Data-informed vs. Data-driven Product Management with WhatsApp Senior PM

This week, Product School hosted Esha Shukla, Senior Product Manager at WhatsApp, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Esha talks about being a data-informed PM, her go-to prioritization frameworks, and essential PM skills like communication and user focus.

Meet Esha

Esha Shukla, Senior Product Manager at WhatsApp

Esha Shukla is invested in sharing her insights, learnings, and advice for new or aspiring PMs in the industry. Currently, she is a Senior Product Manager for WhatsApp Group Messaging. Before this, she was a Product Manager for the Facebook app, focused on building products for Women in Emerging Markets. Prior to that, she was a Product Manager at Meetup, working on their organizer subscription team to lead revenue-driving pricing changes, and worked on their events team to help connect members to events that would interest them.

What will you suggest to someone who wants to improve him/herself as a data driven PM? How do you get good at it?

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This is a great question, and sometimes a slippery slope. I’ll explain:

Being data-informed vs. data-driven are two very different things. Data-informed is leaning into data and research but also supplementing these with some principles to ensure what you’re building is going to be valuable to the user in the long-term, not just short-term. Data-driven sometimes means you might test a couple of solutions and pick the ‘winner’ based on experiment results. This can sometimes lead to not-so-great decisions for the user (because you may end up prioritizing what matters more to the business based on metrics you had in mind). Tips on being data-informed:

  1. Chat with your data scientist/data analyst and understand what sources of data the team uses, and how. This will help you have more productive conversations.
  2. Make sure you work with research and design to establish product principles that can be used in addition to relying on data.
  3. More broadly – there are a number of online courses available as well if you’re seeking to get better at using technical tools that data analysts often use.

Check this out: 5 Reasons Why Product Managers Have to Understand Data

How do you go about A/B testing and making data driven decisions in your role?

This is an interesting question! At my previous role on the Facebook app, we did a lot of a/b testing, often to make decisions on which version of the flow (e.g account registration) was performing better.

I worked on launching a feature called ‘Lock your Profile’ to 13 emerging markets which helps users protect their privacy by ensuring their past and future content is shared with friends only. We knew through research that bringing awareness to this feature while you’re creating an account would be beneficial to users in the long-term. However, adding an extra step was regressing the completion flow.

This is a good example of why I say you have to couple UXR + data to make a final call. If we had stuck to just what the data told, we wouldn’t have added that step, which in the long term definitely helped more users adopt this feature that made them feel safer!

Are there any prioritization frameworks or other PM frameworks that you recommend?

Scrabble blocks that spell out "Prioritize?

Great question! There are a lot of them, and it also depends on what you’re using the framework to prioritize. However, at a high level, I think the following two frameworks have really helped me:

  1. Visualize your trade-offs, and use the traffic-light method: As Product Managers, we have to make trade-off decisions almost daily. A lot of these times, we have to present our recommendation to some stakeholders (partner teams, leadership, your own team etc.) to get alignment. Everyone is familiar with outlining criteria to compare against the options, but I think there is something about visually presenting trade-offs that can help make these decisions really quickly and highlight your recommendation.
  2. Define product + design principles for your product, and use them to make the right decisions for your users: A lot of times sticking to strict frameworks doesn’t do much good. I’ve found establishing principles for what you want your product to do, and not do is a really good way of ensuring any decision you’re making is in the best interest of the user, and adheres to those principles that you sought buy-in from your team on!

Read next: 3 Essential Steps to Mastering Prioritization

How can PMs introduce new features that the users themselves haven’t realized they need yet?

Interesting question! I guess I would start with first ensuring you really sought out to solve a user need through the feature you built. The reason I say this is because if you’re prioritizing the most important user pain points, the features would be more quickly discoverable (either in product or through word of mouth). Now, that’s not to say that you can’t do more in the app/product to bring awareness to the feature. A good starting place is to see adoption of the feature, and if it’s lower than expected, work with your User Research team to figure out why! (i.e. not solving user need, or discoverability).

What is the best way to get remote jobs?

person sat at a table working on laptop in soft natural light. There are a tablet, glasses, and coffee mug on the table

Very timely question with the current job market. In tech especially, a lot of companies have already started specifying in their listing if the position is open to full-time remote. I would lean into job posting boards such as LinkedIn, Indeed etc and check if they have a way to filter for remote positions. Another way to do this would to be ask those in your network that might be working at companies you aspire to be at, to figure out if they are open to remote work!

On PMing remotely: Set Up Your Team For Remote Product Discovery

I’ve recently joined a startup. My responsibility is to build the product and keep it on track. How would you recommend I approach the role? 

Wow – first off, congratulations on your new role. Working at a startup can be very fulfilling and a great learning and growth experience. I would start by talking to a few stakeholders in the company to understand what is the company mission, and what problem you’re trying to solve and for whom.

Once you understand this, you can partner with UXR (or if this team doesn’t exist, find a way to create a focus group/talk to your target audience) to understand pain points. While brainstorming solutions, use the appropriate objective criteria to prioritize what you’re building. This could be impact to the user, impact to the business, level of effort, severity of the problem etc. To ensure everything stays on track – I would recommend using a project management tool such as Asana!

What are the top 5 tips for a perfect resume?

