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A decade of product management – 10 things I learnt

A decade of product management – 10 things I learnt

January of 2008 (8th of January to be precise) I started my career as a Sr. Executive- product development at Info Edge India Ltd (better known for the company that owns naukri.com). There were a handful of product people in the country back then and no one really had much clue on what the role really means (I’m not sure if it is still well understood). My incentive of taking up the role was “this is the closest to technology I can work with as an MBA graduate”. See, simple 😐

From then, to Snapdeal, HT media, Myntra and now heading hotels product for Cleartrip, I’d admit, it was one helluva ride.

The last ten years have been adventurous, challenging, rewarding, but most of all very gratifying. And I believe, by now I’ve learnt at least 10 things about product that I can share with others.

  1. Bible Basics – “Why” is more important than “When”. “What” is more important than “How”. And never forget the “Who”. If we are the voice of customer, we better know really well who our customer is, how does he/she look like, where do they live, what language do they talk in, do they use their two thumbs to use the phone or the index finger. And well, anything else that you can know.
  2. Delivery is as important as building– “Focus on thinking”. “Execution is not your problem”. “You are a product manager and not a project manager”. You’ll hear these lines a lot and as you grow older, even more. When you hear them, pay attention. But do not take it literally. See, if the product won’t go live, how’d you even know it is doing what it was supposed to do. How’d you know if it strikes well against a customer need state or not? So, do focus on delivery, help unblock the release, do that extra testing and let your product see the real world out there (or vice versa)
  3. Conversion is a by-product, but a very important by-product – A blind focus on conversion may tarnish your view point, and may make you less empathetic. But building products that do not intersect with the funnel in any way will be difficult to maintain and difficult to quantify in the longer run. Try to build easy to use and engaging experiences, but make sure those experiences are in line with the primary product. Trust me, being able to associate dollars with the feature you shipped is an equal high.
  4. You are a better product manager the next day – As a PM, you evolve everyday. You meet more customers, you see more data, you hear more inputs from industry. Make sure to pick up a product you built earlier and see how to make it better. Pick up that old PRD and see what could you have done better. (I have sometimes cringed at some of the older documents I wrote even few months later)
  5. Unlike SRK, you don’t have 70 mins. Hell, you’ll thank your stars if you get 70 secs of a user’s mindspace. So, keep it simple. Undo unnecessary interactions/ distractions. And keep the copy slick.
  6. Work produces work. Good product work will mean less convincing required by the stakeholders and better comprehension by the development team. It will mean more people believing in your product and helping you turn it into a reality. And the bonus, it will get people to sometimes go that extra mile for your product 🙂
  7. No one looked foolish asking a question – When I started in product I did not know anything about internet technologies. So I asked question, sometimes to people and sometimes to google. How does search work? What is solr and lucene? How to use firebug? What are different databases? How is postgresql different from mysql? I would hear words and go back and read. It made me look less of an idiot in conversations, it helped me respect the other person’s job and it also helped me write better requirements
  8. Don’t follow a format for writing/ documentation- There is no standard format to write requirements. The purpose of writing is to get across what you want . So why write pages that no one would read anyway. I have tried multiple things in the past depending on the situation- a truth table for IFTTT combinations, a flowchart for a long process, an excel sheet for simple mapping or instrumentation and the beloved word doc in various ways. As long as it works and covers all the pieces, it is fine. Oh, and try to start with “why” because others need to know it too.
  9. Secret jack of all trades, master of letting it be – This is one of the most important lesson especially after spending years. See, by asking a lot of questions, working with smart people and shipping products you would learn a lot of things. You would know some bit of UX, some of database schemas, some of javascript and some of testing. Do not flaunt it. Ever. It is good that you know these and no one should be able to take you for a ride. But mostly these things are for your own learning. Let it be that way 🙂
  10. Love your product – And lastly, If you are not invested emotionally in your product, it is very difficult to build something someone else will fall in love with. If you will not be able to talk about it passionately, evangelization will fail. I have seen numerous examples around me and I have myself been there sometimes, where I built something because it had to be built. I am not sure if the result was beautiful enough.

I’m glad I took up Product as my career and even on the most difficult days I’d choose not to switch jobs (Except with Batman, or Wonder Woman; go out and save the world, or sorts) 

Btw, also a fitting time to mention some of the people who’ve taught me well during this journey and made me fall in love with Product more every day.

Thank you people. Here’s hoping to the next 10 years of making the world a better place, trying to build one solution at a time!