How to Build a Product Mindset

This week, Product School hosted Govind Wakhlu, Product Leader at Facebook, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Govind answered questions regarding developing a product mindset, advice for his younger self, and how to deal with complexity both in people and product.

Meet Govind

Govind Wakhlu, Product Leader at Facebook

Govind has 13+ years of experience across Fortune 500 giants, mid-sized companies, and early-stage startups including 11+ years in Product Management, and a stint as a venture-funded founder. 

Currently, as a Product Leader at Facebook, he is responsible for building a commerce marketplace across Facebook and Instagram. He enjoys growing businesses, the craft of product management, and building teams that earn a reputation for solving challenging problems.

What exercises and reading do you recommend to develop a better Product Sense and Product Strategy mindset? 

close up of phone screen with app icons

Good question! I think this is one area where learning by doing is ideal IMO. I recommend looking at a bunch of apps you use frequently, picking one, and asking yourself the following questions:

  • What’re the metrics this app probably cares about?
  • If I were to own metric X, what are some ideas I’d care about executing and testing?
  • Of the ideas I’ve come up with, which ones are most useful to prioritize (use a framework like ICE for instance)

You can even take this further to focus on the execution pieces after the product strategy pieces listed above.

Usually reading blogs by founders of the companies is useful to see what worked for them so you start building an intuition for that company before you undertake the exercise I listed above. Do this for a few different products and you’ll feel quite confident to tackle ambiguity going forward.

Check out: The 20 Most-Read Books by Top Product Managers

How do you deal with complexity?

Depends on the complexity.

Product complexity: Keep coming back to the goals of what you’re trying to solve, to help clarify what’s important and cut through a lot of the noise.

People complexity: Make sure everyone has the context of why you’re undertaking something, what the goals are, what the constraints are, and drive alignment from there. Be mindful of people’s incentives and find ways to create win-win situations for multiple stakeholders.

Post your move from a technical role to a PM role, how did you change how you behave in meetings?

birds eye view of people meeting around a table

This is interesting! My particular transition was from analyst/engineer to becoming an entrepreneur which was a difficult, but super helpful transition as I moved into PM.

As a PM, you have to be able to:

  1. Listen without reacting and gather information about what people are saying to understand their needs and preferences
  2. Keep orienting people back to the context and goals first before trying to drive towards a conclusion
  3. Put “nudges” aka simple processes in place to drive speedy decision making e.g. setting timelines for milestones for decisions, assigning ownership etc.

Read next: One-on-One Meetings: 5 Common Mistakes Product Managers Should Avoid

How important is qualitative data along with quantitative data for product discovery?

Qualitative research is super useful in understanding the “why” behind the quantitative data. While quantitative data is imperative to learning “how” features perform at scale, qualitative data drives:

  1. Sharper thinking on how to iterate on existing features
  2. New ways to add value to users outside of the current iterations of the product.

It is a great way to unlock new areas of investment for that reason.

Interested in data? Read The Difference: Qualitative vs Quantitative Data

How do manage different departments so they come to an agreement on a decision or a feature?

This is an important aspect of PM that, when done well, separates the great from the good. I actually spoke about this in detail in a Product School talk a few months ago. But the TLDR is:

  1. Start with assuming positive intent.
  2. Share context so that everyone is on the same page from an understanding standpoint e.g. why this is a problem (research, data etc.) what is the value of solving it from a user and business standpoint etc.
  3. Share goals/metrics of what success looks like. This grounds everyone in the decision making process. This should include how feature details are going to be prioritized.
  4. Share recommendations on solutions and why their priority. Throughout this process, set up regular touchpoints to get feedback. The more contentious the feature/program, the more frequent the touchpoints whether in-person or async.

What are the top 2 metrics you handle at Facebook?

I currently work on Facebook Dating. While I’m not sure I can share the exact metrics, teams at FB typically anchor on a company-wide or larger metric which for FB (the blue app) can be user sessions, as well as internal product metrics.

So in our case, ultimately we want to drive dates, but we focus on a proxy metric since dates are harder to measure at this time. Each sub-team within Dating will own sub-metrics that ladder up to that Dating team metric.

You might also be interested in: These Are the Metrics Great Product Managers Track

How do you plan out a career journey in Product Management?

person walking through wilderness

Plan backward from where you want to ideally be in 5 years. Are you optimizing for learning, career progress, mission alignment, etc.? Be very clear with yourself on “why” you’re optimizing for one thing or another.

There is no single right answer – it is all completely personal to you. There’s a list of career values that you can then look at to see what you have in your current job and what is missing from a 5-year look back and daily satisfaction standpoint. Pick the top 5 career values for you, and only consider roles that are meaningfully better in the things you’re trying to optimize for.

Is having a programming background a basic requirement for being a PM in a leading software company?

Not at all. A lot of senior product leaders have English literature backgrounds. Just familiarize yourself with basic CS concepts (server-client, databases etc.) and you’ll be fine.

Read next: Product Managers and Technical Skills…What’s The Deal?

What is the best way for a recent graduate to get a PM/APM role?

Find an APM/Rotational PM role at a company like Facebook and prepare hard for the interviews. It’s competitive but it’s the best way to get your foot through the door. Smaller companies usually hire experienced PMs for the most part.

Another alternative is to join a young company as an engineer/marketer etc. and then transition into product after you’ve proven your skills in your domain.

When developing a business structure and resources for a new product, what are the most critical roles to fill first?

If you have 1 builder (engineer) and 1 seller (marketing/sales), those are really the only required components in terms of the founding team. In the beginning, most other things can be outsourced.

What would you tell your younger self starting out in product?

Pick working on a problem that:

  1. You’ll enjoy working on
  2. Affects a large number of people, and
  3. A team that is smart, has integrity, and that you’ll learn from.

Check out: What Do Product Teams REALLY Want In Teammates?

Any final advice?

My advice would be to pick well. As a PM, one can only be successful if the problem we work on is an important one to solve. Know what you enjoy working on, what your goals are, and pick products/companies/people accordingly. Having impact and enjoying the journey as a PM is much easier when those aspects are in place. 

Product Podcast Season 7

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