Prashant Kumar is a dynamic and accomplished Product Management professional with significant experience and success in driving growth, slashing costs, optimizing operations, and developing solutions for Fortune 500 companies.
Currently, he works as a Senior Product Manager at Amazon, focusing on the growth and profitability of FMCG in Italy and Spain. He has been described as Tech-savvy, proactive, resourceful, and respected.
We got to chat with him about his experience as a Senior Product Manager, his rockstar time management skills, and what it takes to be a great PM.
Did anyone or anything in particular inspire you towards the product world when you were younger? Maybe a family member who worked in tech?
We are a family of engineers back home, so my grandfather, my father, my brother…we’re all engineers. But honestly, while growing up and even while I was still completing my undergraduate, I didn’t even know that a job like Product Manager really existed.
I would call myself ‘an accidental product manager’ in the sense that I stumbled into this role. And once I stumbled onto this profile, I retroactively looked back on my experience and thought “You know what? I’ve been doing Product Management for a very long time.” I just didn’t know that it was called Product Management.
For me, Product Management is like a vocation. Like entrepreneurs. It’s that you have a set of skills and those sort of skills make you into a type of Product Manager. It’s a responsibility.
You worked in Berlin, and you are now at Amazon in Madrid. What’s the European product scene like? How does it compare to Silicon Valley?
Well, full disclaimer, I’ve never worked in Silicon Valley. But my wife was with a startup in New York for some time, so she always brings that perspective when we have our conversations about the European Product scene. And of course I’ve worked with and had plenty of interactions with Silicon Valley tech people.
The European product space is coming up very fast. You have Amsterdam, Dublin, Berlin, Madrid, Paris…So a lot of centers are going up, which is great, especially in Berlin. There’s a lot of push for new startups. Venture capital firms are now putting in the money, but there is still a lot of room to grow. And I would say that there are two major reasons behind this. First is the availability of the necessary tech skills, which I found was lacking when I was in hiring in Berlin.
The second is the cultural difference. People in the US, and especially Silicon Valley, tend to be more risk takers. They tend to be faster and more aggressive in their approach towards innovation. In the European startup scene, we are still leaning towards more traditional organizational structures. We’re still leaning more towards traditional work cultures. And as a result of that, I think it’s a little bit unfair to compare the two countries because they have completely different motivations in how they work. But there’s still a lot of scope for growth in Europe.
Could you tell us what a typical day to day is like for you, as a Senior Product Manager.
The day goes by prioritization, organization, meetings and alignment with the different teams and then individual work.
So with Amazon I’m working with multiple geographies at the same time. So my day would start around 8.30am, initially with checking emails. The first thing I look for is “Where is this e-mail from US, India, Japan etc and what’s going on? Do I need to take action here?” Once I have caught up with all the teams, I start planning the rest of the day out based on the action items I have.
The week always starts with the challenges. And the reason for this is because as a Product Manager, you have to solve the problems and the challenges. We have to work with tech, and they work on their own two or three week period. So you have to align your requirements so that they don’t get lost.
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Then I work on prioritizing, what needs to be delivered by Friday. Once that has been done, my day can start. You have to be super organized. I think one of the best pieces of advice I got from my one of my managers was to get organized. So I spend about an hour every morning doing just that.
At 9.30, the morning meetings with Japan and India start. By the time that’s done, European stakeholders join in. By the time that’s done, US comes online! After those three meeting slots, and hopefully a little break in-between, I reserve two hours to work on the projects I have to deliver. If we are launching a new product, then I have to sit down and think, what is my vision of the product? What do I want to give to my customers?
Or I’m thinking about how I am going to measure the success of this product. This is something which you have to plan ahead and put in place while the development is happening.
And then there is a really big chunk of time used for aligning with different product teams because your product is never like a single monolith. If you’re working in an ecosystem of different products, you have to make sure that you are all on the same page.
How do you compartmentalize when working with international teams, and make sure to prioritize individual work and a personal life?
One of the first things which I learned was not to have work e-mails on my phone. I used to, but then there were times when my phone would go off at 4:00 a.m. in the morning. And I’m the type of person who finds it really difficult not to check, especially when I know who the e-mail will be from and what it’s about.
I also consider my personal life to be an equally important part of my job. Because I need to switch off and recharge myself. If I don’t, the next morning I will come to work tired and jaded, which impacts the way I work, and impacts my creativity and my efficiency. So I believe in working very hard from the time I am in office.
But I’m also a firm believer that once you are out of office, you need to switch off and come back the next day at peak performance.Think of it like an athlete. You’re a mental athlete. You’ve trained really hard. You compete, and then you go off and recuperate. And then when you come back the next morning, you’re at peak performance again.
