Product School hosted Ronak Shah, fmr Product Manager at Dropbox for a #AskMeAnything session. Ronak answered questions about PM misconceptions, how to lead product teams, and advice on career development.
Ronak is a former Product Manager at Dropbox, where he was responsible for improving the usability and performance of the Dropbox Files product on the website and desktop applications. In addition, Ronak was a Program Manager of OneDrive at Microsoft, where he focused on protecting enterprise and consumer data through file encryption and ransomware affected file recovery. His passions are education, robotics, the Internet of things, augmented reality, and more.
For B2B products, apart from client feedback what other metrics would you consider for feature prioritization?
When I worked on the identity team at Microsoft, we leveraged a few metrics for B2B:
- Addressable market: How many customers would this feature benefit?
- Market adoption: For similar features or if this is a feature iteration, have customers adopted this? I.e. % of customers that have access to this feature, end up using it.
- This isn’t specifically a metric, but the cost to implementation was a big part of the prioritization equation which included cross-functional partners like engineering, marketing, analytics, sales, etc.
How would you approach analyzing if a feature requested by one particular customer would make sense for other customers?
In terms of analyzing if a feature would benefit other customers, there are a few approaches:
- Look at common characteristics of the requesting customer and determine if other customers fit this profile (company size, utilization of similar features, industry, etc.)
- Once you’ve determined similar profiles, reach out to your customers! They want to hear about your potential roadmap and will communicate if they’re interested in certain features.
- Try building an opt-in beta program through a marketing pitch, and see what customer interest looks like.
What’s one thing you have been consistent at since you started out as a product manager and what is something you held to be true when you started but don’t feel so strongly about it now?
One consistency is that your team looks to you to be a leader and decision-maker, while still being critical of the direction you’ve set. There’s this saying “influence without authority” and it’s important as a product manager to be able to convince others of the thing you want to build for your customers. This should be backed by data, intuition, market trends, and overall company direction strategy.
Initially, as a program manager at Microsoft, I thought having more control over the process would be important for a team to deliver quickly and on time. I’ve changed this perspective to have better decision-making, with thoughtful reasoning and alignment with my team members, to be more important than the process. It’s important to empower the team to be able to build in whatever way is most efficient to them, as long as there’s a clear direction and they know that their PM is making the right decisions along the way.
What do you do in your first 30 days when you join a new company as a product person?
First and foremost, learn & absorb as much as possible. I usually break it down in to the following:
- What is your product’s business model and key customers? If possible shadow a customer call or go through a usability test to understand how your customers use your product and their emotions around it.
- Find a mentor & build relationships. Understanding how a company operates, and its culture will be important for you to understand the system and how decisions are made. Have 1-on-1s with cross-functional partners, meet with your skip manager, find someone randomly on Slack and start messaging them. Not only will you learn how the company works, but you’ll also become more visible to your peers.
- Teardown the product you’re working on. Build a critical and opinionated view of the product while you have a fresh perspective without learning the ins and outs of how it was developed. Your peers will appreciate this new perspective.
- Seek out and understand the company strategy + overall success metrics. When defining metrics for your product, it’s important to understand how your team’s work ladders up to the company strategy.
How do you approach A/B testing in a B2B environment?
I’ll spin this question a little bit and first ask myself, is an A/B experiment the right way to make a product decision? Are there alternatives like customer interviews, surveys, opt-in programs, competitive analysis, market analysis, etc. that can help the product team make a decision? If A/B tests are truly the way to go, can you calculate the stat sig sample size required to run the experiment and how long would it take to get results? Example calculator
How do you build a B2B roadmap?
This is a broad question and varies based on industry, but I can boil it down to:
- Do you have an existing product? If so, start having interviews with your existing highly engaged customers and determine what their needs are.
- Are there competitors and adjacent markets to what you’re trying to build? Build up a set of “table stakes” roadmap items to be competitive in these markets
- What is your business model and set of success metrics that ladder up to company strategy? Use these success metrics, along with cost, to prioritize and schedule your roadmap.
For B2B customer-facing roadmaps, what are the most important considerations to keep in mind when constructing and presenting them to consumers?
I like to tailor my roadmap to the specific customer based on their previous roadmap requests and needs. This builds a personalized relationship with that customer and focuses the conversation on getting critical feedback for those features and potential change in prioritization.
Slight cop-out, but I also call out that the roadmap is subject to change as it further out in a schedule to set the right expectations.
What would you say is the hardest thing about being a PM?
This might be a soft response, but I think the hardest thing about being a PM is making decisions in absence of data.
Some PMs want to ensure that the feature roadmap they set, product spec, and strategy will be 100% correct, but this requires deep research and can lead to analysis paralysis. If you’re able to start making decisions based on intuition (which is built up over time) and partial data, you can start learning quickly by putting your product in the wild. There is a higher chance of failure (your product might not get adopted), but this is additional data to use for future strategies.
Don’t get caught in the analysis paralysis trap since this takes away time from building and learning from your customers.
When doing user interviews to further identify pain points, I oftentimes have the urge to show them our product. Should I show them our product, and if so, at what point during our interview?
You should definitely show them your product, but after you’ve exhausted all of their pain points (whether it’s with your current or competitor product). Once you have an exhaustive list of their pain points, you can then use your product to build contrast with the earlier conversation and understand if your product solves these pain points or not.
You might be interested in Product Management Skills:User research
Do you recommend aspiring or job-hunting PMs who have strong sector experience in non-PM roles focus on that sector, or should they be open to any sector that will hire?
I’m biased since my experience has spanned across multiple industries but my recommendation is to keep open. You may have a better hit rate by applying to roles that tailor to your prior experience but that could impact your potential to learn new skills and sectors. You should ask yourself, “What do I want to get out of this next role?“. Is it learning a specific skill, trying a new industry, achieving a compensation target, moving to a new location, etc? These will all impact which sectors you apply to and give you a better sense of where to apply your efforts when in a job search. I’ve had good luck by spanning multiple sectors since it shows potential employers that I can ramp up quickly in a new role, wear different hats, and build products that benefit their customers.
How would it be possible to formally transition to a PM role dealing with the lack of marketing, growth, and revenue acumen?
This is a relatable question as I’ve also dealt with this transition.
For any transition in roles, skillsets, or responsibilities: I recommend doing an internal transfer within the company since you’re able to retain your product knowledge and you have higher credibility. In absence of an internal transition, are you able to find opportunities within your current product scope to pull in marketing? Can you associate any of your investments with revenue and build a financial model for what you’re building? This gives you the necessary foundation and something that you can speak to in when looking for roles that require marketing and growth skills.
This is where having strong market analysis and market campaigning skills are important to find & retain customers.
Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?
For aspiring PMs, your network is your best asset for finding new roles and opportunities. Corporations will come and go, but the relationships that you build will last much longer. Tech is a small world and I’ve worked with certain people multiple times at different companies. Your credibility and reputation will build up over time through people & relationships, more so than the name of a company on your resume.