Category Archives: Networking

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.]

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Facing The Phone Interview In India

With hundreds of resumes coming for every open position, the phone interview should be a useful way to screen candidates quickly and cheaply. Unfortunately, this tactic has been frequently subverted in India. Many times, the hiring manager does not conduct the interview himself, but passes it on to a junior PM (this is rampant at most internet firms including the MNCs). Occasionally, the HR team itself conducts a phone screening session before even short listing your resume.

Here are some of different types of phone interviews in India.

The Salary Screening Interview

Based on many discussions with recruiters at all kinds of firms, it seems that their dream is to hire candidates for free. However, as slave labor is illegal, they would definitely want to hire you at the lowest possible cost. For this, the screening interview is all about your willingness or desperation for the job. And the questions are deeply probing, designed to elicit your intent to join and the minimum salary that you are willing to accept. There is no discussion about the workplace, the team, the culture, the role or anything else.

At the end, either the candidate is so turned off by the process and does not wish to join. Or the desperate candidate is willing to accept any condition for employment.

The Peer PM Phone Interview

[I will publish a longer piece on this next week.]

The peer phone interview has its own set of problems which include:

  • Short listing candidates from the same school or former employer as the interviewer
  • Fear of competition from a brilliant candidate
  • Misuse of informal networking to pre-judge the candidate
  • Rejecting candidates because the panelist is not trained properly
  • Rejecting candidates not referred by existing employees
  • Rejecting candidate referred to by existing employees
  • The interview is just a formality to complete the process, candidate’s resume is already rejected by the hiring manager

Fundamentally, merit is often ignored when peer product managers conduct phone interviews. And this makes it very difficult for a good PM, without connections, to get to the next stage in the recruitment process in any top firm.

Interview By The Hiring Manager

The hiring manager is the stakeholder with the most to gain by hiring a good candidate. He is concerned by the salary expectations, but is not looking to bargain about salary. Neither is going to reject a candidate because he is brilliant or from a different college. And the hiring manager will seldom take the interview simply to gain knowledge about a competitor, or pick the candidate’s brain for new ideas about his product. If he does this, you can expect him not to last long in his role.

Looking at the above scenarios, it is clear that there are few chances for an ordinary candidate to pass this round of screening. And this leads to the homogenous group of mediocre product managers at many firms. My strong suggestion for a candidate would be to insist with the recruiter that they

a) reveal the panelist’s name,

b) identify the hiring manager’s name and designation

c) provide the opportunity to speak to the hiring manager directly

In case the hiring manager is “too busy” to speak to you, this is a huge red flag, and perhaps you should avoid this firm altogether.

Web Product Manager Recruitment Ad – 5

On Feb 8th, Ebay posted a recruitment ad for a Director, Product Management in Bangalore.

The complete JD is available on the link above. In December 2012, they had hired Ramkumar Narayanan, VP Product Management, Yahoo!, as the GM for their India center, so their focus is shifting to Bangalore. Should be an exciting time to join them.

Location: Bangalore
Desired Qualification: Long list of experience, capabilities and personality traits listed in the ad
Desired Experience: Not mentioned

Here are some points to consider about the role and the firm:

  • This looks like a new, senior level role in their eBay India Center of Excellence.
  • The ad mentions the job title as Director, Product Management 1 – Tech. so it is definitely for someone with a strong product engineering background.
  • Networking skills and industry reputation will be the key to getting an interview for this role.
  • Based on data available on glassdoor.com and other internet sources, the typical salary for this role should be more than 45 lpa CTC. This would exclude RSU/Stock Grant/ESOPS or other bonuses. The ceiling could be a total package of Rs. 65-70 lakhs all inclusive for a very, very good candidate.
  • Roadmapping is a key requirement for this role, and hence someone with an MBA and many years of product management experience should be an ideal fit.
  • The role will involve building and grooming a team of product managers. Given that such roles typically go to people with an MS/MBA from a top school in the US and significant US work experience, the product managers hired later would likely have a similar profile.
  • You can expect ads for junior level product managers once this position is filled out.
  • India engineering, US senior management and India leadership team will be the key stakeholders.
  • This role is unlikely to carry P&L responsibility for a product line, but would probably focus more on building the product management competency in India.
  • Growth after this role could be to another organization in the e-commerce space or an IT consultancy or strategy firm. Or you could join a startup as a CEO, CXO etc.

