Mentor Stories

A Product Management Mindset

Since childhood, Deep had two major interests – playing games and mathematics. Deep loved playing cricket, badminton, chess, carrom and many more. Indoor or outdoor didn’t matter the sheer pleasure of doing something competitive and coming on the better side in the end, was something that gave him a lot of thrill. Sometimes, the game level of the opponent didn’t matter as he set his own targets, e.g. against a simpler opposition in Carrom, he would keep target to finish game with >10 points at the end. Ridiculously practical, but he liked to raise the benchmark for each event. Also he loved solving mathematics problems, geometry, algebra or calculus – the puzzles gave him thrills. He would want to finish a 3 hour paper in 2 hours and enjoy a nice sunny evening outside the class. Call it boasting or self over confidence but pushing the limit was something he liked to do naturally. His friends and close members knew about it and one thing that rose above all was the fire inside to solve problems. The domain or arena didn’t matter but he loved to face challenges and solve it, whether it was driving through traffic and reaching a place 5 km away in 15 min on a rather decrepit Kinetic Honda or solve a hardest TOI sudoku puzzle in < 5 min. 

So posted with multiple options post completing MBA in 2010 from IIM Ahmedabad – which leaves you like one of the most bizarre roller coaster where you have no clue in the end about North / South or Time or location, and complexities thrown in by subprime crisis wrt career aspirations, what to choose as a career option was more an Operations Research problem with multiple constraints and unknown outcomes. In midst of poor placement season and building tensions among peers, it became really unclear on what to go after – and this is where he was asked to reach inside and see what did he like to do the most: solve problems. Deep saw himself as an ironman, who was armed with a suit laden with ammunition from the best of MBA schools and he wanted to go and solve problems. This is where he had the opportunity to make a mark in the word.

During placement season, he tried his luck with multiple roles but none materialised. He had a handful of calls from Consulting and Finance roles which already had over supply then. General management and Marketing weren’t much his cup of tea. Technology and Analytics roles were reasonable bets for him then. But as luck would have it, Deep got an offer to join in a Product Manager for an enterprize B2B product. Product management, in 2010, was a fledging domain then with not many (including Deep) knowing what it did. In fact Deep too was surprized at the offer then, but later realized that his inherent love to solve challenges got him the role which demanded the most from a customer’s perspective. 

It didn’t take long for Deep to understand the nuts and bolts of Product Management, it was also helped by the fact that he was under able guidance of one of the veterans of PM in India and at a large Tech firm. This helped him go deep into the PM role – to understand a customer and address his/her problems and solve for a large set of end users due to large spread of the Tech firm. Suddenly the sky opened up and he was able to make a difference to lives of tens of thousands of end users by rightly putting the product features in place. The scale and magnitude of challenge suddenly increased multi-fold and so did the hunger. 

However like in Spiderman’s case, “With great power comes great responsibility” – no longer were short term quick fixes making much for the customers, in Product management one had to also look at the larger picture and take a lot more informed decision. Hence although the instincts and desire of solving problems was there, the parameters or metrics on which one evaluated success deferred for Deep as a Product Manager. Earlier speed of execution & accuracy were the main parameters during his school & college life. Now as a PM, he had to represent entire customer population internally hence each aspect or assumption had to be evaluated in detail to arrive at a solution. As a PM, Deep had to go deeper into stronger analysis mode (some of the main learnings during Consulting subjects of MBA), impact (finance and operations) and Customer empathy (softer aspects of Individual and Organizational dynamics) to arrive at a solution. 

It isn’t easy. That too for a PM in B2B domain where decision making is more informed, sales cycles longer, lot more stakeholder involvement, scope for customization / configuration and rampant penetration of AI / ML / RPA / etc., PM job isn’t easy at all. PMs solve the problem but you can solve it in 15 min or solve it ‘well’ doing your research. It depends on which type of PM you want to be & Deep chose to take the later harder path. Now the success of thrill comes in how well you are able to meet your customer demands, or even better – even without customer asking for it can you wow customer each time with lesser frequency? Can the customers (and other stakeholders) get incrementally more value from the product with lesser cost or effort? These are some of the goals (or more like values) that drive the PM or a child problem solver inside Deep today. 

Authored by  Deepkumar Varma, Head of Products at Excelity, IIMA, IITR

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