Problem Solving as a Transferable Skill with Microsoft Senior PM

Last week, Product School hosted Lakshmi Murthy, Senior Product Manager at Microsoft, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Lakshmi goes over how to address the gap between user responses and user behavior, mitigating bias, and why problem solving is the most important transferable skill for Product Managers.

Meet Lakshmi

Lakshmi Murthy, Senior Product Manager at Microsoft

Lakshmi Murthy is a Senior Product Manager currently working on Azure Synpapse Analytics at Microsoft.Before this, she was working on Azure Global Industries. Lakshmi also previously worked as a Lead Analyst/Program Manager for merchandising technology at Nordstrom and as a Senior Technical Consultant at SAP.Lakshmi attended the Rutgers School of Engineering where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering. A few years later she went on to continue her education at the University of Washington. There she earned an MBA in Computer/Information Technology Administration and Management.

What do you do when user responses vary from their observable product usage behaviours?

I have encountered this situation in the past. What I’ve found is that to ensure success and continued usage, it is important to bring awareness about the product among your customers. Go to market efforts are very important. Running training sessions or conducting webinars or presentations to showcase the product capabilities are very critical. Talking to new customers from time to time and to reach out to existing customers to understand how they are using the product will provide insights on where we can improve the product experience.

Check out this resource for more on the user response/user behavior gap.

How does one become a successful Product Manager?

Success for a Product Manager is really about shipping quality products that customers love. It is very important that Product Managers continuously seek reviews and feedback about the product in terms of whether it is solving the customer need and measure success through usage or performance to see how they are doing.

How do you mitigate bias in the discovery process?

This is great question and a common problem that we all fall into. We all tend to make certain assumptions and carry biases that make their way into product definition. The rule I follow is to get varied opinion, talk to several customers, talk to peers and other users of your product, make sure you understand the problem space well, test your product to see if it meets the minimum criteria you’ve defined. All of these will certainly help with tackling any bias in the discovery phase and beyond.

What are metrics one can track to measure their career growth and journey as a PM?

white measuring tape against bright pink background

Success metrics for a Product PM can vary depending on individual career goals, but in general continuous learning and getting to be a better PM is something I strive towards. What can I learn from my peers? Organizational skills, prioritization skills, problem solving etc. Everything that can help me improve and do the job better.

I keep overlooking needed requirements. How can I get better at gathering all requirements before development starts?

Requirements gathering is a critical aspect of product management. Typically, I engage with my customer to do interviews, understand how they are using the product and what is missing from how they operate, look at competitor products, get your hands dirty and play with your product, try out a customer scenario and get a sense for the customer journey. These all help us determine the gaps and define the product requirements. Also, this is an iterative process. So keep defining and refining! 🙂

Do you have any tips on how to get onboarded quickly in a new PM role?

Learn about the product you are going to work on, get into the product and experience it yourself, build demos and pretend you are giving a presentation and identify the questions and responses you’d like to talk about. This will help to dive right in. Next, understand who you customer is and why they are using the product. Start dreaming up new ideas for the product and look for unmet needs. Leverage any resources your company offers, your teammates, learning material to help you solidify your foundation. There are lots of blogs and books as well. I’d recommend Cracking the PM Career book.

See our Interview John Franck, Author of Every Product Manager’s First 90 Days

You pivoted from engineering, to Program Manager, to Senior Product Manager. How did you leverage your transferable skills in this transition?

red side of a rubix cube with the words "figure it out" on it

The one transferable skill is problem solving. No matter what role you are in, whether you are writing code as an engineers, analyzing data as a business analyst or helping customers find the best solution to their problem in consulting, the common thing is how do you approach problem solving. That applies to Product Management as well. Understand your customers, what is their pain point? What options do the solutions provide, and what’s missing? Really start there.

How do you balance between ongoing project activities and product deliverables vs. roadmap and vision?

This is something every PM has to balance. You have to get comfortable with prioritizing the heck out of your calendar as well! I try to make a list of things I want to accomplish each week with time allotted for execution and day to day deliverables and focus time for envisioning. It’s a journey and I make sure I have at least 1 day in the week dedicated to future vision and will not compromise on that.

How do you prepare presentations on Product Vision or Strategy?

I like to document existing facts about my product, come up with a hypothesis that I want to validate and then build a presentation covering the key pain points or problem statements and what I believe my customer wants (hypothesis) and then pose a set of questions to my customer to help me validate my hypothesis. Keeping the content simple and clear is always helpful. I tend to leverage customer meetings to run through this to get feedback. If you are able to write up a short survey that can be distributed broadly, then that’s another powerful way to get user data. For any existing products, customer incidents or support tickets are a good way to understand the problems and see which area need improvement.

You might also be interested in: How to Make Time for Individual Work as a Product Manager

Any favorite tools for Roadmapping and task management?

At Microsoft, I use Azure DevOps tools. I have used JIRA in the past and that’s a very nice tool as well.

Hired Banner

Enjoyed the article? You may like this too: