Can you build great software products in India?

One of the hardest questions to answer as a product manager in a multinational software company is, treat “Can you build great products in India?”. Most of us will instinctively respond, pharm “of course, yes”. The follow up question is, “Really? How can you build great products in India when you are surrounded by filth, your workspace is not fabulous, your country does not value design, your atmosphere is poisonous and you have years of training in putting up with unfinished shit?”.

Essentially, they are saying, “Unless you have good design around you, you will not notice bad design and thus build products that are not really ready for an affluent user base that values design”. Thus, all new products must be built where there is a better appreciation and presence of design.

All these arguments are true to a certain extent. As a well traveled Indian living in a metropolitan city I can see why foreigners think this way. India is not clean. Functionality trumps design and has for a long long time.  Government project remain unfinished forever or get done to a really low level of quality. Most people are not willing to pay the premium for good design. And, we really do put up with more shit than most.

This perception is an issue because often, important executives think this way and throttle career advancement opportunities for promising folks in India. And, I do think that this is a real problem.

What’s interesting is that these issues are kinda beyond the control of the individuals being penalized. We are trying our best to experience good design and learn and retrain ourselves and our teams.

What’s also interesting is that this intrinsic lack appreciation for design is going away in India. This is largely thanks to the startup boom due to VC investments in India. We are experiencing really good design via mobile apps and responsive web sites. Most software developers have easy access to what is considered good design. We are training a lot of experience designers who are building well designed websites like cleartrip.com. And today, other that good data scientists, XD is the hardest function to recruit for in software.

We are also beginning use data to improve experiences and drive users through funnels J All this is forcing us to develop world class sensibilities and software right from here. Example: zomato.com It’s a well design service that’s giving yelp a run for its money. Flipkart is competing head on with Amazon.com and Snapdeal.com is competing with Flipkart. Similar things can be said for Practo and Bookmyshow. These are well designed apps too.

Uber is forcing taxiforsure and ola and Meru to up their game. Some of these crappy apps have grown to become good copies of Uber even though they had really humble, functionality driven beginnings.

So yes, things are changing. Hope we change this perception by shipping lots of great shit out of India, fast and often!

–Anubhav

 

Settling in as a new product manager

There are many pitfalls that new Product managers should avoid. Here is my list:

  1. Trying to lead too early
  2. Trying to dictate schedule
  3. Not partnering with existing managers
  4. Not focusing on eliminating the trust deficit

Leading early

Its tempting to join a team and start making calls on the feature backlog and UX design of existing features.

Instead: Focus on establishing common understanding of goals for the team.

Dictating schedule

New PMs want to ensure feature deliveries by a given time. Its important to remember that if you can only get two out of these three items in software development – Feature set, sovaldi Quality & Schedule.

Instead: Focus on understanding team dynamics. Which teams deliver on time and on spec. Which don’t. Is the team that doesn’t deliver on time sufficiently excited about what they are working on?

Not partnering with managers

Existing managers need to buy in to your vision of the product before you are going to get any traction from their teams. If you disregard managers, ampoule you run the risk of running to tacit pushback from their teams. Get the managers excited about your vision and see how quickly you are able to get the team to deliver on it.

Instead: Have regular 1 on 1s with the managers (Dev, QE, XD) and listen to the words they use. Words will help you guage their level of buy in. Its critical to know where they are not bought in so that you can improve the story and pitch. If they are not bought it, their team surely isn’t.

Eliminating the trust deficit

PMs come in and try to pitch new ideas right off the bat. They don’t realize that even if the ideas are great, no one’s going to let them pursue it because senior managers don’t trust them enough.

Instead: Put your head down and deliver high quality releases based on existing priorities. Establish success criteria for each release, feature and report against them. Show that you are driving change based on data and not on your best guess on the future. Eliminate the deficit, build a reputation that you learn fast, experiment, use data, focus on design and UX before you pitch new things to execs.

