Adapting to Market Shifts with Microsoft Principal PM

This week, Product School hosted Rohini Diaz, Principal Product Manager at Microsoft for a special #AskMeAnything session. In this session, Rohini answers questions about adapting to market shifts, agile Product Management, and developing customer empathy.

Meet Rohini

Rohini Diaz, Principal Product Manager at Microsoft

Rohini Diaz is an innovative leader and fast learner. Since 2015, she has been working as part of the Microsoft Team. She started out as a Partner Incentives Program Manager. After just under two years she was promoted to Senior Program Manager and now she is a Principal Product Manager working on v1 Collaboration experiences in Office. Before joining Microsoft, she was a Consultant at Slalom Consulting. Shas also worked as a Manager and Senior Consultant at Deloitte for five years.

How do you approach changes in the market you are building your product for? What is the best way to adjust without major shifts in the roadmap?

Ability to adapt to market shifts and changing user patterns is the name of the game :cara_ligeramente_sonriente: 

Most of the projects I work on are no longer waterfall and broken into smaller deliverable chunks. The way we address this is that user research and PM are tied at the hip when we deliver product and an ongoing process. Gone are the days when we did research only at the beginning of the product life cycle.

By staying in close loop with research across the whole lifecycle, you can anticipate the shifts coming and accommodate that in the overall roadmap as you move through. It is less of a shock to the system in this case and more of an iterative process.

Check it out: Agile Product Management: A Study Guide for PMs

two people standing at metro map, backs to the camera. the person on the right is pointing to the map

How do you stay updated with the latest news and trends in Product Management?

Competetive analysis is something I do on a regular basis for the product and the industry I work in. As part of sprint planning, we are constantly evaluating and trading feature implementation we want to make in the product.

I will say that before you get to the next shiny feature it is imperative that you have your fundamentals right. So before implementing a new user job, if my perf is suffering I would definitely prioritize that over anything. Too often I see teams trying to keep up with the market when the core product is suffering. Right now Collaboration is the name of the game and that is where the majority of my work is centered around, especially with hybrid work.

How can a Product Management equip someone aspiring to become a founder?

The Product Management discipline teaches you the basics of product building—how would you take an idea based on research and market and take that to fruition, how would you work with different stakeholders. From making a business case, to developers, to testing, to user feedback. And most importantly it teaches you “customer empathy,” which is the backbone of product building. These skills are foundational for anyone wanting to become a founder IMO.

Read next: What Product Leaders Can Learn from Founder-Led Growth

What training, reading or certification resources would you recommend to someone trying to transition into Product Management role?

Honestly, a lot of the training I have received is on-job training and have not specifically gotten any certifications. I took an agile certification which was insightful.

two people sitting next to each other in front of a laptop, looking at the screen and pointing to it

If your training has been on the job, is it learning as you go and figuring things out by yourself? Or in a company like Microsoft, is there an internal program that actually and formally train the new PMs?

I can tell you what I have done and what I have seen others traditionally do. I have been a manager before and typically for someone starting out new, we don’t expect them to own the nuts and bolts of the entire product but rather give them a small feature to own in that product.

And you go through the basics of learning more about why we chose that feature, what research supported it, then work with design on figuring out the user experience, and then finally with a TPM or a dev team to get that implemented.

Once you have done the E2E, then the next feature gets more complex and finally you are the one who is figuring out which trees in the forest need to focus on as you grow in your career. MSFT is still navigating its way through the Product Management discipline. That being said, I have worked at other companies before where they do bring you in and focus on a very specific skill set.

A manager does play a vital role in one’s career development. I always say a manager can make or break a job for several reasons. With Product Management in specific, the manager’s role is to give you opportunities and a framework rest you will figure it out as you develop your product sense and you see others around you doing it.

How do you deal with the day-to-day ambiguity that you are facing right now? What is the balance between meeting deadlines and doing iterations?

The way I deal with ambiguity: you may not know the end plan but you can have a “plan for a plan.” Take the first step, and you don’t have to do it alone. Reach out to your team on if anyone has solved a similar problem and use learnings from there. Start asking questions.

