Tag Archives: program management

A Program Manager Can Be More Powerful Than A Product Manager

The title of this post may seem illogical to some. After all, the Product Manager (PM) is the one that leads product releases and is often responsible for product P&L (profit and loss). And a program manager (pm) simply tracks activities in MS Project. So how can a pm be more important than a PM?

I first heard this from a Director of Engineering at Microsoft, Seattle. He explained that in consumer products, it is very important to get the pulse of the market, and hence everyone listens when the PM talks about features, use cases, revenues, competitors etc. Whereas in enterprise products, there is often a vast pool of resources to manage that work to deliver a single product release on time and within budget. Hence the teams of pm become very important to the product line. And since they have fewer releases per year of enterprise products, the program manager has a more significant role to play there. Of course, the pm in Microsoft has a different role than a traditional industry pm. [ A description of MSFT program manager’s role in India is given here.]

In offshore roles in India, the prominence of the role of a pm and a PM depends on their level of independent responsibility. If either the pm or the PM’s reporting hierarchy is to the product line management (typically in the US) instead of India operations teams, then they have a strong and important role. Otherwise, given the typical scenario where you have offshore engineering centers, a pm coordinating engineering projects is sometimes more powerful than a product manager. In fact, having both product and program managers report to an Engineering Director is also not uncommon. This can occur in both consumer and enterprise software firms, and in both cases the pm can have a more prominent role than a PM.

So, if you’re researching on alternates to an operational product management role in India, a pm’s role is worth a closer look.

7 Tips for Fresh MBAs working as Offshore Product Managers

[Caution: long post]

Today, most business schools prefer candidates with some work experience, which is also useful during lateral placements. Hence you see an increasing number of candidates with exposure to IT services or software engineering joining these schools and completing their MBA. Post-MBA, it is inevitable that some of them will head towards product management during campus placements or shortly afterwards. This post is about the 7 things to focus on in your first year on the job, apart from working on PRDs or MRDs.

1. Build a rapport with program managers

In most offshore R&D centers, program managers play a key role in organizing projects, resources and schedules. Hence they know the resource costs and availability for any ongoing or upcoming project. And since engineering dominates decision-making in ODCs (offshore development centers), the program managers help to balance the engineering dominance.

2. Get customer exposure on a sales call

An enterprise sale is a complex process, involving dozens of people from different departments, and it typically has a long completion cycle. You must gain a first hand exposure to how this works, as this is the main source of revenue for the firm and for your product line. However, it can be difficult to gain a sales person’s attention, as he is always looking outwards for opportunities. As an incentive to sales folks to get them to talk to you, arrange a product demo or a feature presentation. If the demo is interesting enough, they will make sure that you get in front of the customer.

3. Gain the trust of engineering and service delivery managers

I have written previously about key stakeholders for offshore product managers. If you cannot get these people to trust you, you will never be able to drive product decisions, even with your supervisor’s help. And you cannot keep going to him all the time. One good technique to gain the engineering trust is the show them that you can deliver on the product requirements and are not simply there because of your MBA. Essentially, you need to prove yourself with every engineering resource, right from the VP to the intern.

4. Train yourself

If you are just coming out of b-school, with a few years of pre-MBA IT experience, you have NO relevant skills whatsoever. The people in the ODC do not care that you can prepare kick-ass powerpoint. Neither are they interested in the font, color or direction of arrows in you block diagram. You must focus on gaining survival skills, which today include, UI design using HTML, CSS and Javascript, UML and MS Visio usage, basic analytics, and programming skills in at least C++, Java or PHP. There is a lot more to gaining skills in multiple dimensions, and I will cover this in a future post.

Do not bother to go for a formal product management training yet. Without relevant experience, it will have very little value and you will forget most of it very soon.

5. Prepare for a change to your role/product within 12 months

In today’s connected, global economy, it is almost guaranteed that your first role will last no more than 12 months. The change could be due to external forces or internal restructuring (ODCs are very prone to this), but it will definitely happen. In the worst case, you might feel stagnating in your role, and you will yourself ask for or start looking out for a change. The best way to survive this is to shine in front of senior management, build a rapport with the US teams and network with HR and other support staff.

6. Connect with Solution Sales, Analytics, Customer Service Teams

This is probably the most important task that you can perform outside of self-training. To understand how the product is built, you need to sit with engineering teams. To understand how the product is sold, you need to work with sales teams. And if you really want to understand how the product is used, you need to work with solution sales, analytics and operations and customer service teams, who cover all real use cases that the product was designed for. And remember, you need to proactively seek them out and learn from them. As a fresher, it is expected that you will be learning all the time.

7. Network outside the firm

There are a lot of opportunities for networking in Bangalore, Hyderabad and all the other major tech. centers in India. You must go to these get-togethers (a few of them are listed in the resources section of the blog). It can be a lonely job, working as a product manager, with no outbound teams near you. Connecting with other people in similar situations is a good way to understand the challenges of an offshore product management role, and the different ways in which people are coping.

Summing Up

A product management role, even offshore, can be incredibly rewarding, but only if you take care of your first few years on the job. It is not for everyone, and you should make sure that you are still interested in it at the end of your first year. Else, as an MBA, it will be easy to find something else.

The “Big 5” of Offshore R&D Centers in India

Based on some basic internet searches, it seems that India has over 1000 offshore R&D centers of various MNCs. And while these are not restricted only to IT, it is the IT R&D centers that of interest to us. So which offshore R&D centers have the most Product Managers in India and which ones offer the highest compensation? Well, these are not easy questions to answer, mainly due to the wide variety of work done by these centers. And very few of them are offering product management in India. But here are my indicative lists.

Top 5 R&D Centers by compensation offered to PMs

Top 5 R&D Centers by Product/Program Manager headcount

Top 5 Enterprise Software R&D Centers

Now the fine print:

  1. The list is completely subjective and based on personal research. I make no guarantees about its accuracy.
  2. These lists cover all product management roles ranging from P&L owners with experience of 10-15 years to business analysts fresh out of engineering/business schools.
  3. Most of these are Bangalore based with a few based out of Pune/Hyderabad/Chennai/NCR
  4. A few organizations have some product management functions in India, focused on the Indian market. I have not included them here.
  5. Microsoft has program managers in India, who do similar work as inbound product managers.
  6. Quite a few IT services firms have product management roles, however, they offer less compensation and are not included here.

Will update this post, based on the feedback I receive

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.