Tag Archives: offshore product manager

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.

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One Dimensional Product Management

If you began your career in software engineering before transitioning to product management, you are likely to fall into the trap of “one dimensional product management”.

What are the symptoms?
Well, the classic “one dimensional” product manager will have a strong rapport with the engineering team and weak relations with the other stakeholders. If he is an extrovert, he will be able to connect with the others but will fail to see the big picture. Finally, he will always answer every problem or requirement with a feature spec. whether its necessary or not.

This is a common problem in India, in offshore PM roles. If the newbie PM has worked in engineering teams for more than ~5 years, he will realize that his education and expertise is limited to solving engineering problems and defining business problems in the engineering space. He can then either go on the defensive, and attack people who question his expertise, or increase his skills. He can go for the “part time” MBA, which is a mushrooming industry in India (especially in Bangalore) to gain more perspective. Unfortunately, these courses do not really provide him the tools to solve cross-dimensional problems (pricing, solution design etc) or really understand the best way to resolve customer needs. Additionally, the pressure to provide work to the engineering team makes it an “easy out” to simply add features to the roadmap, throwing away all notions of Minimum Viable Product and promoting Feature Bloat.

So what’s the best case solution?
In the best case, the engineering-cum product manager must go out of his comfort zone and go for a full time MBA. Post MBA, he must move into customer facing roles for a couple of years, and then move back to product management. (He must not directly jump back into offshore PM roles, see my post on career killer). In the end, he will have lesser ability to work as an engineer (which is no longer relevant to him or his organization), but will have far more tools in his toolkit to be a very successful multi-dimensional product manager.

The Product Manager and Analytics

AnalyticsWith analytics seen as the game changer both within the firm operations and support support functions as well as for sales and marketing, it is important that the PM get a good grasp of analytics as a subject and the associated tools. The Wikipedia entry for Analytics calls it “the discovery and communication of meaningful patterns in data.” Additionally, wikipedia entry for Google Analytics calls it “a service offered by Google that generates detailed statistics about the visits to a website.”

It should be clear now that analytics comprises of statistics, reports and patterns in data generated from different sources. Additionally, in the software world, analytics is also used to identify features of interest, and in some cases, especially for web products and apps, analytics actually becomes an important module (to track feature and product usage) to be developed in the product.

So what does a product manager need to know about analytics? Well, first of all he should understand the type of analysis that is useful to clients, senior management and engineering teams (web analytics, customer segmentation, product performance reports, product usage reports or something else). So here’s a glimpse of the analysis that is useful:

  • Product performance/usage reports (how many people use the product, what segmentation is possible etc)
  • Product sales reports (customer profiles, segmentation, geographies etc)
  • Website usage reports (if its e-commerce, then products looked at, purchased etc, for other sites the browsing patterns, exit pages etc)
  • Website experiments (A/B tests, multivariate testing and so on)
  • Customer surveys and forum post analysis (to identify features of interest, trouble areas etc

Something that is clear here is that all this analysis must be performed periodically, at least once a quarter and must be an important input in future product planning. And this also means that product managers must a) gain expertise in statistical analysis and b) build a good rapport with the analysts or analytics team.

So how does one learn about these different analytics domains?

Here’s one suggested route.

  1. Start with a book or online tutorial on statistics and learn the fundamentals from that
  2. Download some free statistical software such as pspp (or use MS Excel) and go through the some hands on exercises available on the net there
  3. Add Google Analytics tracking code to your personal website or blog and start viewing the reports available. Then read the entire GA help documentation.
  4. Read some good books on website design to increase your knowledge of experiments on website usage
  5. Learn SQL, a vital tool for querying databases and getting aggregate results
  6. Finally, read articles, books and tutorials on Business Intelligence and Dashboards

The “resources” section of the blog has links to various useful software, tutorials and books. You can use them as a reference.

If you spend “An Hour A Day” on these every weekday, it will take you a good 3-4 months to get to the final part. After completing these, you should be in a position to talk meaningfully to the analytics teams, create useful performance reports from raw data, and support your feature specifications using live data.

All this will definitely turn you into a Data Driven Product Manager, which is an immensely vital skill for product management today.

Note: There is a strong relation between Big Data and Analytics, however, for most part it is not relevant unless you are either designing the big data infrastructure or you already have user access to the infrastructure.

In a future post, I will summarize the connection between product managers and analytics, given the 4 types of product managers in India.

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.

Four Flavors of Product Management in India

Let’s face it, the product manager’s primary role is to understand the market and customers and then make judgements regarding his product(s) based on his analysis. So being in India, you have two broad categories of product management activities based on the market, the Indian market and offshore product management, typically for US as well as two categories based on the type of customers, Consumers and Enterprises.

If we represent them in the ever popular 2X2 matrix, they would look something like this:

A. Offshore Enterprise Product Management B. Offshore Consumer Product Management
Companies such as Oracle, SAP, Microsoft (some parts), IBM, CA Technologies, NetApp, Nokia Siemens Networks Companies such as Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft (some parts), Amazon (some parts), Adobe, Intuit (some parts) and others
C. Indian Market Enterprise Product Management D. Indian Market Consumer Product Management
 Companies like Onmobile, Tally and HP, Dell and some others have units with PM roles that focus on the Indian market. HP and Dell also have large R&D centers that have offshore product management roles  Companies such as yatra.com , makemytrip.com, shaadi.com, Comviva,  redbus.in, flipkart.com, Nokia, Intuit (some parts) and so on

For ease of representation, I made the following assumptions:

  1. Enterprise includes all small, medium and large enterprises
  2. Consumer includes internet, apps and ecommerce
  3. Indian market includes the subcontinent and APJ if relevant to the organization
  4. Offshore market is mainly the US with UK and EU included as necessary

Now given the vastly different focus areas of these organizations, it would be a huge folly to classify all product managers within the same bracket of skills, knowledge and experience. Actually, this classification also indicates the variety of tasks and various stakeholders that a PM will encounter in his work. For example, an Indian consumer market PM must keep track of the deals being handled by business development managers, whereas the offshore consumer product manager may never even talk to business development managers. However, one thing that remains sacrosanct is that if you are a PM in India, you must cultivate good relations with the engineering staff.

One interesting point, it is the offshore consumer product management roles that pay the highest salaries today, as PMs have a very large role in the success of these organizations both in India as well as their parent location. At the same time, these roles also have the lowest shelf life, and can quickly disappear in a downturn, re-organization or simply due to passage of time.

Today, many organizations are copying Job Descriptions directly from their US websites without a clear understanding of how different this role is in India. To give one example, the JD of the PM for a large internet firm in India and the US is the same, however, while the role in the US reports to the head of product line of a business unit, the role in India reports to a director of engineering. Obviously, both roles are vastly different.

In fact, given the lack of knowledge among recruiters about the different categories of product management, very often candidates end up in a wrong interview, being under-prepared or simply unaware of the realities of the workplace before accepting the offer. This can cause unnecessary misunderstandings which can be avoided by simply preparing a realistic job description before interview.

In a future post, I will take a sample job description from a current job posting and explain it.