The PM Skills You Need to Get Started with Mastercard Product Leader

This week, Product School hosted Malin Perera, Product Leader at Mastercard for a special #AskMeAnything session. Malin talked about which skills to prioritize building as you pivot into product, and what he looks for when hiring for PMs.

Meet Malin

Malin Perera, Product Leader at Mastercard

For the past 13 years, Malin Perera has been a key member of the Mastercard team.

Before joining their Product team in 2015, he worked as a Senior Technical Business Analyst and Solutions Designer. He is now a Lead PM working on the Global Rewards system. He played a major role in the launch of the program and worked tirelessly with his team and stakeholders to move smoothly from their previous rewards system while saving costs and minimizing risks.

What would you say are the most important first skills to master as a PM?

  • Thinking outside of the box. (Example: why we need this feature)
  • Negotiation skills
  • Handling difficult stakeholders
  • Always have the long term vision in mind

What are some gaps that need to be filled for someone from a core tech/Comp Sci background?

I think PM roles are something that you get better at everyday as you mature in the role. Definitely you need to have or grow:

  1. Always think how to give a better experience for your customer
  2. Prioritization skills
  3. Negotiation skills
  4. Stakeholder communication

What do you look for when hiring for a Product Management role?

  • Previous product experience in similar kind of role definitely adds value.
  • Leadership skills – as a PM, you should be able to set the direction to your team
  • Someone who has can do attitude

In my case we always look for both tech side and commercial side skills. I have groomed three testers into Product Owner roles in the last 2-3 years as they have the correct mindset to be PMs.

What motivated you to become a Product Manager? What do you like the most about your job?

Well I always wanted to engage early in the Product development life cycle. I started as a Solution Designer. I didn’t have the luxury to bring new ideas as requirements have been agreed or signed off before it reached it to me. So that really made me to think I should engage upfront.

I love looking at data and making data driven decisions as I love my SQL.

How can entrepreneurship experience be used to break into Product?

I think having some technical knowledge add lot of value to a PM role. Given that you can make some decisions right at the top. For an example my tech skills help me to have a decent conversation with our Architects.

How do Product Managers in your company use OKRs during roadmap planning?

We don’t use the OKRs concept to be honest.

As we follow safe, we use PI planning to prioritize our  features for the next three months. We prioritize features more like OKRs. We kind of write our features in OKR manner, but include lot of other elements.

We use initiatives rather than Yearly OKRs. Initiatives have a set start date and target completion date.
We look at the  initiatives and break it down into features. So we take this features into quarterly PI Planning.

If you are working on an initiative that needs a lot of product discovery for the epics involved in it, how do you plan for upcoming quarters when you don’t know how long each epic will take?

Normally we throw another a feature/Epic as a POC to tackle this. Once the POC completed, it allows us to give some reasonable estimate for the other Epics. So we prefer to wait until POC completion.

How do you handle product data strategy and how close is your team to BI/Analytics?

We do have a separate Data analysis team who always feeds us data to use make decisions. But saying that, as PMs we always query Prod Data. All my PMS are very skillful in their SQL. Data is backbone for us to make a decision.

Are there any certifications you would suggest to break into Product Management?

I think its better to have CSPO and Agile cert.

What would you suggest to a software engineer wanting to transition fully into a PM role?

It think its better to do CSPO course as its very helpful. If you have an engineering background it will be easier to transition into to a PM role. But you need to have that mindset of thinking the broader picture/vision rather than a specific thing. That’s the biggest challenge that you most of the devs facing when they transition into PM roles.

Knowing your end customers and stakeholders and how to satisfy them is another key skill to have. I would say it’s better to ask your PM/PO to work with you in a small Epic/Feature to start with. That will bring lot of learnings. I believe PM is a role that you can get better at every day.

How do you keep up with product trends and decide which ones may work for products that you are working on?

We look at the customer behavior using customer spend portfolio. For example, we can clearly see where each customer spends and how it changes over the time. If we see a sudden increase in any spend category or a sudden decline in a spend category across a reasonable volume of customers, then we analyze how to tackle that.

Which resources/websites do you use to keep up with changes in the digital finance realm?

We do have a team who scan through lot of things in the daily basis. I can’t provide the resources links as per the company policy. But we do look at the

  1. Financial markets news
  2. Magazines like Forbes
  3. Social Media channels Twitter, FB etc
  4. Govt regulatory changes

Any final advice?

Always think your customer is the first in any product decision that you make. Build products for the future trends now rather than catching up.

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