Learn by Doing with Microsoft Product Leader

This week, Product School hosted Mastan Kalsi, Product Leader at Microsoft, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Mastan believes everyone has some amount of Product Management experience, and that the best way to break into product is to simply learn by doing.

Meet Mastan

Mastan Kalsi, Product Leader at Microsoft

Mastan is a Product Leader at Microsoft focused on Microsoft Teams. He brings together his strong engineering background and expert knowledge of the technology market to power the creation of unique product offerings.

Before joining Microsoft, Mastan was a Principal Product Manager at Elections Ontario. He led the digital design and development teams and managed internal stakeholders to keep the product strategy on track. Before that, he was a Senior Business Analyst at BMO Financial Group leading small to medium-sized projects. He has also worked as a Product Manager at Intelex Technologies, a Senior Technical Analyst at University Health Network, a Marketing Specialist at Transonic Systems, as well as various roles part of the internship at BlackBerry.

What tool do you use to unify customer conversations for product discovery?

This depends on the company and product we’re working on. Sometimes we have a lot of signals and at other times not as much. There is no one standard tool I specifically use. For me, it is more of an exercise to distill the common customer pain points and extract insights looking at both quantitative and qualitative signals. Then aligning those insights with business objectives and what we can reasonably address.

Check out: Product Management Skills: User Research

woman interviewing man

How do I transition from software engineering to Technical Product Management?

I’d suggest analyzing why you want to get into TPM. Why PM? Both fields are about solving problems to meet customer needs. As a PM we tend to be jacks of all trades. There is no limit to how much technology we can learn. I would suggest pursuing PM then learning technical on the side.

I don’t have any experience in Product Management. How do I break into the industry?

In reality, we all are product owners. The cake you bake, the food you make, or the table you made are all products that serve a need for someone special. Learn by doing. You’d be surprised how much you already know.

You might also be interested in: Transitioning to Product Management From ANY Background

woman baking

What’s the importance of data in Product Management? Can a data engineering transition into PM?

The importance of data is huge. In PM, we need to make data-driven decisions. Data, context, and customer empathy are key. Without data and insights from data, we’d be flying blind. Data engineering is absolutely a way to get into product!

How do I transition from digital marketing to Product Management?

I would say, majority of the PM positions will be fine for you. Don’t worry about not having technical knowledge. You just need to be passionate about solving problems and have customer obsession. You will have access to architects and engineers to help you with technical questions. I also worked in marketing for 4 years prior to product management. Just do it. You will be fine!

Any book or course recommendations?

Other than common ones recommended by Product School, I’d suggest reading User Story Mapping by Jeff Patton. The other course I’d recommend is Certified Scrum Product Owner. You’re already a PM. Think about anything you’ve built in the garage, lab, or the kitchen – those are all products.

Read next: 10 Free eBooks For Your Product Manager Library

woman reading book in sunny outdoor patio

Amidst the rising adoption and demand for Microsoft Teams in the pandemic, how did you and your team consistently ensure high operational quality?

I actually joined Microsoft Teams recently. There are many teams of PMs, engineers, and designers who work on MSFT Teams. There are different versions of Teams with lots of different service offerings based on customer needs. We’re constantly working on improving performance. It’s important to note that Teams is a platform with many capabilities beyond meetings, chat, and apps.

Is Product Management mainly focused on Product and feature delivery? How is this different between B2B vs B2C products?

It’s a good question :cara_ligeramente_sonriente:. I’d say Product Management is definitely much more than that. It is about solving problems, meeting customer needs by creating value, and having business impact. This could involve much more.

B2B vs B2C do have significant differences. B2C really gets to be compassionate about people and recognizing that there is so much diversity so being inclusive is important (blind people, young people, senior, people with language differences etc). In B2B we’re studying the businesses and process more.

How are you and your team maintaining those relationships whilst tackling the hybrid workplace?

I believe relationships are created through meaningful conversations; it doesn’t matter how we have those conversations. It comes from being empathetic towards one another. We shouldn’t let any barrier make us less compassionate and human.

I should also add that the company is flexible and provides options. I’m very pleased by the way the company has handled hybrid work.

Read next: The Importance of Soft Skills for Hybrid Product Managers

woman with mask on metro checking her phone

I was told that to be a PM I must learn Jira, is this true?

Jira is a good tool. But you don’t have to learn it unless you use it at the company you’re working at. In some companies I’ve worked at, we have used other tools. As an aspiring PM, you can learn it very quickly and easily if you need to. Don’t worry about that. I’d focus on reading about logic models, critical thinking, customer empathy instead of learning a specific tool.

Any final advice?

Thank you for sharing your time with me. I found it super helpful and I hope you got something out of it as well. Stay curious, keep learning, when in doubt ask for help. Be kind, compassionate, empathetic, encouraging, positive, loyal to the product and the customer, Remember that the mission is to make the world a better, cleaner, safer, and even more enjoyable place. 

I believe that as we’re growing as Product Managers we’re simply learning more about ourselves, human behaviour, and the right way to do everything. Just like how there is a right way to tie your shoelaces so they don’t come undone easily, there is a right way to give feedback, etc.

If you approach everything with the mindset of “what can I learn from this?” then everything becomes enjoyable. Customer empathy is the key to the castle. What is the need we’re looking to fulfill and given the resources and constraints, how best can we create value for the customer? Sometimes we have to choose between being happy or right. We don’t have to win every battle. 🙂

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