Design vs Functionality in Product Decisions with Uber Product Leader

This week, Product School hosted Vikram Madan, Product Lead at Uber, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Vikram tells us how to make tradeoffs between design and functionality, how to break into product from engineering, and how to understand the PM landscape.

Meet Vikram

Vikram Madan, Product Lead at Uber,

Vikram is a Product Lead at Uber. He is working on Uber’s investment capacity and using Machine Learning to expand capital efficiently across Uber’s Marketplace. Before this, he was a Principal Product Manager for Amazon Web Services, leading product for Amazon SageMaker Ground Truth.

How do make tradeoff decisions between design & functionality?

clock on blue and pink split background

This is a great question, and something that is very difficult in practice. There are many considerations depending on whether you are a B2C or B2B company. Some aspects that determine your decision here are:

  1. Time-to-market: do you need to get your product out ASAP or do you have time to perfect your product in prep for making the best first impression?
  2. Opportunity to learn: often it is the case to launch an MVP so that you can learn quickly from the customers and improve your product.
  3. Technical challenges: you should coordinate with your engineering/science teams to assess the feasibility of the proposed design/functionality.
  4. One/two-way doors: early in your product development, you should always optimize for two-way door technical designs. If you take a one-way decision, that will limit your ability to adjust to the needs of the customer.

Read next: Agile Product Management: A Study Guide for PMs

I am full stack developer wanting to transition into Product Management. Any suggestions?

Resources for an engineer looking to make a move to PM:

How can I strengthen the skill of creating product vision and strategy?

My high-level suggestion here is to:

  1. Read a lot (current news trends as well as long-form content like analyst reports and technology history) and
  2. Have many conversations with people in your space as well as adjacent spaces.

This will provide you a platform to build perspective and identify visionary opportunities in your space.

person sitting at table by a window reading a book

How do you keep yourself updated about products in market?

For general news, I read/watch/listen to the Information and Bloomberg Technology. For blogs/opinion pieces, I use Twitter and navigate from there.

What does release planning look like for Uber’s marketplace?

We work on a half-year planning cycle: (1) Jan to June and (2) July to Dec.

We identify the OKRs for each half (at the end of the previous half, e.g., Dec 2021 for H1 2022) and execute towards those OKRs. We give ourselves the flexibility to identify features during the half to help us meet the set-out OKRs, but we also identify some big-ticket items prior to the getting to next half which we execute towards regardless.

How can I get an internship or APM position at Uber?

We have an established APM program at Uber. You can learn more about it here

phones screen with uber logo and woman on it

What tips would you give someone to understand the PM landscape of a specific company/team?

Generally, it is important to read news/blogs/Twitter to understand the current opportunities/challenges that the company is facing. For example, Facebook is investing heavily in AR/VR and is also tackling major data privacy concerns. These are important headwinds that should guide your product theses. Generally, first principles thinking is a very solid skill to have as a PM, but an effective PM also marries first principles thinking with the broader context facing a company/organization.

What resources did you find most helpful when you were interviewing for your client role at Uber, given how unique the Uber/Lyft/Doordash business model is compared to FAANG?

Good question. For these of types “Bits to Atoms” companies, it is important to think about:

  1. The two-sided nature of the business and
  2. The real-world implications of your decisions.

For example on (1), there are Riders, and there are Drivers. Both are mission-critical customers for Uber. On (2), if you increase Demand significantly (i.e., more Riders taking more rides), that is going to have significant impact on the marketplace – both Rider and Driver experience.

person getting out of car from driver's seat, smiling

Could you give an example of a metric that has helped you decide to go forward or not with a feature?

Generally in ML/AI, we like to look at acceptance rates of recommendations produced by ML algorithms. This a very important guiding North Star because ultimately ML is only useful if the humans using it find it useful.

Check out: Tech Trends of 2021: The Rise of AI

Any final tips?

#1 is continue to be curious. Great Product Managers love to learn, and their superpower is the ability to learn about new/different product areas and then serve as the connective tissue between Engineering/Science/Legal/Ops/Business/Sales/etc.

Enjoyed the article? You may like this too: