Being Head of Product at Google

This week, Product School hosted Dave Mohla, Head of Product at Google, for a special #AskMeAnything session. Dave answered questions regarding what it’s like to work in a competitive company like Google and the top skills PMs need to succeed.

Meet Dave

Dave Mohla, Head of Product at Google

Dave is a Product Manager with over 20 years of experience in product development, design, and launches. Currently, he is working at Google as the Head of Product on professional services, which he built from zero to $120M in revenue in just six months. He has had many roles in product, and is the author of “The Method: Create Products That Customers Crave”.

Getting into Product Management

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When recruiting PMs, what’s the most important skill you look for in candidates?

The skills I look for are:

  1. Product vision/strategy
  2. Product design
  3. Product execution
  4. Product analytics

And I look for how they could apply those skills to solve the problems that we’re facing at our company.

What are transferable skills/experiences between hardware vs software PM positions?

The core PM skills (vision, design, research, execution, and analytics) are common across hardware and software. You want to show that you’ve mastered all the core PM disciplines and can apply them to their products.

Ideally, you want to research and understand their products ahead of time and apply your skills and thinking to them so you can immediately start pointing out ways you’d add value and solve their problems.

Is it possible for someone from an engineering background to transition into Product Management?

It’s possible but you’d need to show that you know product management. I’d suggest learning about product management through as many online and Product School resources as you can, practicing it on your own, and then reach out to PMs at your company and seeing if you can have an info session with them and if they may be willing to give you a small project to work on.

Can someone from an HR background be a product manager?

It’s less common but possible. There is a large element of design, engineering, and analytics in PM that you’d need to prove that you know and can excel in.

Do you have any tips for someone who wants to pivot from project/program management into product?

This is actually very common. I’d suggest reaching out to product managers on your team for informational interviews and seeing if they can give you a couple of small projects for you to work on on the side. Once you tackle those, you can ask for bigger projects and then get advice from them and HR on how you could make a switch. Also, at Google, we have a formal way for program managers to move to product management so you could research if that exists at your company.

Check out: From Project Management to Product

What prior experience are top-tier companies looking for in PMs?

I imagine you need at least two years of PM experience to be considered for a top-tier company unless you are joining through a special program from college. Experience in product management, making an impact in your role, your ability to learn things, and being well prepared for an interview are much more important than having an MBA.

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Did you always have the goal to become a PM? What was your college and career path to get your foot in the door?

Actually, I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur 🙂 

I initially started out as an engineer and then went back to business school, fell in love with entrepreneurship, and was planning to start my own business. But I chickened out and instead decided to do the closest thing at a company which was Product Management. And then I got hooked on it!

How much of your business degree do you need working as a PM?

The business degree was not needed. Many PMs I know don’t have an MBA or business degree. It did open up some doors early on in my career but it’s rarely looked at in my latest roles and instead they look for product management experience and how well I can solve the company’s problems by applying my product management skills.

Working at Google

What’s your advice on landing a PM interview at Google?

I’d suggest finding a friend or former co-worker who works at Google and have them refer you. Or you can see if they could point you to a PM recruiter. I’d also suggest formally applying to roles as well so you’ve covered all your bases.

What are some of the best resources you would recommend somebody preparing for Product Strategy Interview with Google?

If you search for “Product Management interview at Google” there are so many resources online for frameworks and practice questions. I’d suggest going through as many as you can and come up with a framework that works best for you for strategy, design, and analytic questions and then practice that across as many questions as you can.

What advice would you give to people preparing for their first phone interview with Google?

landline phone and smartphone side by side

I’d suggest spending a large amount of time preparing and coming up with a framework for answering product strategy, product design, and product analytics questions and then practicing as much as possible on as many practice questions as you can. You want to become so good at answering these questions that you can do it as second nature in the interview.

How would you recommend using books like “Inspired”, “Build What Matters” and “Swipe to Unlock” to prepare for Google’s interview?

Those are fine for your own reading but for a Google PM interview, I’d suggest getting books that are specifically about interviewing at Google. The Google PM interview process is incredibly competitive and it usually takes people 2-3 tries over many years to get in so if you’re serious about it then it could be many hours of prep work and practice

Read more: The 20 Most-Read Books by Top Product Managers

What advice can you give to new CS grads seeking this work at Google?

At Google, a CS undergrad can interview for either a Software Engineering role or an Associate Product Manager role. Both are extremely competitive so I’d suggest doing the best you can at school and preparing like crazy for interviews. Wish you the best.

Is working for Google incredibly fun? Or at the end of the day is this role the same as in any other tech company? Spill the beans.