Disclaimer: I have a lot of respect for Ebay.com. This post is only provided to prospective PMs to help them to interpret job ads for product managers

If you have applied/joined somewhere for a web PM role similar to this, then drop me a comment, and we can discuss the same.

My 5 New Year Resolutions on Product Management

1. Work more closely with large accounts

Sitting in India and working with overseas clients, there are a lot of buffers such as service delivery, account management, sales leadership and program management that are involved in day-to-day client engagement. This makes it difficult for an offshore enterprise product manager to get on an exclusive call with the client, and almost impossible to get face time with the client. The way out is to create more surveys, feedback forms, presentations and reports to engage the client while other teams also sit in on the call.

2. More interactions with sales teams

Same challenge goes in the efforts to find the pain points of the sales teams, the way they approach the client and the quality of interaction that occurs between them. It is an offshore PM’s responsibility to connect with the sales and technical sales teams every month and make sure that they are up to speed about the product and the roadmap. Even in an Indian market PM role, it is easy to get caught up in product design and development and forget about the post-release sales efforts.

3. Work in an Indian market product management role

Based on conversations with peers, and tracking general hiring trends, I have a strong feeling that the PM roles in R&D centers in India are stagnating or declining in value to the US organization. Consequently, the quality of work on offer, and the type of people they hire will be one-dimensional. One of my personal resolutions is to find the rare software firm focused on the Indian market and support its product management initiatives. With the rise of SAAS, these firms should have an interesting journey.

4. Read more books, research

Software engineering and creating and managing technology products are very innovative areas and there is constant research going on around the world on these topics. I plan to read many more books, periodicals and research publications on these to keep abreast of the latest trends in my profession. One book that I intend to read and review soon is Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. It is a nice book that talks about strategy in successful firms.

5. Blog more

I started this blog in Dec 2012, after a lot of procrastination. This year I plan to blog on PM trainings, reviews and other observations several times a week.

Happy New Year to All!

5 Reasons Why Product Managers Should Get An MBA

Product Manager with an MBALong story short, you should definitely do an MBA if you wish to grow your career in the field of product management in India. Here are 5 reasons why:

  1. The Network: If you get into a good, full-time MBA program at any of the top 10 colleges in India, you will become part of a ready network of alumni. Pretty much every large tech. firm in India has one or more IIM/ISB alumni working in a senior role today.
  2. The Knowledge and Skills: I have previously written about the challenges of becoming a one-dimensional product manager. Obtaining first-class training on marketing, strategy, finance and organizational design will have a huge impact on your ability to contribute effectively in many more dimensions. Additionally, strategy formulation, project management, statistical analysis, linear programming and soft skills such as negotiations, effective presentations  etc. are not necessarily learnt in IITs/NITs or on the job. Doing a full-time MBA forces you to practice these skills.
  3. The Job Interview: End of the day, everyone wants to be a part of a top notch product management team at a top organization such as Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Yahoo, IBM or others. An MBA from a top college will make it easier to get your resume shortlisted, when you are starting your career. It will also open doors when you want to change jobs and you have the relevant work experience.
  4. The Safety Net during Recession: Ignoring the contempt about GOMBAs (Grossly Overpaid MBAs) and their lack of skills, the MBA is the preferred degree when you are laid off, in a recession or likely to face salary cuts. They have the most mobility within the organization and across companies and roles if facing involuntary movement from product management.
  5. The Confidence: Let’s face it, wearing the hat of a product manager every day while dealing with every department in the company can be daunting for most of us. Gaining admission to a top MBA program and surviving it will give you the edge when you are dealing with anyone in the workplace.

If you are not able to get into a top MBA program, it does not matter. There are still plenty of organizations where you can hone your skills and gain practical experience while looking for career growth opportunities.

A part-time MBA can also be useful, but I would be extremely cautious while evaluating the B-school, the maturity of the program and the subjects and quality of course work it offers. Do not join the program just because it’s cheap or because it allows you to work while you study.

