Amazon PM on Launching Your Product Management Career

This week Product School hosted Vyom Nagrani, former Product Manager at Amazon and current Director of Product at Oracle, for an #AskMeAnything session. Vyom discusses his experience and insights from working at Amazon and advise on how to kick off your Product Management career.

Vyom Nagrani

Meet Vyom Nagrani 

Vyom is a proven leader with an analytical problem-solving mindset and effective interpersonal skills. Currently, he’s a Director of Product Management at Oracle Cloud, guiding the team with the insights, driving the execution of product roadmap to achieve strategic goals for this area, and creating epics and detailed user stories that clearly articulate desired product functionality.

Being a Product Manager at Amazon 

How has your journey at Amazon been like? What insights/ challenges have you had?

Amazon is an amazing place to be a PM, the responsibilities of a product manager are really high and the impact a product manager can make is significant. I joined Amazon straight out of business school, and worked in Amazon Web Services for ~4 years.

I had the opportunity to work on some great products like Amazon EC2, Amazon EC2 Container Service, and AWS Lambda. I feel the greatest insight I got was how being customer-obsessed can make a huge difference in how good your product can be. Amazon truly takes customer-obsessions to the next level, and the PM plays a huge role in driving the product roadmap to make sure of this.

In terms of challenges, I think it is being able to adapt quickly to new and changing requirements, both internally (within the org and the team) and externally (as per customer’s changing requirements) is actually harder than it sounds. You spend months trying to shape your entire thought process in one way, it is not easy to just drop everything and go down a different path, even when rationally you know that is the right thing to do. 

team working

How do you manage and prioritize between your backlog (the features that support your vision/strategy) versus their requests from customers?

This is a common problem PMs face in the B2B world, and I wish there was a standard formula to answer that question. Unfortunately, the answer is “it depends”, which means you have to deal with these on a case-by-case basis.

Here is one way in which you can decide the trade-off – Is the big customer asking you to re-prioritize your roadmap and pick something up sooner than you would do it anyway, or do something which literally no one else wants? Be more generous for the former than the latter.

You might also be interested in: 3 Prioritization Techniques All Product Managers Should Know

How do you effectively prioritize features without any involvement of senior management, exec’s bias or a suggestion towards a feature?

Let me break that down into 2 parts. First, the best way to convince senior management about your proposal is always data data data. If you can show your leadership team all the customer inputs you collected, all the usage/sales patterns, and all the financials they need, they will want to do what is right for customers too.  However, I do want to call out, don’t always dismiss these “biases” that senior management has about product direction, they have very likely spent much more time in the industry talking to customers, and know much more about the overall strategy of the organization, so their opinions must be treated as such. 

Try to understand why they have the opinion they do, see if it is relevant for your product and how it fits into the overall company strategy, and if possible try to incorporate that thought process into your prioritization strategy too.

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Tips on How to Start Your Product Career

What would you advise product managers who do not have a technical background?  

While some PM roles may require you to be more technical than others, a technical background isn’t always needed to be a good product manager. You can try expanding your search to products outside of the high-tech industry, try either outbound PM roles in the B2B space or any PM in the B2C space, these types of roles are often more conducive to non-tech backgrounds. Once you have some PM experience in this space, it will make it much easier for you to find a PM role in other spaces.

You might also be interested in: Answered: Why Is It So Hard to Get a Job as a Product Manager?

How can I prove to interviewers that I am highly analytical in my approach to problem solving?

While you don’t have the opportunity to show your analytical skills on how you talk to customers in a B2B organization, typically B2B products are much more involved, and you can draw a lot of insights on product usage which tends to be much more analytical.  How many times was a specific feature used? How many customers that have more than 100 units of SKU#1 also buy SKU#2? How many small customers that start their journey on feature#1 drop off, vs those starting with feature#2 stick around to become big customers? There is always a lot of data to play with, you can use this to demonstrate your analytical skills.

You might also be interested in: How to Ace the PM Interview with fmr Amazon Sr PM

What are the key things you need to highlight in your resume when you apply for a product role if you don’t previously have experience in tech or product?

Highlight skills which would be transferable across functions, and try to highlight them. Any sort of role where you talked to customers to get their requirements, did cross functional work or interacted with other business units, where you had to present to senior management and get buy in, etc. are great things to highlight in your resume.

You might also be interested in: 4 Tips to Write a Product Manager Resume Recruiters Will Notice + Examples

reviewing papers

Any advice be for a software lead trying to break into TPM? How do you convince people that you have the right acumen without an MBA?

While I am an MBA myself, I don’t think an MBA is needed to get into product management. As an Engineering Leader, you will have ample opportunity to show product management skills. Try getting into more customer conversations, think beyond how your product works internally and see how the customer would interact with this product, get involved in prioritization discussions.

Final Advise

 As a final advice, I would like to say that there is no “standard profile” that you need to get into product management. I know great product managers in the tech space dealing with extremely technical products come from extremely diverse backgrounds – sales, marketing, engineering, support, and even from outside industries like pharma, healthcare, FMCG, etc. To get into product management – think of which transferable skills you can develop and showcase. 

Talk to customers, try to understand the company’s business, get your hands on large data sets relevant to your function/industry, ask to listen in on decision making at your company, all of these can help you build skills you will use as a PM. 

Also, for career changers, sometimes it might be easier to change tracks within your company (if that function exists) than directly applying to a PM role in another organization, where they will look for people who already have PM experience.  Once you get that PM experience in your own firm, you can always move to any other company if you like. 

For more insights on Product Management, join us for our next #AskMeAnything session!

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