I try to not get overwhelmed by the end product but think of what the next step I need to take. For example: if I think of the exec deck which needs to be completely polished and ready for next week, I would get overwhelmed. But I can start with putting together 10 slides and having placeholder sections and then using the team’s help to flush those sections out and adapt as we go.

group of people in a room with white walls and white table. there is a white board in the background with yellow, orange, and pink post-its stuck on it. they are all gathered around the table, where there is a desktop screen. someone stands behind the screen and motions to it while the others look on

Regarding meeting deadlines and iterations: It depends. What are the iteration and deadline about? Relative prioritization. If the iteration consists of the next big P0 item without which perf would trail by 15 sec, I would delay the deadline till I have that in place. If it is about adding a net new feature, I would delay the iteration to focus on the existing deadline.

You might also be interested in: 3 Essential Steps to Mastering Prioritization

Ex-MS PM here. I was wondering since MS finally accepted the Program Manager title instead of Product Manager, what changes have you seen?

This particular change was long overdue. There were so many variations of the old program management discipline. Now that we are dividing into more specifics – TPM, Product Manager, Business Managers, Operation Managers etc I think it makes a ton of sense!

Personally, it has made an impact on how other partner teams interact with me on a day-to-day basis. Before it was a mix of execution and product strategy and I myself struggled to find the balance and now as a product PM my role is quite clear to me and others.

As a follow-up to that, is there a PO / PM distinction? Did the Engr / PM ratio switch? Will you be doing more customer discovery as well now, if there is TPM assistance?

Eng to PM ratio has not switched and not every team has a product and TPM role yet. If you look at other firms, most of the teams have PMs, TPMs and Engineers. MSFT is still trying to figure this out. Every team’s needs are going to be different and we will evolve as we learn more. Yes, customer engagement will fall more in the purview of my role and I would imagine a lot of execution would go to TPMs or the EMs.

How would you handle a product team with not-so-strong tech developers and Jr UX? Is it still posible to make great products this way?

It is a journey for sure. It is challenging when you don’t have a great dev team and Junior UX. The question to ask is what does the rest of the team look like?

notepad with UX sketches on it, on a wooden table. a pen with the cap off rests on top of the notebook and there is a phone beside the notebook

For example: I have played the part of a design PM as that is one of my strengths. So in this case, I would be able to handhold the junior UX with design strategy and work with them on the details. However, devs is harder for me. So in this case I may look to partner with a strong dev lead and bring them in. It will also depend on the kind of product you are trying to build. V1 vs maintenance.

I have 14 years of technical documentation behind me, hoping to transition to Product Management. Can someone with this background excel in a very technical environment such as Microsoft?

Absolutely! If anything I would say my background in consulting makes me a strong product PM and I haven’t done coding in decades. Sure I can talk to an engineer about perf latency but my job as a whole is to think about the product and what we need to accomplish and little less of the technical details needed to accomplish that.

Read next: Become a Technical Product Manager Using No-Code Tools

What do you advise someone transitioning into PM to do to become relevant and begin enjoying the field?

To begin enjoying you have to play the part. Doesn’t have to be in a tech firm, you can do product in consulting, you can do product in non-profit. Just get your feet wet and start somewhere. Trainings can get you only so far. Only on the hands-on experience will help you develop your product sense and judgment.

What specific things do you do to build empathy for your customer and understand the needs of the customer?

Always put yourself in the customer’s shoes. I personally am not working on rockets :cara_ligeramente_sonriente: The products I build are used by me, my family, my colleagues, my parents so it is quite easy for me to put myself in their shoes and think “if I were wanting to do this in the feature, how would I use it? Is it intuitive enough? Is this simple?”

Another great read: Product Management at BCG: Authentic Empathy and Product Training

What do you least like about your role?  If you didn’t have to do something what would it be?

I dislike doing status reports :cara_ligeramente_sonriente: If I could not do it then I would sign up for that.

What are your Top Three Tips to be a Product Manager lead?

  1. Customer empathy
  2. Product Intuition and Judgement (something you learn as you go in your job)
  3. Being humble and learning from your mistakes

Any final tips?

Do not get overwhelmed by the term “Product Manager.” There is not one specific path to get here if building products is what you enjoy. I started as an analyst at a tech firm mostly doing meeting notes but I have created my own path to Product Management. You will develop your product sense along the way. Keep the customer at the center of it and you will figure out 🙂

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