Category Archives: Networking

ABCs of Variable Pay – How Product Managers are underpaid in India

Indian_Rupee_symbolIn many companies in India today, variable pay is an important technique to reduce cash payouts (OpEx) during slowdown. It typically varies from 10-25% of your total compensation with 20% being the new norm today. The variable part depends on the company’s performance and occasionally, is also used as a performance management tool.
So why is this a big issue?

A. Accountability

In many offshore R&D centers, it is seen that the engineers do not have any variable pay, while Product Managers do. While engineers have no say over the product performance (and the firm’s performance), in R&D centers, the PMs do not have any control either. Hence, a 20% variable pay for an offshore Product Manager is definitely unfair to him. Additionally, sometimes the PMs quarterly payout is tied to the product release date, whereas in reality, the release is dependent on a host of issues, which can only be monitored by program managers. So docking performance pay for PMs when other managers get their full payout is not a good practice.

B. Benchmarking

A few IT services and startup (e-commerce) firms are notorious for using variable pay to pad up the CTC offered to prospective employees. It is only after joining that they find out that the notional variable pay on their offer letter is the high water mark, and typical payout is only about 50-75% of that. This automatically reduces the total compensation in comparison to other firms.

C. CTC or “Cost to Con”

In India, if a firm offers a large amount of stock options or has 20-25% variable pay, then it is very suspect behavior. It is likely that your tenure in the firm will be short and you will see neither variable pay nor stocks. Sadly, this is actually arranged by the senior management, in partnership with HR, to control costs. So the PM does not really get to see the full benefits of his efforts, while the firm claims to offer competitive compensation. The fact that they regularly churn product managers and have very few long timers is a clear indicator of this.

So how do you protect yourself from these? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Do your research

Sites such as Glassdoor offer insights into salaries and contain employee reviews. Keep adding your own experiences and review the content there before accepting a job offer.

2. Let firms compete for your talent

A Computer Science engineer from IIT Bombay told me last year that he had 7 offers to choose from before selecting a new job. While a PM’s bargaining power is limited, it always helps to shop around. And while an offshore PM role is lucrative, the growth options are severely limited.

3. Ignore the salary!

A PM in the Indian market can easily get noticed and get promoted/poached. I know a few people who started in product management (post MBA) at 5-6 lakhs and within 4-5 years reached 20 lakhs CTC per annum. They only extra effort they incurred was to promote themselves on social networks and learn the skills needed to rise up.

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5 Social Networking Recommendations for PMs in India

network cablesOne of the vital dimensions of Product Management is the skill of networking and the ability to connect with different people. This includes people outside your department and company. A strong network of contacts can often help in getting the next job, increase your visibility in the industry or give a boost when you are among the dozens of candidates vying for the coveted Google or Amazon product manager role. And no, the network cables shown here are not going to help you in that effort.
So how do you expand your network of online contacts? Well, there are three sites where you must have a well-developed profile:

1. LinkedIn
This is your most important professional network and you must have a complete profile here. Start inviting everyone in your firm who you interact with to connect on LinkedIn. As a rule of thumb, after every month on the job, you should have at least 5 new contacts here. Additionally, if you meet other product managers, or interact with them on social media, they should be invited too. However, a premium account is not necessary.
2. Facebook
This is the place where you invite people whom you meet socially and regularly in the workplace. They need not be peers or bosses, but perhaps someone you share a lunch with. As always, don’t post anything you would not want your parents to read.
3. Twitter
Start following people who have similar professional interests such as product management, product design, UX and top people from the industry. If required, keep 2 twitter accounts, one for professional reasons and the other for personal interests. However, it is not recommended to link Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.

Additionally, you should:

4. Express online opinions
If you have opinions on product management or about your industry, you must share it with bloggers. For example, someone actively in promoting social media for PMs must be aware that the Desi PM is writing about it, and should post a comment here.

It is strongly recommended that you post it in your own name, unless it is controversial and you would rather do it under an alias. In any case, you must track these forums and share your opinions.

5. Join internal networks within the firm
If you work for a large firm, there will be tools such as IM, SalesForce Chatter, Jive and others in use. You must create a strong presence there. However, the downside is that their usage is totally predicated on the presence of senior management, and the culture of the firm.

