Updated: March 30, 2023 - 8 min read
This week our #AskMeAnything session welcomed Dhaval Shah, Head of Product at Sysdig, to talk about the skills needed to become a PM.
Dhaval Shah is a results-driven entrepreneurial leader and is currently Head of Product at Sysdig. He is a multidisciplinary technology inventor with a passion for solving complex problems and envisioning experiences that delight users. He approaches challenges from a holistic perspective and has built revolutionary products at Microsoft, Coverity, CircleCI, and Sysdig.
Dhaval enjoys building versatile teams and helps nurture diverse skills and perspectives. As a Product leader, he focuses on the intersection of technology, business, and design to create innovative products that users love. He also enjoys coaching/mentoring product leaders and can be reached here.
Pivoting into Product Management
”If someone was looking to pivot to Product Management from Product Marketing—What would be the one coding language you recommend learning?”
It is not so much important which language you learn, but it’s more important for a product manager to build something using that language and think through different use cases, prioritize them and execute.
To get started, Python would be the easiest.
”Could you share some insights into how to initiate the transition from Engineering to Product Management? I have been trying but my current role doesn’t provide the opportunities needed to build the right skillset.”
When I hire a Product Manager, I look for individuals that can:
Think big about the possibilities that your product/feature can achieve and not be limited to what exists today.
Ability to prioritize relentlessly and execute in spite of difficulties.
Find a PM mentor and start taking PM responsibilities in your organization.
It is important to find a manager who believes in you and is invested in helping with your career trajectory. You should also build something on your own and think through on delivering MVP, prioritizing, measuring user feedback, and collecting metrics.
Also, I always recommend the following to my mentees:
Be really certain that you want to be a Product Manager. Product Management is an awesome domain, but not meant for everyone, so think it through.
Accompany your PM / Sales / Customer Success team members when they visit customers. Put yourself in the shoes of the customer
and understand the job that the customer is trying to do by using your product. Observe the customer's pain points and how your product can solve it.
Build something… whether it is an app or a simple website. Think of personas that you would cater to, how the user onboarding looks like, what the MVP will be, and what design decisions you have to make.
As I already mentioned above, find a great PM mentor (ideally within your org) who can help you with the transition.
Try thinking outside the box to get the job done and reduce user pain points. I blogged about it on Medium.
”I am a Product Owner looking to transition to PM, can you please advise what are the ways of doing so?”
Product Management involves being at the center of a lot of different fields: Engineering, Sales, Support, Customer Success, and Marketing. I have helped transition individuals from each of these different fields. It’s more about being an SME in your field and having user empathy.
As a product owner, you can do many things that a PM does like talking to users, understanding their pain points, see sources of friction, relentlessly bugs, and doing competitive analysis. All of these skill sets will be valuable as a PM.
Try building something in your free time. Get all the skillsets that are listed above, so you would be able to find opportunities either inside or outside your organisation.
”Can you recommend us 1-3 books that drastically improved your work performance or life in general?”
I read many books across different disciplines to be better at what I do 😄 Here are the ones I will recommend:
1) Inspired by Marty Cagan—PM focused
2) High Output Management by Andy Groove—Leadership focused
3) Inmates are running the asylum by Cooper—Design focused
4) Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely—Behavioral focused
”We are trying to transition our product company founded in 1981 into a modern company. We have an equal amount of Business Developers and Product Managers. Could you share some thoughts on business development compared to Product Management, and how these roles could coexist in a small company?”
It's hard to transform within a company. During my time at Microsoft, we were transitioning from a desktop to a cloud company. It takes time for people to adjust to this new environment.
Amongst several things we did, there was one thing that I would like to highlight: to have company-wide objectives, have everyone agree on these objectives and company-wide metrics to track progress towards these.
At the end of the day, as a Product Manager, you own and define the strategy and build a roadmap that helps you make progress toward this strategy. You can take input from all stakeholders, but as a PM, it’s your responsibility to always and execute what’s most important for the customer and the company. It helps team members know how you so that they can understand why a feature did not make it.
”How do you see the PM career in the next years? What kind of professional does the market expect and which skills they must have?”
Product Management is a combination of science and art.
At its very core a Product Manager focuses on:
Defining the vision for their product and to achieve this vision.
Ability to prioritize relentlessly and able to wear multiple hats (Design, Sales, Support, and so on).
Be a subject matter expert and go-to person. You should be passionate about what you do and try to excel at it.
The most important is execution and getting things done. There will be countless roadblocks as you execute your plans, but as a PM, you need to know how to be creative and unblock your team members.
As time progresses, you get more advanced at doing all of the above.
”What are the best practices to achieve a product design that is faster to build and yet maintains custom component structures—Not frameworks? How can design systems be managed or built along with the engineering team to streamline building the product?”
I feel it is very important to do the following:
1) Have a clear understanding of personas that, as a company, you are serving. It takes time to define these personas, but once they are defined, you can have all your product discussions around these personas. Alan Cooper’s and Human Centered Design along these lines.
2) Build a component library for all your products. Work with your engineering team to get feedback on these components. Address their concerns and get them to use this library. This will help have consistency across your application.
I would highly recommend Inmates are running the asylum started.
”Could you please explain how Product Management is different when managing B2B vs B2C products?”
Great question. Here are a few differences:
For B2B, your buyer is different than your user. You will have to design your product that caters to these different personas. For B2C, your buyer is your user.
For B2B, your sales organization will have in your roadmap. You as a Product Manager should try to collaborate and retain the ability to drive the product vision.
For B2B, to gain product adoption you will have to generally equip your marketing/sales team and let them lead the deal closure.
For B2B, you will have to think about enterprise-grade features like audit trail, single sign-on, compliance standards, role-based access control, and so on.
For a B2B PM, industry knowledge is crucial and customers generally know what they want. For B2C, customers' needs can be intuitive and you can learn by observing their behavior.
One thing that is common for both B2B and B2C is to try reducing user friction and build products that delight customers.
I had given a talk about reducing user friction that might be helpful.
Product Management is an exciting field and if a person is determined, transitioning/entering into the field is not that hard. Excelling in this field does require commitment.
Irrespective of whatever field you are in, try to put on Product Managers hat and think about:
How can I be creative and build product features that delight users?
How can I communicate my plans and get buy-in for my vision/strategy?
How can I be always and simplifying development into stages and deliver customer value? Keep in mind, for most cases, 80% of value can be delivered with 20% effort.
How can I measure the progress and course correct if needed?
Very soon, you will be a product manager! Remember to have fun and learn along the way.
Updated: March 30, 2023