–Anubhav

Managing a product management team

 

3 months ago I started to manage a 10 person team. I thought things were not going well so decided to go through a 360 degree survey. I got annihilated! The biggest issues highlighted by my team were:

  1. Not communicating enough
  2. Not humane
  3. Partial!

Fuck me!

In my mind, I have a very high EQ. I communicate well and of course, I’m as fair as can be. Here were the root causes for these issues. It was mostly things I was not doing. I was not:

  • Sharing updates
  • Having regular 1 on 1s
  • Spending equal time with everyone

Sharing updates

I was not asking the team to share updates or what they were working on in my team meeting. I never liked sharing updates were I was an individual contributor. I assumed others won’t like it either. I said so in my first team meeting and everyone agreed! However, this does not work. The internal communication within the team is always less than you think it is.

Regular 1 on 1

Not having regular 1 on 1s with everyone but actively encouraging the team members to reach out to me when they have issues or want to talk about something. I did this because I read that regular meetings without an agenda should be eliminated entirely to improve productivity. This does not work. The team members feel bad reaching out to you! High performing people want to show that they are self sufficient. They don’t like to share issues. So yeah… unstructured but regular 1 on 1s are back so that  team members can share and just shoot the breeze if they want to. Never expected this to be ok.

Partiality

When I spent time with one team member, instead of others. Other team members felt ignored. I thought they would be happy that I’m not micro managing them and spending time where I really need to fix things. This does not work. I now let the team know where I’m going to focus more and why so that they have context for how I’m spending my time. Again, never expected this to be an issue in a multinational company but apparently humans are the same everywhere!

Short and to the point meetings

Again, watched too many TED talks and read too many productivity blogs. These led me to believe that I should have focused discussions and drive change by communicating directly on issues. This does not work. The team expects more informal chats. They see informal chats as a safe space to share concerns about current plans. Absence of such a forum coupled with irregular 1 on 1s screwed me over.

Finally, the 360 survey helped me revalidate my areas of strength. Instead of focusing on these issues alone, I’m going to focus more of my time building upon my strengths. Its easy to let these issues bog you down if you just focus on areas of improvement alone. I’m now soliciting input from the team on what we want to accomplish together in 2016.

–Anubhav

 

 

 

 

2015 Book and Podcasts list

Here are the books and podcasts that I’ve read and enjoyed in 2015. Surprisingly, the podcasts were a lot more entertaining.

Title Rating
Honest truth about dishonesty 9
Money: Mastering the game 8
Mastery 6
Influence 10
4 hour body 10
Small giants 10
HBR on Teams 8
Bad Science 10
Flash boys 8 – did not end well
Surely you are joking Mr. Feynman 7 – bit much to read
Mindless eating 10

I will add reviews for each of these books later.

More fun than the books were the following Podcasts:

The Tim Ferriss Show

  • Derek Sivers on The Tim Ferriss podcast
  • Navak Ravikant on The Tim Ferriss podcast
  • Chris Sacca on The Tim Ferriss podcast

WTF with Marc Maron

  • WTF: Neil Strauss
  • WTF: Brian Grazer
  • WTF: Steve Albini
  • WTF: Lorne Michaels
  • WTF: Aaron Draplin. Draplin’s a friend
  • WTF: Fred Armison
  • WTF: Vince Gilligan
  • WTF: Jason Bateman

The Fizzle Show – Early podcasts upto Ep20

Serial Season 1

Startup Podcast: Gimlet media

A16z Podcast

  • a16z Podcast: The Year Mobile Began to Truly Dominate Tech
  • a16z Podcast: The Tiger and the Dragon — On Tech and Startups in India and China
  • a16z Podcast: What Comes After the Smartphone
  • a16z Podcast: Wall Street’s Most Hated Man — A Conversation With Overstock.com’s Patrick Byrne
  • a16z Podcast: Apple Has Lock on Luxury Smartphones, But Not Business of TV
  • a16z Podcast: Messaging As the Interface to Everything

The Food Chain

  • Chicken: Too much of a good thing

This American Life

  • #560: Abdi and the Golden Ticket
  • #504: How I Got Into College