department, Product Division?
I often say this in interviews, but PayPay has been progressing at such a ridiculously fast pace that it’s not unusual for things that should be in place to be missing. Despite all that, we make rules and promises to try to keep all the chaos in order, to ensure that the Product Team can maintain quality and speed, as well as create output properly. I think that’s the mission of the PayPay PMO Team (laughs).
Unlike the usual role of a PMO that stands atop and brings project managers (PMs) together, we have a completely horizontal relationship. The PM is the PM, and the PMO stands alongside them, working with a lot of senior techs in the Product Division and key people in each area.
PayPay’s Product PMO needs to cover a wide range, from portfolios to project support, as shown in the figure above. As Shoji-san explained, we are organized so as to be on equal footing, but each of us has different areas to cover, so we try to complement each other. I also coordinate within and between departments, support PMs and techs, and create or adopt industry standards (methodologies) to fit the organization. It makes it easier to gain momentum as an organization, but I do have to exert quite a lot of brain power.
I also work closely with stakeholders not only in the headquarters, but also in other departments, such as management and legal. Especially Nakayama-san, PayPay’s president, makes a point of holding a weekly meeting with the Product Division. When we show data and trends and tell him what we want to do, he would praise us for the good points we make, or give penetrating advice, indicating where we are not thinking clearly. At the same time, Nakayama-san explains the trends in society and the company’s strategy in his own words, and gives us feedback on the details of the product, asking us to do this or that. Thanks to this close relationship, we began to better understand both the direction management is aiming for and Nakayama-san’s ideas. He is also very careful about cooperation with each stakeholder, so I think we are in an environment where we can scale both as a product and as an organization.
Prepare for two months to make decisions on over 250 cases in a 3.5-hour meeting
At PayPay, we create a roadmap every quarter. Unlike three years ago, when there were only 40 to 50 people running our business, we now have the Marketing and Merchant Teams, along with other departments, sending us a tremendous number of requests saying that they want to do this and that. So, well before the start of the quarter, we start asking for a list of things, in a specified format, that they want us to do in said quarter.
As a result, we gather a list of over 250 requests in a quarter, which is then put to the test in a 3.5-hour meeting with Nakayama-san, Baba-san, CTO Harinder, and all the Division Heads! Afterward, we incorporate the selected ones in the roadmap. Since only five PMOs are in charge of doing this, we spend about two months preparing for this meeting.
The hardest part is that the requests come in different shapes and sizes, depending on the department. And since most of them don’t have enough information required by the Product Division, we need to prepare a template and make sure that all 250 requests can be evaluated fairly. The evaluation of a project is not limited to the perspective of product development, but also includes legal, risk, corporate planning, business, and various others. In the end, we make sure our preliminary work is thorough, so that correct decisions can be made in 3.5 hours. This process is the biggest challenge.
The never-ending process of establishing a common ground, starting from having no PRDs
The Product Division is a very special team within PayPay. Of the 250 members, 60-70% are foreign nationals. Most of them are in tech, about 20 are designers, and 30 are in product. The PMOs provide administrative support for everyone in this diverse division. For example, in the early days of PayPay, we didn’t even have the habit of properly writing up PRDs (Product Requirement Documents). We just kept starting things up. But without a PRD, the techs in development will be in trouble. So, the PMs started writing them, but others couldn’t understand the PRDs that the PMs created. So, we started asking members around: “What kind of information do techs want?” or “What kind of information does QA want?” Then we made a template of the basic information for a PRD and told the PMs to use it when making one. But really, there’s no end to it.
Shoji-san is the CMO (Chief “Moji” (character/letter) Officer), a title given by Nakayama-san (laughs). As the CMO, Shoji-san checks for any discrepancies in the in-app wording or fixes any phrasing that may be a little different depending on the screen.
An absolutely critical role in a team with 70% of its members from outside Japan
It’s true that the Japanese in the PayPay app was questionable at first (laughs). The Product Division is made up of talented engineers from over 35 countries, but they are professionals at development, so it’s no surprise if they have limited understanding of Japanese culture and laws. To begin with, Japanese laws are complicated, and companies trying to comply with them often results in conflicts between the legal and product departments. We are product people, so naturally we understand what the product teams say, and we also get what the legal folks tell us. Especially in finance, there are many things that we must comply with, so we take pride in our work as coordinators.
Committed to communicating in both Japanese and English
Japanese speakers can convey subtle nuances to each other, but with English speakers, we make sure to communicate using simple words. No matter what our backgrounds are, we can understand each other if we speak easy and simple English. That’s something I am always mindful of.
