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:
- It’s a completely different role
- Focus on getting things done more than doing things
- Be clear on what you are driving and what your team is driving
- Communicate! I thought I was good at it but managing a team requires more written communication, more documentation that I thought
- Read “Good group product manager, Dead Group Product Manager”
- 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.
There are many pitfalls that new Product managers should avoid. Here is my list:
- Trying to lead too early
- Trying to dictate schedule
- Not partnering with existing managers
- Not focusing on eliminating the trust deficit
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.
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.
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:
- Not communicating enough
- Not humane
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
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.
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.
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!
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!
Listen: The podcast
I got promoted in December 2014 and started building my team post Christmas. This involved hiring two associate product managers and one product manager.
I started hiring for a these roles in the first week of January and got the last person to join on the 27th of April 2015. It look almost 4 months from start to finish when sourcing resumes was not a problem because I work at Adobe in Noida and that other PMs referred almost 90% of all candidates. I looked at about 60 resumes.
The resumes seemed remarkably consistent on the surface. All of the candidates were engineers and had an MBA. Very few of them had any entrepreneurial experience or had a background in design. This is typical.
The candidates were rejected for the following reasons:
- Attitude and fitment – this mostly happened in the interview stage
- Claiming more than they actually knew – rejected during phone screening by me
- Lack of fluency in English – rejected during phone screening by me
- Lack of understanding of software analytics – rejected during phone screen
The candidates that were hired had the following characteristics:
- Hunger to learn
- Excitement about the job
- Basic analytical skills or sharpness to converse on various topics in the software industry
- Strong communication skills –written and oral
What did I learn from this experience:
- Do not trust resumes
- Talk to every candidate on the phone or skype before bringing them in for an interview
- Ask them to present the plans for the product they are interviewing for before interviewing them to ensure they can really build a POV on the product and communicate it well
- Ask for a writing sample where the candidate explains why they will be good for this job
I will post a follow up with more details on the demographics and educational qualifications of the candidates soon.
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:
- Storytelling – Can they pitch their idea? Can they weave a cohesive story around their idea?
- 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
- a team.
- 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
At each release or a push to production, we defer a set of bugs and add to our technical debt. Unless you keep aside time for fixing these issues, you will keep adding to your technical debt. This will become an issue sooner or later. But doing this is hard. It is easier said than done.
Setting aside time has been really difficult for me as I’ve tried to chase more strategic priorities with a 2-3 year payoff instead of fixing old bugs. I’ve also noticed that very few bugs that we’ve deferred ever come back to haunt us via user to user forums or through social media and have wondered if it even makes sense to go back and fix these bugs
So… what is the optimal number of deferred bugs or legacy issues that we should fix in a given 3-4 month release? Generally, for highly functioning and customer connected teams, this number is much less than what the product management team feels comfortable with at the time of shipping an update.
This means that product management teams can be stricter about the total number of bugs to reopen for fixing after a release has shipped. I believe that we will get much better results if we let the feature team or “squad” decide which bugs to reopen and fix in their area.
Once we have a list of bugs to reopen, it has not been easy to get these fixed in time for the next release. We’ve tried different strategies like:
- Assigning a bucket of bugs to the team and letting them fix the bugs over an 2-3 month period
- Prioritizing deferred bugs and letting the team fix as many as they can within a month after release
- Setting aside a 2 week period where the team only fixes bugs in the order of priority of the bugs
We have had the most success with option #3 since it gives a clear goal and time to the dev team to go after these bugs. This said, we still don’t get all of the bugs fixed since fixing long standing issues is not trivial, otherwise we would have fixed them already. Other options lead to teams fixing easier bugs rather than going after the hard, important ones.
As an employee of a multinational company in India, chances are high that in order to keep costs low, you are not traveling business class for work. I am not.
I have been traveling 1 week a month, every month for the last 2 years. Most of these trips have been to the US or to Japan, the two biggest markets for my product. While I enjoy travel, long haul travel to the US for a week generally involves giving up weekends on each side to get full 5 working days in the US. This meant that, broadly, of the 52 weekends in a year, I wasn’t with my family for 24 of them. This is almost half of the total weekends in a year and has been a significant disruption for my family. Thus, not sustainable.
Over the last few months, I have been trying to get more comfortable with jet lag so that I can leave Delhi on Sunday night and go straight to work on Monday afternoon, as soon as I arrive in the US or Japan. This is exceptionally hard if you travel economy and if you do not use sleeping aids like Ambien.
I have also been trying to get out of the US on Friday evening so that I can get home by Saturday night. This is generally not easy. Weekend travel seem to have better connections. I’ve had three trips where I had to choose to leave on Saturday or deal with spending 8 hours in Heathrow, which is no fun.
I try to use some tricks to make traveling in economy more comfortable.
- As much as possible, stick to one airline alliance like One world or the Star Alliance. This means that airlines like Emirates, Etihad, etc that are not aligned to any network are out. Sticking to an alliance helps you build status on them. Status helps with:
- Faster check in
- Faster security clearance
- Better pre-reserved seating options when you reserve online
- If your company does end up flying you Etihad or Emirates or any of middle eastern carriers, you should look at the Alaska Airlines mileage program. It is very attractive. I’ve been thinking about ditching American AAdvantage because Alaska allows you to combine Emirates, Flying Blue and one world airlines all in a single program! How cool is that.
- Pick aisle seats as soon as your tickets are booked by going to the “manage your booking” section at the relevant airline’s website. Exit row seats costs extra unless you have status with the airline. See if your company will let you expense that.
- If you have no trouble sleeping on planes, pick a window seat so that no one disturbs you while you are sleeping.
- Try to negotiate with your managers to let you pay extra for premium economy seats. The extra 6 inches between seats help. The seats are broader too, which means that you have more space around you and for your luggage in the luggage bins on top. Chances are, if you travel a lot, you will not check in any luggage
- Carry an empty water bottle. Fill it up AFTER you are through security. Most airlines will not give you a water bottle if you fly economy. This means constantly asking for water as you dehydrate breathing dry air on the plane. Having your own water really helps.
- Use eyeshades & ear plugs so that you can sleep easy inspite of noisy kids and general commotion and noise in the cabin. Think about investing in noise canceling headphones. I haven’t done it since noise does not trouble me that much.
- Inform the crew not to disturb you for meal service, if you are on <6 hour flights and plan to sleep through it. A meal service in the middle of such flights is very disruptive.
- Buy “Headspace”. It is a set of great audio lessons that help some people meditate. They just help me go to sleep. 🙂
- Sign up for credit card that gets to free access to priority pass lounges. Lounges are great for layovers. Free internet, food and drinks and comfy seats all add up if you travel a lot internationally. Citibank offers such cards in India.
- Starwood preferred guest is the most awarding hotel loyalty program. You should sign up and try to stay at their properties if you can.
Hope this helps
had a great time presenting the ShaperTool at Adobe MAX this year. The presentation was really well received. I have never received so many compliments for a presentation. In fact, buy cialis two women came up to me and wanted a photo with me. This was a career first for me.