When to Assume Good Intent as a Product Manager

This week, Product School hosted Sonali Chhabria, Product Leader at Uber, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Sonali answered questions regarding communication strategies between teams, hearing out leadership, and how to break into Product.

Meet Sonali

Sonali Chhabria, Product Leader at Uber

Sonali is super passionate about empowering people and driving change.
Currently, she is a Product Leader at Uber, focused on Eats and Courier Pricing.

Sonali has a background in computer science, experimentation, analytics, and finance. Sonali is eager to be challenged and has a tremendous capacity for knowledge. According to her colleagues, she is a highly motivated, technically gifted, and professionally curious individual.

What do you do when you need the help of another team that has higher priority work to complete before they can help your team?

man and woman in business attire sit at a table and high five

It depends on the context. Ultimately, everything boils down to prioritization.

  • Start by assuming good intent. If my team really feels strongly about a particular project, I’d first start by providing the partner team with context as to why we feel this is important to work on.
  • We then share any insights that provide confidence towards our ask. This could be customer insights through online forums/interviews, competitive research, data trends or through an experiment that you ran. The more concrete your data, the stronger you can make a case for your project.
  • You should have a clear view of what success looks like.
  • On the other end, it’s also important to understand your partners teams project and why they feel their project is of higher priority.

Once everyone has full context, you can now focus on what’s most important to create customer impact as well as business impact.

Check out: The Consensus Method Part 1: Having Better Product Discussions

What do you do when the highest paid person’s opinion (HIPPO) clashes with your product strategy and roadmap?

man in business attire with megaphone in front of his face, pointing to the side

A lot of it comes down to having clarity on your strategy and how you convey it to others.

  1. Do you have any past data/insights to back your strategy?
  2. Do you have a clear path to success?
  3. What is the problem you’re solving and why is it important to work on?
  4. Does it generate both customer & business impact?
  5. Do you have buy in from your team?
  6. Why does Person A think that this won’t work? Have you taken their points into consideration?

Oftentimes people are just looking for you to listen to what they’re saying and take their points into consideration.

Read next: Product Management Skills: Stakeholder Management

What would you say is 1) the most significant and 2) the most overlooked part of being a Product Leader at Uber?

view through car windshield from back seat, with the shoulder of the driver on the left

One thing that differentiates marketplace companies in general is that apart from the need to build durable businesses, you also need to find product-market fit twice: for supply and demand.

So as a Product Manager at Uber, you need to be aware of how your product impacts both sides of the marketplace. It’s an iterative journey and getting better at this unlocks endless opportunities for the business.

Example: Uber started with Rides and we’ve now expanded to include Food delivery, Grocery delivery and even delivering iPhones, all with the click of a button!

Do you recommend freelancing in product roles to land up a job in one of the FAANG companies?

There are multiple ways of getting a PM role in FAANG:

  1. If you’re just out of undergrad, you can try looking into APM/RPM roles
  2. If you’re already working in tech but in a different role, try transitioning to PM within your company.
  3. If that’s not possible, then try looking for PM roles in a start up—small companies usually value people with skillset to work in different roles.
  4. If you’re working in an altogether different industry, try making a lateral move first and then transition to PM.

You might also be interested in: Transitioning to Product Management From ANY Background

Sign shaped like an arrow with the word "entry" on it

It’s important to demonstrate PM skillset for someone to bet on you. Possible ways to do that:

  1. Start a side project, could be a fully functional app or even a Figma prototype.
  2. Take random products & blog about how you’d improve them. 
  3. Help a PM on your team. Oftentimes the PM is constrained on bandwidth. Ask if you can help!
  4. Start thinking like a PM. Jam on ideas and insights that you can use to improve your product.

Is a Master’s degree really important in getting a job as PM in a new organization?

I don’t believe a Master’s degree is important to move PM jobs between companies as most of the PM skills are transferrable. What I would focus on is spending time understanding the domain of the company you’re looking to move into. Most hiring managers like the fact that you’ve taken the time to do your research and have some prior knowledge to jump off of.

Do you really need to have a CS background to break into Product Management?

You don’t need a CS degree at all. However, you do need to have enough technical knowledge to estimate timeline effectively, communicate technical requirements to engineers and relay concerns in simple terms to non-technical stakeholders. A lot of it comes from learning while doing it 🙂

Read next: Product Managers and Technical Skills…What’s The Deal?

I have 14 years of experience in Business Strategy and Digital Consulting, any tips to help me make the switch to PM?

You have a very strong background. PM is a very hot role at the moment so I wouldn’t say that making this transition is super straightforward,  but everything can be achieved with a little bit of work. The key to it is trying to find roles where you can leverage your past background, as that’s your strength.

Computer screen with a coding terminal open

I’ve managed a lot of engineering and IT projects. Do employers in software / tech value that experience?

A lot of employers like it when one takes initiative to own a project end to end, so I definitely feel that you can carry over a lot of your experience into Product Management. I would focus on finding ways to convey your PM work effectively in your resume while making the case to move into PM. I’m happy to review your resume – feel free to reach out to me on slack.

Any final advice?

My final advice to aspiring PMs is to not stress too much about interviewing.  Breaking into PM requires work but is definitely doable. Practice Product Manager interview questions as much as you can. Ask for help when you need it. Reach out to the Product Manager community, peers & friends. Most people are happy to help. Finally, view this as a learning opportunity and enjoy the process.

Product Podcast Season 7

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