Good question! A few tips (that I personally follow) for writing an effective resume are below:

  1. Highlight the outcome of the project, not just inputs: It’s important to explain what happened as a result of your involvement in the project. E.g. Revenue increase by 5% through the launch of feature X, that solved Y problem.
  2. Don’t use acronyms!: Re-read your resume and clarify acronyms you may think are commonly used in your field. This especially matters because as PMs we are generalists and usually can work across different types of products.
  3. Be succinct: Sounds simple, but is much harder to do! You must ensure your bullet is not very long otherwise it’s easy for the reader to get lost.
  4. Use hyperlinks!: If your products had a press-release, or any article published, link them! It can be useful context for those interested to click through and learn more.
  5. Highlight your PM Skills: While writing about projects, find a way to use verbs that highlight your PM Skills (e.g. influencing with authority, attention to details etc).
resume sitting on top of a laptop keyboard

What skillsets should aspiring PMs with business a background focus on improving?

The great thing about the PM profession is that there isn’t a straightforward path to it. This means you’ll often encounter PMs from various backgrounds. Firstly, don’t feel intimidated. I think a business background can come in very handy for this role! A few skills that you could work up:

  1. Listening is a PM’s superpower – Creating trust for your team to speak their opinions starts with you reflecting before reacting! As a PM, you work closely with several functions (e.g design, engineering, data science, marketing etc) to collectively solve a user problem. Each of these stakeholders bring their own expertise and opinions to the table. Sometimes they may differ from yours, or even, the current team strategy & vision. Being quick to react or judge ideas can cause your team to not openly share their opinions with you which will hurt the creativity of solutions the team explores in the long-term. You can practice this by working with your colleagues/mock interviewers to ensure you’re building empathy.
  2. As a PM, you have to learn how to seek buy-in through influence vs. authority, and how you present your story can make a big difference in whether you are able to get everyone on board with the strategic direction or not. As a business major, I think you have a head-start here already – practice doing this more!
  3. Invest time in understanding how common products work (i.e basic technical details): If you’re interested in PMing for a specific field, take some product examples and try to understand how the app /product works. A lot of youtube videos on this! Don’t get overwhelmed – you don’t have to have a technical background to excel as a PM, but being able to speak the details with your engineering team will definitely go a long way!

I was once given feedback that I am too customer-focused. Where do you draw the line?

I think being customer-focused is never a bad thing! I would supplement impact to the user with a few other criteria that could balance for ensuring what you’re building will also benefit your company in the long run!

Scrum or Safe or Kanban or Flow? What do you prefer?

I haven’t particularly stuck to any of these specifically in my roles. It’s a bit more fluid to figure out what timeline you want to use to set goals and accordingly work on roadmap planning + execution!

What advice would you give to someone just starting off in the Product Management field?

two people sat at a table in an office building next to a wall-to-wall window

Great question! PM being a generalist role can sometimes feel overwhelming when you’re just starting out. A few things to keep in mind:

  1. Imposter syndrome is normal – It’s not just you! Even when experienced PMs change roles they face this. Find people in your team / network that you can chat about this with!
  2. Find a product leader who is willing to mentor you. I think this is the best way to learn and grow as a PM. Find a PM buddy, one that you can rely on to help you navigate your new role!

Just beginning to learn about Product? Here’s a resource to get you started: The Ultimate Product Management Guide

How do you test market appetite for a specific product before putting engineering team’s effort in it?

This is a great question. Finding product-market fit for a product is perhaps the most important thing. Before you go too down the path of building something, you should always find ways to ensure what you’re planning to build will solve the user needs in an expected way. If you don’t have a prototype – try to frame the questions a bit more high level and use rough mocks to see how users react!

How do you communicate assertively when presenting new ideas? Especially when speaking with Product/Executive leadership.

person standing in front of room of seated people

I would say you should have 110% conviction in what you’re presenting to be able to convince product/executive leadership. Practice the art of storylining to help with this.

Mastering storylining to influence others & seek buy-in – Storylining is the art of structuring your ideas so you can succinctly convey key points which enables quicker decision making resulting in better business outcomes! I did coaching with Davina Stanley, who is the co-author of the So-What Strategy (great read!), and she helped me learn how storylining is not just a tool to provide clarity of thought in written or verbal communication, but rather should be used as a framework to organize your ideas!

As a PM, you have to learn how to seek buy-in through influence vs. authority, and how you present your story can make a big difference in whether you are able to get everyone on board with the strategic direction or not. I refer to the templates she provides in her book depending on the scenario I’m preparing the story for (e.g. the pitch (for proposals / strategy), action jackson (walking through a plan), To B or not to B (explaining which option is best), traffic light (for updates on a project) etc.) and always ensure I’m answering the ‘so-what?’ question upfront in the conversation!

For someone who has B2B product experience, what would you advise them to gain B2C experience without quitting their job?

I was in a similar boat! I had B2B Product Management experience working at Citibank, and wanted to transition to B2C. It definitely took a lot of No’s to understand that I should lean into my experience in B2B and find something tangential in B2C where I can bring some expertise. This is how I switched to Meetup, in their Payments PM role, because I had payments experience working at Citi. Find the domain you’re in (at the B2B place), and search for similar roles in B2C where you can bring something to the table!

Any final tips?

Thanks so much for having me! Final advice for aspiring Product Managers would be to have conviction in yourself and don’t be afraid to apply to that PM role you see even if you meet only ~50% of the criteria. If I recall my early days as a PM, I definitely didn’t advocate for myself enough! You will hear a lot of No’s before you hear that one Yes, but keep going and it’ll be worth it!

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