Category: Product Management

Shadowed Qualities – Good Tape, Great Story

I listen to the startup podcast from Gimlet media fairly regularly. Last week’s episode was groundbreaking in a lot of ways.

What a fantastic episode. It’s raw, personal and honest storytelling. Its great tape edited to produce an even greater story. It was so poignant, it made me cry. Alex Bloomberg’s personal journey felt so relatable since I went through a 360 survey not too long ago.

While I did not get as deep with the analysis of my own survey results, it was clear that I had work to do. I could not carry on the way I was. I needed to develop my time and team management skills. This is not something I enjoy. I’m much better at managing my own work than the work of my team. I’m still trying to get better at this skill that I really did not care for, much to the detriment of my team. I’m also getting better at stepping back and really holding more people in the team accountable for outcomes.

Finally, I also remembered how I had written off Alex Bloomberg’s effort in my post 2 years ago. I’m happy he did not listen to me. I’m happy I did not bet any money on a negative outcome for hearstartup, which is now Gimlet media and it doing over $10Million in revenue and employing 40+ people in Brooklyn. I still dont think they have a big exit ahead of them but they are onto something.

Picking winners is hard.

–Anubhav

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

 

Getting out of a slump 

If you are working on something important in a large company, chances are a lot more people at going to be involved in this project than you imagined and you have to find a way to engage and align them. I thought I knew this but I did not realise how crazy things can get. I think I almost got depressed working on this new, important project as I figured out how many conversations I needed to have and how many presentations I needed to make to get alignment. Here is a quick summary of how I felt during the last one month working on the project. 

Thursday July 4th: Down and Out

It’s so easy to get yourself down. I am having a hard week because it’s been difficult to figure out product strategy questions while figuring out the politics around it. Stakeholders are asking good questions but I’m just seeing them as roadblocks. I’m also spending every waking moment thinking about clever retorts and smart one liners to put them in their place. Obviously this is not healthy. And, for the first time in my life, I had trouble sleeping two nights in a row. 
So.. I brought out the big guns. I relied on the advice from Tony Robbins, Tim Ferriss and my dad and decided to: 
  • Write 
  • Listen to music 
  • Change my body language to feel how I want to feel 
  • Journal (gratitude, morning journal) : Could not get myself to do this. 
  • Exercise to get the good chemicals flooding in (swam or cross fit every day) 
  • Decided to treat it as my problem to convince the roadblocks and make them allies. 
  • Met an old friend from high school. Had a good chat, good Zin, unhealthy food 🙂 
  • I also decided to blog about my predicament. This was very helpful. 
I have three paths forward now: Engage my team to answer the objections Ask the roadblocks how they would pitch the idea Let my management chain know that I will need help It’s amazing once you do stuff… Depression disappears and opportunities appear. You think about things you normally won’t. You smile. You change your mindset. The nature of the problem changes. Your head reconfigures. Hope this helps you get out of your head and “save your soul” https://youtu.be/0wBDDAZkNtk https://youtu.be/0wBDDAZkNtk 

July 18th: Working through it. In Action. 

Was a really difficult week but rewarding at the end as I was able to resolve conflicts, raise issues as and get stuff sorted out within the company so that we can get good results in the long term. I did not win every argument. I did not get exactly what I wanted. But it really allowed me to hear other people’s points of view. And, a promising future. 

Update August 16th: A fantastic week

Things have gone well since I decided to stay in action and bring all stakeholders along. It prevented internal sabotage. I did have to have difficult conversations in person with some stakeholders but it was all important and necessary. Had I seen these folks as roadblocks and tried to steamroll my way through, it would not have worked. 
Onwards and upwards. 
–Anubhav 

Restraint is overrated

Restraint is over valued I was reading a travel mag on a flight to MSP and read something provocative. “Balance in life is overrated”. Passionate people pursue their passions singlemindedly, produce extra ordinary results and then burn out and need to recharge. Maybe that’s how innovation happens. Concentrated periods of singular focus and compete immersion in an area. 

–Anubhav

Improving an existing product

Much more has been written on validating product ideas and new product launches than on improving an existing product. A product is only new once. Most Product managers spend bulk of their time on existing products than on new products. A lot of these products are inherited from other PMs who’ve left the company or moved on to other things in the same company. So, how do you improve an existing product?

Obviously, you have to start by defining what “improve” means. New product managers generally think about adding features to an existing product because it’s an easier problem to solve than trying to figure out where the actual problem is in their product. This problem is compounded by the fact that many PMs do not own their end to end customer journeys. This is especially true in large companies where corporate marketing wants to tell the company’s story and not responsible for input metrics like customer acquisition directly. Product marketing runs it’s own ship and generally has to toe the company line on what to communicate. Sometimes your product is a part of a suite of products and only the top few things across the entire suite of products get the company’s attention.

If you inherited a product and are the lead PM on it, here are some of the questions you must ask:

What business objectives are we trying to meet?

  • Increase revenue Greater customer retention
  • Better free to paid conversion
  • Increased profits
  • Increased adoption

Which of these problems does the business want to solve in the product? For example, you can solve the retention problem by calling users that are churning, sending retention based offers outside of the product or really improve the product so that more uses come back.

Similarly, you can get free users to convert through offers or by experimenting with the trial duration or by offering free tutorials that don’t require any changes to the product at all. Or, you could build better user onboarding into the product so that new users perform tasks A, B, C, which you’ve defined as critical to the product. Ask these questions before you start working on the product.

Once the business decides the “what” only then should you move on to “how”. Generally, it is very difficult to quantify the value of a new feature. Not every product has the luxury to run an A/B test for every feature they want to put in the product. Especially when you have already paid the cost of the building the feature. So, it’s important to build as little as possible. Most teams underestimate the cost of maintaining a feature and updating it when platform changes require it. The true cost of a feature should include: Validation Onboarding, Discoverability, Analytics and  Maintenance.

Since feature estimates always go up, so do all the other costs of building a product. 

Read “Four steps to an epiphany” from Steve Blank. It helps you figure out what kind of market you are in and how you should plan your sustaining innovation work.

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–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

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

 

 

 

 

Tech startups are paying too much in India

Tech startups are paying too much. Clearly this is not an issue for them, hospital yet! Startups like Snapdeal, Ola Cabs, Oyo rooms are flush with funds. Word on the street is that they have too many people. For example, snapdeal has over 200 product managers! Lofty valuations are forcing these companies to explore adjacent or even orthogonal opportunities just so that they can proide a reasonable exit to investors.

In the Delhi, Gurgaon, Noida area are really messing up hiring for incumbents with established businesses and sucking talent away… interesting times!

Could be a great thing for good tech talent… but I do worry about incumbents!

–Anubhav

Fizzle.co, the cheapest startup accelerator ever!

Have been lapping up the Fizzle.co podcast over the last few weeks. It has been motivating me to write the book on Delhi that I wanted to write and got me to start the email sign up list for the same on Delhishoppingtour.com.

It has also prompted me to develop a course on how to go from being a developer to becoming a product manager.

While I don’t think I need to sign up just yet, I think this might be the best $35/month you can spend if you are interested in starting your on business online or are pursuing passive income or want to just be a life hacker!

See: Fizzle.co

Listen: The podcast

–Anubhav