How Your Background Can Prepare You for Your Future PM Role with Susmitha Burra

This week our #AskMeAnything session welcomed Susmitha Burra, Product Manager at GroupBy. Susmitha drew from her years of Product Management experience to discuss transition roles for PMs from various backgrounds including Marketing, Analytics, and UX/UI design.

Meet Susmitha Burra

Susmitha is currently a Product Manager at GroupBy, a B2B eCommerce cloud platform. She began her professional career as a Software Engineer at PayPal. She moved into Product Management 3 years ago as a Product Owner. Susmitha is a multidisciplinary problem-solver with experience in product development, tech and design who has built successful B2C mobile/web products for organizations like RBC and HydroOne, from concept to launch as well as leading mature products.

During her lucrative career, Susmitha has built websites and mobile apps used by millions of users. At PayPal, with 2 years of technical front end experience focusing on building web features for users, she has shipped digital products on both iOS and Android platforms.

With a background of over 3 years of proven product management experience of owning and delivering ambitious products, she has supported both start-ups and enterprises, in various markets including eCommerce, FinTech and Banking.Deeply passionate about creating and launching successful web and mobile applications, Susmitha strives to keep delighting users with her work while meeting business objectives.

What are the learning curves/takeaways from product failure in terms of not reach audience on time, quality and adoption?

You need to be able to document what the failures are and discuss them with the team, along with what you can do to avoid them in the future. I do a postmortem session with my team whenever we had a major issue or after a major release and didn’t receive as much feature adoption as we expected. 

Let’s say you are prioritizing and working on a feature and your CEO tells you to do ABC feature. How do you tackle this situation and what steps will you follow?

You can do some research on the feature that your CEO asked you to work on:

  • Gather the problems it addresses
  • How does this feature tie back into the goals of the product?
  • The vision of the company
  • How is it going to help you and the team achieve that?

Take these supporting facts to the CEO to have a discussion of the feature you are working on and the other feature and see which one should be prioritized.

I have used many different SaaS tools for Project Management – is there a leading edge SaaS tool that you would recommend for Product Management?

If you are looking for Project management tools you can try ASANA, JIRA. For Product Management, you can look at AHA and ProdPlan.

What’s the best way to create a go-to market strategy as a PM?

On a high level, you should think about:

  • Defining your market strategy
  • Lock in your pricing strategy
  • Creating your external marketing plan
  • Specify your sales strategy and supporting materials
  • Sync up with support
  • Know where this product fits in your overall roadmap
  • Decide on success metrics

How do you define the difference between a PO and PM?

Product Owner – A Product Owner is a tactical role where you are more hands-on with the execution of the roadmap and working closely with the engineering team, developing designs, looking at metrics, QA, improvements, etc.

Product Manager – You are also looking at strategy, business landscape, working more cross-functionally with the other departments, creating a long term roadmap that aligns with the goals of the company.

When we are interested in transitioning from Support to PM what are your suggestions/thoughts?
Do we need to prefer B2C over B2B or how do we plan around to make sure that we meet the goal of PM in the future

You are currently working closely with the product and understand to a good extent, you will also have some ideas on the gaps of the product. You can speak to the engineering team about your ideas and ask if you can collaborate with them on some initiatives. Try shadowing on some of the product team meetings, customer calls, etc. to learn about the problem area what are customers asking for.

In terms of if you should focus on B2C or B2B, that’s totally dependent on your interests and your past experience. If you feel you have more B2C experience and you are comfortable with the space then learn about products/company in the space which you are interested in. Have informational calls with the people working at those companies to learn about any product roles there.

As someone who wants to transit from UX Design to PM, I’m curious if there’s any must-have skill sets? And in your opinion, what’s the biggest difference between those two positions? Is it possible for new grad or people on junior level to get a PM job?

Having a design/UX background is definitely helpful. I am sure you are already working on user research, persona mapping, and you probably are also working closely to understand customer problems.

To be a strong PM, you would need to empathize with the users, have a strong data analysis skills, be able to plan, experiment, understand the market and lead the team to deliver on the goals.

Try to make a matrix with the current skills you have and the skills needed for PMs and try to learn about the missing ones. For example, you could take a Google Analytics course.

B2B SaaS world: How do you prioritize between 1 customer need vs multi vs product?

We would almost never build something for one specific customer unless it really fits into the product landscape and we find that there is a huge need for that (if prospects are asking for it multiple times or makes the product competitive).

We are always trying to address and solve the larger market problems. If there is a specific feature requested by multiple clients, I would consider it and have discussions with each of them what the exact problem they are trying to solve.

What kind of degree of skill sets do recruiters look for on a resume for a PM position in tech companies?

Most tech companies are looking for someone who’s able to adapt, deliver, has the grit and capabilities to lead a team, someone who has that deep passion for the user problems.

They aren’t necessarily looking for someone with a technical background.  You have made an impact in the past. Communication is a number 1 skill that’s important, you need to be the bridge between the business and engineering.

What is the best way to create a product roadmap?

The best way to create a product roadmap is by gathering the various problems, then you can group them into problem areas/themes. Problems can be gathered from various sources whether it’s from the market, competitive analysis, from sales and marketing teams, from the current customers, etc.

You should validate each of them if it aligns with the product goals, company goals, feasibility with the engineering team, effort, and risks that are associated with it. Based on the company’s goals for the year, you should think about what the immediate problems you should be solving for Eg. user acquisition or ROI etc and prioritize the problems into each quarter.  

You can check out this article for creating a roadmap.

I am a Project Manager who moved from development side, working closely with engineering teams. I am looking for  
a transition into a Product Manager role. What would be a good path to make this transition?

Since you have experience with engineering teams and working as a project manager, you should highlight this experience on your resume and when you speak to recruiters.  

You could look at agencies or consulting firms that work on developing products for clients, that are hiring entry-level product managers. These kinds of roles require client engagement + PM work so it might help you transition later on into a Product company.

What are some good ways to increase engagement of engineers & UX partners?

Ideally, designers should be part of the agile product team. It might work differently in different organizations. Include UX team members in all aspects of planning, retrospective and ideation phases. The core team of lead engineer + designer + PM  has worked for me while I conduct roadmap sessions, meetings with clients on user research.

I have experience in Marketing, Analytics, Managerial, and Cross-team Project Lead experience in Advertising, but I’ve not worked directly on a product before. Is it possible to enter straight into PM if you haven’t worked on product, or do you think a transition role is necessary first?

That sounds like a good combination of experience, you could look at growth marketing roles at tech companies and then move into Growth PM role.

Do you have any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?

If you are looking to transition, it’s really important to create a skills matrix and identify the gaps. You can then highlight your domain expertise and industry skills that will strengthen your profile. You can take some courses to fill some of the gaps. Research about the companies that you are passionate about and try to understand their product.

Try to network as much as you can in your local communities, make connections at the companies you are targeting. Don’t be shy to reach out to people on LinkedIn, you will be surprised at how many people are willing to help. Good luck!

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