What is the most important thing to remember as a Product Manager? According to Roshan Shankar, Senior Product Manager at Deloitte, it’s keeping the user in mind at all times. But what else is on that list? Do you need a strong tech background, experience building something or a whole new skillset?
Check out what he had to say to our Slack Community in his recent “Ask Me Anything” session.
Currently a Senior Product Manager at Deloitte, a Big 4, managing tax software product development. Started his career as a software developer and rose to be an enterprise architect before getting his MBA and transitioning to Product Management. Before Deloitte, he was the head of product development an early stage SaaS software provider of insurance solutions for seven years.
I just got an MBA, and I am looking to transition to Product, can you tell me how you achieved it?
I think MBA gives you the necessary framework and tools to transition, such as strategy 101., marketing 101, etc. However, the best experience is doing it. Understanding the purpose of the product market fit is important. Most important, IMO, developing empathy for the user.
As a Product Manager, do you solution as part of defining the features (particularly since you have an Architect background) or are features handed to Architects to initial solution?
Guilty as charged. I have found this to be hard coming from a software development background. It took a while for me to step back, and focus on asking the questions and helping develop the solution rather than dictating or jumping to a solution. Ask a lot of open-ended questions. Keep the user and the business in mind. Ask what value you are adding by this. By doing it enough, you should have your BA’s and tech folks doing this for you.
Can you give some insight into the types of products you’ve worked on at Deloitte?
I am part of Deloitte Tax’s strategic tax applications center (STAC). So, I essentially work on Tax software. As mundane as it sounds, it is pretty interesting both on the business side and tech stack (distributed computing, big data, etc…). I like to say I have handled products for life’s two certainties, death (life insurance) and taxes.
Deloitte, like other consulting firms, is investing in developing “products” – not truly products with SKU’s, etc. but products that can be deployed or used by clients for a fraction of a consulting engagement. Deloitte careers’ page should have product management jobs. I found mine via LinkedIn. Also, check out McKinsey New Ventures or PwC New Ventures – again, consulting firms getting into product side of things.
What do you think is necessary for a “traditional” project manager with knowledge of the tech industry to transition into a product position?
Great question, especially because some companies adopting Agile, have renamed old project managers to product managers – product owner at the manager level. I think a big difference is a scope. If you can look beyond what your immediate stakeholder asks, look at competitive offerings, industry trends and use that to build a case for a solution or feature set, I think you are on the way to being a great product manager.
Be curious. Some bring you solutions, others their problems. Ask what it is they are trying to achieve and build a better solution. As for experience in other industries, relate it to the job (eg. I had no experience in Tax, but I used my experience in financial services/ compliance to make the connection. And, in this case … added my consulting background.
Have you considered doing one of the Agile, Scrum Master or Project Management Professional (PMP) certifications?
I have both CSP (Scrum Professional) and PMP certification. Is it essential? No. However, back in 2009 when the economy was weak it was a minimum requirement. Don’t mistake certification for skill. I think there is no harm in getting the certifications. It certainly helps you bridge the gap with the development team if you don’t come from a technical background.
There are lots of programs for learning how to manage software development teams and almost zero for learning how to manage anything else. Why do you think this is?
I think it is what is in demand. My first NPD (new product development) course at B-school and that had nothing to do with technical products. Tom Kuzmarski was the professor. He has an innovation consulting firm here in Chicago. I think Pragmatic Marketing and some other firms provide some training that is less software product oriented.
Honestly, when it comes to pricing and marketing, there could be a lot more options for non-tech products. PDMA is another good industry body.
How did you know you wanted to do Product Management?
It has been about – “Why are we building this?” “How do we drive user adoption?” even when I was doing tech consulting. So, trying to answer those questions took me in the direction of product management. What was the saying… ” the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” I would like to think that I am doing that at a product level.
Once you have prioritized, how do you incorporate into your roadmap and what factors determine where in the roadmap?
Something I have used a lot and has found it to be useful (and, met with less resistance) for categorization or prioritization is the Kano model. Essentially, three sets – must-haves, performers (linear improvement), delighters (hit the ball out of the park). We use this to pick a right mix of features that fall into all three categories. In enterprise software in regulated industries compliance items are all must-haves.
As a Project Manager/Business Analyst, with tech and finance experience and an MBA, is a Product Management role a good starting point on this path?
Probably not. I think it depends on the company. In many companies, corporate strategy is less about strategy and products. It is more about strategy and M&A. So, it is a lot more about finance and strategy than building products. However, you might want to check with your target company to be certain.
How do you explain to a client that some of his project’s requirements are “out of scope” and implementing them would be bad for the project?
Is it “out of scope” due to the original statement of work/cost/timeline or is it bad for the solution. If you think it is a bad solution then rather than saying that start by asking what is it that the client is trying to achieve by building this. Once you have an answer, you can determine if it is a problem worth solving. If yes, is the solution correct and how to re-prioritize, if needed.
Any specific tools you use for a roadmap with your team?
I have heard good things about Aha. Also, Craft.io sounds interesting. It is not about the tools. The roadmap is a guide towards a goal. Every release had an associated theme/goal (industry conference, regulation changes might be the primary release reason) and based on that we slot it. Sometimes the release is meant to be broad/not deep especially in enterprise software; it is about business processes.
Once the broad outline or most common path is in you, start filling it out. Factors that determine how we slot it is also dependent on size/cost, risk/benefit. I recommend having regular releases – like Ubuntu (every April/ Oct) and managing the scope of the releases.
Can you share your advice for aspiring product managers?
Be curious. Develop empathy for the user. Become knowledgeable about the business you are serving.