This week Product School hosted Adil Ahmed, a Product Manager at Microsoft for an #AskMeAnything session. Adil answered questions on everything from product structures at Microsoft, transitioning into PM, cracking what recruiters look for on a CV, and communicating value to your team.
Adil is Senior Product Manager at Microsoft. Adil has more than 7 years of experience in developing and managing apps for Android and iOS. He is a Founding member of the Office Mobile app for Microsoft and drove the product from an idea to 100M+ installs. Adil’s expertise spreads across managing showcase apps like Microsoft Word and OneNote, as well as driving incubation projects from whiteboard to market.
“What foundational skills are required to break into a PM role?”
Product Management as such has very few crystallized foundational skills. All the tools are generic and differ from company to company. The key to getting a Product Management job is to have done the job before, either as an internship or as a set of extra responsibilities you take up in your work. once you demonstrate that you can approach a problem in parts I think you should be able to do the job with ease.
Looking to break into Product? Transitioning to Product Management From ANY Background
“What does the Product Management structure at Microsoft look like?”
Microsoft has triads for most teams. (Eng+ Design + PM). The ratios change depending on where your product is in the lifecycle. Scrums are driven by engineering managers and are typically something we think of as part of a process of being up to date on status.
PMs mostly work with Research, Data Science, and Design in the first phase of a product or feature and eng, marketing, and support in the second phase. As a company with 100K employees numbers does not do justice to the scale of work we typically do.
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“Is work during the pandemic purely virtual, or moving towards a hybrid part-in office part-virtual experience?”
It’s purely virtual for now. Guidelines vary from country to country but right now most of us are working from home.
“How do you project the importance of a product or feature you’re working on? What’s the best way you’ve found to communicate value to engineers and show them the impact of what they’re working on so there’s more overall buy-in to feature development?”
Quite simply qualitative and quantitative inputs:
- Qualitative: People are asking for it either in stores, online in forums, or in user research.
- Quantitative: Simple back of the envelope calculations which become easier as you figure out relevant telemetry you can look at and extrapolate for each feature. Post a release we have detailed dashboards for each relevant metric which we track using A/B testing
” What was your path to MS Product Management like?”
Android developer–> MBA–> Product Management.
Very very linear progression although i did try a marketing internship during my MBA.
“How is developing Products for Mobile different from web apps as the experience is very different? Is there any change in the development process? What are the focus areas and success metrics to look for?”
There is a UI-based answer to this as well as a deeper user need-based answer. UI has to be super crisp and guide users through your High-value scenario n mobile. If I look at the business need the markets and user bases are different, demographics are different but most importantly the use case on mobile is that I just need to get this done rather than let’s spend some time in this app and figure out what it can do loads of nuances but as long as you want to deliver some user value, the form factor is incidental.
“What do recruiters wanna see in a resume of a Junior PM?“
Let me be brutally honest here. The PM role selection process is extremely competitive not just at a junior PM level but at all possible levels. I am not a recruiter so I would not know what exactly the recruiter is looking for but if I were to guess, the PM role is just a set of skills and successes. The skills are pretty generic so If you can demonstrate proven success in the field it helps get more eyeballs.
“Would you have any advice for or have worked with people that come from small team startups that ended up thriving at Microsoft? Also, do you have any tips for interviewing at Microsoft that you wish you knew before working there?“
I see PMs from all kinds of backgrounds doing really well at Microsoft. We are extremely welcoming of all types of perspectives and viewpoints and i work with PMs who have worked only for MS and Amazon as well as PMs who were the only PMs in their team.
No tips for interviewing as such but I would recommend that you always design for scale. Like what would a set of users spread across the globe want from a product? Remember you are not the user you are building the product for.
“What’s the role of a PM when there is a tech stack migration happening or 3rd party product is being built in-house to save costs and get more flexibility”
PMing is a job. Given a set of constraints how will you accomplish the goal you have picked up. Therefore while i do not really have experience in this field i am guessing it will be a lot about prioritizing the right things at the right time and at the right cost.
“Being part of an established company surely has its own perks — access to virtually unlimited resources, a lot of data to build upon, etc. But does this influence the way products are built from the ground up? And do you guys ever start from a blank whiteboard or is there always something, figuratively speaking of course?”
Yes, it does influence the way products are built and marketed. We typically tend to think big as opposed to a very narrow market. And yes there are times when we start with a whiteboard though there are always other people who have some solution for the problems we are trying to solve.
“Do you have any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?”
My generic advice to Aspiring PMs: PMing is learnt over a period of time. The simplest step would be to start with a project at work, any project, and demonstrate ownership and success, This can be the first thing you do to make you resume relevant for the role.
PMing at MS is straightforward and very similar to what has been described in a bunch of books and forums. Do keep reading them to upskill yourself.
Finally big company: Smaller, clear-cut features at the junior levels, process-oriented, and communication-oriented cultures. Smaller companies: ambiguous problems, bigger ownerships, and little handholding at the beginning.
Join us next week for another #AskMeAnything Session for more insights from Product Managers around the world!