Today, almost every recruiter does a Google search or views LinkedIn on potential candidates before processing a résumé. So you can actually consider your online presence and your networks as extending your résumé, irrespective of whether you are searching for a job or not.

In the resources section, I am adding links to real world events such as Unpluggd, IPMA meetings and TIE meetings that can be good source of contacts too.

True Story of a PM in India – 1

PM in Offshore Enterprise Product ManagementCareer Killing Move

This PM I know has the typical profile of tech-savvy product managers, which you find in various offshore R&D centers. He worked in software engineering in India for a few years, went to the USA to study for his masters, and gradually moved to product management there. After several years there, he returned to India as a PM in an offshore R&D center and now he is in a role where:

a) Engineers are very young and inexperienced, yet smart and aggressive

b) PM is seen as an overhead and an engineering support role

c) His PM manager is in the US, however it is the local VP of business operations that runs his life.

d) All end of life and low priority products end up here, in piecemeal fashion

e) With travel budgets cut or non-existent, customer access only happens on very late night calls

f) He has no access to industry analysts anymore

g) No business relevant or strategic activities are run in India, and his role is totally tactical, creating usecases and PRDs

Within 6 months, he found himself effectively cut-off and isolated from the Business Unit product management team in the US. Additionally, he found that there was actually a negative incentive to producing good quality PM output in India, as there was resistance in the company against moving work offshore.

After managing one software release in 2 years, overtime, overbudget and with very low quality, he got fed up and tried to move out. Sadly, the other PM roles available to him were equally bad, and there is no escape back to either engineering or moving to sales or business development, due to lack of relevant experience. So he is actually passing time, with the least amount of interest left in his product or workplace. Additionally, due to family reasons he cannot move back to the US, not that anyone is hiring there.

The only thing left now is to wait in place, and hope that the market downturn does not eliminate his well paying job. In this scenario, expecting top notch product development in India and leading a fantastic team is a hallucination, and will probably never occur in his lifetime. His only hope is that the engineering team pulls up their socks, improve productivity and quality, and justifies its value in India. In this case, he can make a business case to get relatively new products done out of India R&D and probably expand his work to APJ markets and customers.

Now when he sees posts and websites detailing the “strategic nature of product management” and “PM as a CEO” he simply laughs.

Note: This was told to me by an acquaintance in early 2012, who worked for one of the top telco equipment manufacturers, and was finally laid off when his firm could not compete with Apple and Google. He now works as a program manager, creating spreadsheets and tracking resources in an Indian IT services firm at 50% of his last salary, where his clients are his US peers from his previous firm. And he has no intention of returning to an offshore product management role.

Learning Product Management – 2

Just when I wrote about Pragmatic Marketing trainings not happening in India, I came to know about another group, Association of Product Management and Product Marketing that does conduct PM trainings in India, in collaboration with Adaptive Marketing, an Indian organization that seems to focus on certifications, trainings, PM exam preparation and consulting.

Adaptive Marketing conducts a 2 day (weekend) workshop + training for CPM certification in different cities in India. The CPM certification is based on a set multiple choice and essay type exam, described on the AIPMM site. While I did search for the fees for this workshop + training, it is not mentioned on their website.

Disclaimer: I have never used, nor do I endorse them

AIPMM in the US seems to have a solid reputation, and hence their certification program might be useful for new product managers. They also have a discussion forum on their website, which seems to be under-utilized, based on the number of posts and the date of last posting in various discussions.

Interestingly, Adaptive Marketing also mentions their spin on the product lifecycle (they call it ‘productizing’) and the PM/PMM’s relevance in that. It is captured in a process diagram here. In another post, I will examine it in detail.

Are these resources useful for learning on the job? Probably not. Are the workshops going to make you better at the job? Probably yes. So the point remains that if you are not satisfied with your current skills, and your firm is not sponsoring international trainings, you could increase your knowledge, or take a refresher course on certain product management skills from these organizations. What is important is what you can retain 3, 6 and 12 months after completing the workshop and getting certified.

Of course, these workshops and trainings often turn out to be very useful for networking, so that another positive.

If you have attended any of their trainings in India or abroad, leave a comment.