Implementing Product Sense with fmr Microsoft Lead PM

This week Product School hosted Richa Rai, Portfolio Manager at Kaiser Permanente and former Microsoft Lead PM for an #AskMeAnything session. Richa talked about managing product teams in a start-up vs big tech and coached aspiring PMs on tailoring their portfolios to attract the best Product Management positions. Richa also touched on how to implement product sense.

Meet Richa Rai

Richa Rai has had an extensive career as a Product Manager and Customer Service specialist. After almost 10 years of developing products at Microsoft, most recently as the PM leading Digital Transformation for their Enterprise Services Platform, Richa moved to Kaiser Permanente where she works as Portfolio Manager.

What are some of the most tangible qualities to “product sense” that you’ve observed, demonstrated in interviews or teased out as the interviewer?

Some of the tangible qualities of “product sense” are the framework, the approach to solving the problem, not jumping to the solution and how you measure success.

For measuring success or defining key performance indicators (KPIs) you should go back to whom you are solving the problem for, what the targeted pain points you are solving for, how will you measure success and how you define a baseline.

I have an IT B2B sales background and want to transition to PM. However, I see a lot of challenges in my resume getting picked up. Many employers ask for prior product experience which I don’t have in a direct way. As a recruiter, how would you consider a profile with such background? What additional things would you like to see on my resume?

I would rewrite the resume putting on the hat of a Product Manager from IT with a B2B sales background. Spin your resume to show the impact you drove, the use of data, and statistics. Look at some of the sample Product Manager’s resume, look for similarities, highlight them and take out irrelevant details. When crafting a resume, it’s essential to be strategic about what you leave and, more importantly, what you take out.

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Given your extensive experience in “big tech”, what’s the most important advice you’d give an understaffed Product team at a startup?

The most important advice I’d give to any understaffed Product team is to not build walls. Work collaboratively with the Design, Engineering, and Business teams. Be open to ideas, fill in the gap where you go and don’t go by the job descriptions. At the end of the day, what should matter to you the most is the product success and follow that as your North Star.

The only thing different for a startup is that you have an opportunity to own and build the Product Culture. You have a lot more responsibility.

Do you have tips for managing teams in different time-zones? We are struggling with gaps in communication, different logistical moments, and working collaboratively.

First, it’s hard for a PM to manage geographically diverse teams. Accept the challenge. As a PM, it’s not only your job to get the job done but also harmoniously and collaboratively. It’s not easy to bring the team chemistry together when teams are in different timezones. Have regular communication with the teams, include them in critical meetings – especially with business, even if that means setting up meetings at somewhat odd hours.

Look for opportunities to bring the team together – e.g, through nonwork-related events like celebrating life moments via zoom or video conferencing, if budget permits, plan to bring the team together physically at the start of the product planning sessions. Make sure everyone feels included, feels their voice is being heard. “Praise in public and criticize in private.”

I’m a Junior Software Engineer who wants to transition into Product Management. Do you think companies are more likely to hire someone in a Senior-level position?

It’s one of the most common myths. You can start Product Management at any stage. Almost a decade back, PM was not as popular, but for a few years, adoption of PM function shows that industries have come to realize the importance of the PM function. There are now opportunities available at all levels, starting as early as Associate Product Manager moving to Product Manager I, Product Manager II, so on and so forth.

I’m a product owner helping my team to move a legacy product from on-premise to Azure Cloud. We are building a SaaS-based tax prep application. It’s the same exact legacy product but changing the underlying hosting platform…have you worked in such capacity before? What KPIs did you follow? Did you follow a framework of breaking down technical stories ?

If you are changing the underlying platform, I would suggest using KPIs such as speed to market-how quickly you can make changes to the platform, efficient application monitoring ensuring the health of the system, reduced downtime, saving of manhours in maintaining and updating the legacy platform and systems.

Yes, there were still some of the project assets that were not ready to move to the cloud, so those were secured with a plan to bring them to the cloud as budget, time, and system readiness permitted.

As far as breaking technical stories is concerned, I leaned on the comfort level of the engineering team. I broke it down to the task level, with the most critical detail being the user acceptance criterion.

Would you approach a “tangible” and “intangible” product differently as product manager?

I would still leverage the same framework for a “tangible” or “intangible” product. Still, maybe by means of collecting feedback, investigating customer problems, building prototypes will change, but the overall approach will always be the same.

I can see that you have a customer service background in Microsoft as well. How are you leveraging the past experience as a customer service specialist, and the feedback that you got from the customers?

This gives me an edge on always starting from the customer and ending with the customer, everything else in between is the connector to form the circle. I now leverage Human-Centered Design, a methodology that calls for putting the customer in the center of design – whether it’s a product or an experience. The methodology recommends designing with the customer, make the customer one of the stakeholders.

Did you miss this event? Check out our events page to sign up for the next #AskMeAnything session!

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