The first six months are amazing because Google’s perks are pretty out-of-this-world such as free food, hundreds of cafes, offices around the world where you can work, luxury buses that take you to and from work.

But after six months, you stop caring about those things, and instead your manager, team, role, and impact matter more. And then Google becomes like any big company – hierarchical, slow-moving, bureaucratic, and lots of politics. Plus they have a performance system called perf that can be brutal. You basically have to rewrite your resume and prove your worth to the company twice a year and promos are like getting a thesis. So, lots of people leave for startups where a lot of these issues go away.

Check out: 2020 Roundup: Best Product Talks from Google

Product Management Advice

What advice would you give to new Product Managers?

I’d suggest getting really good at the following skills:

  1. Vision
  2. Design
  3. Execution
  4. Analytics

And then take as many features/products end-to-end through the product lifecycle as possible and learn from each one.

Also, I’d recommend doing everything you can to understand your product, such as asking your teammates about anything you don’t know or researching it yourselves, and then deeply understanding your business metrics and how your product/feature impacts the business.

What are the obvious failures, wrong paths, or traps that a first-time PM walks into knowingly or unknowingly?

Mouse trap with cheese

One of the big traps I see with first-time PMs is that they don’t focus on defining the metrics and the instrumentation they need in their product. Then when they launch they have no idea what’s happening. An experienced PM is clear from the get-go on what metrics they want to move, builds it into their product, and then is actively monitoring it post-launch and iterating on the product to achieve those metrics.

My company just launched an MVP with our first few major users, and the number of feature requests is overwhelming. Is this normal?

That’s great news because it means your customers are engaging with your product! It’s also pretty common. I’d suggest cataloging all the feature requests and prioritizing them and then designing follow-up releases that address chunks of features at a time. Also, in general, I personally don’t like designing MVP features without having a Northstar in mind.

Read next: What Is Your Product’s North Star?

What advice would you give on improving skills on Product Strategy/Vision?

I’d suggest the following:

  1. Read online resources and books on product strategy/vision
  2. Practice applying it to new product ideas you have
  3. Study the product strategy/vision of startups and existing companies.

Could you share your full Product Management cycle?

Different people have different frameworks but for me, the product lifecycle is typically vision, design, execute, learn. I have a webinar on Product School called “Create Irresistable Products in 4 Steps” that goes through each of those stages in detail.

What were the key factors of the success of professional services at Google?

Some of the factors for success were:

  1. We looked closely at the metrics before and after launch and kept iterating and improving the product post-launch
  2. We focused on understanding the needs of both the advertisers and consumers and kept ideating and iterating on features to best meet their needs.

What are key elements to include when building a B2B2C product?

In this case there are multiple customers so you need to make sure you take into account and meet the needs of both sets of customers.

Check out: Customer Focused Product Management: A Winning Business Strategy

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What framework do you use while prioritizing product features?

Great question. To me, there’s an art and science to this. The science is you want to prioritize features based on ROI – specifically what’s the impact (aka return) and the level of effort (aka investment) and the do the highest ROI features first. The art is that it’s not usually straightforward how to do this.

For the impact, it’s important to understand the objectives of the business and where your product fits in and then assess your impact based on the business objectives.

Also, the effort is for the constrained resource. I usually create a list of features and the problem they solve and then T-shirt size them (i.e. small, medium, large) for impact and effort and then use that to prioritize them.

When you create a brand new user-facing product, what is the creative and thought process you follow?

I use the Jobs to be done framework which takes into account all of these. Specifically, I understand what customer I’m focused on, understand the job they want to accomplish, and understand what desired outcomes they want. I then use that to design the product and then pull from market research, competitor products, management ideas, and creativity from the team to fill in the details.

What methodologies/framework do you use to align the Tech Product Management timelines and Product Delivery timelines?

In general, my product timeline includes both product management and product delivery.

What is the biggest difference when it comes to the tools/frameworks you used when working on new products vs. existing ones?

For a new product, I spend a lot more time on the strategy and vision. For an existing product, there’s usually an existing strategy and vision and I start from that and update it based on our learnings. Also, I spend more time on the roadmap and next set of features to achieve our business objectives.

What do you think the future of product management is with big data and AI?

I’m much more focused on customer problems I’m solving than on tying myself to solutions. Big data and AI are solutions right now but could be replaced with something new in the future so your knowledge could become outdated.

However,  customer problems will always exist and having a strong PM skillset to solve these problems will likely be in demand for a while. In my current job, we had to use Machine Learning and I wasn’t familiar with it but I picked it up pretty fast and the value I added was applying it to solve the customer/business problems.

Read more: What’s the Deal with Deepfake?

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