This week Product School hosted Allen Foster Pushparaj, Senior Product Manager at Booking.com for an #AskMeAnything session. Allen discussed his opinions on the impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality industry. He also shared some tips on how to build great roadmaps, understand data, and the skills aspiring PMs need to break into product.
Meet Allen Foster Pushparaj
Allen is a data-driven Product Manager with a strong analytical background. He currently works as the Product Manager at Booking.com but began his career at Cognizant Technology Solutions as a Programmer Analyst, where he initiated and sought buy-in from peers and senior leaders to lead a project team to fully automate an application that had been manually operated for the last 9 years.
Possible Futures for a Post-Pandemic Travel Product
Are we going to see the hospitality industry introduce a new product or different segment to revive the hospitality sector post-COVID?
I think every company is trying something different as per their customer needs to revive the travel industry that is hit hard by COVID-19. For example, experience based companies came up with online experience products (Ex. AirBnB and GetYourGuide). Accommodation based companies are trying to offer accommodations with high hygiene standards. At the end of day, we just need to build products that meet our user needs. It can be a completely new product or same old product with certain improvements.
As a PM, how do you think companies should prepare towards building trust in customers to persuade them to go on holidays post-COVID?
I think there are 2 important things users care about post-COVID while travelling:
- Hygiene of the place they are going to and if social distancing measures are considered by the accommodation or the venue
- Flexible travel options.
So to be able to gain the trust of a traveller, these 2 problems should be offered and communicated clearly to travellers.
With the current scenario do you think the conventional frameworks that we learn would have to be tweaked so that PMs might need to gauge more on the customer-centric approach?
Yes definitely. I think that the last 10 years have already proven that business and product should have customers at the centre of their decision making. The current situation only re-iterates more the fact that customer centric approach is the only way forward for a successful business / product.
How Product Managers Use Data
How often do you (or your team) reach into the raw data? What are your preferred methods of doing so?
As a PM, we need to continuously inspect the product metrics to see if users like the product as we initially anticipated.
I look at the data for different reasons:
- Every time I want to validate / invalidate an hypothesis.
- To explore user behavior of a new / existing feature.
It is difficult to say how often. It really depends on the need. To get the data, I usually use SQL to query the tables or look at Google Analytics.
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Should we consider quantitative or qualitative data while taking strong Product decisions? What should be the ideal weightage given to both when taking a decision? How should a PM think on that and how can I develop that skill?
Any hypothesis you generate needs to be validated both qualitatively and qualitatively. The quantitative data gives you an idea on the behaviour of the user. Whereas the qualitative data provides you the “Rationale” behind the behaviour. When you combine both, then you are building the best product for your user.
This is the general thinking process I follow:
- Analyse the data to understand different user behaviour
- Build a hypothesis on the rationale based on the user behaviour
- Validate the hypothesis via qualitative data.
It could also be the other way around as well.
- Qualitative feedback says something
- Validate the qualitative feedback by analysing the data.
In both cases, you can see there is a split on weightage between qualitative and qualitative data. Both are important.
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Roadmaps, Metrics and Agile Tips
During such challenging times, what should be the primary focus for Product Manager while building the roadmap?
During this time, the most important thing is to gain trust of your users to book and travel with you again. Understanding the biggest concerns your users have is the key. In my opinion, the 2 major concerns are:
- Hygiene of the place they are travelling to
- Flexible travel option.
So for Q3, it might be important for you to focus on these 2 concerns and see if you could solve it for your users.
As a PM at a young startup, how do you build your roadmap?
In a young startup, there will also be a lot of things to work on. I think the important question is, how do we prioritise the roadmap? From what I have seen (from my previous experience), the key is to have a shared understanding on the business outcome, the startup has to drive in the next 3 or 6 months or a year. Once that is defined, building and prioritising your roadmap becomes an easy task.
How do you draw the difference in responsibilities of a PM and Product Owner in an Agile setup?
That is a question I struggle with myself. I read this post somewhere that helped me give a better perspective. A person who does product management is referred to as Product Manager. But when this applies within the context of scrum, the terminology that is used to refer to a product manager is ‘product owner’.
What is the metric selection process for you while determining the success of your product offering? How do you go through the selection of metrics among hundreds that you can select?
Metric selection varies based on the product you are working on and the end business objective that the product would drive. The metrics you choose for a product / feature that aims at improving the User experience, would be very different to the metrics you choose for a product that aims at increasing revenue for example.
Usually as a process of defining the metrics, we as a team sit together and define what the business outcome we are trying to achieve, define the product metrics that could be translated into business outcomes. The trick is: defining the business outcome first, it will make it easy to choose the right product metrics that really matter.
What are your best practice recommendations for predicting deployment range windows accurately? Are there certain models you employ to structure your timeline estimations?
This is a struggle that every team and company goes through. I think it all starts with accepting the fact that estimates are “WRONG”. The more you work on the product, the more clear you can estimate. The only model, I could think of at this moment, is regularly catching up with the team, refining the current stories and updating the estimations accordingly.
The Skills of a Product Manager
What key skills are a must-have for a PM role?
The top 3 skills (in my opinion) would be:
- Analytical thinking
- Critical reasoning
Other PMs and companies might have different opinions. But these 3 skills would be there in the top 5.
With my current experience in growth and digital marketing, what skills do I need to transition into Product Management?
I think you could also try for a PM role in several companies that focus on growth during this time. Perhaps learning to use some data analysis tools like SQL or GA could help make it easier to find a PM role.
How would you suggest one should prepare for a PM role? What skills should on? What were the lessons throughout your journey that can help an aspiring PM like me?
For a PM role, some of the top skills employers look for are:
- Critical thinking
- Communication and others
My personal story is that I have struggled to find a PM role without prior experience. So I tried to find a junior PM or PM intern role where I could gain work experience in Product Management. If you could find a Junior PM or an internship role, I would suggest you to take it and overtime learn more about PM (from work as well as from reading) and take up a PM role.
This is how I got into Product Management, there might be other ways as well.
What kind of benefits and advantages does an MBA have for a PM?
I don’t think MBA is a hard requirement for a PM. In my opinion, a PM should be analytical and critical in their thinking. You can have these qualities without holding an MBA degree. Perhaps an MBA could help you gain some of these skills, but I don’t think it’s exclusive for an MBA graduate. Most of the successful PMs constantly learn and read, regardless of the degree they hold. In my opinion, the ability to constantly learn and grow would be an advantage for a PM.
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Do you think there is space for introverted PMs? Compared to software engineering, is there time for ‘deep work’ as a PM?
In my personal opinion, I don’t think being an extrovert or an introvert plays a big role in being a successful PM. To be a successful PM, you will need to be able to get the trust of your team and your stakeholders. This can be achieved by having a very good understanding of your user and your business.
What are the possible courses of action when shifting from banking to a PM role? Any books to read? Where to start?
First, I would start with reading the scrum framework. It’s a 14 page document that gives an idea on who a product manager is and how he works together with the development team.
The next book I would suggest is ‘Lean startup’ . Might help you get an understanding of how to build product and product methodology. This does not tell you what a product manager does but gives you an idea on how to have product thinking, which is crucial to be a successful product manager.
Is it possible to get a remote internship for a new PM?
It really depends on the company and your preference. Some companies fully work off-line and would not have a problem offering a remote internship. And if you are fine working offline, then it’s a great match. For me personally, it is so much to see people face to face and talk to them! So it really depends on the individual.
Interested in becoming a great Product Manager? Join our upcoming AMA sessions!