Chaos is Where Great Product Managers Shine

Product School hosted Anurag Batra, Product Manager at Google,  for a #AskMeAnything session. Anurag answered questions about long-term product vision, challenges, and top skills he values in Product Managers.

Meet Anurag

Anurag is a seasoned Product Manager with over 25 years of experience building delightful products. His expertise includes product strategy, software development, and UX-focused design. Currently, he is a PM at Google, managing strategy and executing an extensive range of products focusing on data for Machine Learning at Google Research. Prior to joining his current position, he was a Product Manager Director and UX at Guavus, an AI/ML-based Big Data Analytics software for telecom networks, where he drove UX strategies to visualize complex data sets. Anurag also worked as Director of Product at Oracle, where he drove UX design for the next generation of applications leveraging Oracle Fusion, focused on inter-enterprise collaboration and business intelligence.

What’s the coolest part of PM in general at Google and what is the biggest struggle that no one realizes?

while every PM’s answer to this might vary, the coolest part of being a PM for me is the sheer variety of hats you get to put on on a daily basis. No day is predictable, and you never know whether you’ll be talking about ads campaigns with marketing or business strategy with leadership, or technical details with engineering. The biggest struggle that comes with it is the need to focus and not get distracted out of the big picture.

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How do you evaluate situations to introduce short-term hacks and/or plugs in a product so that key client or sales objectives are met? 

Harshil, as a PM you always need to have an eye on the big picture. Short term hacks have a cost in the long run, and you have to be able to, very objectively, show that the technical debt that you’re taking on will get you a win in the long term (e.g. you really need a strong client story in order to win those in the pipeline in the same vertical).

How can a technical background person transit to a PM role? 

The #1 skill of a PM is to be able to address the voice of the market. I’d recommend honing their ability to talk to and really “listen to” the user. The second skill to practice would be the ability to navigate ambiguity – get a bigger picture and paint that picture for the rest of the team. This is really what I’d assess when hiring a PM.

You might be interesting in Transitioning to Product Management from ANY Background

What’s your definition of “Done” at Google?

I’m not sure if we’re ever “done”. User needs and how we can satisfy them is constantly evolving. If there’s anything we know, it’s how to ask “what have we learned, and how can we make this even more delightful for our users.

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How would you deal with a nonfocused project? I mean too many stakeholders, different areas, and priorities changing daily?

I’d recommend staying very close to your two closest stakeholders – your engineering lead and any higher level sponsor that you have for the project – and being very candid with them about the challenge you’re facing organizationally and ask for . their help in navigating. That will give you the space to do what you do best – keep the product aligned with what will really matter to the market. It’d also give you the support you need to help the product survive the organizational ambiguity.

As a new PM, is it helpful to keep compiling a personal product increment super-strategy, essentially a detailed set of steps to not miss anything?

There are several different flavors of PM’ing. And therefore not all advice is applicable to you. Just like any advice on any matter – take everything you get with gratitude, make a note of it (mentally or physically), and over time, absorb what feels most aligned with your own path. I’ve disagreed with several great PMs on the most fundamental of issues over time.

Have you ever dealt with an organization that refuses to align goals, record institutional knowledge, or actively chooses to “build the plane while flying it”? If so, how would you best assist them, or persuade them that planning is important?

Chaos is where great PMs shine. Two pieces of advice: bring the voice of the market by talking to a lot of users or potential users, and tell great stories.  Maybe a third one would be – paint a big picture, and do it visually. The key thing is to help your organization empathize with the user and understand the market.   Most organizations will be super agile and change things on the fly. Accept that. And be in a position to guide that. Once you build some credibility in the short term, you’ll be well-positioned to make harder decisions for the longer term.

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How can I get on the radar of Product Management recruiters from Google?

Lots of questions on this topic. Briefly, Google’s careers website is the most efficient way. And of course, reach out to your network for any friends or former coworkers who work at Google and who you feel comfortable asking to put in a referral for you.

Im looking to hire a Head of Product for my startup. What are the key skills to look for and any favorite tasks/questions to help assess this in interviews?

I’d look for people who can demonstrate an ability to process several market signals and paint a clear picture of what’d it take to get short-term wins to keep the lights on while building a winning product in the long term. A strong ability to read the market and see the user’s need-behind-the-needs is probably the #1 skill. Strong ability to drive execution would be close behind.

Check out: The Skills Product Managers Need in 2021

What do you think is the best way to organize research?

Very briefly – understand the users first and then dig into metrics to see what story they tell and whether they back up or contradict what you found.

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