How to Be a Client Advocate with Google PM

This week Product School hosted Neil Joglekar, a Product Manager at Google, for an #AskMeAnything session. Neil talked about everything product, from PM skills such as managing stakeholders, transitioning in product and how to be a client advocate!

Meet Neil

Neil  is a Product Manager at Google where he leads teams to help improve the consumer experience and drive growth. Also, he is a YC founder. Previously, he was Vice President Product at BrowserStack, he launched three new products and formed big partnerships with Microsoft and Mozilla. He also was the Head of Product at CrossLead, where he built new revenue products for a leadership solution.

His work has been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, the Boston Globe and the New York Times with television appearances on ABC’s Shark Tank and Fox. Neil graduated from Stanford University with a Bachelor’s degree in Management Science and Engineering. 

Do you have any tips for building a new team from the ground up and getting everyone aligned toward a common vision

Here are a few things that I think help a team align to a common vision:

1) Have everyone understand the problem deeply and build empathy for whoever faces the problem,
2) Make it clear how everyone plays a role and makes a direct contribution to the vision,
3) Make sure that you have an effective comms strategy to make sure that everyone understands the vision and is able to explain it simply.

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How do you understand your customer (who you’re building for) and what he needs?

The best and probably only way to do this assuming you are not the customer yourself is to talk to as many potential users as possible. It’s amazing how much they are willing to tell you if the problem you are solving for them is real.

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What is biggest your challenge working as PM at Google?

I think there are different challenges depending on the stage of your product, at certain times they have been: balancing strategy and execution, handling difficult “people” issues, building consensus across orgs.

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What are the transferrable skills an Architect (building, not software) might bring into a PM role?

Interesting, never been an architect so my guesses: 1) working xfn, 2) being able to think strategically and zoom in on key details, 3) being different

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How heavily do you rely on early user input for UI design when building brand new product interfaces?

Talking to users early and often are always a good idea.

What tools do you use to understand the pain points in the current consumer experience to drive growth?

I think there are a lot of great metric tools you can use: Hotjar, Amplitude, Google analytics, etc. I think the best thing you can do is have live conversations with customers.

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How much does domain experience matter for a PM?

Unless you are doing something where vertical expertise matters like security or building a vaccine, I think that PM skills are pretty transferrable. You just have be willing to get your hands dirty and ramp up on your space quickly.

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How do you balance being a client advocate with falling into a feature creep trap? When is the feature/product “done”?

Always be a client advocate. I’m not sure “done” is the right way to think about it. You build something to solve what you think the problem is, and as the problem evolves you know that you’ll have to evolve with it.

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Do you have a most embarrassing product, you have had to work on?

I think everyone is embarrassed a little by the first version of the product they build.

How to stand out from Product Managers who are applying to roles that require 1-2 years of experience? 

Best way to stand out is to build something on your own, end to end.

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When you start a new and difficult program as a Product Manager, what will you do first?

  1. First, listen to anyone who has been on the team or attempted to solve the problem in the past. Learn from them.
  2. Optimizing for smart people and fun.

How to go about a task for which we don’t have much information on?

Find people who know about the space and beg them to teach you.

When do you draw the line between evolving and iterating on an existing product to creating a new one from scratch?

It’s pretty contextual. It depends how well you have solved the problem and how you know if that is true or not.

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How do you deal with the stress from the responsibility for a product? How do you put away a wish for perfection? Any advice for a business analyst wishing for a product manager’s position?

  1. Know that you are lucky to be building software and that most of your decisions can be taken back,
  2. I think when you release a product and see how many unforeseen issues it has you realize that perfection isn’t possible.
  3. Try to make something on your own first to see if you like it.

How do you define success for a product manager?

The product manager owns the outcome of the project. It’s kind of on the PM to navigate these issues and resolve them.

How do you communicate the product roadmaps?

As consistently and widely as possible! Usually it’s a doc or a deck and presented in something like an all hands for the company or team.

What is the biggest gripe PMs have when engineers want to transfer from Engineering to PM. What challenges an engineer has to face to become a PM?

I love when engineers want to be PMs. I think the largest challenge is that it’s a new job function – any engineer will already be a good problem solver and so is equipped to be a great PM.

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How to manage a situation when a PM gets deviated from being the customer advocate to managing only stakeholders and the feature roadmap that stakeholders wish to have?

This is tricky – I think you first need to start by understanding where the stakeholders are coming from and make sure that you are aligned on the problem. Most of the time, that’s the issue.

What’s the number one skill to focus on building for an aspiring PM from a non-tech background?

Shipping something.

What skills does Google look for in a candidate for their PM roles?

I think Google looks for the same skills as most companies that hire a PM: strategic, analytical, technical, can deliver.

How do you manage updating stakeholders / managing up?

Having been on both sides of this I think clear communication is the key. I send a weekly update email on key metrics, concerns, and asks to all my stakeholders which seems to work well. Just make sure it’s not a “we’re doing work” email and is actually helpful.

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What job roles other than APMs (because they are very less as of now) would you recommend for graduates to get into to ultimately land up a Product role.

I think any role can become a PM, have you tried joining a smaller company as a PM?

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As a non-technical PM, how important do you think it is from a future perspective to do hands on coding for a PM.

I think it depends on the customer, product, and company you join. In some cases it matters a lot, and in some cases not at all.

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How much of importance does an MBA degree has on PM growth?

I’m biased since I did not get an MBA, but I don’t think it makes that much of a difference.

I have my masters and am currently building an android app to solve a problem. Will that be enough to land up an interview at ICT companies?

Probably, I’d say launch it first.

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I’m a startup founder looking to transition into a pm role (series a, b, or c startup) before starting another company. What challenges do you think I could face when applying to vs other candidates who have more PM experience?

I think that totally makes sense as a path! I think the major challenge you will face is making it clear to recruiters and companies that what makes you different is needed and makes you special.

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 How did you think about the impact you wanted to have in your career, and do you think being a PM at a tech firm allowed you to have it or that you had more impact in the startup world?

I think the problem/product has more of a say on how much impact you will make as opposed to startup vs. big company. If you want to focus on how much of a personal contribution you made to that impact, then startups.

How much of difference is there in growth trajectory of a PM’s skills working in a early stage startup to being a PM in an MNC or FAANG companies

If you pick the right early stage startup then its a big difference.

What is your ideal tool stack is for product design and Product Management?

Off the top of my head, for PM: PRDs/Strategy (google docs), Metrics (google analytics, some type of metrics tool, some kind of heatmap), KPIs (usually some kind of internal tooling).

What analytics tools do you use at Google to measure usage for products?

A lot of the tools are internally built.

Whats the most rewarding part of being a PM at Google?

Billions of people use the products you make.

Could you please give some suggestion on when to know that a PM is saturated in a organization and it’s a high time to look for new opportunities.

I think it depends on the opportunity, but one way to look at it is a ratio of PMs to Eng. Usually its around 1:10-12.

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