Time To Get Agile/Scrum Certified

In earlier posts, I have written about the challenges of agile product management. I also reviewed a pretty good book “Agile Product Management with Scrum” that you should read to learn about Agile software development and the Product Owner/Manager’s role.

Well, now it may be time to go one step ahead and become a Certified Scrum Product Owner (CSPO).

This certification is a basic two-day introduction to gathering requirements and delivering them to the scrum team in the format of user stories. After getting certified, you will also get access to the online forums, blogs and other resources that you can use to hone your story-writing skills. One advertised benefit is the ability to show potential employers your knowledge of Scrum. There are some other certifications associated with Agile development (Scrum Master, Scrum Developer, Scrum Coach etc.) which are of limited use in a Product Owner role. You can find more information on these with a simple Google search.

Alternatively, you can go for the PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP)® certification. This looks like a rigorous training with a lot of pre-qualifications before you apply for the certification. However, if you are already PMP certified, then it may be easier to get this certification. Personally, I am not in favor of product managers going for a PMP certification, for the simple reason that product managers have a different role that project managers.

If you are an old-timer in the industry, you might remember how Rational OOAD and UML was a pretty big thing at one time. And to get business analyst roles, you had to be well versed in those tools. Now with teams going agile, these certifications may give you the edge, when you are out there, looking for a product manager/product owner role.

Do understand your own career aspirations, the costs associated with these courses and then make an informed decision on either of these certifications.

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Product Management Merry Go Round!

Musical ChairsSeveral years ago, when engineering hiring in dot-coms was peaking, you could see the same resumes making the rounds in top firms (Microsoft, Google, Ebay, Amazon and others) in India’s Silicon Valley.

Some years back, there was a great article in Forbes India that mentioned how the Top Honchos of Tech. MNCs in India keep rotating between the same firms, which led to limited value addition to these firms.

Now it seems product managers resumes are making the rounds in the same way. Many recruiters with such firms are pinging folks on LinkedIn with product manager designations, to fill vacancies in their organizations.

Here’s a true story of what happened with me.

A few months ago, I got a mail from a recruiter at a well-funded startup, offering a product management role. The profile was interesting, with a mix of product design and analytics for a cloud based offering, but it was an entry-level role so I replied back declining the offer to interview with them.

The next day, I got another email, which had the email ids of about 20 product managers from Amazon, Myntra, Ebay, Infoedge, Intuit, Microsoft, Walmart Labs, Flipkart etc. (My guess is that the recruiter wanted to bcc all of us, but messed up).

It said that the recruiter was happy to have made contact with us, and wanted us to refer folks from our companies if we were not directly interested in working in that product management role. Being curious, I looked at the profile for these folks copied on the mail with me. It became clear that most of these folks had:

1) B. Tech. or MBA from a Top College (IIT/NIT/ISB/IIM)

2) Worked in at least 2-3 different product management roles before their current one

3) Rotated between an MNC and a startup in their career, or between different MNCs

4) done at least one stint in a client facing role (marketing/sales/business development) or worked in the US

My guess is that many offshore MNC with a product manager opening will ping these same folks for the PM role (unless internal candidates are available). This may also indicate why many folks are unable to get a PM role in India, if they have not done it before. Finally, my guess is that these firms are also compensating PMs at similar levels which makes hiring easier.

The merits of this hiring strategy are debatable, but let’s leave that for another post.

Ask Me Anything – Within Reason

It is always great to hear from people who read this blog and have responded over email or comments. Sometimes you use real identities, other times it’s an alias. I am fine with both. If your questions are interesting or relevant, I will try to respond back quickly.

However, if possible, kindly provide some context before asking for for my opinion on questions such as:

  • How do I get more competitive compensation? (You need to share what you earn now and how you got there)
  • How do I get into product management? (What do you do today and what is your educational background)
  • How do I crack product management interviews? (There are hundreds of resources out there on this topic)
  • How do I grow in my career? (You need to provide your career and current job details)
  • I want to return from US and into a product management role in an offshore setup ( This is a mix of #2 and #4)

I try to answer most questions, but without details, you may not get a good response.

All the best in your career, and I look forward to answering more such questions.

(And no, I am not looking to connect on LinkedIn with readers from this blog)

Resume Variants You Need as a Product Manager in India

ResumeVariantsMost interview preparation sites will say that you need to customize your résumé for every job application. This is correct because if your customized resume does not contain keywords a recruiter is searching for, you are unlikely to get shortlisted for an interview. However, what they often neglect to mention is the need for multiple resume templates for applying to product management roles in India. This is even more important once you gain some years of experience in product management.

[In large firms, your résumé is typically scanned by a recruiter, shortlisted by an HR manager, forwarded to the hiring manager and then scanned by the interview panel. It may also be scrutinized by a background checking team after you accept the job offer]

You should remember some points while creating a resume template for each category. Remember, the template is the master list of all work related activities, you need to trim it and customize it for every job application.:

Offshore Enterprise Product Management

  • Highlight cross-functional, program management and engineering work experience
  • Show details of customer and account team engagement or work as a Business Analyst
  • Add keywords that match the technologies advertised (security, virtualization, networking etc.)
  • Based on the job description, you may want to highlight work done within Asia-Pacific for sales support, RFP response and so on

Offshore Consumer Product Management

  • Show patents, innovations, work on new product design etc.
  • Show experience in UX design, product release etc.
  • Also mention if you have conducted customer interviews, done customer data analysis or have worked with web analytics

Market Facing Enterprise Product Management

  • Show financial skills (you can decide what flavor you wish to add)
  • Show pricing, sales support and marketing experience
  • Add points to show that you are tech. savvy (but you need not show engineering experience)

Market Facing Consumer Product Management

  • Show brand names you have worked with
  • Show impact on profitability, sales, customer acquisition or other relevant metrics
  • Add details of your MBA projects, data analysis skills and interpersonal skills
  • Add details of team management if done earlier

Your résumé is the key to your success in the technology industry in India. You must make sure that it lets the reviewer get a grasp of your relevant experience in the first glance. There is no such thing as a catch-all resume that can be used for applying to any product management role.

Book Review – Stealing the Corner Office

Had been busy for a while, but have managed to read a book in the downtime. The book is titled “Stealing the Corner Office“. I have posted a brief review in the resources section. It’s a little expensive to buy in India, but the lessons it imparts about the workplace are invaluable. In case you are a corporate citizen with access to an online library, do read this book. If you are building your own collection of useful books, then you must buy this one.

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.]