Category Archives: In the Workplace

Moving to own domain

This blog has been a useful link to my current and past work and industry experiences. In future, I will be posting at the site productmanager.dhirenjani.com (Yes, I’m Dhiren Jani).

You can check out new posts there.

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Product Manager Or Business Analyst

[In a previous post, I had mentioned the overlap between the role of a product manager and a business analyst]

Here’s a scenario, you have several years of engineering experience under your belt. You have also managed to get a part-time MBA during your career. And now your organization has moved you from engineering/dev-ops/tech. support to product management. Here is another scenario, you have been working as a business analyst in an IT services firm, and have worked for a few product development clients. And now a client in that domain has offered you a product management role.

Is it time to celebrate this awesome product management opportunity?

Well…read further. The following job features may indicate that you end up working as a business analyst.

Reporting to Another Product Manager

No brainer, if your reporting is not to senior management, in India or overseas, then only a part of the product management function is delegated to you. This aspect brings the role closer to a functional business analyst role.

Limited/No Engagement with Product Marketing

If your only engagement with product marketing is at an all-hands meeting or a town hall, then you are not engaged in any outbound product management activities. This also tilts your role towards business analysis rather than strategic product management.

No Involvement in 2-3 of the 4 P’s of Marketing

You can figure out if this is relevant to your role, and whether you are able to work on these as a product manager or a business analyst.

Engineering is your Primary (or Only) Stakeholder

If you are working as a product owner, with limited product management tasks, then that is fine. You have a well-defined role which fits into the product management hierarchy, in today’s agile world. But if you are called a product manager, and your reporting is to a Director of Engineering, and your primary stakeholders are the engineering team, then you might be working as a functional business analyst.

Your Main Work Output is a Functional Specifications Document

This is typically true in e-commerce firms or start-ups. Most product managers in such firms are actually working as business analysts, creating functional specifications, providing reports on product usability and usage. And product decisions are usually made by the senior management of these firms. Business analysts handle such activities in most enterprise software firms.

Limited Engagement with Senior Management in Business Units

Product managers play a strategic role in addition to taking care of tactical activities. If you have never presented on strategy, finance, operations, pricing, marketing plan, new product business case or another business metric to senior management, then you may be working as a business analyst.

 Note:

There is nothing wrong with the role of a business analyst. BA’s have a lot more exposure to the product and business domain than a regular product developer. The current challenge in India lies in the fact that firms require BAs and advertise for PMs, which sometimes leads  to an expectation-reality mismatch.

Does The Hiring Growth Impact Software Product Managers?

Looks like hiring in the Indian economy is growing again. E-commerce biggies such as Flipkart and Amazon are also making big bets on India. And with intense competition for top quality engineering talent, salaries in a few marquee firms are again shooting up. [ Note: the last is mainly based on anecdotal evidence] Lastly, there is a consensus that salaries in the IT industry will rise this year for most employees.

So does the software product manager also win by changing jobs or asking for a big hike in his firm?

If you are working in this field, you may already know the answer. There are multiple factors at play here which may prevent you from the list of people getting double-digit pay-hikes. These include

  • The company’s performance
  • The salary levels and job levels at the company you are targeting
  • The internal salary grade you are at
  • Your compa-ratio
  • The annual performance review
  • Performance of your business unit/group

Based on the factors listed above, you can peg your expected compensation growth as a product manager, even if the market for technical talent is heating up.

At the high end, I have heard of product managers earning 40 lakhs (total compensation), who got no pay hike for 4+ years, after changing multiple jobs to reach this level. I also know of product managers who have seen a compensation growth from 16 lakhs to 42 lakhs in 6 years in the same firm.

It is not difficult to then make a case for either staying in your current firm, or for moving to another job, based on a 3-4 year income projection from the current job or the target job in a new firm. Of course, such a skilled person also has international mobility, and can always move to an economy where he would earn more, but that is a different story.

Is There A Dress Code for PMs?

I have seen multiple articles in various media about the dress code in different offices. An article in Esquire mentions a lot of options for formals, business casuals etc, and you can read it here. However, that is more applicable to the US and less for India. A quick search for the dress code at Infosys reveals this article. And this is more applicable to Indian offices. However, it is common to see engineers walk in wearing flip-flops and old jeans in top engineering R&D centers. Given these options, what is the dress code that one should follow as a product manager in India?

Based on my experience of various firms and sectors, even for product managers it varies from slippers and ratty t-shirts to spiffy formal suits. The dress code depends on

  • The type of firm’s business (enterprise software, telecom firm, dotcom, app development)
  • The nature of the product management role (customer facing, offshore center, market facing)
  • The closeness with customers/market
  • The occasion (external meeting, internal meeting, travel to an industry conference)

So how do the above impact the PM’s office attire?

Enterprise software and telecom firms are often huge organizations with many layers of hierarchy. Someone in middle management or a junior product manager is expected to dress smart. The smartness however, depends on the geography. Folks in the US will often be clean-shaven, wearing formal shirts and if there is a customer meeting, a tie or suit as well. And for day-to-day attire in India, formal shirt and trousers seem to work well. And this also works when people are meeting other groups within the company, or over video conferences. Not surprisingly, these are also the most common meetings a product manager attends in larger firms.

