Difficult conversations

Crucial conversations are crucial because the stakes are high.

I’ve had to have a 3 difficult conversations in the last two weeks around the ownership of a project within the company. In all these cases, I felt uncomfortable having these one on one conversations but I had to. I’m glad I did because it forced early disclosure of everyone’s agendas including mine.

I was very honest and clear on what I wanted and what I was ok with. I wish I could say that all these conversations were pre planned and well orchestrated on my part. The only thing I can say was that I was clear on my goals. What I wanted out of the conversation was pretty clear to me. This allowed me to listen to arguments from the other side and empathise without giving up my goals.

I wish I could say that all these issues are now sorted. I know they are not. These issues are so important that they will need more conversations in the future to reinforce the decision we’ve come to. Such is the nature of these conversations. No ones tells you that its never over. Passionate people bring up past arguments whenever they see a window of opportunity.

–Anubhav

 

Transitioning to a group product manager

It’s been more than a year and here are the things I wish I had known or had been told as I made this transition:

  1. It’s a completely different role
  2. Focus on getting things done more than doing things
  3. Be clear on what you are driving and what your team is driving
  4. Communicate! I thought I was good at it but managing a team requires more written communication, more documentation that I thought
  5. Read “Good group product manager, Dead Group Product Manager” 
  6. Accountability – be explicit. Folks don’t just do the right thing. 

Is this obvious? Probably to many but honestly it was not to me and I’ve managed a team before. 

One of the difficult things for me is to make good habits stick. With the amount of travel I do, it’s been hard to hold the team accountable for their tasks. I have started to use Trello to track tasks assigned to the team. I love that you can email directly to a Trello board. This allows me to bcc task emails to the Trello board. A little bit of housekeeping later, I can remember to follow up on these tasks in 1 on 1s. Travel makes it harder to follow up on tasks. This is why a Group product manager role is very different from other management roles. 

Also, you spend a lot of time prepping decks for internal pitches and driving alignment between various other groups in the company and championing your causes. Your wins and losses are public and drive team morale more than you think. 

–Anubhav

The art of possibility and how it changed my mind

The art of possibility

I have not read a more inviting opening to a book in my last 39 years on this earth. The books opens with a fantastic exchange between the author and a waiter that’s overheard by a twelve year old girl. “I have a perfect life but I don’t have a knife”. I don’t want to give it away but it’s something I’ve thought about printing out and framing

I was listening to Tim Ferriss interview Seth Godin on his podcast when Seth recommended three books to listen to. I could not find an audio version of “The art of possibility” so I bought the paperback.

It’s a very inspiring book. I am not a fan of books on manifesting your destiny or using language to prime your to certain behaviors but I believe a lot of these books and ideas destroy lives.

This book is very different and it made me change my mind about a lot of things. Here are my takeaways:

  1. Your mind is screwed up
  2. Your senses look for cues that help you confirm your biases
  3. You don’t know that you are doing this so you end up seeing a world the way you want to see it. Broken and unfair or full of possibilities.
  4. Believing in a universe of possibility is a great way to live your life
  5. Giving your team and your family an A even before they’ve done anything good is fantastically uplifting. For everyone.
  6. Reject downward spiral thinking violently. List facts, talk about “where to next” than “how everything is doomed”
  7. “No” means you have failed to enroll someone into the possibility you see
  8. The vision for your team or company should not be about “competition” it should be about possibility and should include a view that fundamentally everyone can agree with.
  9. Vision is much more powerful than goals and objectives since it can guide daily action
  10. Talk about “what do we want to have happen for us” instead of “What I want to have happen”

I wish I could get an hour with Ben just to be coached. What a gift that would be.

I changed my mind about the power of language to frame your present. I thought that was all woo woo. Not anymore.

I changed my mind about “give and take”. Sometimes just giving is joyous too. All exchanges don’t have to be fair to bring joy to the participants.

Takeaways #1-#3 are also validated by many other books including “All marketers tell stories” by Seth Godin. We are only looking for what’s we want to see. Like the bald men only sees hair when he goes to a party. Or how a fat person only sees thin people at a party. Our senses play a game that we are unaware of. This can set up a disastrous cycle of mistrust in a business setting since you look for signs of deception or political orchestration in meetings instead of shared purpose and positive engagement.