In terms of language, Japanese speakers won’t truly “get it” unless they are spoken to in Japanese, and the same goes for English speakers. Or, as is often the case, people won’t understand what’s being discussed. Of course, we have interpreters to help us, but we insist on communicating in the language of the people we are talking with.
Speaking of languages, English is the lingua franca within the Product Division. But, even if we send out English-only information within the Division, when we communicate that same information outside the unit, we make sure to do so in both languages, with Japanese as the primary one and English as the second. After all, even if you announce something, it’s meaningless if people don’t take action.
In Step With Techs in the Product Division, Where Techs Shine
I think of the Product Division as a stage for making new things, or in other words, a stage where techs shine. That’s why we want to be there for them, to help them create output efficiently. I’ve known many of the senior tech members since our time at Yahoo! JAPAN, so I want to be the kind of person who they can count on whenever there are issues; where they can just say, “I’ll tell Shoji-san about it” and leave the problem-solving to me.
Shoji-san has a special relationship of trust with senior tech members, whereas I often communicate with tech leads (managers in the field) and other people who do the hands-on work. When the frontline has problems, that directly affects overall performance, so we are conscious of keeping the tricky parts under control while ensuring that the frontline people can operate as smoothly as possible. There are times when requests come in, such as wanting to be able to control more details in JIRA (management tool), and since we constantly don’t have enough people, there are dependency issues due to us lacking bandwidth. We may solve such problems or suggest ways to increase overall efficiency with little effort through data collection and analysis. It seems that people now have a common understanding of what a PMO does, so recently we’ve been getting a lot of consultations.
It’s important to be remembered. We get ourselves out there, even if people find it too insistent
From the moment I joined PayPay, WFA(* Work from Anywhere at Anytime) was already in play, so I always turn on the video on Zoom so that people remember me. Compared to face-to-face meetings and interactions with people in other departments, I’m having difficulty in getting enough information, especially when it comes to how a certain person thinks, what kind of person he/she is, etc.
It may come as a surprise, but it was much harder to arrange a meeting when we were at the office. The busiest people would be walking from one conference room to another, so they basically were not in their booth. And if you wanted to talk to them, you had to book their time and the conference room, but there would be no rooms available. On the other hand, now with remote work, I can send a message on Slack saying, “Can I have 10 minutes with you on Zoom?” and schedule a quick meeting. Having said that, I have these old relationships (or a legacy from the past) I cultivated before WFA, but Shota-san doesn’t, so it might be a little difficult for him. When you have to coordinate something, it may be a little difficult to grasp the other person’s personality, which you just can’t perceive through a computer screen. In terms of productivity though, I think telecommuting wins hands down.
It’s true that in terms of productivity (output), remote work is by far the better choice. Now we encourage people to go to the office once a month, so I might go on a certain day because a certain team will also be at the office. Also, if there’s a face I recognize, even if it’s the first time we meet in person, I hit up a conversation and ask them if they need help with anything.
Build up your emotional trust “balance” and be the person that people want to come to
Communication skills are important for PMO. For example, I can’t speak English at all so I attend the English Boot Camp for beginners, but I nonetheless can communicate easily with foreigners (laughs). I think what’s important is to want to understand each other and try to understand each other. That’s why for me, curiosity and the desire to make something better is always what comes first.
Of course I want people who call themselves PMOs to have communication skills at the very least, but it’s okay if there are people like Shota-san who specialize in academic matters, or who have other unique strengths, like being good at analysis. What’s most important is whether they have that magnetism which draws other people.
In order to get to the point where techs want to talk to you, you have to work with them, solve their problems, build a track record, gain their confidence, build up a “balance” of trust, help various people, and be that person people want to go to when they are in trouble.
It was more chaotic than I thought
Before joining PayPay, I actually thought that the company would have knowledge and processes in place to handle more growth. But when I joined, I was like, wow! Chaos! The larger the teams become, the less of what was previously used can be reused. So, when we get to the next stage, the chaos repeats itself.
As we reorganize our teams, we find pieces of a puzzle that don’t fit, so we have to scrap and build again. And then we redo the process later. And it’s not a problem that can be solved just by changing tools. People and organizations need to be changed as well. PayPay has only been up and running for three years, so it’s great how flexible the people and organization are to change. Change is inevitable, and PMOs may have to rearrange teams in a day, plus consider how to implement changes each time. Then we keep on changing the way we do things while keeping everything functional, and break it down again in a few months.
Of course it’s important to improve, optimize, and automate existing processes, but it’s also very necessary to be drastic at times and remove processes that are starting to no longer function. I think the entire Product Division has that kind of mindset.
