How to Get into Product Management by Target Director of Product

This week Product School hosted Sada Kshirsagar, Director of Product at Target for an #AskMeAnything session. He explored different topics such as remote work, product goals, PM skillset, and how to stand out as a Product Manager.

Meet Sada Kshirsagar

Sada is a strong Product Management professional that possesses a rare balance of business and technical strengths. Currently, he’s the Director of Product Management leading a team of 40+ cross-functional team members who build customer-facing shopping experiences while driving growth and innovation for Target.com. Prior to his current role, he worked in Product at Home Depot, Edgenet, and Syntela and has been a mentor to startups in Techstars Retail and Kokko.

Tips on Working Remotely and Setting Goals as a Product Manager

What tools do you use for collaborating remotely? How can you be a better PM in these circumstances?

Working remote requires a couple of operating modes:

  1. Synchronous: Tools like Slack, Teams, Zoom, Webex are great for synchronous collaboration.
  2. Asynchronous: Google Docs, Office 365, Coda, Confluence are good async collaboration tools

A good PM will know how to use both well. Written communication in the form of good pitch documentation, feature articulation, clarifying hypothesis, analytics dashboards, etc. These are all tools that can be used effectively to collaborate. We also use a shared document, to write down notes to keep everyone on the same page.

How have you had to change your management approach for direct reports as people move out of the office and into their home for work?

Few of things that I have done that seem to work well so far –

  1. Use shared docs, decks, and other collaboration tools to communicate in asynch manner. This gives them the flexibility to work around what their needs are at home especially if they have kids, pets, family to take care of
  2. Connect over video chat to check-in and have lighter moments
  3. Give the team space and time to evolve to the new working environment and see what you can do to reduce their stress. Be empathetic 

You also may be interested in: Is it Possible to Work Remotely as a Product Manager?

remote work and colloboration apps

For a person with experience in testing to pivot towards Product Management, can you advise on how to get the foot in that domain?

I am assuming by testing you mean engineering QA. Many folks doing this have to have a good understanding of customers and how they would use the features. Being diligent on that and honing in on how you could improve the user experience would be a good way to get your foot in.

If you are working with a PM, actively suggest some ways to improve the product for your users and leverage any internal opportunities to raise your hand and contribute. Some companies have ways to get internal folks to apply for a product fellowship with product teams and experience building a product, you could leverage such opportunities too.

How do you determine the goals for the next 6 months to 1 year for your product?

For each product, I would set what the overall vision is by being very clear on what customer problem we trying to solve and how can do that in a unique way. This sets up the long term view and roadmap. Then I would look at what we need to solve first and determine what high priority goals can we achieve in 3,6,9,12 month iterations.

Check out: Setting Goals for Product Success with WorldRemit’s CPO

How would you describe the tech industry in Minnesota?

Minnesota has a pretty robust tech scene, companies like Target, Best Buy, United Healthcare, Medtronix and several more as well as many startups.

Target has run startup accelerators for the last 4 years or so and we have had many tech startups come and start out from Minnesota. The tech is also pretty diverse, in the sense that it varies from retail software tech, consulting, healthcare to medical devices.

Technology and startups

Tips on How to Become a Great Product Manager

I am an aspiring product manager, I have gained theoretical knowledge, any advice on how to get the practical experience part of it?

There are a couple of ways:

  1. Entrepreneurial: Figure out a customer problem that you see out there and solve it. If you are technical, you can prototype it. If not find someone who can and influence them. These are practical skills you can use to showcase your PM potential
  2. Ask for opportunities: If your current organization has a product team, ask for opportunities to help out on a team for learning and contributing. You will have to do extra work but will show the leaders that you have initiative and that would translate into
  3. the right opportunities for you

Being a PM is a leadership role. You have to influence your way of making things happen. It’s a skill that you have to build continuously. Companies and leaders like those who can take initiative, execute, and show results. Don’t wait for opportunities to come to you, make them happen.

Have you ever recruited a PM with a non-tech background? If yes, what do you look for in the resume and during the interviews?

Yes. I have recruited more than 50% of the Product Managers that have a non-tech background. What I typically look for in a great PM candidate is:

  1. Someone who sees consistent patterns in the market which otherwise might not be obvious and the ability for them to relate this into a solution that addresses an opportunity
  2. A person who has a great passion for building a product that includes defining the overall experience and not just components of it
  3. The tenacity to execute the product vision over multiple iterations
  4. Understanding of what constitutes a true success
  5. Staying ahead 3-4 steps, the ability to identify a win or failure and the knowledge on how to pivot from an unsuccessful position
  6. Ability to communicate succinctly.
Job interview

How important is an MBA in climbing up the ladder?

Career growth comes from executing on your job really well, building great relationships with the people you work with, and obviously the skills and experience you bring to the company.

MBA is a door opener to changing career paths in addition to all the knowledge and skillsets you would learn. But not necessarily the path to career growth.

Building a startup definitely teaches you a ton, and the experience in itself is worth the learning many times. If you are entrepreneurial, the cost and time required to build today are much much easier than ever, so would recommend giving it a shot even if that is something you like.

You may also be interested in our Product Management Certificates

Any advice for product marketers shifting to product management other than “be able to talk to engineers”?

Engineers like it when PMs know the customer well, the needs and can articulate the impact. They know how to do tech, so I wouldn’t emphasize much on knowing ‘engineering speak’.

What is good when you build your PM career is knowing when you can push Engineering’s bar higher and higher to serve your users. Having a product marketing background is actually a great advantage as you would have a good sense of the user, know how to reach and market to them. Use your strengths and leverage others to execute well.

How can someone transition from consulting to product manager role? 

Product Management is an interesting career, which typically is not a formal career path. Neither is Product Management taught as a career choice in most MBA schools. So you will find many have traversed different paths.

Early in my career, I worked for a consulting services arm of a product company. This role required me to primarily work with multiple customers, understand their problems, and deliver a solution using our product. This involved a number of activities such as business analysis, requirement definition, project management, solution design, and development.

Very often this meant being in front of the customer, many times during a sales cycle and definitely after it, to understand the business, the issue, and creating a solution. This exposed me to several industries, customers and business issues and developed an innate understanding of how to solve a problem for many many customers using the same solution set.This laid the ground for functional expertise and a deep understanding of the problem space across various industries.

One of the most important skills a product manager has is his ability to see patterns in the market which otherwise might not be obvious and ability to relate this into a solution that addresses this opportunity. And having been a consultant solving problems across various industries enabled me to develop that.

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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