Develop Core Product Skills with Visa Senior Director of Product

This week, Product School hosted Pavan HS, Senior Director of Product at Visa for a special #AskMeAnything session. Pavan gives some insights on the core product skills and knowledge he’s developed over his long career in Product. His big tip? Keep evolving your skills as you advance throughout your career.

Meet Pavan

Pavan HS, Senior Director of Product at Visa

Pavan HS is a Product and Business Management executive currently working as Senior Director of Product at Visa. He is also an Advisory Board Member at the California State University, Chico.

Before this, he was a Senior Product Manager at Amazon Web Services working on health and security solutions across AWS’s global data centers. He also spent over a decade at Cisco as a Software Engineer, Strategy and Planning Manager, and Senior Product Manager.

What helped you the most in climbing the career ladder to a Sr. Director position?

metal ladder reaching up to the sky, surrounded by green leaves

Thanks for the question. I believe that as you advance in your career, your skills need to evolve as well. One of my bosses called this ‘level up’ – meaning how can you do what your boss does. Some skills that have helped me evolve are:

  • Thought leadership (how do you move past a product thinking and think something bigger)
  • Understanding business (finance, relationships)
  • Ability to break down complex business problems
  • Making decisions with incomplete data,
  • Storytelling

Again, these are just a few I can think of now. It’s no silver bullet !

For someone who took a very different path to get into product, what knowledge is most important to obtain to be successful?

Great questions. 2 categories – core product skills and domain knowledge.

  1. Core product skills – breaking down problems, customer empathy, story telling, decisioning with incomplete data etc.
  2. Domain knowledge – understanding how customers and products behave in that industry.

Read next: Characteristics of Exceptional Product Managers

Any courses or certs you recommend?

Product School has some courses to help improve Product Sense and think like a PM. I have gone through a Product Owner certification that helped me in how to work well with tech teams in building the product.

What are your suggestions for transitioning to Product Management from Operations/Reliability engineering ? 

My stint in business operations helped me a lot. I understood how business works – revenues, expenses, margins etc. This helped me make good decisions on the viability of products for the business. My suggestion is to leverage the strengths you have in these roles and identify the overlap with product. For e.g., can you propose and lead an initiative that optimizes server allocations in a data center etc. Triggering and building these ideas in your space will help you transition to a ‘PM’ role.

How do I break into a Product job with no experience?

I will try to cover similar questions in this response. Getting the 1st PM job is always a challenge even if you are well qualified. One of the approaches that has worked for me is – within the space I am in, I have led initiatives/processes/tools/frameworks etc. leveraging Product concepts. And in these projects, I have built connections with Product teams and other leaders. The way you lead the initiative helps establish your credibility as someone who can build a product. I have then transitioned internally as a PM. You can make your skills even more visible by using PM frameworks during your presentations. Hope that helps.

Another great read: Transitioning to Product Management From ANY Background

What do you suggest in terms of internships or mentorship programs?

A lot of companies run APM programs that also involve PM trainings. Those are a good starting point to transition.

I have an MBA and want to eventually reach leadership Product roles. Should I invest in getting additional education in tech?

It depends on the industry you are targeting. However, a tech side investment is always helpful. No matter the company, technology knowledge helps.

pieces of computing hardware laid out against a white surface

Any insights on how to go about Data Product Management?

This is a very deep question. Without getting into too many details, the key here is to identify a problem statement, evaluate how data can solve it, and try to build the product. A common pitfall I see is just because we have some data, we tend to throw it out as a product which doesn’t work.

What do behavioral scientists/economists need to do to deliver the most value when working with a Product Manager?

Great question. The industry now understands the relevance of the cross functional inputs (psychology, economics, behavioral science etc.) in building a product. Fundamentally, building a successful product is about getting The Who, Why, What, and How right. Customer empathy is the starting point of this.

How does your input/suggestion/proposal help the customer? In other words, ‘why’ should I care about your suggestion? The ability to articulate and demonstrate the impact on customer acquisition, adoption, retention, and monetization makes the inputs so much more pertinent.

Any final tips?

For aspiring PMs, focus on building those core skills that I mentioned – Customer empathy, Problem solving, story telling, mental models etc. And demonstrate these on a daily basis in the projects you work on. As you build meaningful cross functional relationships, it makes transition to any role easier. And remember “Fall in love with the problem, not the product.” This allows you to acknowledge your mistakes and constantly learn. Best wishes to everyone!

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