Finally, if you graduated from an IIT, NIT or another top college, you can probably continue in your career without an MBA. But even then, you should consider a part-time MBA or a Masters in Technology for the skills and advanced knowledge they provide.

Hiring Slowdown in India

A quick look at the number of job ads on popular sites such as shine.com, monsterindia.com and naukri.com will show the obvious. There has been a marked hiring slowdown in this quarter. So what could be the causes of this slowdown?

For sure, the following macro factors have had an impact:

a. Slow Recovery in the US

Most offshore R&D centers have slowed down or put off hiring in India, as their parent firm is itself cautious about spending money. This has affected the hiring for posts of product managers in India apart from the regular engineering roles.

b. Slowdown in Indian Market

Thanks to the awesome policies and the wonderful government here, there is neither growth in industrial investment (apart from some core sectors) nor in consumption (due to uncertainties and price hikes). Overall the job market is usually lacklustre in the 4th quarter, but this year things have been worse than usual

c. “Bring Jobs Back” movement in the US, after Obama reelection

This has definitely changed the number of high-end jobs (read: PM roles) that R&D centers in India could offer. In fact, the “value of outsourcing to India” debate has again begun in earnest.

d. Disinterested VCs funding new technology ventures in India

After a funding frenzy in the beginning of 2011, all major VCs have either shifted their focus from technology, social media and consumer web to enterprise software and other sectors. This has had an impact on the startups who managed to get angel funding but could not get a term sheet approved.

Thanks to these factors, all 4 types of product managers are significantly impacted, with little opportunity for lateral movement or growth. I know of several people who had to take a pay cut and do low quality work, simply to show continuity in their résumé.

Thoughts, comments?

3 Key Stakeholders for Offshore Product Managers

Key StakeholdersSo who are the key stakeholders for an offshore product manager? It largely depends on the maturity of the organization in India and the business it is involved in.

Here’s an indicative list of teams which an offshore PM should stay in contact with (If you are in offshore consumer product management, then some of these teams will not exist):

Frequent Contact Occasional Contact
  • Engineering Team
  • UX Team
  • Creative and Design Team
  • Program Management
  • Reporting Manager and Peers
  • QA Team
  • Analytics Team
  • Service Delivery Team
  • Customer Support Team
  • Account Team
  • Finance Team (Pricing/Costing)
  • Operations Team
  • Product Marketing
  • Field Marketing
  • Business Unit Leadership
  • Sales Leadership
  • Documentation Team

Communication with these stakeholders is a totally different challenge. For eg, a large software analytics firm has their entire documentation team in India, while business unit leadership is entirely in the US. So a PM trying to contact the documentation team for tasks can do so easily, while it is very difficult to get face time with the US-based leadership.

However, the following are the top 3 most important internal customers you must connect with:
1. Indian Leadership Team
If you are looking to continue and grow in the same organization, you must be in the good books of the India Leadership Team. This typically consists of the India R&D center head, a VP of engineering or operations, his reportees and the local HR representative. You need to connect with them, work with them on various initiatives that crop up and try to get opportunities to show your expertise, apart from the work you do in product management.
2. Engineering and Service Delivery Managers
The Engineering Manager in India controls the people who do the actual product development. If the engineering manager is smart and reasonable, convincing him of the PM’s vision is an easy task. And he will take responsibility for ensuring the product release happens on time, with the content planned by the PM. Otherwise, he will raise objections to every PM initiative and openly challenge the PM’s authority and skills.
Service Delivery managers take the finished product and manage customized deployment for clients. If they are unhappy, the PM is likely to spend his entire time simply dealing with customer escalations and demands from account teams.
3. Reporting Manager and Peers
Peer relationships can make a break a PM. If you cannot get along with the other PMs, the reporting manager will have to make extra efforts to track your progress. And no one likes extra work! He is also your champion in the India leadership forum, so you must do everything to stay in his good graces.

If you can keep these 3 key stakeholders happy, then your tenure and growth in the organization is assured. Overtime, as you grow and get a more senior role, the additional stakeholders will also include people within engineering, product management and business unit leadership from the US.