Driving a worldwide business from India or any low cost geo

As a software technology product manager in India, I commonly hear that it is not possible to do “real” product management out of India for a product that is primarily sold out of India.

This is just not true. It is definitely possible to run a  worldwide (WW) product out of India so long as the India based product manager has the following skills:

  1. Great communication skills so that he or she can be the voice of the product to community of users and influencers
  2. Good presentation skills so that you can demo the product to a difficult audience and still command respect
  3. Domain expertise – you need to know your product and its application really well
  4. Business acumen – Which metrics drive the business & how to drive a change to these numbers
  5. Willingness to travel and to be very flexible with your time
  6. Ability to influence a talented development team for your software product

This is not easy and hiring for such skills is not easy. Ability #6 is largely a question of “fit’ and not qualifications. I’ve seen really talented domain experts fail in product management because their development team did not respect the product manager’s “opinion”. They wanted to work in a “lean” way and wanted to “learn” from customers rather than the PM after releasing the product to the market. This is an expensive way to learn and is not always the best way to go. I’m clearly the minority voice against lean development in 2014. I believe incremental/agile development practices can get you just as far just as fast. But I digress…

So.. why do people believe that WW product management can’t be done out of India?

This is largely an issue of losing control and becomes a larger issue if the product is a part of a larger business being driven out of another country. Here are the challenges then:

  1. Headquarter’s fear of losing control over the product if its being completely driven out of India/China/Romania/etc
  2. Headquarter’s desire to have a product representation available at all times for impromptu meetings and brainstorming sessions
  3. Inability to hire the right person for the job
  4. Level of trust in the remote development center is low.
  5. Headquarters never wanted to hire a full fledged product manager in the remote office, they just wanted someone to write specs and be the “internal” product manager
  6. Improper reporting relationship – India PM reporting to engineering or outside of the business unit’s product management organization.

All these issues come up when a strong remote product management starts to assert him or herself in the remote office. Headquarters has to then decide if they really wanted a product manager in the remote office or just a domain expert that elaborates features decided on by someone else in the headquarters.

Talented product managers should walk away from opportunities where they only get to do internal product management. Its no fun.

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