On the other hand, I have seldom come across an e-commerce product manager who even owns a suit. But in industry conferences, I have seen them occasionally wearing fresh jeans and polo shirts with clean-shaven faces. And engineers who switch to product management might also be seen in sandals and cargo shorts. From what I understand, this is perfectly acceptable in such firms or startups.

And there is a rare product management director who will not be seen in a t-shirt with his company’s logo. As I understand, this is them trying to look cool on Fridays.

As a product manager, there are many things to look out for, when working in India. Suitably dressing up for the workplace will enhance your presence and positively impact your abilities to influence others.

[The rule of thumb is to dress as your director or manager does. It makes life a little easier. In case they are of the opposite sex, look for other folks at their seniority level within the firm.]

Kaggle for Analytics Competitions – Feedback?

Kaggle is a platform for data prediction competitions. As per their wikipedia entry “This crowdsourcing approach relies on the fact that there are countless strategies that can be applied to any predictive modelling task and it is impossible to know at the outset which technique or analyst will be most effective.”

I reviewed a few competitions on Kaggle, and they seem fairly complex and perhaps a good fit for advanced statisticians or data modelers. However, Kaggle is fairly popular and gets a decent amount of traffic for niche site.

  1. Does anyone have feedback on their personal experiences using Kaggle?
  2. Have you ever recruited or solicited candidates from Kaggle, for analytics roles in offshore development centers or for offshore analytics practices of IT/Analytics firms?
  3. Have you ever used it for networking?

Drop a comment on this post if you have tried any of the three.

10 Reasons why “MBA preferred” appears in Product Manager recruitment ads

10. The recruitment team wants to shortlist candidates from thousands of applicants for an entry-level role, and MBA/PMP is chosen as a criterion. This is fairly common in large firms.

9. The Product Manager is actually required to have business modeling/statistical analysis or product pricing/marketing skills. This is very rarely needed in India, for both offshore roles and for Indian market facing roles.

8. The “MBA preferred” lets the recruitment team decline internal applicants who want to move out of an engineering role into product management.

7. The head of product management/hiring manager has an MBA

6. This product management role reports to the local sales head, and it is actually a category/brand management role for India/Asia-Pacific. Such roles are quite prevalent in hardware/mobile firms.

5. The role requires the product manager to work with vendors/clients/account teams etc. based in India, and a person with an MBA might have an edge in relationship building and management, as per the hiring manager.

4. The ad wants applicants with a full-time MBA from a top business school, but the recruitment team was not sure if they would actually get many applicants. This is often the case with senior level positions.

3. The PM head wants a “business oriented” product manager, even though the role is actually completely engineering facing, and requires strong domain knowledge. This often happens in offshore R&D centers, and often leads to a bad hire.

2. The “MBA preferred” can be interpreted as a code for highly paid candidates to apply for the job.

1. (My favorite) The ad was copied from a standard template and it contained the words “MBA preferred” in the original ad.

Evangelizing Product Management to Stakeholders – 4 Tips

In my career, I have attended a mind-boggling number of meetings where my stakeholders are absolutely clueless about the role of a product manager in India. And these stakeholders have been from engineering, sales, field marketing, program management and many other teams. So a lot of time in these meetings is then spent on explaining what a PM does and why that is useful to their team/their own goals.

[Hint: most of these guys are superbly competent in their own field, but have a very narrow view of the business, product portfolio]

 Here’s my approach towards enlightening the clueless stakeholder verbally. [Sending out introductory emails can be a blog post in itself.]

1) Identify the type of stakeholder

Without stereotyping too much, an engineering manager would have a very different personality and skill set from an account manager. So we need to identify what facet of a PM’s role he would be interested in. For e.g., if an engineering manager wants the product roadmap, he is probably looking for details on proposed features, that his team needs to prepare for. However, if an account manager wants to know about the roadmap from the PM, it is likely that he is looking for a competitive edge while positioning the product to his account. So you should focus on only that aspect of the roadmap

2) Prepare for the geographical/market context

If you are part of a new setup in India, then you may only need to mention this fact, and that you will be carrying on all existing activities and initiatives. For most stakeholders, this is enough. If you are working with remote stakeholders then be ready to do a lot of follow-up over emails and IM and meetings. I have found that those stakeholders are the hardest to influence.

3) Sell the role

If you meet a sceptic, then the best option is to offer examples and success stories about the benefit of having a product manager in their midst. The challenge here is that you might need to make space to accommodate your role, which means reducing the role of someone else. That someone else is unlikely to ever become your champion, so you need to keep a close eye on such stakeholders.

4) Sell the personality/capability

End of the day, a PM is expected to lead the virtual, cross-functional team towards successful software and hardware releases. If you have something distinct that you can share, which might help them relate to you, then you must do so. I remember a time when I was asked why I’m the right fit for the role in the first meeting. In response, I listed down multiple planned improvements for the product, and the high level PRD. This gave that team the comfort that I am capable of doing the work. Sometimes, that is all you need.

 For some people, negotiation or public speaking classes can help them increase their communication effectiveness. If these courses are available to you, do check them out.