Time to draft the vision for my dad’s business and my team and for the Delhi Shopping tour…

–Anubhav

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

Thinking of Sarandeep Singh

Sarandeep Singh
Sarandeep Singh

Don’t know why I dreamt of Sarandeep two night ago. That dream is still haunting me. Not because it was scary, diagnosis medicine it is mostly because I thought I had forgotten about his death. I though everyone had. I don’t even remember how long ago he died, viagra tragically, no rx accidentally falling from his friend’s balcony. He is survived by his wife and child.

I interviewed him for a program management position at Adobe. He was working at Sapient. We all liked him and hired him. He reported to me for almost two years, I don’t remember now. He was good. Balanced and practical. Unlike some other Program managers in my team, I never heard complaints about him from peers. If anything, I would say he could have been more aggressive than he was but then again, he was good. Just a solid human being.

When I heard of his death, I was in the US. I could not believe the SMS I got from Neeraj telling me that he was gone. It was a short message. Adobe did a lot to help his family out. This was great to hear. It was also heartening to hear that a lot of people from Adobe went for his funeral. It must have been hard. He was so good and his son only 11.

Life goes on and so do companies. He was replaced by someone. I don’t know who. We all went about our lives as thoughts of him gave way to routine. The dream reminded me that I don’t have closure. Maybe I need to go speak to his wife. But I have nothing to say. I just so want to see that they are ok. Just to reaffirm my faith in family and life.

I also want his death to mean something to me. To make me change my approach to life. What if I fell off a balcony tomorrow? Will my family be ok? How will they remember me? How will they adjust to the new normal? I am also surprised at this sudden surge of sadness as I sit on a plane on the way the US again.

Dreaming of Saran reminded me that I want closure when there is no real impact of him going away on me but I still want to be good. Maybe as good as him. Someday.

Storytelling – A key product management skill

I’ve written before about the importance of storytelling skills for product managers. It’s the one skill that product management teams in India have not focused on much. While we test for analytical skills at academic qualifications, we don’t test for storytelling skills in product management interviews.

As I’m building my team, I’m really looking for the following skills in candidates:

How good are they at:

  1. Storytelling – Can they pitch their idea? Can they weave a cohesive story around their idea?
  2. Writing and speaking skills in English – A great product manager, who is hard to follow when speaking or in her written words, will not be able to lead very well nor motivate
  3. a team.
  4. Love for technology – can the candidates demonstrate a love for technology and a good understanding of SDLC, etc.

Going back to storytelling… here is a good post to help you pitch your ideas. I’m also linking to a couple of sites that have pitch decks from various startups that you can review to see how entrepreneurs pitch their ideas internally or to VCs.

I love Jack Dorsey’s presentation skills. This particular presentation at Stanfords scorner website is really engaging and inspiring. This is how we should aspire to tell stories

http://ecorner.stanford.edu/authorMaterialInfo.html?mid=2635

–Anubhav

Your life’s narrative

My Life

Once again a great story from This American Life (TAL) inspired me to write a blog post.

As a product manager, nurse you are often dealing with anxiety. At a large company, ambulance you might also feel disenfranchised. You might also be feeling that you do not deserve to be a product manager, sales especially after making a bad decision or after meeting a much more experienced member of the product team that you recently joined. So, here’s how to deal with this. First, listen to the above podcast.

I’ve liked all books by Michael Lewis. He is able to curate great stories and write them in a very accessible way. His story on Emir Kamenica on TAL is a great example of the power of positive thinking and the power of exercising your choice on how to react to a given situation.

What could easily have been an “I’m a victim” story, Emir reframes his story as an “I’ve been so lucky” even when it’s not true in all its details. Yet, this has had a profound impact on his life. The power your life’s narrative has on you is staggering. So, its important to be aware of what story your mind is making up about yourself and then change it so that it empowers you instead of sucking away your energy.

Additionally, remember that Stories are what we make up to explain facts. An unlimited number of stories can explain a set of facts. I learnt this from “Crucial Conversations”. It’s a great book. Here is a summary of it.

So, first try to write down your life narrative. Who you are? And how you got where you are today? Then, do this exercise, as outlined in a simple blog post by Michael Hyatt

And, you may find that you are able to run in a different gear than today.

–Anubhav