From Ideation to Launch: Defining Products with Instacart Sr. PM

This week our #AskMeAnything session welcomed JJ Tang, Senior Product Manager at Instacart, to talk about entry-level Product Management and how to develop and bring products to market.

JJ Tang is currently a senior PM at Instacart where he is building out the companies enterprise portfolio. Prior to that he was leading product at
IBM in its cloud computing division and Watson Health

Entry-Level Product Management

How can a PM who has experience with startups and small sized organizations (employees < 20) stand out when applying/interviewing at larger organizations?

The main thing I look for when hiring PMs is, have they shipped something before? Apply this to the context of the larger org!

What skills do you require for an Associate or Junior level PM role in order to make it to the interview?

There are a million qualities I look for. You will read a million articles and books aiming to provide you with the perfect template of what a PM should be.

Truth is, there is none. Some of the best PMs I’ve learned from have the most unexpected and unconventional backgrounds.

Triangulate your learnings from other PMs but focus on what in your own unique experience makes you stand out as a PM. I can hire 100 folks based on a “perfect” PM template but that isn’t what I am looking for. I don’t want everyone to act and think the same way. That is not how great products are born.

Your own unique value is more important than your ability to recite what has worked for other people / what you’ve read / what you’ve studied.

Does a Product Manager need to review code?

This is not a prereq for PMs. However, don’t be afraid to get down a dirty in the technical details. This is important for your customer, engineering, and stakeholder conversations.

What does failure look like for a PM?

Thinking you are the single voice for decision making.

What’s your single greatest life-hack piece of advice for anyone and everyone?

Cold email. Learn to cold email.

This has opened every single door for me in my career and personal life.

Any tips and resources for cold emailing?

Pick the VP/CEO of your dream company tonight and email them.

Trial by fire.

(Also get comfortable with people not responding)

Any final advice for aspiring Product Managers?

Build your own PM playbook. Triangulate advice/tips from various resources but develop, experiment, and iterate upon your own set of principles and frameworks.

Bringing Products to Market

What are differences when building products for B2B and B2C models?

Great question. For example, users. At Facebook, there are 2 billion+ users that are all relatively weighted the same. You, @RandomUser, and myself are all treated equally on the platform. Not one voice has more say than the other.

Often times in Enterprise (B2B), you’ll find certain customers are weighted differently against others. They may drive more revenue, have more strategic value, etc, to you as a company.

How you say no and build will vary. The goal is to build agnostic to a specific company or industry. This is not always possible so you need to be careful with tradeoffs you’ll make.

Are PMs in B2C companies generally expected to generate their own product/feature ideas based on data and user research? Or do most of the product/feature ideas come top-down from upper management and PMs just execute on them?

No PM should be blindly executing on their management direction. Always question the why. Not all great ideas come from PMs (in fact the best have come from my customers, support, engineering, etc).

Your role should be creating a hyper-efficient process of bubbling the best ones to the top and filtering out the noise as you go along.

Do you have any tips or resources regarding bringing a new B2B product to market?

Perfect is the enemy of good. Don’t wait until every checkbox is ticked before you release.

How can a startup efficiently map out the goals and technical milestones in a way where both the business and technical teams can evaluate the progression?

Great question. We use an OKRs (Objective and Key Result) for our roadmap planning. This keeps us aligned across all cross-functional teams in the organization.

How have you found success in defining OKRs, and who defines them?

We all work together to establish OKRs. Management, PMs and engineering leads. There’s no clear cut answer of “who” should be the ones creating this. But I can tell you it should never be one person.

How do you gather feedback at Instacart when most information will be delivered to a contractor?

The teams here read every piece of feedback that gets passed along. This is critical for driving our roadmaps!

What tools to you use to gather customer feedback. Anything other than surveys and A/B testing?

Drink your own champagne:

a) I will speak from a B2C perspective. We deploy countless times to production every day. We need to ensure our code is robust from a QA perspective but also how it functions in the real world. At Instacart this means real deliveries with real people. We send test orders filled with groceries to various places such as homeless shelters to test. This often times exposes blind spots we weren’t aware of.

b) We also do “Shopper” shifts ourselves to understand what it is like to fulfill an order. This helps uncover a lot for us and get out there talking with other shoppers.

The net here is there are a million ways to gather feedback. Sometimes the best sources are the ones that don’t scale.

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