How to Build Relations with Stakeholders by Group Product Manager at Booking.com

This week Product School hosted Rahul Koul, a Group Product Manager at Booking.com, for an #AskMeAnything session. He explores topics like dealing with leadership teams, experimentation culture at booking, changes within the COVID era, and how to build relations with stakeholders!

Meet Rahul

Rahul loves to identify and solve real and meaningful consumer problems through product thinking. He has been building solid Product-led businesses for the last 10+ years- mostly on the consumer side. Currently, Rahul is a Group Product Manager at Booking.com leading a major NPD product for accommodation partners to radically
improve their reservation management workflows.

Prior to this, he was a Senior Product Manager of Mobile Apps at Flipkart, Rahul was responsible for launching the 1st version of a Seminal project in Flipkart: ‘Category Specific Shopping Experiences’, the first of its kind in the industry. Before that, Rahul was a Product Manager of Mobile Web and a Product and Marketing Manager at Handygo Technologies. Rahul has been building and leading globally diverse high-performance teams for 5+ years. He is a first-principles thinker with a strong sense of User behavior and Product design as well as a lifelong student of human behavior, especially Psychology and Anthropology.

“What is a Group Product Manager?”

One who manages a group of products / some portfolio of a big product (and typically product managers). Its a common role in many companies.

“Do you think going into PM/APM straight out of undergrad is a good idea?”

’d say why not. Nothing beats hands-on experience after all. There are founders (great product guys typically) who haven’t even completed their education.

Looking for a path to product? Check out our certifications!

“Being in one of the most hit industries because of covid, how has Booking.com as a company and product evolved in the last year, and what changes do you see in the industry, in general?”

It’s right that travel is badly hit globally., and it may take some more time for things to be normal. Likely that the new normal will also be different for travel from what we have known. But every challenge comes with an inherent opportunity. I believe for booking, COVID pushed us re-look at our whole product portfolio and enabled us to be more focused on certain bets (esp. long term).

Notes and markers on table

“What is your suggestion for PMs preparing to crack interviews with Cos. like MS, Google, Booking.com, Flipkart.com?”

I think there are several ways to approach. But I think I can’t emphasize mock interviews with your peers, friends, seniors. As with other things, practice makes the person perfect. Other than that, try to understand the values/belief system of the company you are hiring for. Not every company is a good fit for you and in the same way, you are not a good fit for every company. So try to make sure there is a solid match. Lastly, try to understand from the interviewer’s perspective what exactly are they looking for in a specific round. If they don’t share it upfront, ask. Most of the time you will be surprised by their openness & answers.

“What agile framework are you using at Booking?” 

Well, every product team is free to pick the methodology/tools/processes that work for them. Of course, there is some guidance like avoiding a waterfall system at all costs.

Check out: Building Frameworks for Decision Making

architecture

“How do you deal with leadership team pressing for estimations for a new feature which could sometimes take months of effort before shipping?”

I think there are multiple angles to this question.
1. A Leadership team, typically speaking, is not super interested in specific estimations. What they are looking at is how likely it is that product teams are going to help achieve business goals. So first make sure, you understand their underlying motivation well.

2. Try to speak in their language

3. Get them on board with the thinking behind the product and the problem the product is trying to solve. And ask them if the ‘problem space’ is exciting for them. And then 4, talk about solutions and how you will track measures of success. 5. Set up a monthly cadence to share updates and show the real progress. Generally, this works. And if it doesn’t, ask the question of whether you think X is a product-first company. And answer it honestly. And if the answer is no, you know what to do.

“How do you limit the scope for NPD in case you are running against a timeline? Can you suggest a framework?”

Good question. Tough one to answer though. Let me try.

It’s true that in many NPD products, feature creep happens quite soon. I mean requests from teams, fellow members, customers, leaders, etc. One thing that has worked for me and my teams is to go back to ‘problem space’. Look at it and ask what is it that we are trying to solve for here and who? And then ask a follow-up question, On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely is that by not having a ‘’proposed’ feature X in v0.1, our user won’t be able to solve the problem they have. Anything that scores less than 7 can always wait.  8/9 needs more deliberation. 10 must ship.
Of course, don’t take this framework at a face value. There is always room for context.

“For someone who is just starting as an APM/PM – How to build relations with the stakeholders (Head of Engg, Analytics, & top management) when you’re not working with them directly?”

Thoughtful question and a real challenge indeed especially when you are early in your career. Some tips that could work:
1. First, identify your stakeholders, even the remote ones. And then build your interaction/communication plan for each of them.
2.Get a coffee/lunch at least once every 6 months. Talk about what matters to them and their teams with respect to your product. Don’t forget to bring (real & relevant) challenges you and teams are facing and ask for their inputs/suggestions to tackle those. They get very excited by those.
3. Don’t share too much info. Keep things high level. I think this is one of the common mistakes fresh PMs do.

travel products, map, camera, backpack, books

“Are all experiments based on problems identified with data or also based on assumptions?”

Indeed there is a very strong experimentation culture at booking. And I can’t tell you how glad everyone is. It makes it default for everyone in the company to start talking with ‘data’.It’s good to take a sec and ask ourselves what qualifies as Data?
A certain feedback/ feature request coming from multiple users (of similar customer cohort) is one data. Similar comments/emotional stories on social media by your customer are also data. Observing how your customers actually use your product (from a UX point) is also data. Research creates data and then there is data, data. I think most of the time people undervalue all other data types that don’t fit in the typical definition of data (analytics). At booking, all data types have a place in experimentation.

Check out Building a Culture of Product Experimentation

“Do you have any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?”

I think my advice to aspiring product managers is two fold.
1. Accept the reality. It is a chicken and an egg problem for most of you. Meaning if you don’t have an experience, getting hired is tough. And if no one hires you, how will you ever get an experience to get hired. (APM programs are few and don’t cater to most).
2. So try to get your hands dirty as early as possible, in any way possible. Not your dream company, it’s OK. Not your dream role, its OK. Not your dream product, its Ok. Not a great Package, it’s Ok. Not the PM role, but something that gets to work closer with PM or the product team, Its OK.. You get the drift.Nothing beats early and appropriate hands-on experience.  For what it’s worth, I am myself a PMM convert to PM.

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Don’t miss our next Ask Me Anything session where you’ll learn what you need to become a better Product Manager! Check our upcoming AMAs here.

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