The good thing about PayPay is that people are not afraid to fail
In PayPay, there’s this sense of “it’s worse if you don’t take action,” and that’s what I like about it! We try to keep things in order by making rules when things seem to go awry, but we don’t insist on holding fast to them. Instead, we scrap and build, try it and change it.
I get a lot of feedback from tech folks, and Nakayama-san has the same mentality. I’m future-oriented. I enjoy asking myself, “What’s next?” On the other hand, if I don’t think about matters too deeply, I get asked critical questions that get at the center of the issue, followed by “Really? Why is that the case?” or “So what’s the big deal?”, so I have to think really hard.
We didn’t stop doing business even when the roadmap dramatically changed due to Covid
In terms of adaptability, PayPay was amazingly responsive when we suddenly switched to fully remote work in April 2020. The week before that, my colleagues and I were in the office as usual and we said to each other, “Isn’t it going to be hard if we start working online from next week?” But the week after, we switched 100% to telework.
At the same time, we completely changed our roadmap looking at the economic situation. From a Japanese company’s perspective, the PayPay Product Division’s immediate changes to the roadmap and the idea itself of doing it is astounding. We didn’t get worked up about how far development has progressed, but quickly switched and moved forward. I think it was great how PayPay made a drastic change just like that instead of halting its business.
After Stage Acting and the United Nations, Now Is the Most Exciting and Fun
What do you like about PayPay and what do you enjoy most about the PMO team?
It’s a great environment where I can try out many things or pursue multiple things in depth. While there are a variety of issues, we can move forward with speed, so the results come out immediately. We will continue to apply industry standards, old processes, and cutting-edge management techniques as long as they are effective for where PayPay is currently at. At the same time, we have an idea of where we want to be in the long term, so we are gradually preparing to get there.
In addition, there are many big-hearted people, so the psychological safety is really high. It’s also fun because the company is filled with mature people who respect others, and there are many people who are very particular with their work.
I have experienced many things, like acting in the Shiki Theater Company and working for the United Nations, but now this is the most exciting place for me. It’s dizzying because each day is full of challenges, both big and small, but I’m itching to do all sorts of things.
PMO Team issues and a message for those who want to become a PayPay PMO Team member
It may seem like there are many good things, but PMO tasks are actually very mundane. We have to check the status of each JIRA ticket, set up and facilitate meetings, prepare documents for roadmap development, create reports, remind people to fill them out, and the list goes on. Each of these are very specific and dull. Because the scope of support is so wide, we receive so many different requests and have to deal with them accordingly. At the same time, we must be careful not to overwork, so we automate and simplify processes to make them as efficient as possible.
It is the PMs, techs, and designers who are actually creating the products. Since its inception, PayPay always focused on speed to provide its products to the world, but now, in addition to the speed that PayPay has, we need to also add “high quality” to the package. Therefore, the PMOs need to support the creation of an environment that will accelerate the realization of PayPay’s grand strategy.
Because we are expected to grow at a fast pace, previously effective processes quickly become obsolete, and issues keep popping up one after another. We’re still in a chaotic state, and I’m sure even bigger challenges will come at us, but the PMO Team enjoys providing rules and seeing disorder become orderly. I’d like to work with people who enjoy that kind of thing.
This is the kind of person I want in the team
It’s similar to what Shoji-san said, but I just want to work with people who enjoy their jobs. The PMO team has daily stand-up meetings, and due to Shoji-san’s personality, the atmosphere is very relaxed. We all struggle every day, worrying about what to do and what not to do. Also, there are only men in this interview, but in terms of gender balance, there are more women in the team.
As PMO, you will interact with the Product Division, as well as with management and other departments. The main language in the Product Division is English, but with other departments, we speak in Japanese and use technical terms to regulate operations. If you can enjoy such an environment (of course, there may be some confusion at first) and can adjust well, I think you will be able to work smoothly.
Also, you will need to acquire skills and knowledge that you lack while working, so I hope you have no problem doing that. In order to upskill and develop an eye for doing business, the PMOs regularly hold reading and study sessions, training the team. We have a lot of on-the-job training to help you get used to the PayPay lifestyle as quickly as possible, so please don’t be too worried (laughs). We’re looking forward to hearing from you!
Shoji-san and Shota-san, though two very different characters, were both charming and had quite some allure. Shoji-san is that person who can communicate with anyone, while Shota-san is both intelligent and a man of action, actually suggesting this interview to us. There is no doubt that the person the current PMO Department in PayPay needs is someone who is unconventional and has the ability to motivate people. By the way, during the interview, Kameyama-san sang for us Sixteen Going On Seventeen in his wonderful voice.
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Editor: Az (PayPay Inside-Out Editorial Team) / Photo：Tak
*Employees’ affiliations are as of the time of the interview.