That’s how I’m able to switch off, and I find the time to block off and work individually by taking that hour at the start of the week to plan.
I train a lot of young people, which is one of the joys of my life, and I teach them the same thing. Take a coffee, sit down for an hour, plan out what you want to achieve in the week, and then stick to it. And if you plan out what you want to achieve, then obviously your entire communication style focuses on that plan.
If I hope to get something done from India, I know that I have from 9 AM to 12.30 PM to get that done. Because after that they start to log off. So between 9:00 to 12:30, I will have called a lot of meetings and sent a lot of emails to get the work done. And then I have time to block off and work on my own before my meetings with Europe have to start
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In your role, you work with Machine Learning, which many PMs are realizing they have to get comfortable with in the future. How would you recommend someone to start learning about it?
are tools and different people have different opinions on them. My opinion is AI and ML and are just tools and their usage and their productivity depends on the person who’s using it.
Let’s take the example of a knife. I don’t know how my chopping knife gets made, but what I do know is how to use it to cut a vegetable. And I know I need a different knife to use on a fish, or a chicken.
What I’m learning there is how to apply the correct tool for the correct job. This is similar to how we use AI and ML. For example, ML is about collating the historical data, defining a problem and then applying machine learning algorithm to solve that problem.
As a Product Manager, you need to know where and how you are going to apply AI and ML. And that is not technical. That’s more about understanding the capabilities of that technology. So you don’t need to think “Oh I need to learn Python!” because you don’t. Even if you do know AI and ML very well, that’s only half the battle. There are still things you cannot do because you’re not a data scientist.
I myself am not a data scientist, but I can have that conversation with my data scientists because I understand what kind of problems I can solve. And then if you have the time and you have the interest, you can dive deeper into it. But the most important thing is to just understand how to use it and how to talk about it with the right folks.
Speaking of skills, what other skills do you think are really important for Product Managers? What are the tools that people are going to be using more in future?
When I came to Product Management, I came from a very data-driven and highly analytical background. So I have my strengths in that domain. Other people have come to it from a consulting background, so they have very high organizational, project management and people skills. Others have come through from a marketing background. So there are a variety of skills.
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Based on what I use on a day-to-day basis, you have to have good people skills because probably 50 percent of your work will require you to talk and align and negotiate. You need good negotiation skills, and very, very good time management. In terms of hard skills, you would definitely need analytical abilities because in today’s world without data, you can’t survive. Also you need the tech understanding to have the right conversations.
I would say it’s less about the hard skills that you can tick off your resume, it’s more about the soft skills.
Do you think there’s a way to develop soft skills. Developing human skills isn’t as simple as taking a course.
I would say that you build those through experience. You build those through actual interaction.
You don’t know how to swim until you jump in the water. It’s a common reaction that when you face a difficult situation, you shy back from it. But an area where Product Managers really excel is being uncomfortable. We’re always in a position where things are undefined or ambiguous and that’s where we really shine.
Say yes and raise your hand to things that have never been done before. That’s actually Richard Branson’s advice; say yes then figure out how to do it later. That’s a Product Manager lifestyle!
You’re also a TED speaker. What was that experience like?
It’s always been a dream of mine, so I was extremely grateful for the opportunity. It was a very humbling experience. I got to talk about the thing I’m super passionate about, VR, and have a room full of people listen to my thoughts.
And people want to listen. You have to instill that belief in yourself. I had a very good theater teacher in school as a kid, and she taught me that the stage is like your own space and bubble. That’s the key to being a great public speaker.
What sort of things do you look for in prospective candidates when you’re hiring for Amazon?
You have to be a good fit for the role, which means you need to bring in the right skills. But sometimes you’ll have the right transferable skills instead. If you did Project Management somewhere else, you’ll have a lot of the necessary skills already.
It’s also about attitude. How you speak and what you speak about. Your non-verbal cues also give out a lot of information about you, so you need to have a certain level of confidence.
The devil lies in the details, and whatever is on your CV you need to know it back to front. Don’t just talk about what you did, you need to know why you did it and what the result of those actions were.
The last thing I look for is what you’re trying to achieve from this role and what you’re trying to learn from it. You need that hunger for knowledge. When that comes out, is when you come across as a person who is ready to be a Product Manager. When you can accept the things you know and what you don’t know. Being able to say “OK, I don’t know the answer to this, but let me go away and find out.”
What should be the primary focus for a new Product Manager in their first 30 days on the job?
The biggest challenge for me is not getting stuck in the grassroots. The advice I give to young people is take your time, learn the system, learn your product, learn the people who are involved in it, the vision of the company…
If you don’t take the time to build those relationships, you’ll struggle later down the road. Take time in the early days to build those foundations and learn as much as you can. Once you’ve done that, then you can start solving problems.