What It Takes to Become a Great Product Manager by Booking.com Sr PM

This week Product School hosted Puja Nanda, Senior Product Manager at Booking.com for an #AskMeAnything session. Puja offers valuable insight into her experience as a PM and shares advice to those interested in the field.

puja nanda booking product manager

Meet Puja Nanda

Puja is a Product Manager with experience in Product Development across different industries. Prior to her current role at Booking.com, she worked at IBM as an Advanced Analyst Consultant. Currently, Puja is a Senior Product Manager of New Product Development working with a team of Engineers, Designers, Data Scientists, Product Managers, and Product Marketers on creating new products.

Technical Skills in Product: What You Need to Know

How technical do you think a PM needs to be? Since you were a PM for product connectivity APIs, how in-depth were you expected to understand the technical aspects?

It is a plus to have some understanding of the technical building blocks of your product. Having said that, it also helps to have a very strong technical ‘partner in crime’ as one tackles a more technical product. One of the metrics I use to gauge if I am the right depth of technical awareness is to ask my team if I’m communicating with them in a way that they get a clear idea of what I’m trying to achieve for the user, and if I am able to follow when they raise any concerns in the process of delivering a feature/product.

Any books you’d recommend for someone who is new to PM and wants to increase their technical depth?

I suggest to start reading these three books as well as keeping up to date with product blogs:

It also does help to have regular conversations with developers you are working closely with and walking them through what’s current in your domain. I do value picking up domain-specific & relevant technical knowledge as it allows you to apply it more easily in your circumstances over developing generic knowledge.

Interested in Product Management? Take a look at our Product Book!

Reading books about Product Management

The Role of a PM in the Midst of a Global Pandemic

How does it feel like to be a PM at a company which is affected by the global pandemic? What’s changed, what’s not?

In principle, it does keep me on my toes to validate all my product assumptions a bit more intensively based on how our target audience is evolving given the current circumstances. It is also interesting and exciting to be able to transfer the day to day ways of working with the team in a remote setting. However, in the broader scheme of things, it doesn’t change the fundamentals around how I look at the product and develop it!

How do you think product dynamics will change post-pandemic? How will the role of a PM change?

I do already see that the uncertainty in the current circumstances forces a PM to really reflect on what can one do to tactically handle the current changes, and what should be one’s strategic goal to handle customer needs once the recovery begins. It also pushes us to be more insights-driven and there’s not much space for intuitive solutions, which is where collaboration with the Researcher is so critical.

How are you dealing with sprints? Is your velocity still the same?

When we switched to a remote work setup, we realized we didn’t need to change our day to day work but what did change was the level of details that were now getting shared in written format and the frequency at which the team was touching base. So instead of checking-in with each other once a day at the beginning, we decided to go for morning & an end of the day check-in. Also, paying special attention to team retrospectives helped in making everyone comfortable around this transition.

Life of a PM: Deadlines, User Trust, Tests and More

How often do features slip deadlines? How do you monitor or manage this?

As long as we’re communicating the assumptions very clearly before setting deadlines, and regularly updating our stakeholders when any of those assumptions are invalidated/a new requirement creeps in, we don’t really ‘miss’ the deadline per se. It is fairly common for course correction with deadlines when you are tackling a problem for the first time. However, this is something that I expect to drastically reduce as we get a better grasp of the topic and the team gets more mature.

How do you build users’ trust in the reviews of your services? Do you have any active strategies?

I use customer feedback as a way to formulate my hypotheses, and I pretty much every day read what the customers say about my product. Instead of reacting to every piece of feedback, I try to aggregate them into themes of hypotheses and use data to validate & prioritize them further. Sometimes I may wanna do additional research to get more insight into a given theme of feedback.

What are the differences from running A/B tests in a large organization (like Booking.com) from an organization with a smaller customer pool?

The traffic does have a huge role to play in this. First of all, if you have low traffic, then the A/B test might not even be the right way to validate assumptions. Secondly, even if one is able to run a test, it often takes longer to get a valid signal with low power. Before Booking, I found myself resorting more to rigorous user testing and pre-validation, and using post-hoc analysis to gauge the impact.

Customer feedback analysis

How you measure the quality of the products you manage?

I use a combination of the following;

  1. Technical metrics like wall-clock, errors, latency
  2. Metrics to track product goal
  3. Feedback from customers

You might also be interested in: These Are the Metrics Great Product Managers Track

When you interview PM candidates, what sort of skills do you look for?

  1. Data-driven mindset—how much does the candidate lean onto data while making their decisions? Do they naturally seek data as a way to answer their day to day questions?
  2. Communication—are they someone who is able to communicate efficiently with their management stakeholders as well as drive effectiveness in tech conversations with their development team?
  3. User empathy—I’d rate this on the top of the skills I seek out for when interviewing PMs. Are they thinking about the user instead of pushing their own ideas?

How did you break into Product?

I started my career as an Analytics Consultant where the core of my projects focused on running through the data that the clients had, talking to their users, and offering these clients strategic business advice. It was easy to switch from this specific role to get a PM title in Philips and in my conversations with my hiring manager, I focused on these aspects of my experience and it did help to make this switch as it allowed me to take the job that I had before but augment that with broader ownership of the product.

Do you have any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?

I have the following 3 pieces of advice:

  1. The customer is always right, even when they are wrong—Develop a strong sense of listening skills, and always try to understand what the customer is intending to communicate about your product
  2. Data Data Data—Honing one’s data skills a little bit goes a long way. Try taking a Google analytics course, or understanding how to write a simple SQL query. It is always handy to be able to get & analyze your own customer data
  3. Get a mentor—It helps to have a mentor in your current work environment who can give you more timely feedback in your journey towards becoming a PM.

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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